Why MONA went mobile: The technology behind Hobart's Museum of Old and New Art

The story of Mona's 'O device'

Hobart's Museum of Old and New Art.

Hobart's Museum of Old and New Art.

Taking MONA to the world

In April, the Art Processors team visited the US as part of the Museums and the Web conference and Holzner says there was a lot of interest in what MONA had done.

"MONA as a whole has completely redefined the cultural landscape in this country; you can take it one step further and say across the world," Holzner says.

"There are no parallels in terms of a museum that so beautifully [integrates] the entire digital experience with the way you arrive [at the museum], with the level of support that the staff give you there, the way they interact with the visitors, the artwork itself, the way it's displayed, and the architecture as well. They all come together very beautifully at MONA and they're all in harmony."

"[In the US] We talked to MOMA [the Museum of Modern Art in New York City], the Met [The Metropolitan Museum of Art, also in NYC], we talked to SFMOMA [the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art], the Getty [in California], [and the] the Hirshhorn in Washington DC," Holzner says.

"It was more a market research and fact-finding mission than a sales tour," he says.

"It was too early for us to be in a sales position. But that did inform a lot of the development we've done in the last six months in terms of refining the product and informing where we go with the functionality and features." There's been a lot of interest in the Asia Pacific region as well, Holzner says.

"I think the current approach is — we want to be the leader in non-linear tours, as per MONA with The O, and we also want to be the leaders in next-generation audio tours that have high levels of interaction and go very far beyond the fairly stagnant playlist approach that everyone's been doing since the Walkman was invented."

Holzner believes that traditional interpretive approaches to works in museums are outmoded. They shouldn't be replaced for the sake of using technology, but for the sake of improving the experience.

"There is too much token use of hi-tech these days," he says. "Just because you have all these tools at your disposal, especially in the mobile world, which is taking off, it doesn't mean that you have to use them. You don't just want to use them for the sake of it."

He likens it to the dotcom boom, with people pursuing a model not because it makes sense but because everybody else was doing it. "'Well we've got to have an app' is the cry we hear all the time. Well, do you? What are you going to do with that? Is it just a marketing enterprise? These token exercises where you have an app because the Joneses have an app and everyone else has an app — that's a waste of money a missed opportunity in terms of investment in technology.

"You really need to look at what you can do with that technology to enhance how visitors engage with your institution. I think that's the key, and there are going to be a lot of opportunities as mobile becomes more ubiquitous, as things like the speeds that we can access data increase.

"All those things are enablers to do things in a much more impressive and exciting way and the challenge for companies like Art Processors is to really leverage that, and to constantly look for better ways of doing things."

Holzner says that MONA has achieved a greater level of public engagement in a shorter amount of time than many major institutions. "You have to ask: why is that?" he says. He believes that part of the reason is the way that MONA makes it easier to engage with what's on display. "And more so than make it easy, [it] makes it enjoyable and empowering to the visitor," he says.

"I think that in five to 10 years' time, there will be many more approaches that are similar to what we pioneered at MONA," he says. "At least, I hope so."

Rohan Pearce is the editor of Techworld Australia and Computerworld Australia. Contact him at rohan_pearce at idg.com.au.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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