MuseumMobile Wiki

Media and Technology on the Go

Soundbites

Soundbites are the curated ‘stops’ or nuggets of information on specific objects or exhibits. They provide more detailed information and the ability to ‘drill down’. They hook onto the soundtrack at relevant points along its timeline, but equally can link to third party and user-generated content to serve as a conduit to even deeper and broader content.

Soundbites are ‘atoms’ of information.

Ideally soundbites are like atoms that can be combined with other stops in a variety of ways to build new insight and bodies of information around a given topic. In practice I have never seen this achieved, and soundbites are almost impossible to get right as stand-alone units of information. This is why severing them from the linear narrative of the early audio tour had such a deleterious effect on the ability of the random access tour to satisfy visitors’ curiosity and innate desire for narrative.

Stops – or ‘starts’?

Beth Harris finally put words to a frustration I’ve experienced with audio tours since taking my first nearly a decade ago: a ‘stop’ is more properly termed a ‘start’ – you start listening, and then get tired of looking at the same exhibit, so wander off to something else that has caught your eye before the audio has finished. So you either cut the commentary off mid-way, or you listen to it while looking at a completely different object (which has its own mash-up appeal, I’ll admit). Alternatively, stops are too short, never going into great enough depth for the object that really captivates you, nor answering your burning question about it.

Stops should be layered and varied in type.

So like clothing in a variable climate, stops should be layered, and ideally enable access to a variety of types of content to satisfy different kinds of questions and learning styles: not just audio and video clips, but wall labels, catalogue text, interactives, and user-generated content too. Uniformity may be neat and comforting but it’s also boring. By varying what’s available we set an achievable goal in content production for the museum: if you’ve got audio, video or multimedia commentary, great; if not, make your collections records available, wall text, catalogue essays, and link to others’ content, visitor commentaries, favorites and votes. (Tate Modern tested visitors’ reactions to mixed media and style content on its Collections Tour of 2005 and found that while they certainly preferred richer media, they didn’t mind simple text and collections records if that was all that was available; what they hated was finding nothing at all.)

Searchable stops give the user agency and control.

With more varied and layered stop content, we also reintroduce an element of mystery and surprise to the tour. Soundbites are searchable and as in using Google’s ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button, I have agency in discovering and choosing what information and interpretation I enjoy at each exhibit.