Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fort Vancouver Mobile: The problems it will solve

Fort Vancouver Mobile is the umbrella label I use now to talk about the various efforts underway by our team at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site to embed digital mobile content that augments the physical representations of the fascinating array of history that has happened in that particular location, on the north bank of the Columbia River, just north of Portland, Ore. This was the spot where the Pacific Northwest’s "first hospital, school, orchard, library, grist mill, saw mill, shipyard and dairy were all established," according to the fort's records.

Our primary goal is to generate mobile interactive narratives, or stories that visitors to the site can immerse themselves in, through a connection with a mobile communication device. We also have been examining and researching various other modes of information sharing and platforms, from QR (quick response) codes to mobile social networking systems.

Before I write more about those specific efforts, I think it's important to define what problems we are trying to solve with this project.

To begin with, the fort's collection and archives contain more than 2 million artifacts, yet only 10 percent of those (or about 200,000 items) are available for viewing, according to the fort. The other 90 percent, or about 1.8 million items, can't be exhibited for a variety of reasons, including lack of display space. A digital solution not only could bring more items directly into the palms of visitors, by allowing downloads to mobile devices, for example, but this approach also gives on-demand access and mobility to that information and imagery, which could greatly improve its usefulness throughout the park, creating more connectivity among the items and stories that include them.

The fascinating stories of this place also are an underdeveloped resource at this point, due to lack of resources to share them. The ideal situation might be living history performances in all buildings every hour the fort is open, but without the resources of Colonial Williamsburg, the fort has to rely on occasional living history outreach mixed with other means of telling its stories, such as park ranger chats, brochures, wayside signs, etc. Digital content could complement the efforts already underway at the site, with additional content that is engaging and educational in other ways, including a facsimile of living history, with anecdotes and stories captured in video and audio for on-demand and on-location playback.

Another significant issue at the fort is the difficulty of attracting and maintaining the interest of young, technologically inclined folks, say between 16 and 35 years of age. This is anecdotal at this point, but teenagers touring the site often are seen wearing iPod earphones or text messaging on their cell phones rather than looking around at the wonders of the site. If that focus could be redirected toward some sort of edutainment-type program, in which visitors immersed themselves into a fort story through their devices, maybe while also being socially connected to friends doing the same thing, it could change the dynamic considerably in the fort's (and history's) favor.

Those three issues seems to be key driving factors for us in developing mobile content at the fort. There are secondary reasons for it, of course, which I will address later. But those give us our base driving factors from which to build our content. Are there other, more important problems we could solve with digital content at the fort at this time? If you have ideas, please post them here. Thanks!

No comments: