I don’t know how it happened. In my transition from TV journalist to independent media maker, to now educator and public convener I became a museum guy.
After all, aren’t museums those quaint, high maintenance, heavy infrastructure monoliths of centuries gone by? Why look up from our screens when all in creation is available at a swipe? That’s exactly what the BBC wondered in 2009 when it challenged the head of the British Museum to justify his institution’s very existence in the digital age. His response — “A History of the World in 100 Objects” — was a remarkable demonstration of how digital could revitalize a community’s relationship with physical objects as content.
That symbiosis of trusted institution, existing high value assets and digital engagement helps explain why:
– I just served as a director of the Pacific Science Center.
– twenty of my on-camera interviews reside within the Bezos Center for Innovation at the Museum of History and Industry.
– last week I was a keynote speaker at the annual conference of the American Alliance of Museums
– next week I’m conducting a “My Favorite Things” tour for the Seattle Art Museum’s quarterly REMIX after-hours party
Tucked away in one corner of the popular Tropical Butterfly House at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center is a small blue device that promises to change how visitors experience the exhibit, improve how the Science Center engages with its visitors and — if one Seattle startup has its way — enhance the way we experience the world.
It’s a beacon: an off-the-shelf, Bluetooth-enabled device that connects wirelessly with a smartphone app called Mixby, created by Seattle-based startup Artifact Technologies.
The app uses the beacon to confirm the visitor’s proximity to the Butterfly House and unlock a “mosaic” of interactive content inside the app, including videos and photos related to the exhibit.
In many ways, the technology is only unleashing the stories and content that already lie within the walls of the museum. In one fell swoop, with the Mixby app and “beacon” geolocation technology, the Science Center gets easy access into the mobile world, even as it finds a refreshing way to re-engage its million-plus annual visitors who arrive, devices in hand. I’ll be employing the same platform during my Seattle Art Museum REMIX tour next week. Those who choose to take my tour will receive a content mosaic on their device that not only highlights the works of art that I had selected, but also will include supporting media that should provide more context about my talk long after they’ve left the building.
Beacons are best known, so far, for their applications in stores, with Apple using beacons to help provide notifications to its retail customers when they’re standing in front of a particular product, for example. But Artifact is trying a different approach with Mixby (pronounced mix-bee) — developing a platform that can be used in conjunction with beacons, in a wide variety of venues, to deliver location-based interactive content via smartphones.