Ubiquitous annotation for artwork-centred sociality in museums and galleries

By Marcus Winter

University of Brighton

The concept of object-centred sociality (Engeström, 2005) is well established on the Web and has been transferred to physical museums and galleries to explain how visitors engage with each other around social objects (Simon, 2010). While designers of Web-based museum experiences have a wide range of well-established tools at their disposal to support object centred sociality and user generated content, curators of physical exhibitions typically rely on feedback boards and visitor books to foster engagement and encourage interpretation.

Ubiquitous annotation, described by Hansen (2006) as attaching digital information to physical objects and places, offers a way to go beyond the limitations of physical feedback boards. It enables unobtrusive, in-situ annotation of specific artworks and results in digital content that can be readily re-used and re-mediated. Recent efforts to employ ubiquitous annotation in museums include a bespoke system by Hsu & Liao (2011), iPad based object labels by Gray et al. (2012) and a platform involving custom mobile devices by Seirafi & Seirafi (2012). Adoption of these systems requires substantial commitment from host organisations in the form of financial investment, custom development and change of work practices. Furthermore, visitor interaction with these systems is problematic due to usability problems with static touchpoints that cannot display state information or interaction feedback.

The scribetag project is developing a light-weight, generic ubiquitous annotation platform that makes artwork-centred commenting and rating feasible even for smaller, low-budget arts organisations. It enables visitors to browse and create comments and ratings using their mobile phone. The project is developing novel dynamic touchpoints that address many of the usability problems associated with static touchpoints. For curators, the system provides an analytics backend to maintain editorial control, re-use contributed content and analyse engagement levels with a view to enhancing the visitor experience. The project is at an early stage and seeks discussions with researchers and museums professionals to inform the design and research.


Engeström, J. (2005). Why some social network services work and others don’t – Or: the case for object-centered sociality. Blog post 13 April 2005. Available: http://www.zengestrom.com/blog/2005/04/ why-some-social-network-services-work-and-others-dont-or-the-case-for-object-centered-sociality.html. Accessed 7 December 2012.

Gray, S., Ross, C., Hudson-Smith, A. & Warwick, C. (2012). Enhancing Museum Narratives with the QRator Project: a Tasmanian devil, a Platypus and a Dead Man in a Box. Proceedings of Museums and the Web.

Hansen, F. (2006). Ubiquitous annotation systems: technologies and challenges. Proceedings of the seventeenth conference on Hypertext and hypermedia HYPERTEXT’06, pp. 121–132.

Hsu, H. & Liao, H. (2011). A mobile RFID-based tour system with instant microblogging. Journal of Computer and System Sciences, 77(4), pp. 720–727.

Seirafi , A. & Seirafi, M.K. (2012). FLUXGUIDE: Mobile Computing, Social-Web & Participation @ the Museum. Institut fuer Creative, Media, Technologies. Available: http://www.fluxguide.com/uploads /4/2/3/3/4233655/paperforummedientechnik2011_fluxguide_red.pdf. Accessed 26 March 2012.

Simon, N. (2010). The Participatory Museum. Santa Cruz, California: Museum 2.0, 2010. Available: http://www.participatorymuseum.org/. Accessed 7 December 2012.

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