Using iPods in the Museum

I heard an interview (online) today with Chris Alexander from the San Jose Museum of Art. They are doing some very cool stuff with iPod Touch devices and a wifi network in their museum. The interview is podcast on the here.
If you don’t have the time to listen, these are the main points that I picked up:

  • they are mainly using it for a current exhibition and also to feature the work of some of the artists in their collection who have been filmed at work in their own studios;
  • they have a multi-use approach with delivery of the same material via many platforms using their YouTube channel, RSS, iPods that visitors can check out, a wifi network in the museum and as audio files on their website;
  • they were originally using video iPods in “notes-only” mode, so they were locked down for use specifically in the museum;
  • they are now using iPod Touch devices because they offer a better interface and more possibilities including the upload of user comments (not quite there yet);
  • they deliver all content to visitors via a wifi network or website only available in the museum, so that saves synch-ing or updating 20-30 devices for new or changed content;
  • if you don’t have an iPod or iTouch you can check out one of 20 they have now and they will eventually have 30;
  • other US museums experimenting in this space include MoMA (NYC), SFMoMA, Denver, but Chris says a lot of museums are looking at using the same technology;
  • he said the URL for their online iPod content was but on a computer terminal it comes up as;
  • Chris said they go into the artist’s studio and film them working, but only one in 30 has declined their suggestion to do this and some of the artists have embedded their YouTube vids on their own sites too; and
  • again he mentioned their intention to use the devices to allow users to upload their own comments about their experience.

I reckon this is a great model for us and many other museums. I’m not sure whether their wifi content will only work on Apple’s devices and I think that might be a bit limiting in an Australian setting.
SJMA’s home page is here:


  1. Chris Alexander

    Hey there Mal,Thanks for the great summary of my interview! If I ever need a quick bulleted overview I know where to come. ;0)The reason that redirects to from outside the museum is purely to save on web hosting costs. When a visitor hits inside the museum using our WiFI they are sent to an onsite DNS server which helps the video content load more quickly and provides a snappier tour. We still wanted to make the tour available to those outside the museum so whenever I make any updates I do them to the host which syncs nightly with the DNS Server to keep them both the same. Confusing? I hope not.Currently the tour is only supported on the Safari browser, both mobile and desktop (to some extent). Hopefully (fingers crossed) since the upcoming Android platform will be using Webkit for its browser, which Safari also uses, there is a possibility that it will be compatible on that platform as well. I have tried it on the Android simulator, but there is no Quicktime support so the videos don’t play. We’ll see how it plays out.Anyway, thanks again for the mention!Chris Alexander

  2. Mal Booth

    Chris, thanks for the comment. It is pretty amazing that the use of some pretty simple social media tools such as blogs can make the world seem a whole lot smaller. The chances of you and I ever running into each other, even at a conference are probably minimal, yet here you are with a working example of what we would like to be doing (& already have content develeloped for) here.I really appreciate you sharing your experience. Thanks for the extra information in your comment.Mal

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