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Rebecca Atkinson
Virtual reality experience, The Samsung Digital Discovery Centre, British Museum

Rebecca Atkinson goes on a journey to a virtual bronze age

Virtual reality has been around for decades, but it has yet to make an impact in museums. In London, the British Museum and the Natural History Museum (NHM) have used Samsung Gear Virtual Reality (VR) headsets to develop different experiences.

The VR for the British Museum has been created by its Samsung Digital Discovery Centre. Aimed at families, the headsets enable visitors to explore a bronze age site designed by visualisation studio Soluis Heritage. The user sits during the experience, but a sensor on the headset allows them to move around the imaginary site, which comprises several roundhouses. Tilting your head enables you to take in your surroundings.

In one of the huts there is the option to highlight 3D scans of objects – two Sussex loop bracelets, a blunt dirk blade and gold hoops that may have been bangles worn by a child – and audio by a curator explains how they might have been used.

Once you’ve got the hang of the controls, the device is easy to use. The historically accurate bronze age setting challenges stereotypes about how our ancestors lived (it’s clean and ordered) and reveals that houses were often aligned with the sun’s path across the sky.

But there isn’t a lot to do and see in this VR world. I would have welcomed more information about prehistoric man. The audio information on the objects was interesting, but the 3D scans were dull and didn’t look real enough.

The museum is trialling the programme with schools, so it will be illuminating to see what feedback it receives and how the technology might create a more engaging experience.
The NHM’s First Life virtual reality experience will be reviewed in the November edition of Museums Journal

Website,The National Football Museum, Manchester

All that’s missing is football

Launched to coincide with the start of the football season, the National Football Museum’s new website is part of a wider strategy to grow the Manchester venue’s online audience.
The liberal use of bright green is lurid, but otherwise the design is unfussy.

The navigation bar provides all the information browsers might need, from opening hours to a map of the museum. The latter is particularly impressive, as it enables visitors to find out what displays they will find on each floor of the building.

The collections page is empty, but the museum has an Arts Council England grant to develop a database featuring more than 1,000 objects. Another addition is an expanded shop with memorabilia, artworks and books. There’s a large selection on sale but no search tool and, with only eight results per page, you have to trawl through page after page to see what’s on offer.

The one thing missing is football. Other than a hall of fame celebrating figures from England football, there are no fun facts, league tables, forums or transfer news. It’s a shame the museum hasn’t tried to offer content-driven engagement for football fans. RA

App, The Guggenheim Museum

Too few images and painfully slow

The Guggenheim Museum in New York has launched a free iPad app that promotes its collections and exhibitions.
It also offers access to more than  100 out-of-print art publications from its archive.
The app features multimedia content such as slideshows, audio commentary, video interviews with artists and curators, and essays.

I was pleased to see that the videos are captioned and are accompanied by transcripts for deaf and hard-of-hearing users. The text that accompanies artworks is far too long, poorly formatted and verging on art bollocks. The information on the museum’s art publications is interesting, but not worth the chore of trawling through a long list of titles with no pictures or search tools.
The app’s navigation is a painful experience; it is slow and it’s easy to get lost despite two (two!) navigation bars. But the biggest disappointment is that the majority of artworks featured have no accompanying photographs, which seems to defeat the object of downloading it in the first place. RA

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