Tales of two smart phones: or how one woman made an impression on a Scottish Museum

by @edent | # # # | 1 comment | Read ~213 times.

A guest blog by [email protected]

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh has QR codes in some places. Level 6 to be exact. This is the story of what happened when I tried to use those QR codes last week. The article in The Guardian gave explicit  instructions of how to access the information linked to the QR code. First you have to go on to the website “Tales of Things.com” to download an app that allows you to scan and read the codes. I did that quite successfully the night before the visit, and tested out the technology from a QR code on the screen on my son’s computer. Oh, did I mention? I was staying with my son and using his wi-fi. (this becomes relevant later). The result was an interesting link about the Hillman Imp with a video, and an advert from the 1950’s or 60’s, whenever the Imp was created. not that I am old enough to remember that. (Well, Ok I do remember that one of my school friend’s dad had a Hillman Imp.)

Anyway, it was with great anticipation that I went to the Museum in search of these strange 2D bar codes, feeling like a sleuth, or a big game hunter. I found a leaflet almost immediately, with QR codes printed on it. Actually they had a member of staff handing out sheets with a QR based puzzle on it). So I tested out their app. As I scanned the QR code, my phone told me that I needed to connect to a network. Now, I may not be the most advanced smart phone user, and I may be rather frugal with my pennies, but I am a student after all, but as I am on “pay-as-you-go” I tend to turn off data and roaming. “I need wi-fi” I thought, so I went to the guy at the “Free Audio Guides” desk. (He was giving out devices to foreign tourists -  see pic - its relevant later)
“Do you have wi-fi?” I asked, “and if so, how do you get on to it?” I am quite used to logging onto wi-fi in other museums.

His reply was, “Oh, I don’t know, go and ask at the enquiry desk, I am sure they can tell you there.” The nice, polite woman at the enquiry desk said something similar. I explained about the QR codes and showed her the leaflet. She did not know know much about it, but she kindly offered to get the duty manager, who she was certain could help me. The duty manager was charming and polite, read the leaflet and said “Lets go to the 6th floor, we don’t have wi-fi, except on some occasions when it is switched on in the 6th floor. When we got there we both had to hunt to find a QR code, and again I tested it, but the phone had the same response, because the wi-fi was not turned on. “Enable the data, Go onto G3” I hear you screaming at me, but I refuse to spend my downloading allowance on random downloads and videos about objects that I am seeing for free.

The duty manager was very interested in the predicament. He considered that the QR code team should have given him more information, and I think he went away realising that having wi-fi in the museum was a good idea. Apparently (and amazingly) I was the only person to have asked about it. Later, re-united with the rest of my family, and on the 6th floor again, I spotted a man with a smart phone who was scanning the QR codes and getting the downloads. I asked him about it and of course he had “a contract”, so did not mind using his download allowance. He found it useful to save the articles and read them at home.

The point is, what do the Tales of Things QR codes do to enhance my experience of the Museum? Having to download an app, albeit a free one, just for that museum, is a bit of a nuisance instead of using Google Goggles, or Quickmark, or other barcode reading apps that are available and have wider uses. Getting some background information on the exhibits is a bit of a novelty and does allow you to go into more depth for a particular object you may be interested in, but I am not sure that I personally care that much to load a specialist app.
On the other hand, my other half thought that Frank Garrison (I found out his name later) was showing the appeal of QR codes. They are not just a lazy way of typing in a URL code. They are more like taking a multi-level tourist picture. Instead of taking a photo you can scan a code. That link will probably give you a picture (maybe several) and a description which you can read at your leisure. It tells you more than a picture because it includes history and context.

Anyway the other half showed Frank some QRpedia codes and although he didn’t see them load different languages he was impressed with the speed that they delivered relevant information from Wikipedia. In the photo you can see Frank taking the QRpedia test with someone smuggling in QRpedia codes for Frank to try.

This link to Flickr shows the pictures we took of their QR codes. I think Derby Museum would be surprised to see that this premier museum had also just added some extra codes and not redesigned their displays. Well done - they look like quite neat.  The Museum of Scotland has about seventy codes that allow you access via their dedicated app to additional material. Derby Museum has only about 40 codes but only requires a standard QR code app that delivers hundreds of articles if you count the different languages that are available. Oh and do you remember that man with the Audio Guides? He was offering six or seven languages. To be fair the Hillman Imp QRpedia code only links to six different languages - but they are all free and optimised for delivery to a mobile phone. Frank liked that.

One thought on “Tales of two smart phones: or how one woman made an impression on a Scottish Museum

  1. Great post; good point.

    While it's not as satisfying as instant access, some apps will allow you scan codes, and then store the images (or the URLs) until such time as you have wi-fi access. Google Goggles does this.

    And I'm sure some people would rather look at exhibits in the museum while they're there, and do the background reading later - like taking home a souvenir brochure or book.

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