The steady march of the mobile device
Graham Davies, Online Curator, Amgeddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
Access to online content is showing a steady shift towards the mobile device. What are the implications for Amgueddfa Cumry’s own website?
There has been much discussion in the museums digital sector lately on the significant rise in websites accessed via mobile devices. It was one of the focuses of the 'Let's Get Real' Action Research project run by Culture24, of which the Museum was a part. The V&A have recently been publishing their findings on what devices people use to access different areas of their website.
In light of this, I decided to uncover the trends taking place on the National Museum Wales own website: museumwales.ac.uk
Mobile device growth over two years
From the National Museum Wales’ perspective the rate of acces from mobile devices shows pretty much the same pattern reported from other similar institutions.
Overall, we see close to a 25% rise in visits via mobile device to the website over a two year period. This is significant, but applying this as a generalisation of the website as a whole may be hiding other, more significant trends.
Figure 1 shows that people are increasingly looking at our website through mobile devices, but what parts of the site are fuelling this rise? What other trends become apparent when we look at areas such as visiting information, or our content rich collections pages?
So, lets break this down and let's see if we can work out what’s going on here…
What are people mainly looking at when using mobile devices?
A comparison of Figure 2 and Figure 3 clearly show a markedly higher percentage of pages accessed via mobile device to our 'visiting' pages than our content rich Art Online collections pages, (which incidentally show more of a rise in tablet use than mobile.)
What this all boils down to is that our content is now being accessed (and increasingly so) through all manner of different devices, and in all manner of different environments, from coffee shops, trains, your sofa, at work etc., etc.
The devices we choose are driven by the context (or setting) we are in, also the time we have to find out what we need to know. Think about it for a minute. How do you use digital devices to locate and find out information? Sat at a desk in your lunchtime, with time to sift through search results to find local events this coming weekend, filtering and refining on a large screen with a mouse and keyboard. Then there’s that last minute check on opening times and directions on your mobile phone whilst in a crowded train on your Friday night commute, straining to keep your phone viewable whilst jammed up against another person, typing with one finger. Come Sunday evening, you’re lying on the sofa, tablet on lap learning more about that nugget of information you picked up, or writing about your experiance on a review site.
This behaviour is quite logical if we take time to consider user behaviour on different devices, but what does this mean for our website and how we manage it?
What we must ensure when publishing our content is that we understand that the users could be anywhere, doing anything. A the moment, the evidence seems to suggest most mobile access targets visiting and location based information, whereas in depth collections data remains to be largely accessed via desktops.
The decline of the desktop (well, for visiting information at least)
Figure 2 shows that more people are viewing our visiting information from mobile devices than they are from desktops or laptops. It is therefore critical when planning content and designing websites, that areas of the website need to be thought out in separate ways, with visiting and site based information being designed and created first and foremost to be viewed on mobile devices.
In addition to functionality and design, we must also ensure that the content we provide for those areas of the website that are accessed primarily through mobile devices is crystal clear, succinct and quick to discover and understand - after all, you may only have a 5inch screen to get your information across.
Given the rate of growth from mobile devices it will be interesting to see where we will be this time next year...
Adobe Digital Marketing blog
How more sales can mean less revenue
And they're here: for the first time, we have figures for a year of e-book sales, supplied directly by publishers. It's still far from the whole picture, as not all e-book figures are available. But we now have a much better idea of what the book-buying landscape looks like in the UK.
The figure that stands out is that e-book sales are now up to 13%-14% of all book sales. However, as their prices are cheaper, that's only 6%-7% of revenue. Print book sales are down again, by 3.4% on 2011, as are average prices.
The e-book market is still dominated by fiction, and those e-book figures track the print figures. That is, if a book sells well in print, it also does well in e-book. The stand-out example is a particularly, shall we say, shady trilogy, whose e-book sales are about 36% of the print sales. Could the success of the e-book version of these titles lie, I wonder, in the fact that no-one can see what you're reading on your Kindle...?
So, it's mixed news: more books were bought in 2012, but because more of them were e-books, publishers made less money. Good news for reading, less so for publishing.
Meanwhile, here at Amgueddfa Cymru our journey into 'e' continues...
With thanks to The Bookseller for the sales figures.
New Media, New Challenges
Graham Davies, Online Curator, Amgeddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
Earlier this year I was approached by the Keeper of Art regarding a recent acquisition of two oil paintings dating from 1700. The paintings in question - two large panoramic paintings of Margam House - were purchased with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund, and as the funding included some form of digital exploration, I was asked to produce an interactive to compliment the gallery display (that would also be available to tour with the paintings).
On closer inspection of the paintings, lot of small, intricate detail became noticeable. As some details were very small - and would benefit from additional interpretation - some sort of zoomable image would offer the visitors with the best form of digital exploration.
In previous gallery interactive developments, the New Media Department have used the iPad2 platform, but as the newer iPad3 has a retina display - a screen resolution and pixel density so high that a person is unable to discern the individual pixels at a normal viewing distance - this platform seemed ideal to explore small detail in high resolution images. As for the software, we decided to use an adaptation of a previously developed interactive that allowed the user to move around a high-resolution image to predetermined hotspots (to explain certain details of the painting).
I then went about locating numerous details on the canvas that would be interesting and informative to the viewer. I was keen to pick things out that would not be contained on the gallery labels, thus ensuring no duplication and offering an enhanced visitor experience.
After obtaining high-resolution images of the two paintings I was able to upload these to our Content Management System (amgeuddfacms), to allow them to be served from our website server. It was at this point that a strange technical inconsistency occurred....
Viewing 3800?pixel wide image on a standard Firefox browser on my desktop screen rendered the image sharp and clear. However, serving the exact same image into the iPad3 web browser rendered a fuzzy pixelated image. Given that the same image was being served to both screens it seemed that the different web browsers were handling the image in a different way.
A little bit of research on the internet revealed the possible problem: The default web browser on an iPad (Safari), runs WebKit which only seems to serve images up to a maximum size (somewhere around 1024 pixels wide). The iPad browser seemed to be downsampling the original 3800 wide image to 1024 wide, before then upscaling this 1024 wide image back up to 3800, causing the image to render at almost 400% it's downsampled 1024 pixel size.
The problem was how to get around this. After some researching on the internet for similar problems, it seemed that there was no conclusive solution. This was mainly due to the logical assumption that it’s bad practice to serve huge images to a website (especially on a mobile device such as an iPad, where web content was readily downloaded via mobile networks), so the advice was always to use small images. Of course we wanted very large images, so this didn’t help!
One solution that Chris Owen, our Web Manager came up with was to serve two halves of the image separately and automatically stitch them back together again after they loaded on the web page - thus the page would load two smaller images. Technically this gave a good result, but cutting the image in half was not enough. We therefore generated a script that sliced the image into 500 by 500 pixels (totaling 64 separate images), and stitched them all back together again once they were loaded into the browser.
The outcome was a high-resolution image (made up of smaller individual images) that renders sharply even when zoomed right in. This gets around the issue of the Safari web browser on an iPad automatically scaling down large images.
Research suggests that this may be a first in application development of this sort, especially one developed wholly in HTML5.
Gesture enhanced interactive
Once this high resolution was served up onto the new iPad3, in high resolution quality, it became clear that it would make more sense to make this a ‘gesture enhanced’ (pinch to zoom) interactive in addition to interpreting predetermined parts of the painting.
This means that the user can now fully explore the entire image, zooming right into any part of the image, whilst being able to read interpretive labels embedded within the image.
The next problem to solve was the one of colour accuracy. Due to the original paintings being very dark, most images that we had to play with were lightened in order to see the detail. This lightening caused the colours to be untrue to the original, something that would be noticeable once screen and canvas were next to each other in the gallery.
A quick phone call to our photography department affirmed that they had high-resolution master TIFF files available that were ‘colour correct’, i.e. the colours in the digital capture were exactly as they were in the painting.
These colour correct images turned out to be strikingly different to the ones that we had previously been playing with, the increased sharpness causing even more detail to become apparent, even figures appeared that weren’t noticeable on the previous images.
The application will be installed alongside the paintings of Margam House in the Art in Wales 1500-1700 gallery at National Museum Cardiff in October 2012.
Bringing it all together: Art in Wales 1550-1700
A parallel development to this in-gallery interactive is a website interactive exploring a major portrait of the builder of Margam House – Sir Thomas Mansel with his wife, Jayne (hung alongside the Margam paintings in Art in Wales 1550-1700 gallery). Again, certain parts of the painting can be explored in high resolution through interpretive labels embedded in the image. This further compliments an existing interactive, exploring another major portrait in the gallery – Katheryn of Berain, the Mother of Wales.
It is hoped to extend this program to include all the items in the gallery, thus forming a holistic digital interpretation of Art in Wales from 1550-1700, available both within the gallery and through the website.
Art Gallery VADU
VADU: Visual Audio Display Unit
My last blog entry was back in April 2009, so this is a hesitant return.
In July 2011 the refurbished Contemporary & Modern Art galleries were re-opened at the National Museum Cardiff, the following VADU would be included in the initial exhibition. The specification was mainly to showcase video shorts: recorded, interviewed and edited by a few of my colleagues (Art and New Media), the videos would have subtitles and also there would be a visitor comments page.
The iPad 2 was about to be launched when I started work on the VADU. Magic was in the air, queues were forming.
Note: it has been used for two exhibitions, so far:
- Contemporary & Modern Art (July 2011 – January 2012)
- The Queen: Art and Image (January 2012 – April 2012)
Although there is an 'App Store', it seemed like overkill to write and release an application simply for four machines in an art gallery - I used 'Kiosk Pro' instead, an application which basically removed all the usual iPad functionality and locked it down to a fullscreen Safari browser.
In regards to the actual design aspect of the VADU interface: the only two constraints were museum brand guidelines and a particular colour had to be used to unify it with the surrounding new gallery signage.
Around May 2011, Braun's designer Dieter Rams design ideas entered my world (I can't repeat his mantra here, but only because it is copyrighted). Anyhow, I tried to create an interface that was simple, intuitive, consistent, and didn't distract the user from the actual content:
- Only two colours
- No drop-shadows or gradients
- 10px borders
- I did allow myself one curvy corner (bottom-right), one guilty pleasure
- User navigation: horizontal gestures only
- Page transitions: vertical only
If you haven't already looked at the photograph 1 and 1b, I would take a look now; so we have a shared reference images in mind.
The top section displays the title of the exhibition, followed by page buttons (Art, Comments and What's On). All exciting stuff - the tip of an arrow indicates which page the user is on (hopefully in a subtle fashion).
The language button starts the most convoluted process on the VADU, in terms of animating a page change. I didn't want the change to be instant, instead I gave it a more graceful flow. The actual result of changing the language only swaps the domain name from English to Welsh or visa-versa (museumwales.ac.uk, amgueddfacymru.ac.uk), but the time it takes to do that is over four seconds. It should become clearer later, if you watch the video below.
The middle section displays the video in focus at the time, large screen print from the video is shown in the background - title, summary and extraneous information such as video length are shown on the information panel. In large font the word: 'Play', indicating the user can start a video. Left and right arrows also allow the user to shuffle through the videos. The information panel can be moved from the right or left of the background image - something that resulted from the fact artists don't like their work flipped [in a digital sense] i.e. if the focus of the background is to the left, the information panel can be positioned to the right by indicating such in the CMS metadata entry.
The bottom section can be dragged with a finger left and right, selecting any one of the sixteen videos. It was quite important to have draggable areas, because it is simply expected by iPad users (thus, making it intuitive). The same draggable feature is used for the what's on page (photograph 6).
If the user selects a video, the screen removes all navigation features so they are only left with the title of the video, a video time indicator (so the user knows the video is only short), the video itself in the center of the screen, the subtitles at the base of the screen and a 'back' button. The user can pause and un-pause the video by tapping of the video in the center (see photograph 3). The video's themselves use the same colour as the VADU, so it all fits together neatly.
Finally the comments page is simple too: optional name input, text input and the last three comments are displayed on the right-hand side (hopefully encouraging the user to write something). The comments are fed into the usual website comments system, approved (or not) by a staff member (photograph 5) – there has been over 2000 comments left of the gallery VADU since July 2011, which is quite a lot considering no one was forcing these people to write something.
The gallery VADUs have been very reliable; once every few months one of them may freeze, but considering they are always on (one weakness of iOS software is you can‘t boot-up into a single application), that's not too bad. I darken the screen after the galleries close – simply using a whole–screen black div.
We had a brief problem when changing the local network settings in January, so I added a check before the VADU changes language to see if there is a network available (an AJAX query: onSuccess or onFailure).
If it continues to be used, I would like to develop a local version of the VADU, providing a fallback if the network goes down, or maybe a hybrid version (storing the videos on the VADU). This would mean a update of the iOS (from 4.3 to 5.1+), but I‘m sure there would be some associated browser performance improvements.
Other major changes shouldn't be required, as the video shorts are meant to be the star of the show.
Obviously it helps to have a pleasant environment to place the VADUs (photograph 9).
I've included a short demo video for posterity:
Virtually cleaning a 18th Century painting
Graham Davies, Online Curator, Amgeddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
When a member of the Art department approached me to ask if I could feature two views of the same painting online — one version covered in dirt and yellowed varnish (as the painting was when it came into the Museum), and the other version showing hidden detail and crisp colours (after being cleaned by Museum conservators) — I realised it would make a perfect interactive if you could use your mouse to virtually 'clean' the dirty canvas to reveal the clean version underneath.
Guardi's view of the Grand Canal, Venice
The painting in question is Francsesco Guardi's View of the Palazzo Loredan dell'Ambasciatore on the Grand Canal, Venice, painted around 1775-85.
Acquired by Amgueddfa Cymru in 2011, this painting is an important acquisition as Guardi's Venetian views are regarded as highly significant in the history of landscape painting.
You clean the painting
To make the most out of this dramatic before and after view, I needed to work out a way of 'virtually' cleaning the painting online by dragging a mouse over the dirty image to reveal the original details and colours previously hidden underneath the dirt and old varnish.
Reinvent the wheel?
I wanted something that allowed the mouse to act as an eraser; allowing one image to be rubbed out to reveal a secondary image underneath. A hunt around the internet brought up the required functionality already created by by Jonathan Nicol (www.f6design.com/journal).
The next step was to acquire high resolution copies of both dirty (before) and cleaned (after) digital images of the artwork from the Photography department.
Precisely aligning two slightly different angled photographs of the same picture
When I opened these digital images in Photohshop it became apparent that variations in the perspective, and distance of the photographic captures resulted in two images that did not precisely match up once overlaid on top of one another.
After an hour of miniscule adjustments using the image warp feature on Photoshop using the images as separate layers within Photoshop (one set at 50% opacity), I eventually achieved a precise overlaid match.
I abandoned trying to do this at 100% view as the image was so large and the time lag in processing too great to view the results (even for my G5 at 2.44Gz and 8GB RAM). I had to settle for a 25% view that filled my Apple 32" screen)
Once I had a satisfactory matched up and aligned the 'dirty' layer on top of the 'clean' layer, I could create the two corresponding TIFF images to incorporate into the Flash file as a basis for the interactive.
After a bit of tweaking, fiddling, and constant testing, I managed to create a simple interactive, allowing you to use your mouse to erase the dirty image, revealing the clean one underneath .
Exploring the detail.
I then decided to repeat this process to create several versions, all using crops of the high resolution images to show close up details of the painting.
Areas of particular interest I choose to separate out were people rowing a goldola, the architectural detail of the buildings, and the detail of the sky and clouds where much original detail had been almost totally obscured by years of grime, dirt and previous 'touch-ups' to the painting. The clean version revealed original intricate details and brushwork.
Future applications for Museum archives and collections
I am hoping this functionality can be utilised for other online images of the collections in the future. Ideas I have at the moment are to reveal hidden under-drawings only visible under x-ray light — as in the example of Richard Wilson's Dolbadarn Castle (NMW A 72), which has been painted over a portrait of a woman, and Landscape with Banditti around a Tent (NMW A 69) which he painted over a Venetian-style reclining nude.
Additional ideas include viewing a landscape or post industrial townscape that can be erased to reveal a historical image underneath...
Lots of talk, for some very small numbers
Ok, so we had the iPad moment. What’s changed? Lots. The iPad itself was, in truth, disappointing for publishers. Beautiful, sure, but not very helpful. It wasn’t multifunctional and it wasn’t backward compatable with much stuff either (I can’t be the only person still using OS 10.4?) But, like Apple’s previous offers, it was a gamechanger. It established the tablet as a device, despite many people, myself included, wondering if anyone really wanted Job's 'third device'. Apple then let other manufacturers come up with their own versions, the best of which is probably Samsung’s Galaxy, and quietly went home to improve their own model. Having established the tablet, and just in time to catch the secondary wave of adopters, out comes iPad 2. With improved functionality and more features (camera – two, actually), it still passes itself off as the most desirable tablet, even if it’s not necessarily the best. With iPad 2 and the iPhone, Apple has now firmly entered the mainstream consumer market. In losing the geek factor, what has it gained? Well, turnover, and profit, obviously. While Apple’s top-quality combined hardware/software model of Macs retains its market-leading position in the creative industries, the iPods, Ipads and iPhones are now thoroughly high-street, even with their top-end price tags.
However, part of this trajectory has been the strategic downplaying of the iPad’s e-reader function, which is what publishers were most excited about. Instead, the iPad focuses on portable, sleek, seamless acces to the web and email – truly, a big iPhone, but also ready and waiting for Web 3.0.
In terms of e-readers the iPad moment just didn’t happen. This has left Amazon’s Kindle as market leader, even though it only reads Amazon’s own e-book file format (although there are rumours Amazon will soon be allowing US publishers to submit e-books in the industry-standard e-Pub format). Amazon introduced the Kindle in 2007, by 2010 in the US Amazon were selling more Kindle books than hardbacks; today Amazon sells more Kindle books than hardback and paperback put together. At the moment it’s selling 105 Kindle books for every 100 print books, and three times more Kindle books than this time last year. In the UK, where the Kindle store has only been open a year or so, Amazon are selling twice as many Kindle books as hardbacks.
What can we learn from this? Remember, the Amazon figures only apply to their own sales, of Kindle books, which can only currently be read on a Kindle device. What’s happening across the rest of the bookselling industry? The true picture for the UK is that sales of e-books are currently 2.5% of all book purchases; interestingly, they peaked at 3% over Christmas (did you get an e-book in your stocking?!) Adult fiction is still the most popular category, at 5.4% of all purchases; men and women are buying e-books equally, and the age group 55-64 makes up over a quarter of e-book buyers.
This 2.5% seems like a tiny figure for us all to be worrying so much about, especially as the value of the sales is low – about 1.6%. I still can't wait to have a go though.
Revealing historic sketches online
Revealing the historic sketches of Francis Place for the very first time…
After Museum conservators in the Art department had completed their conservation work on the Francis Place sketchbooks – containing some of the earliest on-the-spot- sketches of Wales in the Museums collections – I was given the task of figuring out the best way in which to present these sketches online.
Secret sketches hidden for 200 years
Places' sketchbooks had been taken apart 200 years ago and their pages stuck on a woven paper backing. Recent conservation work has since revealed further sketches on the reverse – sketches that have been hidden for over 200 years.
What's more, these hidden sketches were a continuation of the panoramic view from the previous page – so by digitally stitching two double page panoramas together, new complete views could been created that would never have been possible to see before – even by the artist himself!
Now, how could we display these new super long panoramas online whilst still allowing the detail to be seen?
The default width for our webpages is set at just under 1000 pixels across, this was just not enough to be able to show off these panoramas in any detail, so I decided that the easiest solution was to add scroll bars direct to the image, allowing them to be displayed across the page whilst at the same time allowing the complete panoramas to be studied in detail.
One of these newly generated images is of a panoramic view of Cardiff, containing an unique view of the medieval town as it was back in 1678.
To show this detailed sketch off in the best possible way, I decided to repurpose our interactive image navigator tool, which allows the user to pan around a high resolution image viewing details close up.
By using texts from a previously published article on medieval Cardiff, I was also able to pinpoint and highlight certain aspects of the panorama that were noteworthy – be it places that have remained unchanged since medieval times, or places that have long since vanished.
Francis Place goes global
To promote this work, the marketing team at the Museum distributed several Tweets and Facebook mentions. As well as being picked up by the BBC Wales news website and local media, we also published images onto the photo sharing website Flickr and added the extra information as notes embedded within the image. To make it a bit more user focused, I posted a comment asking users to guess where the artist was postitioned as he sketched… The foreground area of the sketch has altered so dramatically since 1678, it's not as easy as it seems….
And as if by magic - it's still not here.
Well, the iPad now has a release date for the US - early April, not mid-March as first expected. It will probably arrive in the UK late April. In the meantime we seem to have exhausted ourselves trying to decide whether or not it's a good thing - let alone a necessary thing. But then not being needed didn't make the iPod or iPhone any less desirable.
Apple's marketing for the iPad has taken a turn for the interesting, as their key words are "revolutionary" - possibly true - and "magical" - what?! Of course it's slick, sexy, a thing of beauty; there might well be something revolutionary about it; but - magical? Now using that concept to describe a piece of digital equipment, that's revolutionary! It's a piece of kit that lets us use our email and the web, look at our pics and videos and play with all our digital toys (150,000 of them apparently). Eventually we'll be able to use it to read e-books.
Previously Apple were promoting the iPad's similarity with the iPhone in terms of functionality, so that we'd all feel at home right away. Now, however, the iPad is revolutionary, magical and value for money. It sounds as though somewhere in the flurry of attention since its announcement, Apple have abandoned the "third category" concept that so many people questionned, and instead are positioning the iPad as a gem of a product, something lovely and affordable and just so much fun. A must-have accessory, perhaps. In which case, where does that leave the e-reading function? It was never primarily an e-book reader, more for all-round media consumption, but publishers were desperately looking forward to the healthy, straightforward supply deal offered by Apple, and any further delay in launching iBook in the UK is surely going to be a major cause for concern.
Publishers are happy to have a bite
Macmillan have now ended their stand-off with Amazon, and come to an agreement over the terms of sale of their ebooks. When Macmillan initially demanded new terms, all their books became unavailable on Amazon.
Now, even Rupert Murdoch says that Amazon's terms "devalues books", and he looks like renegotiating HarperCollins terms.
The problem is Amazon's selling model, in which they act as a straightforward reseller. They can sell the ebooks at any price they choose, even lossleading on some if they want to. Apple, on the other hand, have taken a completely different model with US publishers, who are welcoming it with open arms. Apple will be buying ebooks from publishers at a price set by the publishers, with Apple effectively taking a commission.
There's still no indication that Apple has started negotiating with UK publishers, so when the first iPads ship to the UK at the end of March ebooks might not be available through iBooks. If not, however, it won't be trhough lack of enthusiasm on the part of publishers. This is one American trend I don't think we'll mind following.
Apple not so shiny
How disappointing to find out that, in one aspect, Apple are no different from Amazon. At the moment, no books are available for iBook in the UK. It seems Apple are just as behind as Amazon in negotiating publishing rights for the UK territory.
Disappointing, but understandable I guess. They're both American companies, based in the USA so it makes sense that they sort their domestic market out first. Also, as I've commented before, the iBook isn't being promoted as the iPad's primary feature anyway. It's just that, for some of us, that was what we've been waiting for! There's no way ereading will move towards the mainstream until we have a decent colour multi-touchscreen, multifunctionality and an intuitive UI. At the moment the devices on the market work for fiction (no images, minimum functionality needed) and the academic market (especially with the specialist Kindle Tablet for students). I'm looking forward to being able to browse my reading material in the way we now 'browse' the web.