Shaping personalized museum experiences

Engaging visitors with the right information at the right time and with the most effective type of interaction during their museum experience is one of the crucial issues curators are keen to invest effort in to make visits enjoyable, memorable, and instructive for their varied audience.

meSch is developing a platform where personalization technology helps curators tailor various aspects of a digitally enhanced visiting experience, i.e. which information is selected for presentation to visitors; the interaction modalities through which the content is disclosed; the pace of the visit both for individuals and for groups. We do this by guiding the curators through the composition of alternative narratives and behavior rules that are uploaded into augmented exhibition objects. Visitors are then able to find their way through the manifold offer prepared by the cultural heritage professionals by interacting with the objects and to experience their personal traces again after the visit as an inspiration for further exploring the relationship with the museum.

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Visitors choosing the stories they what to hear during their visit of a WWI historical site in the Italian Alps.

 

The ingredients for a personalized experience

Co-design research in meSch  confirmed that there are aspects of exhibition preparation that curators deem important to be under their control, like the provenance, the type and the quality of used content; the multiple layers of interpretation and perspectives employed to narrate the exhibited objects and places (as explained in a previous blog post); the type of experiences offered to the public that fulfill their museums mission statements. In meSch we explicitly pursue an approach to personalization that accurately balances:

  • the support to curators in preparing  digital stories and experiences that can be adapted to different visitors;
  • automatic algorithms for the system to dynamically trace and model aspects of the visit and instantiate the correct behaviour;
  • an active role for visitors to choose the type of experience they would like to have today.

Taking inspiration from what other museums have done and editing your own museum experience

In the meSch vision, a catalogue of digitally-augmented experiences already tested in museums or outdoor cultural heritage sites can help organizations that are new to the meSch approach understand the potential of tangible interaction deployed in the cultural heritage setting, take inspiration from what other museums have successfully adopted for their visitors, and find instructions on how to build a digitally augmented visit experience. Recommendation algorithms can be used by the platform to facilitate the search of suitable meSch experiences by suggesting what other similar organizations have built.

Once curators have found an interesting meSch experience to replicate in their museum or they have made up their minds on how to shape a brand new type of tangible interaction for their visitors, the meSch suite under development offers an editor for composing the narratives and tools to deploy the structured content on the smart objects. The ingredients of the experience are  formalized in the “experience schema”, a formalism that facilitates the specification of personalization conditions both in the content and in the way augmented objects are used, as explained in a recent paper at MW15.  A catalogue of reusable narrative and interaction strategies with step-by-step instructions on how to instantiate them for your museum and the type of visit personalization that they support is provided to assist curators. During the phase of content preparation, curators may also benefit from contextual search facilities that support the finding of content items in their online collections or in Europeana that are relevant for the editing of the current experience.

When the editing is complete, the package of the content items that build up the narrations and the rules that govern their context-dependent play during the visit are transferred to the onsite infrastructure that manages their application.

 

Delivering personalized experiences

While visitors move inside the museum space and interact with the meSch-augmented installations they are offered natural ways of selecting among the alternative narrative threads and getting additional content that may be of interest, offering them an active role in shaping their personal exploration.

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Visitors choosing alternative narrative perspectives represented by smart replicas (left) and activating the desired hotspots (right) at the Atlantik Wall exhibition in Museon.

The system silently collects logs of visitors’ interactions, builds an internal model of the visit context and executes context-dependent rules to instantiate the actual system behavior. Different sets of rules specified in the experience schema may offer very different types of exploration of the same content to visitors, e.g. in a free-visit experience, with a guided tour, with a storytelling that adapts to the order of visit, with a group treasure hunt that reveals the content only when the group is together, ….

 

Nurturing a long-lasting personal connection with the exhibition stories

At the end of the visit there is a chance for further nurturing a long-lasting personal relationship with visitors and promoting their engagement also afterwards. The logs of the visit are used in the meSch platform to generate personalized post-visit souvenirs and online visualizations according to what visitors have experienced, so that to reinforce their positive attitude towards the experience, favor memory and sharing, and provide an access point to further online exploration.

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The on-the-fly printing of a personalized postcard at the exit of the Artillery section of Museo della Guerra (left) and visitor reading the summary of her visit (right)

Indeed, post-visit souvenirs like postcards printed on the fly and given at the museum exit with a summary of the salient aspects of the personal visit can include an individual code for logging into a dedicated online interface: visitors are able to reconnect with the content and the place they have experienced during the visit, they are offered an overview of what they missed and could be explored next time, and they are stimulated to explore related information. Contextual-search algorithms that exploit the onsite logs are used to suggest relevant content that may be of interest.