Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guest Post: Rearranging the Fossils - Using Museum 2.0 to Get a Stuck Innovation Process Moving Again

This guest post was written by Ruben Huele and describes the scenario-based strategic process used at the Dutch Natural History Museum, Naturalis, to innovate the redevelopment of their permanent collection. Please share your own experiences with alternative strategic planning processes in the comments!

The new building of Naturalis, the Dutch National Natural History Museum, opened in 1998. The museum has a total floor space of 25,000 m2, and receives 250,000 visits per year. The permanent exhibition presents fossils, an overview of the diversity of the life and the large geological processes. Naturalis has a Camarasaurus, a Edmontosaurus and an enormous collection of stuffed animals. The museum presents changing temporary exhibitions, but the permament exhibition has remained the same since opening.

Early on, the directors had decided that the lifespan of the permanent exhibition would be about ten years, and in 2006 the first meetings on innovation were convened. However, in the meantime, Naturalis had been reorganized and trimmed into a highly efficient organization. The staff concentrated on museum operation and just did not have time, energy or brain space to seriously explore the challenges of a new permanent exhibition. The minutes of meetings held in 2006, 2007, and early 2008 reflect a hurried and rather superficial process. One would have expected signs of serious disagreements and fundamental discussions, but no signs of these were found. Assuming a development time of 5 years and a new lifespan of another 10 years, the new permanent exhibition would have to stay exciting till 2023, but the documents did not reflect vision, principle and priorities for the next fifteen years of Naturalis.

In this situation I was hired during the last quarter of 2008 to get the process moving. Apart from an earlier assignment to liaise between Naturalis and groups of citizen scientists, I had no prior experience with museums. I do have experience as knowledge engineer and conceptualizer, which basically means that I am used to working in fields I know nothing about. Uninitiated outsiders are allowed to ask dumb questions, which sometimes can elicit illuminating answers.

My main concern was to get the discussion out of the operational sphere, as issues there could not be separated from the immediate concerns of workload. After the reorganizations and budget cuts, no one had time to spare and any practical proposal was sure to get opposed by the one whose workload would be afflicted. The solution was to get impractical proposals on the table.

So I asked people to make up scenarios. Most people enjoy building a fantasy world. It is not threatening and seldom leads to changes in the short term, while at the same time it allows exploration of the possibilities of potential futures. It’s important that no one takes the scenarios as predictions or proposals. In order to avoid scenarios that are too simple or useless at a later stage, some strict constraints for the scenarios have to be set up, and these constraints should reflect the underlying dynamics of the institution.

To find the dynamics, or lack thereof at Naturalis, I set out to speak to everyone working there. This quickly proved unworkable, as the total workforce of Naturalis is more than 400 people. Still, speaking to people at the coffee-machine, during lunch and occasionally during meetings, I quickly collected views from many angles, including those of scientists, curators, attendants, designers, technicians and the PR department. From the conversations and documents within Naturalis, I divined some abstract issues that could serve as guidelines for the scenarios.

It should not surprise the Museum 2.0 blog readers much that the main guiding dynamics were Flexibility and Openness. Apart from that, the questions Naturalis has to face are how much opportunity it wants to offer the visitors for social interaction, how educational and how theatrical it wants to be. Scenarios had to be made on flexibility, openness, theatricality, educationality, and sociability. Those are the constraints of the innovation policy field.

Following the Museum 2.0 blog's suggestion, I had started a wiki (in Dutch) in the hope to fire up a general discussion on museum innovation. This proved not to work, though the wiki was useful to collect links, publish documents and generally store all kinds of stuff that might be relevant. The wiki did become more active when I started to organize workshops and asked participants to contribute inspiring images. After that, the wiki grew into a channel to accompany the workshops, supporting Nina Simon’s statement: "Wikis are great for documenting events with many parallel content tracks."

During the first workshop, participants devised scenarios following the internal logic of the constraints: museums that were extremely flexible, open, theatrical, educational, social, or not at all. The scenarios were used to explore the dimensions of these constraints. One group of participants thought up a museum based on 12 boats, 11 traveling around the Netherlands and one in the dock for refitting. Another group designed a museum following a magazine formula, having a new exhibition every month, with accompanying radio and television programs and degree-earning courses. Once started, the groups got more and more productive. They suggested a totally automated museum, with robots in the storage room, to be programmed by the visitor over the Internet before the visit, the result to be filmed and put on YouTube. A museum that went back to its roots as curiosities cabinet, for very exclusive (and expensive) experiences. A museum where visitors would come to design and build exhibitions, starting from shoebox theaters for children to whole rooms by groups of dedicated amateurs, with staff guidance if desired. Museums for groups of 60 persons only. Museums with a new exhibition every day. A completely dark museum. A museum where you do not pay for entrance, but contribute by measuring and describing a few objects. Providing images of objects for the screens of ATM's. Buying a train. Forbidden for adults. We had a lot of fun.

The second workshop tried to interpret the outcome of the first into more realistic guidelines for the innovation of the permanent exhibition. I followed a diplomatic approach. In the first round the participants could contribute options and in the second round one option was chosen. For instance, in the first round the sentence "Naturalis will [...] react to current events" could be filled in by the participants with options like "daily", 'monthly", "not", "sometimes', "only on the website" or "only for guided tours". In the second round, a decision was reached on one of the options by an auction, for which the participants were provided with 30 counters and a small plastic dinosaur that counted for 10. The highest bidder got the decision and had to pay, reducing his or her capital to influence following decisions. In this case, the highest bid went to "daily, in the museum and/or on a weblog".

The final conclusions that were sold:
  • Naturalis will daily, in the museum and/or on a weblog, react to actualities.
  • Naturalis will provide guided tours, courses and guidebooks on demand.
  • Naturalis will give the public an active role.
  • Naturalis will be a theater.
  • Naturalis will be physicallyvisible outside the region via branches throughout the Netherlands.
  • Naturalis will provide visitors planned opportunities for social interaction.
The item on education caused some haggling and ended up as:
  • Naturalis will always manifest itself as a educational organization, from primary school to university level, in a innovating and pleasent way, with as goal 60,000 student visits per year.
My assignment is now finished and these seven sentences are the outcome in its most concise form. They are now on the board's table as proposed guidelines for the innovation of the permanent exhibition. It will have to be seen if the guidelines will survive the coming board decisions. Still, the agenda has been set and a large group of people has been involved. Most important of all, the process has now become visible, especially on the wiki. Though the conclusions are not very different or innovative in themselves, the fact that now many more people are aware of and invested in them offers some hope that this time the innovation process indeed will continue.

Ruben Huele can be reached at Please consider leaving a comment here so everyone can be part of the conversation!

Monday, February 23, 2009

What Do You Need to Make the Argument for Participatory Design?

As many of you know, I’m writing a book about participatory design for museums. I’m using a wiki to do so, and a few intrepid generous folks have signed up to give feedback on the evolving draft. Over the last week, there’s been a lively discussion on the wiki about the key audiences and goal of the book, and I wanted to open that up to you (and you are, of course, welcome to join the wiki and help).

The book is intended to be a practical guide to participatory museum experiences focused on design strategies, case studies, and activities. I believe that demystifying participatory design and encouraging professionals to try it is the most important step towards its evolution as a museum practice. I presume most people who read the book will be practitioners who are already on some level interested in participatory design and are looking for useful design frameworks, techniques, and examples to develop and refine their practice.

However, I know that that leaves out the majority of museum professionals who are not aware of or sold on participatory design. The WHY of participatory design is really important. But I have two challenges dealing with it:
  1. I don’t want to bore readers who are already convinced and are ready for action. I want them to get good, meaty techniques, not just more inspirational talk. The more time spent on “sweeping institutional change,” the less energy is left to do the experiments that incrementally make that change happen.
  2. I’m not sure that those who are unconvinced would pick up the book, and if they did, what would convince them. I don’t think participatory design is THE way for every museum, but I hope it can become a way that many will consider.
And there’s a third reason. I’m nervous that I don’t know how to give you the arguments you need. I live in a bubble of people who are already interested in participatory design. They’re the ones who read this blog, hire me, and inspire me. The result is that I spend very little time fighting the battles and living with the related frustration, and I don’t know what you need to succeed and survive.

Unfortunately, I do know there’s no silver bullet on the WHY of participatory design. This work is experimental enough in museums that there aren’t many robust evaluations to use as the basis for argument. There are many good and useful translations of Web-based design patterns, but in the museum world, this is still an emerging practice. There are some self-described “success stories,” but most rest on anecdotal perception of success. And then there’s the problem of finding the right metrics for evaluation. Participatory design often opens up dramatically different opportunities, audiences, and activities for museums, and it’s hard to evaluate the value of those outcomes relative to standard museum making. If you’ve never successfully attracted teenagers before and now they are coming and participating, how much is that worth? How do you compare it to your traditional activities?

I’m going to try, in the process of writing this book, to learn more about and work on evaluative techniques for participatory design. In the meantime, here are the primary WHY arguments I feel confident making:
  1. Participatory design can help museums match the demands of an increasingly empowered culture in which people expect to spend less time consuming and more time creating and discussing. We’ve known for a long time that visitors “make their own meaning.” Participatory design gives us a way to support and integrate that meaning-making into the larger museum experience.
  2. Participatory design can help museums deliver on the oft-repeated but rarely demonstrated desire for museums to become essential civic spaces, social environments that encourage the democratic process. The “cultural town square” is more likely to come out of the models of the social Web than the city hall meetings you don’t attend.
  3. Participatory design can bring in new audiences from the “creative leisure class” of adults 18-40 without children. These are people who are highly engaged in cultural activities, but are doing so through non-museum venues like Maker Faire, Burning Man, blogs, activist groups, knitting circles, coffee shops, and online communities. Most of these venues are event- or Web-based and their users are in need of open, flexible locations in which to express and share their interests.
  4. Participatory design can convert "underserved" audiences who do not feel welcome in museums into passionate advocates and partners. This only happens when the participatory model involves deep connection with these audiences in an ongoing relationship, but it is notable and significant.
  5. Participatory design is supported by a new staff/business model in which the museum brokers ongoing relationships rather than supplying fixed experiences. While this new model may prove more expensive in operation, it is more flexible and low-cost on the experience development/capital side.
  6. In a sociological climate that values personal perspective and relativism, participatory design platforms can serve as an engine for intelligent, well-designed multi-vocal exhibits and programs. Note that institutional subject matter affects the extent to which perspective is valued; your opinion on the history of your tribe is more likely to be engaged than your opinion on the history of the universe.
Each of these arguments comes with robust museum-based and external case studies and design frameworks. Each has counter-arguments—that visitors want designed experiences, that museums should stick to what they know, that young adult audiences aren’t our core, that we shouldn't coddle people who don't come already, that new business models are risky, that relativism is BS. I think that’s a good thing. I don’t want to convince people that participatory design is the only way to go, just that if offers new options. And for a museum director who sees her institution's goals in the points above, it may be a design practice worth investigating.

But is that enough? Is it weak to rest on, “if your mission includes X, then you should consider participatory design as a way to achieve those goals?” I can’t offer anyone double-digit attendance or donation increases, but I’m not idealistic enough to suggest that we throw those metrics out the window. What would you want from an argument for participatory design in the context of a book like this? What do you need me to say, and what can you teach me to help me say it?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Magic Vest Phenomenon and Other Wearable Tools for Talking to Strangers

I've been thinking recently about how I originally got interested in talking to strangers in museums. I am not a person who is fundamentally good at talking to strangers. I love playing host to friends, but I clam up in big crowds, never go to happy hour, and don't know how to flirt. Working in museums as floor staff cracked open the social stranger door for me. My first museum job was working on the floor at the Acton Science Discovery Museum in Massachusetts. Like floor staff everywhere, I wore a vest that identified me as a staff person. It was blue. It was polyester. And It was a magic vest.

What made it magic? When I slipped on the vest, I was suddenly identified as someone who was safe for strangers to talk to. I could approach a kid and ask him a question or put a tuning fork to her elbow without any parents getting suspicious. I could jump in with a perplexed family and help them make the pendulum work. I was sought out and could initiate conversations. I could even tell dumb jokes or get people to sing songs about science with me. Magic.

Some days, I'd leave the museum to go grocery shopping, and I'd forget that I'd taken off my magic vest. I'd ask people questions in the produce aisle, bend down to talk to a small kid about what she was having for dinner. Sometimes this worked out, but more often, I was perceived as an intruder. Without the vest, I wasn't able to engage in the way that worked for me at the museum, and I didn't have any fall-back way to connect with strangers. So I stopped trying.

Over the years, I've learned to put on an imaginary magic vest when I go to museums, and I've gotten more comfortable starting conversations without it. But the physical vest is still better. When I told this story to a friend of mine who's a fire fighter, he immediately agreed--he feels like his uniform is also a magic social object. In uniform, he's someone who is perceived as a helpful source of information and a safe and enjoyable person to talk with. Out of uniform, he's just another guy on the street.

Of course, there's no single social object that projects a universal message of openness and willingness to engage. A person in a cop uniform may be inviting to some, threatening to others. I think of my dog as an amazing social object, but I'm also aware that for some people, dogs are scary creatures to be avoided. Every piece of apparel or physical extension of oneself invites others to pass judgment. The trick is to find the things that encourage others to judge you as welcoming and worthy of positive interaction.

I wouldn't be the person I am today, one who is genuinely interested in others' opinions and jumps into participatory museum experiences, if not for my time on the museum floor in the magic vest. I believe that everyone deserves to have a magic vest experience, and that for socially inept people like myself, having an opt-in way to signal your interest in interpersonal communication can be a great social tool to mediate the experience. There are some safety concerns--we wouldn't want people impersonating fire fighters--but there should be some "magic vests" that come laden with positive interest and intent rather than authority. Many science museums offer kids lab coats to wear during programs, which affects their self-perception and modes of expression. What if we offered all visitors coats, vests, hats, etc. to express their interest in engaging in particular ways? I've written before about the idea of offering visitors stickers or buttons that say "ASK ME WHAT I THINK" so they can have their own social experiences facilitated by apparel, and I'm looking for more options.

Why does talking to strangers matter? Every time I do it, it improves my ability to empathize and understand other people. It brings surprising and delightful experiences into my life. My default is to feel phenomenally lonely in large social venues like museums and conferences. Finding the right tools to enable social engagement lets me leave my own shell and connect with and enjoy the rest of the world.

I'm curious what "magic vest" experiences you've had--whether in museums or elsewhere--and how you think wearable social objects fit into participatory experiences with strangers. What's your magic vest? Where do you wear it, and what superpower does it have?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Join us for the Creativity and Collaboration Retreat!

Imagine a conference. Now, imagine it happening in a beautiful retreat center on the beach. Imagine activities that actually encourage you to spend time on said beach. Imagine a small enough group that you can spend meaningful time with brilliant people in your field. Imagine making and playing together. Imagine workshops led by inspiring rock stars from gaming, festivals, and special effects. Imagine bonfires, musical jam sessions, and iron chef exhibit design.

Sounds good? Then you should check out the Creativity and Collaboration (C2) retreat sponsored by NAME and AAM, May 31-June 2 of this year in Monterey, CA. You may already go to a lot of conferences and money is tight this year, but isn't this the kind of experience that might actually thrill you and change your life? The focus is on bringing in outside influencers--folks from the Burning Man festival to World Without Oil--to help museum experience designers recharge, connect, and explore new ways to do creative work in teams. We're limiting the registration to 80 and we're about halfway there, so now is a great time to reserve your spot. The registration fee is $325 and there are three fellowships available that cover registration plus $500 towards travel expenses.

Being on the C2 planning team has stretched my brain to consciously think about the processes and conditions for creativity and collaboration. There are so many times when we're good at one and lousy at the other, and we've tried to be intentional in designing every aspect of the retreat to tease out some of the complications and magic involved in putting them together. There will be discussions, workshops, immersive activities, and plenty of time to relax and seduce the creative genius inside you. As a bonus, C2 falls immediately after (and about 90 miles south of) Maker Faire, a force of creative collaboration in its own right. Registrants are encouraged to come a day early to explore the Faire together on May 30, after which I am happy to host you at my place for the night before the retreat starts. What better way to get into the C2 spirit than to spend a day with fire-breathing robots followed by a night in the redwood forest? I'm hopeful we'll get a good group who can spend the morning of the 31st together hiking and talking about our creative goals and dreams going into the retreat.

Registration for C2 will close at the end of April. We've created an alternative website to provide a more participatory version of the standard pre-conference informational site. I made this website for free using Wordpress, and we're using it to answer questions, learn more about attendees' interests and needs, and most importantly, to hear about the awesome and inspiring reasons that people are coming to C2. If nothing else, please check out the C2 blog to hear your colleagues' honest, thoughtful reasons why C2 seems useful to them--whether to confront economic uncertainty, exercise their creative brains, take a risk, or boost the old "create-o-meter." I hope you'll join us and add your own reasons soon!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

1stfans: An Audience-Specific Membership Program at the Brooklyn Museum

The conventional wisdom on museum memberships is that they are "one size fits many" programs whose primary benefits are free entrance to the museum and insider access to exhibition openings. The main audiences for memberships are value members, who think of it as a good deal, lifelong learners, who want to come to as many programs and exhibits as possible, and donors, who support the museum. But what about all the other people who love your museum? What about the families who show up on your free days religiously or the ones blogging about your new artifacts? Could you create a membership that speaks specifically to them?

This week, an interview with Brooklyn Museum 1stfans managers Will Cary (membership) and Shelley Bernstein (technology) and artist An Xiao. 1stfans is a new kind of membership launched on January 3, 2009 that combines in-person meetups, private groups on Facebook and Flickr, and a private Twitter feed featuring work by original artists (for more background, check out Will and Shelley's blog posts and videos). It has gotten a lot of attention as a "social media membership," but Will and Shelley are adamant that 1stfans is not about social media. Instead, 1stfans is an attempt to turn the impersonal engine of museum membership into a relationship-based, community-centered interaction for two specific museum audiences.

1stfans builds benefits onto two programs that were already successful at connecting people to the Brooklyn Museum: free Target First Saturdays and online social media outreach. The people who engage in these programs already have pre-existing positive relationships with the institution, but they don't buy memberships. 1stfans is an attempt to change that by providing specific benefits targeted to those audiences' needs. Cynics say they are monetizing free programs; supporters say they are providing something worth paying for to a self-selected group for whom traditional membership is not appealing. Both are true. 1stfans is one answer to a universal question: "How do we create a membership to serve visitors who already have a positive relationship with the museum but have not chosen to purchase traditional memberships?"

Want to know how the Brooklyn Museum is answering this question? Then read on, and please share your thoughts in the comments.

Can you tell me about the basic concept behind 1stfans as a membership program?

Will: The big change we’ve made is taking something that is all marketing (membership) and turned it into something that is about personal interactions and growing the community. We’ve gone from a one-directional membership experience—we send you stuff again and again, and then you show up--to a triangular relationship where Shelley and I get to know the 1stfans, they get to know us, and they get to know each other. We announced 1stfans on December 5, 2008, and since then have had 272 1stfans from 15 states and 9 countries on 4 continents.

There are both virtual-only and local 1stfan members. What's the balance between them, and how do you do this triangulation with both kinds?

Will: Only 32 of the 272 so far are from outside the tri-state area, so the majority are locals. There are different benefits to 1stfans for different people. For the faraway folks, some of it is having personal access to staff at a museum you can't visit. For the locals, the meetups are happening at First Saturday--an event they were already going to. For example, on February 7, we had a free 1stfans behind-the-scenes event with conservator Lisa Bruno talking about animal mummies. We'd been twittering publicly about mummies all week, but the event on Saturday was restricted to 1stfans. 32 people showed up, and they liked the program, but the cool part was that everyone stayed around and talked to each other afterwards. And we definitely see people coming to the meetups and then following up online.

Shelley: For the faraway members, we don't have the meetups. But this week we posted a video of Lisa’s presentation on the 1stfans private Facebook group and she'll be available for Q&A on Facebook. We're curious to see how that goes.

Who are the 1stfans? Do you have a sense of why they are joining?

Will: This whole thing started with us discussing two audience segments: people who come to First Saturdays and people who connect with us on the Web—neither of whom buy memberships. And while there are some museum professionals and social media people joining out of curiosity, the majority are locals. We have all these local Brooklyn people who love the museum and come on First Saturdays and spend all day on Facebook and Flickr. This was made for them.

So you weren't targeting "Brooklyn artists" or some other demographic group. It's specific to people who come to the museum but aren't members.

Will: Right. This is part of an analytical process and drew on membership surveys we've done over several years. The challenges were there and we tried to find a solution. 1stfans was not an “if we build it, they will come” kind of project. They were already involved--we just needed to provide them with the right benefits. People shouldn’t get hung up on the social media-ness. Everyone gets fixated on this, but we’re just using it to address a problem.

Shelley: This is not about social media. Yes, we are using social media, but that's because we've always been using social media--this is an outgrowth of the relationships we already had on Flickr and Twitter, our attempt to provide additional benefits to those people.

How did you pick the price point of $20?

Will: It just felt right. As Shelley said, “everyone’s got a $20 in their pocket.” It's within the "impulse buy" range.

Shelley: At this price, people really use it a la carte. Some people want the in-person events, some people want to connect on social networks, and some 1stfans do both. Looking at the statistics on the online participation, each platform has a different number of group members, which means people are taking what they want from it.

How is 1stfans messaged relative to other membership types? Is it an add-on? Can I buy a 1stfans membership at the front desk?

Will: 1stfans is its own tier of membership and regular members can purchase it as an add-on. Since it is so wildly different from other museum memberships, we feel like we have to separate and distinguish it. We don't want people to say, "I'll just buy the cheapest membership" and become 1stfans without realizing what they are getting.

1stfans is not on our printed membership brochure because we don't want to confuse people. We advertise it at First Saturday and on the website, beacuse those are the places where our target audience come and those are the people who will like 1stfans.

Are 1stfans confused or upset that they don’t get free admission to the museum?

Will: We've only had one person ask about this, and no one has complained. Remember, these are people who come to First Saturday--which is already free--and they're at work when we’re open during the week. So free admission isn't the benefit they really need.

It's interesting that the focus for 1stfans is on these very specific audience segments. Could you imagine creating another targeted membership for, say, senior citizens who want to come in the morning on weekdays?

Shelley: It's funny you bring that up. When we first shared this idea, Will’s boss said, "this is a great and innovative project, but it only serves one part of the community. And we serve many--we have to serve our whole community."

Will: We're hopeful that 1stfans is just the first step in this direction. We’ve talked in marketing meetings about creating a package appealing to senior citizens just as we have for the 1stfans.

How do you balance the exclusive content with public content? Are there staff members pushing you to make these events available to 1stfans for free and charge the general public to come?

Shelley: That hasn't really come up with staff, but we do want to find more ways to share the content created for 1stfans with the public. For example, our 1stfans Twitter Art Feed is currently featuring Mary Temple, who is making this really great calendar of portraits of people in the news. In March, we will print a physical version of her work and display it publicly at First Saturday. She’ll do two talks about the project—one just for 1stfans and one that’s public and open to all. That’s also one of the reasons we made the video with An about her Morse code Twitter stream in January—so anyone who’s curious can get an idea of what this is about.

There's been a lot of debate in the social media world about the exclusive content, especially the Twitter Art Feed, people saying that we are selling something that should be free. You can read our thoughts (and lots of good comments from detractors and 1stfans alike) on this controversy here and here.

The Twitter Art Feed features a new artist every month. How are you selecting and rewarding these artists?

Shelley: Long-term, we're working with our John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art, Eugenie Tsai, to bring a mix of artists and ideas to the feed. Some artists are selected from the open call (including our first artist, An Xiao), others are projects or artists that we know of and think will work well in the feed for one reason or another, and some artists have work in our collection or are featured in our current exhibitions. Since 1stfans is a new program at the museum and one with an incredibly low price point, all artists in the Twitter Art Feed are donating their time and their effort, which is pretty amazing. One of the most exciting things for me personally is to see artists really fired up about the idea of this membership, wanting to support the Museum and willing to donate their energy to do so.

An, what was your experience like as the first artist to be featured on the Twitter Art Feed?

An: I'd been actively exploring online media and our emerging culture of branded, digital selves, with self-portrait series centered around blogging and advertising, and Twitter quickly became part of that larger exploration. I'd been using it for a while before I was selected for the January feed, but never as an art project per se--my account is a personal scrapbook of ideas and thoughts rather than what I might consider an artistic medium. So on the one hand, engaging in the 1stfans feeds was an exciting opportunity to take a new communications medium and use it as an artistic medium. On the other hand, it was intimidating for that very same reason!

Two things about the overall experience stood out. The first was the amount of work entailed. As a haiku poet and Zen artist, I've been trained in the power of brevity. The trick with the project was that, on top of the 140-character limit, each character in alaphanumerics could convert into as many as six dots and/or dashes in Morse code, thus dropping the amount of text I could squeeze into each tweet. I took time at the start of each week to prepare my tweets both to fit the character restrictions and to make them as interesting as possible.

Secondly, I loved how much 1stfans members got into it. I doubt many of us have ever sent a telegram or seen a telegraph machine, but I found myself having a number of witty, clever exchanges with folks, all in the long tradition of this archaic medium. Artist Nina Meledandri even used a combination of visual imagery and Morse code, taking the project outside Twitter and into Flickr, with a final response composed of pencils, crayons and pastels to represent dashes, and shells and stones to represent dots. The project received some criticism for being inaccessible and cumbersome (members had to copy and paste the tweets into a Morse code translator), but for the most part, the response was quite positive, and the feed became highly interactive. In that sense, the project evolved from simply a conceptual one at the outset into one that was performative and collaborative--an Internet theatre of sorts.

How did working on the Feed impact your relationship with the Brooklyn Museum?

I'd been a fan of the museum in general since I started dropping by a few years ago, and I particularly loved the sense of community around First Saturdays. However, it wasn't until I submitted a photo for Click!, a crowd-curated exhibition that Shelley organized, that I started to feel like a part of the museum. Shelley's warmth and enthusiasm stood out over email and even more so in person, and I soon found myself actively reading and occasionally participating in the blogs.

And so, well before 1stfans was developed, I already felt not simply like a visitor but both a member of a community and an active participant in their arts programming and discourse. Working on the Feed was simply a continuation of this experience. Shelley and Will were super helpful while I was in Los Angeles for the set-up, and of course, I was thrilled to tweet back and forth with 1stfans members and then to meet them in person and on Facebook. The fact that artists are willing to donate their time, effort and money to 1stfans is a real testament to the sense of community that the museum has created. In a city like New York, and in the often disparate and overwhelming art world, it's quite striking. Everything from the fact that Shelley and Will and other memberships staffers take the time to get to know members to the open online communities they've created to encourage interaction speaks to this.

Will and Shelley, have you hit any challenges or surprises thus far with 1stfans?

Shelley: The signup process is manual which is both good (we get to know people) and bad (time consuming). We couldn't use our exisiting setup to process these memberships, so we had to rethink it by using Google Checkout for payment and Google Docs to keep track of folks.

Will: The main challenge on a day-to-day basis concerns the nature of the internet: it doesn't stop when we leave the office. When 1stfans join on a Saturday, they expect to hear from us by Sunday. If they join at 8pm on a weeknight, they'll request to follow the Twitter Art Feed at 9pm, and send us an email at 10pm if that hasn't happened. Because 1stfans request to hear from us on Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter, we have to manually add them to the group, which sometimes involves finding their profiles on each of those sites. In order to serve 1stfans, Shelley and I have to find time to interact with them in a way that meets their demands while not taking away from the other work we have to do. It's tough, but because there's two of us we've made it work so far.

Is there a marketing strategy for 1stfans?

Will: No. We feel like we have to do an adequate job addressing our two target segments--then we’ll come up with ways to market this to other groups. We have 10,000 people at First Saturday – we want to hit more of them before we look for other segments to address. The 1stfans themselves are our greatest ambassadors helping spread the word through their own networks. The artists on the Twitter Art Feed are also doing a lot of promotion to their own networks-An was great, frequently posting about it on her blog.

What are the plans for the future of 1stfans?

Shelley: Our basic motto is be fully committed to our members, but keep finding small things that can make a big impact. Think outside the box to figure out how to involve both sets of people (faraway and local 1stfans) in one swoop, so we can be cautious of staff time and maximize effort. So, looking at February, we taped Lisa Bruno's in-person presentation on the animal mummies and put up the rough cut, then host a Q&A in the Facebook group for a few days and see how it goes. I'd say, generally, you'll find us doing things in a scrappy way figuring it's better to share as much as we can even if we can't make it pretty. Also, we don't know yet which formats work better than others, so there's going to be a lot of experimentation to find out.

Since this membership is based in the social networks, we are going to be watching carefully as that landscape changes (and it will). I think of this is a living membership structure in this way - we watch and we adapt. After all, Twitter may not be here forever, so we've got to keep thinking, adjust as necessary and grow with the technology in the same way we grow and learn with the group. The really wonderful thing is we are getting to know the people who have joined, so when the time comes to make adjustments, I'm confident that this will be a discussion rather than a top-down mandate from the sky.

Monday, February 09, 2009

What is a Wikimuseum? And More Thoughts on Metaphorical Design

Recently, I've been thinking and working with the concept of metaphorical design, that is, designing things by modeling them after other things. This interest stems back to the very beginning of the Museum 2.0 blog. In October of 2006, I went to the Association of Science and Technology Centers conference and attended a "hot topics in exhibit design" roundtable where I first heard the question, "What would a wikimuseum be like?" The person asking the question is an extremely experienced, brilliant exhibit developer. She didn't really know what a wiki was, but she liked the idea of it. And that's where the opportunity--and the problem--begins.

Since 2006, I've heard terms like "wikimuseum" and "YouTube museum" spring from the mouths of many well-meaning, interested museum directors and leaders, but I haven't seen enough concerted work to define what these metaphors really mean and how they can be used. There are two things that worry me about this:
  1. Museum executives are often fascinated by the social/cultural outcomes of social media but may not understand the specific characteristics of the platforms (and are too busy to spend their time learning them).
  2. Museum technology professionals, who are capable of detailing the characteristics of platforms, are not good at or able to communicate with museum directors about what social media translations to the real world might actually entail.
In other words, we're talking past each other in mixed metaphors. For example, when I think of the term "wikimuseum," I think of several potential characteristics. A wikimuseum
could be one that anyone can add to, one that anyone can edit, one that automatically archives all changes to date, or any combination of these things. The characteristics I imagine are based on my definition of a wiki as a website that anyone can edit. But that is not everyone's definition. In 2008, I worked with one museum director for whom the word "wiki" is synonymous with "Wikipedia." When he talked about a "wikimuseum," he meant a phenomenally popular, encyclopedic institution powered by researchers all over the world. We were using the same word, but we had to break it down into an explicit discussion to really understand each other.

Until we do the hard work of deconstructing these metaphors to understand them and make them actionable, they are like soft porn: pretty and lifeless. I'm a big fan of George Lakoff, a linguist and philosopher who has written prolifically about the use of metaphor in meaning-making across all aspects of our lives. In Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and his co-author, Mark Johnson, argue that metaphor is literally embedded in our neurological structures from birth and affects how we think and use language. Not only do people use metaphors to understand complicated concepts (i.e. "war is hell" or "close to my goal"), these metaphors affect the way we categorize and understand the world. For example, the concept that "time is money" is a culturally-specific metaphor. If you feel like time is a limited resource and your co-worker feels like time is an infinite garden of forking paths, you might get a little frustrated.

And this is where the linguistics hits the museum. If the metaphor you are using as a basis for a design project is fundamentally different from a colleague's metaphor, you have a problem. There is no one answer to the question "what is a wikimuseum?" There are lots of potential answers. But you need to pick one that works for you and all of your coworkers if you want to move forward with a metaphorical design strategy.

If a word like "wiki" is too much of a linguistic landmine, pick a word or metaphor that is more widely understood. For example, if your concept of a wikimuseum is one which anyone can contribute to, maybe you should talk about a "potluck museum" instead. Then you can deal with the thorny questions ("What happens if everyone brings bean salad?") and have productive working sessions to work out what the metaphor really means for your institution and your project. And if the director wants to revert to using "wiki" when talking about it in the media for the buzz, that's fine. Just as long as everyone knows to think of the potluck (or whatever your straightforward, functional metaphor is) when they're working things out.

This may sound silly--I'm basically suggesting you substitute one metaphor for another. But we've all had experiences where a word or phrase is "loaded" in a way that causes confusion or argument. In those situations, we find other words and try again.

There are some great creative exercises out there to help you reveal new, useful metaphors that connect to your design concepts. Check out Place Storming, a technique developed by Ken Anderson and Jane McGonigal. Give your team a physical object that is loosely evocative of the design concept. If the concept is around tagging, you might give out stickers. If the concept is around social connections, you might give out string. These objects become physical metaphors for the idea. Assign a metaphorical verb to the object (i.e. “the tagger,” or “the connector”) and then tell the team to go use the object in the museum. As one Intel engineer in Anderson and McGonigal's test group commented: “Having to ‘live with’ it [the metaphorical object] made me think differently about new ideas — It wasn’t about coming up with something clever but something to fit into life.” Similarly, hopefully, museum-based metaphorical design should be not about coming up with a good buzzword but coming up with something to "fit into" the museum experience.

I don't think terms like "wikimuseum" are pure hype. I think they have potential. We just have to make them accessible and meaningful in everybody's native tongue. That's the only way to give them power. Words have power? It's a metaphor I believe in.

What metaphors do you use in your work? Which have you found to be useful in connecting technology concepts to experience design? Any spectacular failures?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Change from the Inside: A Conversation with COSI

What’s harder: coming up with great experimental ideas or jumping through institutional hoops to make the experiments happen? I think, sadly, that we all know the answer.

Today, an interview with staff from a museum with an incredibly healthy attitude towards experimentation with social media. COSI is a hands-on science center in Columbus, Ohio. They don’t have a huge technology staff or flashy initiatives, but they have done many smart, simple projects that have caught my eye. They do a lovely job explaining their presence on social media sites. Their CEO writes a blog, as do exhibit developers working on an upcoming exhibition on Egypt. They use Yammer internally to communicate. But most importantly (and interestingly), COSI has used involvement in social media to help position itself as a key part of Columbus’ growing technology community, which serves both its ability to deliver on mission and raise money.

I sat down with David Chesebrough (CEO), Kelli Nowinsky (PR Manager), and Kevin Pfefferle (Web Manager), to learn more about how the COSI team approaches social technology and how it fits into the overall goals and strategy of the institution. Three things stand out in this interview:
  1. Like the Brooklyn Museum, COSI’s social media strategy is focused on local community connections, not national outreach.
  2. All social media projects are mission-driven and strongly aligned to institutional goals.
  3. David, COSI’s CEO, really trusts his staff to engage appropriately in the social Web in ways that support and add value to the museum.
Enjoy the interview, and I (and the COSI team) look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments!

Where did the story of your involvement in social media start?

David: I came on board as CEO of COSI in April of 2005. It was a crisis point in the organization, and I was brought on explicitly to bring change. We had to readdress our value proposition and start raising serious money immediately. Historically, COSI had been really focused all on attendance, and everything was skewed in that direction. But I was out there in the community raising millions, and to do that, we had to be putting forward a community-focused value proposition, demonstrating that COSI was a valuable community asset and investment.

So that crisis point set the context for us to let go of traditional ways and be a little more creative and open to changing. We didn’t want to change the culture of COSI, which is a great asset, but how we act within that culture. I wanted to tap the strengths and knowledge of the team and creativity to get into a new business.

For example, we’re actively pursuing outreach opportunities and connections with the community, the local tech industry, universities. These partners are a different audience—young professionals, and social networking is in their domain.

Kevin: That’s the biggest surprise – these efforts are not just about our traditional family audience. There’s a local tech community that has made itself known in Columbus over the last few months. I am trying to represent COSI at every tech meetup that I can, to meet the movers and shakers in that community. Rubbing shoulders with them is great for me personally and professionally, and they are really interested in COSI. They regularly ask, “How can I help? What can we do to grow Columbus as a tech hotspot and energize kids about technology?”

Kelli: The main goal of all the social media tools is that we want to engage more people with our mission, people who might not have had a touchpoint with COSI before. For example, a guy I met through Twitter asked me to meet in person. At first, I was skeptical because I thought he wanted to talk to me about the COSI website. When he expressed he just wanted to talk about ideas he had for COSI, we met for coffee. He pulled out this notebook with all these ideas and asked, “how can I help with the innovation showcase?” I was blown away. He did not want anything in return. Here I am sitting with this person who is a young professional without children, someone who would never have engaged with COSI before we got involved in social media. Now we are building a professional relationship and talk all the time about how he can help us in our social media efforts and help us reach out to the tech community. We would have never touched these folks in our traditional methods.

It sounds like COSI’s efforts in this arena are really focused on the local community. This isn’t surprising—it’s similar to the success the Brooklyn Museum has had building local relationships. But am I right in thinking that you are focusing on building local, not national or international relationships, via social media?

David: That’s right. It's fine if there's some national interest in this, but what I really care about is what this is doing for this community in Columbus. The other stuff isn't as important.

Our partnerships are part of this. For example, WOSU (our local PBS station) has a digital media center here at COSI, and they’ve been grappling with the issue of public media in the 2.0 world and have been hosting social media cafes, both here at the museum and in other places in the community.

Kevin: As the community started to hear about the Social Media Cafe, local bloggers would show up, and it exploded into this network of people trying to work together to positively impact the Columbus community. For example, they have taken small grassroots efforts under their wing—like helping a community park cleanup group start a blog, a Twitter account, and gain more exposure for their community efforts. So we’ve been an active part of the Columbus tech community as everyone is figuring out how to move forward.

I’m curious to hear what the CEO experience is like with all of this. David, how do you communicate with board members about social media? How do you decide what parts of it are worth your time to engage with?

David: With regard to the board, I just this week brought on my first board member with interest in this stuff—the first person to know what Twitter is, to use Facebook. There’s been no previous push or interest from the board whatsoever. I haven’t discussed this with them. I see these initiatives as part of our effort to innovate and it is my responsibility to move that innovation forward as fast as possible.

I am not leading this process. My staff have to educate me. A critical piece of this was bringing on a chief strategy officer, Kim Kiehl. Kim is very engaged with this stuff personally, and at the leadership level really more tuned in than I am. And I’m an old technologist—emphasis on old—but the framework is still there for me. So I’m comfortable with the technology, but I certainly see it as an experiment. I know there is a portion of the world who communicate in a very different way, using social media, and some of those are people we want to communicate with.

So, for example, I’ve been working on my blog. I went in last night and looked at the data. There’s enough activity to tell me it’s not flat on my face. We’ve had over 5,000 unique visits to my blog since we launched it, about 650 unique views a month. I used to be on a twice a week blogging schedule, but I’ve backed off on that. Kelli is trying to coach me on being more spontaneous and casual with it.

How do you evaluate the usefulness of these tools and the value of time spent on them?

Kelli: We’re really new at this—we launched the Facebook page in September of 2008 and the Twitter account in October. So it’s a little early for us to think about evaluating them.

David: We are in a point of a lot of institutional change and we have to experiment. Early in the experiment, we’re more collecting the data than making a judgment. Later, we’ll make the judgment—about the blog and other things. And some of the stories that Kevin and Kelli tell me are really impactful for understanding some of the dynamics of how social media works for an institution like COSI.

How do you manage the organizational use of social media tools?

David: At the leadership level, a number of VPs were already in this world, so it wasn’t a hard sell for them. And the others of us are comfortable enough to unleash the creativity of our team. I’m trusting them. Do the right thing. Think about COSI and its reputation, but also our goal to be as broadly accessible as possible. And if something erupts, I’ll be backing them.

I’m more of a lurker than a participant. And that’s ok with me—my institution won’t be best served if I spend all my time on Facebook and Twitter rather than raising money.

But I do use it. For example, I don’t Yammer, but I get the Yammer report every day, and in 15 seconds I can get a little flavor of what’s going on. I can keep a little pulse on the place – I’d love to see it used more because it gives me more data on what’s going on. I don’t care what’s on there, whether people are talking about cake in the lunchroom or a broken exhibit—the pulse is all those things.

What tips would you give to other museums trying to move strategically towards integration of social media into internal and external communication?

Kelli: We didn’t just jump into things. I recommend finding a local event or workshop in your community to learn more. I was very lucky that two years ago, I asked COSI to send me to an actual social media conference, not PR-related—a day-long intensive workshop in NYC. I didn’t know a thing about anything. They’re using words I’ve never heard of before! I’m sitting next to the girl who’s in charge of all communication of Pokemon, and here I am from this little science center in the Midwest. It wasn’t until 18 months later that we put anything in place. I’m not a social media expert, but I have taken everything that I have learned since then and have put it into use for COSI.

Kevin: Staff need to engage with social media as individuals first. Before we launched a COSI Twitter account, we had some individuals using it, seeing the extreme value, and then figuring where the institutional voice fits in.

Kelli: The same is true with Facebook. I joined because an employee looked at me and said, you have to be on Facebook, you have to see how people are using it.

Are there any challenges you have in terms of pushback from staff or figuring out what to prioritize?

Kelli: In general, staff have been really positive. We have these conversations every day with staff. We talk to folks internally who want a blog, and we help them step back and ask, “what are you trying to accomplish?” There’s a lot of buzzword situations where people don’t really know what tools would be useful for them. But we haven’t faced staff saying this is a waste of time.

Sometimes I forget this is all an experiment. When David said that before, it kind of surprised me. If you’re a user of the tools, it’s part of your life, and it’s not going to go away.

At the end of the day, our goal is to be better listeners. We have already have fabulous customer service and these tools allow us to respond even faster. We could tell you case by case about the feedback we have received since we started using social media. We are doing everything we can to reach out, listen and respond.

Thanks to the COSI team for sharing their honest, inspiring story. They'll be checking in with the comments if you have any specific questions. And please share your stories about how your institution supports or hinders your ability to navigate and experiment in this new landscape.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Harrah's Hits the Jackpot with Intuitive Personalization Program

Here's a problem many museums would like to solve: How do you design an intuitive way to give visitors unique IDs so that visitors can receive personalized content and feedback and institutions can receive real-time data tracking on visitor behavior?

It's not a new problem. The Tech Museum of Innovation has had a personal ID "Tech Tag" system in place since 2003, available initially via RFID bracelets and currently via barcodes on the tickets. There are several interactive exhibits throughout the museum where you can swipe your ticket, and save the photo/digital creation produced onsite to a website for later viewing. The Ontario Science Centre features a similar barcode-based IDea experience for visitors who create their own stop-motion animations onsite. The Sony Wonder Technology Lab in NYC has an involved Digital Profile system which personalizes every interactive to your name, voice, and image based on an initial registration. And in 2002, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago opened Networld, an exhibit in which visitors can purchase a Netpass/RFID card that tracks their progress through the exhibit via a digital avatar who evolves as you complete various interactives.

These projects are good attempts, but they have some fundamental problems. They can be clunky and hard to use. They are rarely deployed across all exhibits, so visitor need to learn how to identify exhibits that involve them (in addition to learning how to activate them). They limit engagement with interactives to a "single-player" mode, despite the fact that most people visit in groups. At places like Sony Wonder Technology Lab, the simple registration for the digital profile takes time at a dedicated kiosk and creates a problematic flow blockage at the beginning of the museum experience. The unique IDs are rarely saved--people throw away their tickets or lose the RFID cards--and the systems are not built to accommodate a growing personal profile over time. But most problematically, these systems require visitors to do an additional, unintuitive behavior (swiping a card, flashing an RFID chip) each time they approach or use a new exhibit. There is a significant learning curve to operating the systems, and the result is confused visitors who don't see the value of the unique IDs.

I recently learned about a program at Harrah's casinos, the Total Rewards loyalty card program, which is the most extensive, well-integrated use of unique user IDs I've ever seen. Harrah's is one of the "big four" and while it is less flashy than its competitors, they have turned personalized customer service into a science that induces people to play longer and spend more money. How do they do this? By creating an intuitive technology that is tightly tied to their core business goals.

The loyalty cards function like bank cards; users swipe them at the slot machines to play, and the cards register wins and losses. They have been used for years to give customers "points" for playing that can be redeemed for various gifts. But there's a new pilot program that goes even further in tracking and responding to individual user behavior. The casino maintains real-time data on the actions of every card-holder and uses the data to determine individuals’ financial “pain point” – i.e. how much money they are willing to spend before leaving the casino. The casino uses that pain point to stage strategic interventions during real-time play. When a player comes close to her limit, a staff member on the casino floor receives an alert from a dispatcher, greets the player, and offers her a free meal, a drink, or a bonus gift of money added to the loyalty card. By mitigating the bad experience of losing at the right moment with a gift, Harrah’s extends people beyond their pain points and they stay and play longer. Harrah's isn't just running a simple membership loyalty program; they have created a response engine that allows them to immediately intervene and turn bad experiences into good ones.

Harrah's loyalty card program is an elegant example of virtual-to-real design. There are four steps to virtual-to-real design: defining a core technology concept that aligns to your mission, defining the inputs and outputs of the familiar user experience, finding and eliminating any behavior changes required for users, and then designing any remaining behavior changes to be as simple and painless as possible. Here's the detail on how Harrah's accomplishes each of these steps compared to the museum systems.

Step 1. Define the core technology that aligns to your mission.

The technology that drives the loyalty cards’ success is unique, trackable IDs. For Harrah’s, unique user IDs enhances the casino’s understanding of user behavior and ability to use that information to encourage longer playing (and spending) time. That’s how unique user IDs relates to the casino’s bottom line: it enhances their ability to make money.

This step is essential no matter what technology we're talking about. The more I work on and learn about museum technology projects, the more strongly I feel that mission alignment is the number one necessity for success--both in getting projects funded and delivering quality experiences. You should be able to explicitly demonstrate how any technology idea relates to your institution's core mission/bottom line. You should be able to write a sentence in this form:
“We should try to integrate X into our exhibition/program/initiative/institution because it will enable us to carry out Y aspect of our mission by Z.”
This sentence will help you talk about the project with decision-makers across your institution. It will demonstrate that technology projects can be mission-driven and should be motivated by an opportunity to improve the visitor experience, not an opportunity to use some cool gadget.

Step 2. Define the inputs and outputs of the familiar user experience.

For Harrah's, the input is when the player sits down at a slot machine and puts in his money. This is an activity the player is already familiar with and knows he must do in order to play. The output is more subtle: it occurs anytime the player receives rewards. Traditionally, players receive rewards when they win at the slots. Lights flash, coins emerge. And while the loyalty card registers these types of wins, they also regulate the delivery of a secondary reward—free drinks, tickets to the show, and other perks. Traditionally, distribution of these secondary rewards was semi-random, based on the psychological judgment of casino floor managers as to players’ emotional states. But the loyalty cards created a system by which these secondary rewards became deliberate and strategic. They were an underutilized output that became a core part of the new system.

The museum unique ID projects often suffer at this step: we have not found reliable inputs and outputs for the highly non-linear museum visitor experience. The RFID and barcode systems force visitors into a linear operation of exhibits that can be problematic if they choose not to complete the exhibit or want to engage as a family. In the casino, no one walks away before the slot machine has stopped spinning. But museums have different constraints and opportunities when it comes to defining inputs and outputs.

Step 3. Define required behavior changes.

For Harrah’s, the fact that the loyalty card replaced the use of cash at the slot machines was an easy way to switch technologies with minimal behavior change. Once a player has a loyalty card, it’s actually easier for her to play the slots, because she doesn’t have to worry about how many dollars or tokens she has on hand. She can just swipe and play. And the output—receiving rewards—has not changed from the player’s perspective. The more significant behavior change in Harrah’s situation was the adoption of loyalty cards. The casino had to get the cards into people’s hands, which required a new behavior at the input when players first enter the casino.

Many museum technology projects fail because they are too ambitious about changing visitor behavior by introducing new, non-intuitive modes of engagement. It's fine to be ambitious, but you will be most successful if you can align your project with the familiar visitor experience and provide added value on top of activities they already know and like. For this reason, I think it was a positive that The Tech switched from RFID bracelets to printed barcodes on tickets. The RFID bracelets introduced a new item for visitors to integrate into their visit, whereas tickets are a familiar element that visitors associate with a specific input (entering the museum).

You should be able to detail exactly how any new technology fits into the familiar visitor experience and where it deviates. What additional things will people need to do to make use of it, both on the input side (visitor engages in experience) and the output side (visitor and institution receive value)? Make a list, and map as many things to familiar actions as possible. If the leftover list of items that require behavior change has more than five entries, throw away your idea. The technology should enter the visitor experience via a scalpel, not a hacksaw.

Step 4. Make any behavior changes as simple as possible.

Try as you might to elegantly match your technology to a familiar visitor experience, there will always be some minor behavior change required. In those cases, you need to make that change as easy and painless as possible. At Harrah’s, the behavior change requires players to sign up for a loyalty card before playing. No one wants to go sign up for a card when they enter a casino, so instead of trying to cleverly streamline sign-up into play, the casino does the next best thing: they offer a perk. What’s the best perk to give in a casino? The cards come preloaded with a few dollars. “Everyone wants to sign up for that card,” says Gary Loveman, Harrah’s CEO. “It’s free money.”

Museum unique ID programs often try to mitigate the pain of behavior change with a consistent experience multiplied across the institution. Visitors are "trained" to swipe the card or ticket or bracelet at every kiosk with a particular design. But our real goal should be to find a way to do this that requires no training.

If the first requirement of a museum technology project is that it be mission-driven, the second requirement is that it be integrated intuitively into the visitor experience. That is the brilliance of Harrah’s implementation. The casino knows that every player must insert money to play at a slot machine, and they already track the real-time usage of every machine. But to reach players personally on an emotional level, the casino needed to know who was using which machines when. A clunky, more obvious solution could have required players to “sign in” to slot machines with a username. But by combining the action players already do (inserting money) with the desired new action (identifying themselves), the loyalty cards achieve the new desired goal with no additional action by users. In fact, the players prefer to play with the loyalty cards because they receive perks for doing so. Players get an easier way to play and receive rewards, and the casino gets unique, trackable data on every player in the room.

Comparably, the problem of how to enable social exchanges in a museum setting is primarily a problem of understanding how the new behavior can best be integrated into familiar user behavior. More globally, any metaphorical design extension—from virtual to real, from casino to museum—is fundamentally based on the designer’s ability to creatively map the desired behavior to behaviors and experiences already in place.