Professor Plum in the ballroom with the candlestick (or interactivity for historians)

Although Joshua Brown notes how the games Myst and Doom provided some  conceptual influences for “The Lost Museum” project, I have to admit that as I worked my way through the site I was more reminded of a cross between Clue and Choose Your Own Adventure books. The Lost Museum focuses on the interactive aspect of piecing together who the museum’s arsonist might have been and exploring the reconstructed museum space. As Lindsey points out, one of the limitations is that many interesting items or images aren’t clickable or connected to further information. The project also provides a standard fully searchable archive and educational tools to help teachers and students maximize their experiences.

Brown is highly critical of what he perceives as a narrowness of narrative choices in trying to find the museum’s arson, which he believes limits the viewer’s appreciation of the multiple perspectives involved. In contrast, I think that what he perceives as flattened narratives is more a function of the project’s frameworks and desire to provide an optimal interactive experience. Although, another factor could have been wanting it accessible and structured for younger students. This raises questions for me of what is optimal with regards to interactivity–within linear and non-liner narratives–and issues of accessibility, which we discussed as a class last week. For example, there are some audio clips to accent the content presented and transcripts are available by clicking on a link called “huh?” However, as far as I could tell (and I might have missed it) that information wasn’t provided in the How to Use section of the site. What does this do for hearing or sight impaired viewers, and what, if any, accommodations should be made?

I find that this concern bother me less than what I think is the disconnect between the archive and background essays with the 3d interactive experience. The choice to include the archive came at a later stage of development when project managers realized that deeper analysis and conclusions could only be possible with a clearer connection to contextual information and sources. In my experience, the archival material pops up in a separate window where I wish it was visible in closer proximity to the item in the interactive area to provide a more immediate connection.  Another pet peeve of mine is background music/sounds that can’t be easily turned off, not just for one page but for the entire site. It’s atmospheric for some, but I have always found it at the least distracting and at worst horribly cheesy.

Designing clever interactive elements is clearly a good way to get people interested in history as well as communicate information, but what does that mean for me as I turn my attention toward my design assignment and final project. I’m thinking about using basic Zoomify so viewers can explore the images in greater detail and some kind of area for discussion and comments, but beyond that I’m stuck and would appreciate any suggestions.

Addendum: this week I commented on David’s and Lindsey’s blogs.

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9 thoughts on “Professor Plum in the ballroom with the candlestick (or interactivity for historians)

  1. Great post, as always! I fully agree about the disconnect between the “archive” and the integration of the objects into the 3-D experience. I do wonder if some of that was technical limitation? If so, that raises–as you bring up–the question of how much we should really do, if we can’t do it fully? Does it make sense to do a 3-D experience like Lost Museum when we can’t fully deeply integrate it, or does it make more sense “just” to do the 2-D archive? Lots of questions.

    • I hadn’t really thought about the technical limitations aspect, I think because I don’t think the project quite lived up to its video game influences. Although this made me wonder what happens to these projects once they go up? Is there funding or planning into not just maintenance, but continued development? Hmm, more questions.

  2. I agree that the disconnect between the archive and the 3-D visualization was definitely a large disappointment for the goal of the Lost Museum project. While I was mildly amused by the 3-D visualization [the whodunnit clue experience is a great way to intrigue an audience], I felt much more engaged by the information available in the archive. I do realize that this was a pilot program for “what could be” in the realm of the digital history experience, but I felt like the flow of navigation for the 3-D visualization stunted my attention span [perhaps my own personal problem]. If, as you said, they were able to integrate the archive and the 3-D experience better, the result would have been much more successful.

    On another note,I also hate cheesy background music without an ‘off’ button since it can detract from, as much as enhance one’s experience. I also felt that the videos on the site could have been a bit larger.

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  5. I agree that this site posed a lot of “disconnects” for me and you’ve provided great insights into how to tweak the output for a better user experience. Since I have no experience with either Myst or Doom, I was glad to see your analogies to something much more familiar – Clue and Choose Your Own Adventure books! Since my experience with computer games harkens back to an early version of Oregon Trail (and I think the output was all print-out on that green-lined paper) navigating through this type of site is very confusing. You make great points about accessibility and I might add another category to this: those with little experience who do not use key strokes to navigate or for whom making a connection between a mouse movement and eye movement is not an easy process (I am one of those who perpetually must ask “what do I do? where do I click? what should I be seeing? will things pop up or must I continue to move the mouse to “find” something?) I am not sure whether my inexperience with online gaming represents a majority of potential web site users or if I represent a dwindling minority of old-timers because I experience learning primarily in other settings.

    To continue with your theme of exploring accessibility issues, I found the scenes of the museum on my computer were really too small for me to appreciate what I was looking at, so image size definitely is a factor. Also, you mentioned background music – I keep my computer on mute, so if any information was verbal from the site, I missed it. Other than seeing the long “movie loading” cues, I did not know I had to listen to engage – a CC option would have been preferable and I know of many educational sites that provide this function – extremely helpful for English language learners to not only hear the words, but also to see the words. I will admit, I regularly use the CC / close captioning option when I watch our video tutorials, because it adds another modality of learning into the process. Learning through not only hearing, but also seeing and doing helps create more neural connections. Yes, your suggestion for making the archive more integrated with the action aspect would be great! I would prefer a multi-screen format that allows me to read and to see the image / artifact. Great post with many things to think about!

    • Sheri, yes Oregon Trail! I too found myself wondering how to get the best experience out of Lost Museum site, or any similar site for that matter, so you are not alone there. I think solid interface design is the best solution to these issues; as we’ve read before, the viewer should be “guided” through the experience through clear navigation and “intuitive” connections. I’m also a big fan of CC, and I agree that it’s a good idea for an educational site that has auditory information or even just background music to provide some explanation for those who either can’t hear or choose not to listen.

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  7. I am right there with you on the disconnect between the game/exhibit and the archive. Completely different formatting, new window, no visual connection between the two, not to mention the structure of the archive pages was not immediately easy to understand. If I could change one things about the Lost Museum, I’d fix that.

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