Museums and the Web 1999

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Published: March 1999.


Adding Spatial Context to Museum Information

Amnon Ribak , IBM Israel Science and Technology Ltd., Israel

Session: Spatial context

One of the most disturbing factors in a museum visit is the feeling of being lost, a sense of total disorientation. On the other hand, a crucial factor for an enjoyable museum visit is putting visitor information into context.

This paper demonstrates a methodology and technology, developed as a joint project between the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg and IBM, Haifa, designed to interactively present museum works in their spatial context, as well as providing detailed routes for the visitor inside the museum. This new Java(superscript: (tm))-based framework and application, a native solution for visitor kiosks, is adapted for the Web and is preferable to the traditional image map in it's flexibility and interactivity.

In joint projects - including the American Museum of Natural History, New York, and the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, we have focused on enhancing the visitor experience, by providing a variety of ways for visitors to make the most our of their visit. By viewing updated information about special and temporary exhibitions and tour options, and by receiving direction to find works and collections of special interest to them, visitors are able to preplan the visit and tailor it to their personal preference. This can be done in many ways - by suggesting tours that cover a specific topic, promoting talks and lectures based on visitor profile, and through adding spatial context by presenting museum works and collections clearly within their gallery location.

This spatial context information is widely used on today's Web sites using the Image Map technology, which is very slow to respond, and thus poor in terms of interactivity. We discuss and demonstrate the Interactive Map, A Java(superscript: (tm)) based framework tailored for the Web environment, (using medium-bandwidth Internet connection) which puts objects - text, images and animations - on top of the map, using client-side functionality - making it a lot more interactive, useful and gratifying.

By using Interactive Maps, on-site and on-line, we provide visitors with current information on the location of museum collections and activities in reference to their own location within the museum, thus enabling them to discover a favourite work, the route to the book shop, restrooms or the museum exit.

We also allow visitors to select their favourite items, building their own personal "Visit List". By calculating the optimal route, we provide users with an on-screen and printable "Visit Path", outlining detailed directions on how to get to their selected works. This "Visit Path" can then be displayed on-screen and printed on paper.

A typical "Visit Path" would include:

  • Paths dynamically outlined over floor plans

  • Special animations for staircases

  • Prominent 'landmarks' en-route

  • Detailed written descriptions of the path

  • Directions - 'turn right', 'continue' ....

  • Reference objects

  • Additional information

The web application could be further developed for larger scale environments such as maps for city tours including civil landmarks, historical buildings, and city tours. These future applications will also be discussed in this paper.