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British Museum goes multimedia

In Museums on December 9, 2009 at 9:46 am

The British Museum’s new multimedia guide has gone live with the public. It’s a random access tour, which means visitors choose which objects they want to learn about as they wander the Museum, rather than following a set tour. Although there are some short tours on there, if that’s what you’d like to do.

I’m particularly excited as I have written just over half of the content for the guide. It’s like a conventional audio guide to a museum, but in addition to a sound only tour, visitors also receive a handset with a screen on it – about the size of an i-phone. At various points around the Museum, the guide will refer you to an image or some moving footage on the the screen.

One of the golden rules of writing audio material for museum guides is not to refer to something that isn’t there. There’s no point saying:

‘There’s a vase similar to this one in the Louvre in Paris, with a thicker base’.

What you can say is:

‘Take a look at your screen now and you’ll see a vase, similar to this one, from the collection of the Louvre in Paris. Can you see how the shape is slightly different at the bottom? That’s because….’

This added freedom meant the guide was great fun to write. The handset comes with a stylus, so I could even direct visitors to little interactive games and give them a variety of different commentaries from which to choose.

It seems like ages since I finished writing the content for the guide, but that’s because since my job finished there’s been a lot of other people involved. Aside from checking and editing my scripts, and translating the final text of over 200 commentaries into ten languages (yikes!) the Museum’s staff have also had to program all the interactive and multimedia elements into the handsets.

Yesterday the multimedia guide underwent the ultimate litmus test Рmy mother took the guide and, after a while of figuring out how the interactive map works, found it quite straightforward to use. And she seemed pretty impressed with the multimedia elements.

Now we’ll just have to wait and see what the public think! Do let me know if you’ve used it, and what you think of it.

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