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Mobile Access to
Cultural Information
comparable to smart label technology.
While smart labels need special antennae and
adhesive tags in order to function, here the basic infrastructure is provided and maintained
by the telecommunications companies and geo-positioning satellites.
The possibility to present information on a specific collection in a more active and
interactive fashion is believed to lead to increases in real visitor numbers, and to an atten-
dant increase in revenues (e.g. through visitor spend in the shops), though we are unaware
of any in-depth studies on this to date.
Common problems associated with PDAs and cellular phones include user dissatisfaction
with their interface.The small size at which text can be presented on screen, the small
button size for keypads, and the non-intuitive user interface designs are all examples of the
shortcomings of current implementations of mobile technologies.These weaknesses will
be eliminated as hardware interface developers improve and fine-tune their designs in
response to a better understanding of user needs and technological developments. In
everyday situations users create `work-arounds' to bypass these shortcomings.
When it comes to employing these devices to present large amounts of multimedia
information to unfamiliar users, interface limitations become critical. Another problem is
the lack of a customisable interface. Cultural heritage institutions often aim to address
different learning styles and to meet the personal preferences of a range of users.
Customisable interfaces (or `skin' technologies) for mobile devices remain an immature
technology. As the technology matures, it will provide a richer meeting-place between
person and machine. As developments make the interface more flexible and more suitable,
the devices may risk promoting visitor isolation. In museum visits, users equipped with
personal devices (especially those utilising audio headsets) tend to lose contact with their
companions, thus detracting from the social aspect of museum-going. Some visitors even
lose contact with the exhibits themselves, following only the resources covered by the
mobile guide or spending more time dancing through the menus than exploring the
institution they are visiting.
The impact of equipment malfunctions should be anticipated. Few institutions will be
able to provide adequate support to address all possible causes of failure, and the limitations
of support should be planned and acknowledged. As devices become more sophisticated
and incorporate sensitive recording utilities, cultural heritage institutions that prohibit
visitors from making records of their visits may find it increasingly difficult to enforce
such restrictions.
Mobile devices offer visitors flexible access to resources.They can be
employed to support multiple learning styles and to improve the experiences of users with
special needs.
Users can create their own profiles, define their own paths, and manage
the depth at which they receive and use information for themselves.
Institutions become more appealing to the class of users that may
prefer to use handheld devices to access label information because, unlike printed labels or
guidebooks, they can configure the form, language and depth of the information. In
174 The reader is invited to see the Smart Labels and Smart Tags section in DigiCULT Technology Watch Report 1.
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