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self-guided tours

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Rob Jacksonself-guided tours
by on Jun 16, 2009 at 7:46:36 pm

Wasn't really sure where to post this question, but here we go. I'm working on a project for a local aquarium that wants to start offering self-guided audio and video tours. At this time, these are two separate projects each on their own player. Our main concern at this point is finding a player that will be EXTREMELY easy for guests to operate and not get lost using. iPods are great, but we get some clients that would really get lost if they accidently entered into menus etc. But, we do need them to be able to select chapters based on what exhibit they're standing in front of.

Does anybody have any experience with this type of technology and can recommend a player, (or app to load on an iPod touch), that would work for us?

We can't do GPS or cell-phone tours. We do have flash programmers available for video tours on players that support flash. I've thought of portable DVD players for the video, but they're too bulky and the discs would get scratched easily.

We're not on a tight budget per player, but this is a non-profit.

So...suggestions on an "idiot-proof" audio player with chapter selection, and suggestions on a video player that can do the same? Play, stop, track select, volume.

Thanks for the help and if I should post this somewhere else, please let me know!

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Mark SuszkoRe: self-guided tours
by on Jun 17, 2009 at 11:41:51 pm

Keep it simple. Put an MP3 of it on your web site witha prominent link for people plannign to visit (hint: post the link near the info on your hours of operation, people planning a first visit will find it there and pre-load it befoer they come), post signs for those using web-enabled phones or MP3-players, and burn a stack of audio CD's to keep behind the reception desk.

Those two sources should cover 90 percent of your visitors. Consider a one dollar charge, perhaps refundable, to borrow or "rent" the CD, just to cover replacement costs if they don't come back... or, print some ads on the CD and put audio commercials on it somewhere (this tour brought to you by the helpful sponsors of zxy corp) and have some business subsidize them.

The last step is to have a cheap computer of some sort at one of the reception desks that is not connected to anything important and is only there to host that file for people that need to connect with a cable to load their particular player.

You might also drop by the local resale shop and grab a couple of used but working portable CD players and keep them under the counter as loaners to less wealthy patrons (folks provide their own headphones for hygiene, stock some in your gift shop). Have them leave a license or credit card as a deposit on the player so they'll bring it back when they are done using it.

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Rob JacksonRe: self-guided tours
by on Jun 18, 2009 at 1:12:49 am

Thanks for the response Mark!

We are definitely going to put it on the website first. We'll have 1 or 2 mp3 players to use for our test users, but until the next set of grants goes through, there won't be players to provide. We also have to find some way to make money off of it.

The idea, from the higher powers that be, is that we'd have something nice looking/modern to make the aquarium seem "in the now," but we still have guests who are in the '80s.

Great idea about headphones in the gift shop. Hadn't even thought about the hygiene deal. I'll talk to them about setting up a dedicated kiosk where they can download what they need.

I really like the design of the GPS Ranger,, for a video player. Obviously GPS won't work for us inside a building, but the player itself is really what strikes me. I'd like to take a player like that and have it respond to RF hotspots at each exhibit.

Thanks again Mark!

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Mark SuszkoRe: self-guided tours
by on Jun 18, 2009 at 2:53:17 am

You're welcome, Rob, but I'm a little fuzzy on why and what kind of video component you want to add to a self-guided tour of an aquarium. Care to expand on that? Audio tours, I totally get, and I have wanted to make a really nice one for our state capitol building for many years. It would have actor performances and music and sound effects and be quite elaborate, and it would offer separate tracks covering the building's architectural history, political history, and it's collection of art. But what are you wanting to do in an aquarium? I can imagine a visual identification guide to species, but surely, you already have photo placards on the exhibits for that? So what else for video? I'm curious now...

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Rob JacksonRe: self-guided tours
by on Jun 18, 2009 at 11:16:22 am

Well I'm with you on that thought process. I was pulled into this project after all of the ideas had been dreamt up and now I'm pretty much "The Implementer".

The thought on the video tour is that we can do a lot of behind the scenes filming. We do have placards up, but we get new fish quite frequently and the placards really just cover the "main attractions" in each tank. Most of the animals here (we have otters, gators, an eagle, etc) are indigenous to the area, so we may go and film their natural habitats, show the effects of pollution and expansion, and also show how some of them came to be at the aquarium (the guys go out on the boat and bring back most of the species found in the tanks). These videos wouldn't be long for the exact reason you're thinking. We can already see the animals!! If we get into the iPod touch realm, one of the programmers here has been working on developing apps and may do an interactive tour with video trivia, touch screen actions, etc. The video tour would have a fair number of graphics too that would contain statistical data, answers to FAQ's, and information about the various show times.

The other plan at this point is that we will film as many different projects at the same time as we can. We're working on a Jeopardy style kiosk that will have video trivia, podcasts about behind the scenes operations and our extensive sea turtle rescue/veterinary care facility, and marine biology classes to be streamed into classrooms.

The audio tour is priority and definitely going to happen. The video tour will be filmed, but may not be used as a self-guided tour. I'm really just trying to do the research so if we do want to do a video tour, we can get right into it.

In response to an early suggestion about sponsors, there's a grant in the works that will cover all of this, but if the grant doesn't come through, then we will be brainstorming a list of potential sponsors and what they get for their sponsorship. Ads in the tour, audio or video, and names on the placards that identify which track to play at each exhibit, and a mention on the website along with the downloadable version.

Thanks again for the responses Mark!

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Bill DavisRe: self-guided tours
by on Jun 19, 2009 at 10:18:15 pm

This is one of those things where you think about it and you can almost SEE a future.

You walk into the museum. You pull out your cel phone. You dial the posted number. And your phone receives a set of files that work just like Visual Voicemail - allowing you to wander at your leisure and key and play back the A/V clips on your handset as you stroll the exhibits.

And a platform like the Pre or the iPhone could probably do this incredibly easily by ignoring the entire phone network, simply ingesting the content off a public Wi-Fi server at the doors.

A few more years of mobile platform development and who knows what will become everyday processes.

The mind boggles.

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Rob JacksonRe: self-guided tours
by on Jun 20, 2009 at 4:22:24 am

They already have cell phone tours where you dial a number for each exhibit and you get an audio file to listen to. I'd imagine there are places already utilizing some video features too. We looked into using that at the aquarium, but we'd have to install repeaters everywhere because cell reception is horrible. All that concrete, thick glass, and water. Those repeaters are expensive, we even had all the major carriers come in and do a walk-through with us.

You can already use cell phones to purchase things from vending machines in Europe. Once they're embedded in our heads we'll just be able to blink the information we want...

Here's one company that offers those tours:

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