At Proximity Insight we like to keep abreast of what people are doing with iBeacon technology in all industries and areas, and recently I was invited by Wendy Pryor to visit Melbourne Museum and see first hand how they are using beacons in their exhibit, “WWI: Love and Sorrow”.

The exhibition is about a small group of individuals, and tells their stories, through enduring one of the darkest episodes in human history and the remainder of their lives afterwards.

I was met at the museum by both Wendy and one of her colleagues, Jonny Brownbill, and I must express my heartfelt gratitude to them for their hospitality. Jonny handed me an iPod belonging to the museum with the exhibition app already installed, though if you bring your own iOS or Android device in the near future you will be able to download the app to that (rather smartly, content for the app is pulled from a local server on the WiFi network).

Visitors attending the museum are pointed to the exhibition by a period ambulance located next to the entrance, which just so happens to be the first of a series of objects containing a beacon, allowing it to be collected treasure-hunt style, in the app.

Once guests reach the entry to the exhibition itself they’re prompted to choose a character whose story they will follow.

 

The Experience

As you walk through the exhibition, you’re invited to watch out for icons on the walls corresponding to your chosen person. These correspond to nearby beacons, and as you move through these areas details of the story you’re exploring are revealed in chronological order. These details take a number of forms, from extra textual information and summaries of the progress of the war, to audiovisual content related specifically to the person you chose. For instance, while looking in a display case of artifacts which included a hand-written diary, the app revealed several passages from within it, transcribed for ease of reading, but also narrated by a relative of the deceased author.

Upon reaching the end of the trail, there are several monitors on the wall: placing your device on the red poppy logo below a monitor results in a final video for the story you’ve followed.

 

One of the key features of the technology use in WWI: Love and Sorrow is that it doesn’t dominate proceedings, it is there as a supplement to the more traditional aspects of the setup and it does genuinely enhance the experience. A prime example of this is at a point halfway through the procession, when entering the range of a particular beacon actually locks down the app, which simply displays a message telling you to look around you and not at the device. In a world where people are increasingly absorbed by glowing screens in their hands this was a very refreshing scenario to witness.

WWI: Love and Sorrow most definitely stands as an exhibition on it’s own merit, but to my mind the team responsible at the museum have successfully leveraged iBeacon technology to take it to the next level. If you’re in retail and wondering how you can leverage these ideas and lessons then consider this: it’s all about customer delight, and using new and novel technology in such a way as to improve the customer experience without overshadowing the real-world interactions that can, and should, take place.

You can read more about the exhibition at the Love and Sorrow website, and if you want to learn more about the details of the exhibition design and corresponding app then you should look no further than the paper Storyteller – World War One: Love and Sorrow: A hybrid exhibition mobile experience by Jonny Brownbill and Timothy Hart of Museum Victoria.