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March 2011

Introducing the new Balboapark.org

On Friday, we launched a brand new look for BalboaPark.org. As the central portal to Balboa Park’s museums, performing arts organizations, gardens, and restaurants, BalboaPark.org attracts about seven million pageviews per year from San Diego residents and visitors from around the world.

This redesign became a huge project for BPOC because of the many aspects of the site that we wanted to improve. Some of the most important activities/goals:

  • Re-launch it on Drupal, an open source CMS, so that we could incorporate tools that we’ve been developing for other websites in the Park and make it easier for non-programmers to create and edit content.
  • Create a visually-stunning site that would capture the beauty, diversity, and energy of the Park.
  • Make it easier for site visitors to plan their visits and decide what they want to do during their stay; for this, we needed to incorporate a more advanced calendar system.

Content Management System

One of BPOC’s major activities is to re-launch member websites on Drupal, a common open-source platform, to simplify administration, design, and content production and management. Using a common content management system for websites of multiple organizations, including Balboa Park Central, enables organizations with limited technical resources to support robust content production and allows BPOC to more effectively provide technical support to members. With the shared platform, we can also build online tools that can be deployed across multiple institutions. Examples of previously launched Drupal-based sites include The San Diego Museum of Art and the San Diego History Center. We transferred the back-end of BalboaPark.org to Drupal in September, prior to the redesign.

Design

To create the design, we contracted the local marketing agency Bailey Gardiner to establish the visual structure of the site and create static pages. We then gathered vivid images of all Park organizations. This collection process was a team effort of BPOC staff, interns, San Diego volunteers, and Richard Benton, a local professional photographer who has authored a pictoral guide to Balboa Park.  Richard has such an eye for the Park— some of his most captivating images feature the Balboa Park Carousel, Albert's Restaurant in the San Diego Zoo (for which he had to ride the Skyfari several times!), and the Model Railroad Museum.

Calendar

There are dozens of events and exhibitions happening everyday at the Park: lectures and IMAX films, puppet shows and jazz concerts, yoga classes and hip hop dance workshops. To provide website visitors with a calendar that has the ability to handle complicated repeating events—say, a class that occurs Tuesdays at 2pm and Thursdays at 4pm except the third Thursday of the month (when it’s at 4:30pm) and holidays (when it doesn’t happen at all)—we worked with Palantir, a Chicago-based software development firm. The new calendar pages make it easier to visitors to search by event category and sponsoring organization.

Other features of the new site include increased social media integration (check out the Connect With Us tab and the blogs ticker on the front page), better maps, and the addition of an ad server that empowers us to serve up ads from Balboa Park institutions and nearby companies. And although we launched the site last week, additional exciting features will be added during Phase Two of the redesign.

The creative and hard-working team behind this effort includes Bill Bostick, Chris Borkowski, Rich Cherry, Christina DePaolo, Debbie Petruzzelli, and Linda West.

iPod/iPhone Mobile Tours for Everyone

If someone had told me a year ago that I would be able to make a working iPhone or iPod app, complete with content and a nice, easy-to-navigate interface, I would have thought they were nuts. I only know a little bit of code, and certainly not of the Cocoa or Objective-C variety that iOS apps require. But in the space of a couple of days, I was able to make a fully-functioning concept iPod mobile tour, using some repurposed content, the Indianapolis Museum of Art's TAP Drupal-based platform, and Apple's XCode developer toolkit to move the content onto the iOS devices.

TAP intro

There's a detailed list of instructions about implementing and using TAP here, but I'll outline my experience in this blog post. TAP is designed to be fairly usable out-of-the-box, and I found that to be the case. Because the TAP platform is based on Drupal, installation of TAP is fairly straightforward for those who are familiar with deploying database-driven CMS. Once installed, it was really easy to start putting content into TAP.

TAP interface

TAP supports five different types of content, known as "stops". Each stop can be bundled together as a "Stop Group", so the user only has to enter one three-digit number to access all different types of content:

  • Image Stop: for still images
  • Video Stop: for videos encoded into mp4
  • Audio Stop: mp3 audio
  • Poll Stop: used to poll your visitors
  • Web Stop: For custom content, like a web page, related to the tour

Once within the Stop Group (in this case, stop 117 for The Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park), the user will be able to see all these content types bundled together:

Interface of all of the menu items

Here, there's a video showing a sword-fighting demonstration at the theater, some audio content from a Balboa Park walking tour, a poll about the shows people might have seen at the theater, a photograph showing what the interior of the theater looks like, and some web content.

Once I loaded all of these individual pieces of content into TAP and linked them together into a Stop Group, I was ready to bundle the assets and the interface together and move it into my iPod.

Content list

All you have to do to bundle the tour together is click on "Export Bundle" (in the upper left) and save the bundle. Moving it onto the iOS device is more complicated.

Xcode interface

First off, you need a Mac running OS 10.6 (as of this writing. sorry PC users). You also have to sign up for a $99 Apple Developer License. This took a while to sort out, so it's helpful if you sign up for the program early on in the project. Then, once you're approved, you have to download Xcode and iPhone SDK, a set of tools from Apple that allows you to develop iOS apps (or link the TAP app code with the bundled content). Then you need to download the TAP app code by running a terminal client and downloading it (click here for the string to get the app source code).

From there, you basically just follow the instructions here. I had some initial difficulty getting the app to run, due to a bad download of the source code, but the IMA developer who wrote the code, Charles Moad, was quick to reply and we sorted out the problem fairly quickly.

I also changed the look and feel of the app, but I didn't change any of the code and functionality. Basically, I just created new images and swapped the IMA-themed ones out. Easy.

Interface comparison

Once the testing and deployment environment is all set up, it's really easy to continue adding content, or making new tours. There are a couple of limitations, though:

  1. The tours can't be distributed via iTunes at this time, since all of the content is loaded into the app from the beginning. It's simply too big. So this is great for in-house iPods that are checked out and used within the gallery. IMA assures us, however, that they're working on an HTML5 version that will allow the app to be downloaded and updated via iTunes, as well as be usable for other mobile OSes, such as Android. - Corrections and clarifications: I misunderstood this limitation. Apparently, iTunes will allow larger apps to be distributed via the iTunes store, but they require users to download via wifi if the file is over 20 MB. Additionally, the HTML5 version of TAP will also make the app web-viewable, making it usable by all web-enabled mobile devices.
  2. Changing some of the app behavior can be daunting for non-programmers (such as myself). Without playing around in the code, there aren't any easy ways to modify certain behaviors. For example, since the Help video is per-institution, there isn't one that comes with the bundle, but I can't easily hide the Help button or the initial popup window that links to the (non-existent) video. Likewise, there's a tapping noise that's activated by inputting the tour stop numbers that drives me crazy, so I want to do away with it. I'm sure it's easy to change, but I haven't found the location within the code for those settings yet.

Regardless of those limitations, for institutions looking to quickly create iPod gallery tours, this is a very handy and easy way to create your very first iPod app.

In the news: MoPA's focus on interactivity

Yesterday, the San Diego Union-Tribune published an article by James Chute about the ways that the Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) is incorporating new technologies, both inside the museum and online. We've been working with MoPA on several projects-- many that are mentioned in the article-- including developing interactive kiosks with iPads and video screens and digitizing the museum's photo collection. Soon we'll be converting MoPA's website to the open source Drupal platform.

The article captures the enthusiasm of MoPA staff toward using technology to engage visitors. Amber Lucero-Criswell, MoPA’s director of education and public programs, has an excellent quote:

The Web is no longer just a place for information, where you find out what time the place is open and what the cost is. It’s a place of experience, where you can go in and find out information about the exhibition, upload your photos, and really have your own experience.

It’s the same with the galleries. Coming into the galleries is no longer just a place of information, where you are just reading biographical material (and looking at photos), but a place of experience where we’ve created a specific design to engage you and interactives to make you feel part of it.

Giskin Anomaly on KPBS Radio

On Monday KPBS (San Diego's NPR affiliate) invited Rich Cherry, BPOC's director, and Ken Eklund, creator of Giskin Anomaly, to speak about Giskin on its These Days morning radio program. Rich and Ken chatted with host Maureen Cavanaugh about the park-wide cell phone adventure: the concept, the narrative, and the technology behind the game. The podcast of the segment is now available online through the KPBS website.

KPBS Interview

Talking Analytics with Seb Chan

Many of us who work in online communications and marketing start using Google Analytics with certain assumptions.

  • If traffic is up, we must be doing something right.
  • It's always better if people spend 5 minutes on our site than 3 minutes.
  • A low bounce rate is better than a high bounce rate.

Earlier today, Sebastian Chan spoke to a group of BPOC members about effective ways of using Google Analytics, Reinvigorate, Quantcast, and other tools to understand a website's traffic. Seb leads the Powerhouse Museum's Digital, Social and Emerging Technologies department, and has spoken at many national conferences about developing better web metrics.

Seb emphasized the importance of using Google Analytics filters to look at the geographic location of visitors and their path to the website. As with any marketing tool, you need to keep the target audience in mind. He also challenged the notion that more time spent on a website is better (What if all people need is the museum's closing time? Aren't you serving them better if they can find that information quickly via a Google Places page and then hop in their car to make it by 3pm?) When it comes to bounce rates, you generally want a low rate when people are looking at content-rich educational pages but you're bound to see higher ones when people go through a Twitter link to look quickly at a blog post. He ended his seminar with an explanation about how the Powerhouse Museum uses Reinvigorate, a tool for measuring influence via real-time analytics and heatmaps.

After his seminar, Seb met with several museum staff one-on-one to provide more specialized guidance. Tomorrow morning he'll be speaking with Jed Sundwall for a seminar titled "Open Museums: Creating a Digital Commons."

Seb meets with a team from Mingei and BPOC

Seb with BPOC Director Rich Cherry and Cary Canning from the San Diego Natural History Museum