Personalization and the Stedelijk Museum

By Miranda Smith

Earlier this year, we posted about new research being carried out on personalized tours in cultural spaces, co-funded by the European Commission, called the CHESS Project. CHESS, which stands for Cultural Heritage Experiences through Socio-personal interactions and Storytelling, has now expanded testing to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, a venue dedicated to modern and contemporary art and design.

Antenna recently joined this research, and we asked colleague Niels de Jong, Regional Manager of Benelux and Scandinavia, to tell us all about it.


L-R:  Erna Bomers, project leader at the Stedelijk Museum, Nardy Jaspers, Local Technician at Antenna and Vassilis Kourtis, member of the CHESS team.

L-R: Erna Bomers, project leader at the Stedelijk Museum, Nardy Jaspers, Antenna technician and Vassilis Kourtis, of the CHESS team.


How did you and Antenna get involved with the CHESS project?

NdJ: I noticed the project early 2014, when it was launched at the Acropolis in Greece and attracted some attention in the blogosphere. Then ECULTVALUE published an open call in August 2014, aimed at the so called "Living Labs". This meant  participants could get funding to test, amongst others, the CHESS software inside a cultural space.

Antenna partnered on the application together with the Stedelijk Museum and a Dutch Living Lab called Amsterdam Smart City (ASC), with ASC as the official participant. We are fortunate to be among 3 successful applicants.


So, how did you make it all happen?

NdJ: The first part of the project was to design the content to be used in a personal storytelling mode. For this we used ALL the content ever produced together with The Stedelijk. The second part was the actual deployment and test of the CHESS software on iPads at the museum. 

The Stedelijk is a long-term partner of Antenna’s who are keen to experiment with new technologies in order to increase visitor engagement. The whole project was set up to test how visitors would react to personalized storytelling.

We offered visitors the “personalized” tour free on our CHESS-programmed iPads, which helped us get lots of users and data. We also randomly handed out tablets with a “linear” tour with the same look and feel. This was our control group. After the tour we did short in-person interviews and are currently analyzing all of the results.


Is it being used on a specific exhibition or with the perm collection?

NdJ: We used the personal storytelling modes for the permanent exhibition of the Stedelijk, however due to technical limitations we were confined to the ground floor.


How did creating/developing content through CHESS work at the Stedelijk?

NdJ: This was a really interesting part. Usually, CHESS requires bespoke content. In this case, we had to prepare the existing content to use it in storytelling mode. This existing tour was basically random, with no storyline attached to it. The curators of the Stedelijk went through all the content and identified 7 tags or themes that could be applied to each object. Then they sliced the audio content up into pieces corresponding with those tags - if applicable. So, if you would have chosen the theme "background information", you would only get in-depth content about the artworks and be led to those objects where that theme was apparent.

This worked surprisingly well - the quality of the audio was so good that the personal stories really sounded like individual pieces of content.


Have you taken a final tour through CHESS? What was the experience like on the ground?

NdJ: Yes - I loved the concept. It works fast and gave me the feeling of a personal tour, without really losing control - mainly thanks to the "get me out of here" option.

Of course, the software is BETA and needs some refinement. Basically, it really depends on what kind of learning style works for the visitor. Some people like short random bits of information, but on the other end of the spectrum there are people that like to be led intensively.


So, could other institutions use CHESS?

NdJ: CHESS is a software platform, so yes, this can be applied everywhere. We implemented CHESS at the most difficult of venues: a modern art museum with individual objects telling individual stories. However, we succeeded in creating different storylines that tied the collection together. I can imagine that in for example a historical or scientific setting, these storylines will be more apparent, which would enhance the effectiveness of adaptive storytelling.


What do the Stedelijk's visitors think of CHESS so far?

NdJ: We are still gathering data and looking at the results, but visitors favor the personal experience compared to the random tour. So a multimedia tour that tries to meet all those styles, and needs, in a “one size fits all” approach seems outdated.


Many thanks to Niels for sharing his insights with us. In an up-coming post, we'll share our research at the Stedelijk, as the results are still coming in. Watch this space...

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