Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Just put it on the web - how does a physical exhibit translate to an on-line one?

Earthlodge exercise from Project ArchaeologyIt’s an issue we’ve faced several times. Exhibits are an investment of time and effort, and can be given an extended life on the web. But it isn’t a straightforward transition. Visitors see physical exhibits in a rich context. They are prepared by the journey to the institution, view the material within the physical context of the building/landscape, and can enjoy it with family and friends who can share items of interest.

On the web they can arrive at the page as the result of mild curiosity after the page is presented from a tangential search. They are likely alone, and the exhibit can appear divorced of context.

Web exhibits then have to offer something extra to compensate. All the images, video and text can be included, but it’s also possible to have the visitor engage with the material.

  • Providing a zoom capability doesn’t just give a bigger picture, it allows the visitor to focus on the details in the image. (And have you seen the amazing Google Art project?).
  • Creating virtual pathways allows visitors to see connections between different parts of the exhibit.
  • Allowing visitors to record and share comments contributes to the exhibit and provides great feedback.
  • “Playful mechanics”* can create interactions that lead visitors through the process of learning, rather than just reading about it. Asking visitors to find the items in a room connected to sewing in a nineteenth century cabin, or drag elements in order to make a building make students active learners. Note: the image is from a module for Project Archaeology on building an Earthlodge.

Finding resources at the end of an exhibit is difficult, image permissions are different, staff have moved onto new things. But the web offers a chance to recharge the exhibit, and reach those visitors from around the world who can’t come to your site, but who you still want to reach.

*Playful mechanics are not the great guys from Car Talk, but a type of interaction related to gaming. For more, much more, see the excellent Play the Past.

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