Archive | February, 2012

“An Insider’s Guide to Seattle” Mobile Tour App

28 Feb


What if you could visit another city, and for one hour, see it through the eyes of a local?

That’s the idea of the Seattle Audissey. Join DJ Michele on this mobile walking tour through her hometown, where her voice guides listeners through the story – and alleys – of Seattle. Part audio tour, part soundscape, this tour is timed perfectly to synchronize with the visitor’s own footsteps. For one hour, you become a Seattle local.

“See this alley coming up on your right,” whispers DJ Michele. “Yeah. Let’s turn and walk down there.”

Along the hour-long audio guide, several local Seattlites make an appearance:

  • Mimi Gates of the Seattle Art Museum explains the mystery of the massive sculpture “Hammering Man”
  • James Rasmussen, a Duwamish tribal leader, recites a drum-fueled ode to Chief Seattle
  • Author and journalist Erika Langley tells the story of how she reported on The Lusty Lady stripclub – and ended up dancing there

You’ll also step inside an anarchist bookstore, hear a firsthand account of the WTO riots of 1999, and get an insider’s tour of the world famous Pike Place Market.

To view the Mobile Tour of Seattle visit or scan this QR code with your smartphone.

The Perfect Storm for Exciting Work: The Ted Forbes Interview

23 Feb

This interview is part of our “Thought Leader” series, where we get inside the heads of the best and brightest in the museum & technology world.

Ted Forbes

Multimedia Producer at the Dallas Museum of Art

Ted Forbes is a designer, multi-media producer, photographer and film director.
Ted is currently the Multimedia Producer for the Dallas Museum of Art where his duties include production of interactive and digital content including exhibition Web sites, teaching materials, in-gallery interactive content (kiosks and touch screens), and video production.

Ted has been an adjunct faculty member at Brookhaven College since 2003 teaching interactive and Web design. He was recognized in the 2005 Dallas Show with two gold light bulbs including an unanimous best in show. Ted served on the Board of Directors for the Dallas Society of Visual Communications from 2001-2006.


TourSphere: What was a stand-out museum/exhibit that caught your interest this year?

Ted: I was in London last November and got to see Gerhard Richter at TATE Modern. In a word it was sublime. Always been a fan of Richter’s work and this was a beautiful retrospective. TATE Media always produce such wonderful work. The media aspect was fairly simple but there were some incredible behind the scenes pieces that were filmed. Not only were they well done, but it was interesting how popular the video piece was with visitors. I sat in the coffee bar for an hour after seeing the exhibition and I don’t think there was a moment where there wasn’t a crowd gathered around.


TourSphere: What was the coolest use of technology you saw in a museum in 2011?

Ted: It’s not used yet, but Rob Stein and the IMA staff’s initiative for the TourML specification is one of the most significant projects I’ve seen. Not only does it share resources across the participating museums, but the project is going to yield an important tool that will make an impact on mobile tours in the near future. Museums have never owned their own standards and this is a uniting move for both museums and vendors. This will give us a platform for tour creation and sharing which will allow for some beautiful work produced by and for museums.


TourSphere: Did your museum do something this year (or have something coming soon) that you’re proud of?

Ted: This past year there were 2 major initiatives. For the first time we produced a TV spot based on a concept from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for our Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition as well as several other video pieces that I feel were a large triumph for our institution. This work was not only a big deal in terms of financial saving, but it was work I am very proud of. Gaultier is a complete ham and was easy to film. Of course this type of exhibition allowed us to push limits not only on the exhibition, but how we chose to market it. We reacted well to both the situation and to the limiting budget restraints.

The second project involved launching 50 new stops to our Permanent Collection for the mobile tours. It was important for us to spend our time creating works that live longer than the standard exhibition time. They are also important interpretive pieces for the objects in our collection. Again we were fairly agile producing everything in house with a limited staff. About 106 audio and video assets were produced over a period of about 4 months.

With the recent addition of Maxwell Anderson as our new director at the Dallas Museum of Art, it is an exciting time for sure. I’ve been a big fan of the work coming out of the Indianapolis Museum of Art for the last few years and I feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to work for Max. We’ve already begun setting up our own Museum Dashboard building on what the IMA broke ground with back in 2007. Its a little early to say what we have next in the works, but I will say I’m excited to get to work every morning.


TourSphere: Is there an app or a technology that has changed the way you do things or made your job easier this year?

Ted: Oh my – there’s a ton of desktop and iOS apps that are part of my everyday routine. I’m a big GTD [Getting Things Done] guy and rely heavily on OmniFocus and syncing over DropBox. Alfred came along and has begun to fill the void left by Quicksilver. I still rely on TextMate for coding. For media production there are a lot of new apps I’ve been using that are incredible. T-Racks from IK Multimedia is my new mastering app for audio production. I’m actually a big fan of the new Final Cut Pro X. Scrivener is a wonderful app for writing projects. The cameras that have been coming out over the last 2 years are a real God-send for folks who have to film in dark museum galleries. The low light performance on digital cameras is better than ever – not to mention the price point. I’ve got a Canon HF G10 that I can’t put down. Its saved me a ton of time fooling around working in spaces that I can’t control the lighting in.

Its a great time to be in technology.


TourSphere: Apple or Android?

Ted: Since I’m usually testing web apps I have to say both. But I’m an Apple nerd if I’ve got a choice. Like the desktop, its the quality and selection of third party apps that keep me on a Mac most of the day.


TourSphere: If you had to sum up what you think the theme for museums in 2012 will be in one word, what would your prediction be?

Ted: I really have no idea how to predict that. In the last few years I’ve seen the community become stronger than I’ve ever seen it. I’ve also seen the quality and pricing of technology come down to a point where I really believe this gives all museums an advantage which is timely given the current economic climate. I think we are about to get into a very exciting time. The technology is accessible and the awareness of concepts like "participation" and "transparency" are becoming regular discussions. I think this is the perfect storm for exciting work.


TourSphere: What do you see as the biggest challenge for museums in the coming years?

Ted: Keeping faith. Financial times are tough these days. Budget cuts, furloughs, tabled ideas, layoffs – these are all common things to hear – particularly in non-profits. As excited as I am about where we are with technology, I have many colleagues are meeting roadblocks due to economic factors. The challenge is realizing there is a community and successful institutions have to become more self sufficient. Its important to stay focused and find new ways of doing things. You don’t always need a grant to make something happen. You do need determination, institutional support (which can be hard sometimes) and a passion to want to make things succeed.

The commercial world finds ways to change and find new ways to do things. There’s no reason why the non-profit world can’t do this too.

TourSphere: Is there something you are passionate about in the museum world that you would like to wax philosophical about or rant about?

Ted: I can rant all day, but what I’m really interested in is what other people are saying. Its a great time to take things in, collaborate and learn!

Thanks for sharing, Ted! Your enthusiasm is contagious. Follow Ted and his work at:

Twitter: @tedforbes

Providing Context to the Visitor Experience

21 Feb

In medias res – it’s that writing technique (first utilized by the Roman poet Horace) where the author inserts the reader into the midst of the action. Suddenly we are on the front lines, in the middle of battle. Where are we? What’s going on? The author deliberately withholds this information, instead letting the reader gradually deduce the context over time.

It’s an age-old literary technique, used by Roman poets and James Bond novels. Is it effective in museum exhibits? Does it provide a good visitor experience?

Recently, I visited an amazing exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in DC: Anglo-Saxon Hoard: Gold from England’s Dark Ages. I entered the exhibit, and marveled at the first thing I saw: three display cases of Saxon gold – brooches, necklaces, a sword pommel from a Saxon warrior.

Sword hilt fitting

These were remarkable artifacts. Yet I gradually began to crave more than just the text about each object on the information panels. I wanted context – what was the meaning behind these artifacts? Were they connected in any way? Where were they found?

I felt like I was reading a great book that had begun in medias res. And what I really wanted was some context, to provide meaning for me as I explored the exhibit.

Twenty minutes into my visit, I wandered into a small theater where I watched an excellent and dramatic 15-minute film… and everything suddenly made sense. The film told the remarkable story of this exhibit: the artifacts were all part of The Staffordshire Hoard – the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever discovered. It had been found by this dude with a metal detector in a farmer’s field in England.

Wow. That is awesome.

Suddenly, the exhibit made sense. I had the context I had desired. And that context transformed the remarkable but disparate artifacts in the exhibit into a single cohesive narrative. The individual pieces turned into that thing we are all searching for: a remarkable story. I saw the exhibit with new eyes, and renewed awe.

Is it feasible to provide contextual information to visitors at the beginning of their museum visit? Do you prefer to have the visitor enter the exhibit without context (in medias res) – or with context? What tools can help provide this context – orientation films (as in this exhibit), museum smartphone apps or audio tours, or printed interpretive guides? I would love to hear any thoughts or experiences you have with this.

Cultural Tourism DC Heritage Trail Mobile Tour App

15 Feb

Created in conjunction with our own Audissey Media, Cultural Tourism DC’s Heritage Trail Walking Tour app covers extensive ground with five walks through the soul of Washington DC. NPR’s Korva Coleman narrates and introduces you to notable residents, taking you along DC’s Downtown and U Street Corridors with thoughtfully crafted layers of the past and present.

These tours bring the past to life and allow you to walk in the footsteps of Civil War soldiers and Civil Rights heroes. Walk the real U Street – a neighborhood once coined the “Black Broadway” – and experience the true Renaissance that happened here. Not just for tourists, the landmarks you encounter skip the major monuments and take you through the well-trodden paths of DC and unveil stories unknown to many.

Track your route with location-aware maps – stop in for a bite at Ben’s Chili Bowl, linger in the halls of the National Museum of Women in the Arts – this app allows you to move at your own pace. With over fifty historical images, rich audio, and even video, this app captures the true spirit of Washingtonians, its diverse culture, and its historic crossroads.

Experience Cultural Tourism DC's Heritage Trail app on any smartphone or tablet. Go to or use this QR code.

Connectivity for Visitors (Part II)

10 Feb

Connectivity for Visitors Part II

This multi-part series about connectivity will shed some light on the multifaceted challenges you need to overcome to provide a solid Internet connection for all your visitors. Part I was mostly about the general approach and to give a technology overview. If you have any specific questions about connectivity, you would like us to write about, please feel free to comment on this article and we will try to answer these questions. In this second part of the series, I want to talk more about WiFi in museums.

We are accustomed to having WiFi at home. It’s an easy and convenient way to hook up all the devices that require an internet connection – our laptops, smartphones, internet radios, internet TV, and, most recently, even our thermostats (

Our home networks are (or should be) encrypted using the so called WPA2 standard (for the interested reader who wants to know more: Meaning, every device connecting to our router must send the password in order to get network access. Most people forget that they have entered this password into their various devices at some point, because it gets stored locally on the devices. Be assured, it is there and keeps your home network safe from neighbors who don’t have their own broadband internet connection and like to use yours.

A publicly available network or open network in a museum is a different sort of thing. You would like to grant access to the network without your visitors having to enter passwords, etc. Also the amount of devices connecting to your network will probably exceed the number of devices you have at home by orders of magnitude.

For easy setups with off-the-shelf WiFi routers, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the broadband connection good enough to be shared with a lot of people? Think of all these smartphones as small computers (that’s what they really are).
  • Do you need a separate WiFi network for your operations that is decoupled from your public network? You don’t want people to browse through the shared documents that are shared between your staff, do you?
  • How much streaming content are you offering to your visitors? If you have very video-heavy applications, be prepared to have the bandwidth available.
  • How big is my museum? How thick are the walls? Can I get access from each and every corner of my museum?

If you want to get a little more sophisticated with your WiFi setup, you should check out high-power indoor Wifi devices such as the ECB3500 from Engenius.

Also, be aware that you can extend existing WiFi networks with additional routers to cover the more difficult spots in your location. If you have any questions regarding WiFi setups, you can also contact us at to discuss your specific situation.

7 Questions with Beck Tench

8 Feb

This interview is part of our “Thought Leader” series, where we get inside the heads of the best and brightest in the museum & technology world.

Beck Tench

Director for Innovation and Digital Engagement, Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC

Beck Tench is a simplifier, illustrator, story teller and technologist. Formally trained as a graphics designer at the University of North Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, she has spent her career elbow deep in web work of all sorts – from the knowledge work of information architecture and design to the hands dirty work of writing code and testing user experiences.

Currently, she serves as Director for Innovation and Digital Engagement at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC where she studies and experiments with how visitors and staff use technology to experience risk-taking, community-making and science in their everyday lives.

Beck is currently working on creating Experimonths about sharing, cooperation, negotiation and trust in partnership with my museum and the Exploratorium for a NSF-funded project called The Science of Sharing.

TourSphere: What was a stand-out museum/exhibit that caught your interest this year?

Beck: My visit to AVAM (American Visionary Art Museum) in February with the Matt Groening co-curated exhibit on “What Makes Us Smile?” wins the prize. The whole place is spectacular, but the experience I keep returning to is one of me sitting on a bench watching videos of people right after their photo had been taken.  Just a series of people transitioning from smile to frown and moving away from whomever they’d just put their arm around.

It was funny and sad and took me on a path that started with my own relationships, wound its way through sociology and evolutionary biology and found its way back to me again.

TourSphere: What was the coolest use of technology you saw in a museum in 2011?

Beck: Jer Thorp’s use of to map all of the names of 9/11 victims on the 9/11 Museum memorial fountains blew my mind.  He created an algorithm that solved several complex problems (some environmental, like the shifting of expansion joints, and some conceptual, like placing victims names near those they knew and died alongside). More about it here.

TourSphere: Is there an app or a technology that has changed the way you do things or made your job easier this year?

Beck: There are a ton, always. I’ve found Balsamiq Mockups to be a wonderful tool for creating very quick, sketch-like wireframes to get an idea across without investing too much software time into the communication of it.

I’ve also enjoyed Google Plus Hangouts for multi-participant video conferencing, be it for “virtual beers” with far away colleagues or for more legitimate meeting purposes.

As for time management, the Pomodoro Technique was new to me this year and has changed the way I prioritize my time and estimate the work required to complete things (when I muster up the discipline to do it, that is).

Notational Velocity is an old friend, but I want to mention it as a technology that I love the more I use it and consistently makes my work life easier.  I’m composing the answers to these questions in it right now.

Honorable mention for, WriteRoom (especially when combined with QuickCursor), and Marked, which is a handy tool for using MarkDown in any application.

TourSphere: Apple or Android?

Beck: Apple products tend to make decisions for me in a way that doesn’t feel compromising — my cognitive load is lighter, my canvas unencumbered.  I am a total fan grrrl.

TourSphere: If you had to sum up what you think the theme for museums in 2012 will be in one word, what would your prediction be?

Beck: Self-Hosted.

Those of us who were all about third-party sites and tools to get up and running quickly have been burned once or twice and we’re seeing that part of our role as museums (and libraries) may be to preserve the social interaction and content we’re generating in our communities. Not that the pendulum will stay here forever…

TourSphere: What do you see as the biggest challenge for museums in the coming years?

Beck: Finding and keeping smart people. As a field, we need to define ourselves as a space for creatives to have freedom, space and insanely interesting content.  Museum leaders can do that by creating space for their staff to work on passion projects and take risks — something like the Google 20% time policy.

TourSphere: Is there something you are passionate about in the museum world that you would like to wax philosophical about or rant about?

Beck: I’m passionate about understanding how we learn.  I find myself often torn between the physical, materials-based, social environment of our museum and the opportunities afforded to us by technology. There’s just so much we don’t know.  Should we take advantage of the “moths to a glowing screen” effect because it affords us attention?

How are we compromising the privacy of our visitors with our participation in social networking sites? Can we find a reliable way to use the Internet to get people off the Internet?  What’s the line between providing an awesome experience and relinquishing control to a burgeoning community? How do we measure learning in an online informal learning environment?

Basically: What role does technology play in the often frustrating, but crazy awesome and important process of learning something new? We’re trying really hard and have some ideas, but are still far away from having answers.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts (and all of your productivity apps) with us, Beck! Follow Beck and her work at:

Twitter: @10ch
Blog: useum

Optimizing Videos for Mobile: Keep it Big and Keep it Small

1 Feb

This post is part of a series of “do it yourself” articles by Glenn Forsythe, Chief Soundscape Architect here at TourSphere. We hope you find it helpful when creating your own audio and video content!

Producing videos for mobile devices is not hard to get right but its easy to get wrong. If the end result is going to be streamed over a mobile network and displayed on a screen only a few inches wide, there are 2 simple keys to keep in mind: Keep it Big and Keep it small.

Keep it Big

When I say keep it big I am referring to the visual content. Make sure all people, images and copy in your videos are large- so that people can clearly see them when viewing a 3-inch screen.

Focus of shots

Make sure the focus of your shot is large – taking up about at least 1/3 of your screen space. If you are interviewing a subject for instance, don’t use a long shot, otherwise it will be much harder to see when shrunken down. The same goes for using images. If there is a detail of an image, crop and zoom way in on it as opposed to having people squint their eyes when observing a detail.

High resolution images

In order to create those detailed crops, it is important to work with high resolution material. Though creating a very high resolution final video is not recommended due to bandwidth, the content that you are using while assembling your video should be as high resolution as possible to give plenty of headroom for downscaling. In other words, if you have an image of a painting and you want to bring out a detail in the lower left corner, you can crop it so that the detail still fills the frame of the video without becoming blurry or pixilated.

Use large, bold fonts

Though it may look a little bit silly on a normal monitor, using larger fonts for titles, lower thirds and subtitles will vastly improve legibility. I also would stay away from heavily ornamented and thinner fonts like Zapfino and the like. You just want to stick to bolder or stroner fonts, and if using a program like final cut, I wouldn’t really go below 28 for the size of your text.

Keep it Small

When I say keep it small I am referring to the output size of your video file. Though this can be an intimidating procedure with all of the different options when rendering a movie, there are really just a handful of terms that are worth familiarizing yourself with in order to get the smallest compression possible without compromising the quality.

Bit or data rate

This refers to how much information per second is in the final video, affecting the resolution or quality. This also affects file size, so if someone is downloading instead of streaming your videos, a smaller bit rate would be wise.

Frame size/dimensions

The frame size is the physical dimensions, usually in pixels, of your video. Seeing as how all mobile devices will play movie files in fullscreen, this isn’t crucial to match the output of your video’s dimensions to an iPhone, but it is good to be aware of so you don’t make a huge frame (like an HD size of 1280 x 720) and waste unnecessary file size.

Frame rate

A standard component to how video works and has always worked, the frame rate is the amount of still frames per second in your video. When making your quicktime movie, I mostly leave this one as is or whatever it was shot at. However, sometimes to help improve streaming videos if the buffering is taking a really long time, you can cut the frame rate in half for smoother streaming performance. In some cases this can make the video look worse, so always test it before publishing to make sure the video doesn’t look choppy.

If you have any other tips to share or issues you’re having that you need some help with let me know in the comments.

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