This case study, from our Let’s Get Real action research program, looks at using live video streaming app Periscope to present collections in an innovative way. Choosing a sustainable ‘rhythm’ that users could get used to, the museum used the experiment as a chance to address ‘dumb’ questions in a five minute weekly broadcast.
About the participant:
Name: Annelisa Stephan
Organisation: The Getty
What was the research question behind your experiment? | Why was this important to your organisation? | What did you do to implement this? | What happened? | What were the personal challenges you faced when carrying out this experiment? | What did YOU learn? | What did YOUR ORGANISATION learn? | What next?
What was the research question behind your experiment?
We had two questions, one more research-based and one more culture/mindset based.
Research question: What does a Periscope art encounter look like to users who are very familiar with the medium?
Culture question: How can we generate a creative rhythm, with regular broadcasts, that will allow us to do something new we’re excited about?
Why was this important to your organisation?
When new digital tools come along, many organisations feel pressure to adopt them immediately in order to stay current. But new tools often embody paradigm shifts that require innovation, not just doing more of the same on a new platform. New digital tools invite us to respond with entirely new models of content presentation and interaction, if we have a moment to slow down, zoom out, and strategise. Showing that we can create something new if we give ourselves breathing room and collaborative space was important in this project.
Considering new models is particularly important for Periscope, the promise of which is to “discover the world through someone else’s eyes.”
We didn’t want to use the traditional museum-video model of having a camera-person tape an expert standing in front of an object. To replicate this model yet again in Periscope seemed to be a missed opportunity. With Periscope, the expert and the eyes, the host and the videographer, can now become one and the same. We wanted to really explore what that means.
We therefore created broadcasts in which an educator acts as tour guide, moderator, and virtual eyes, guiding viewers through interesting details of specific artworks and responding to all questions and comments in a rapid-fire manner.
To address the cultural question (doing something we really care about), this is critical for an organisation. Museums and other nonprofits attract people who are passionate, creative, and willing to accept less pay than in the private sector. Yet such organisations may not give these people the creative space to use that passion and to experiment and to have the freedom to fail. Showing that we can do such a thing and succeed is important for future experiments.
What did you do to implement this?
Working in a small team, we did a series of tests with various Periscope approaches that faced logistical challenges such as spotty Wi-Fi and copyrighted artwork. We decided to embrace our limitations and create broadcasts about single public-domain works with an educator guiding viewers and responding to their questions and comments.
Based on our group insight, we wanted to create a space for irreverent questions that people may feel too ashamed or “dumb” to ask in a museum — questions like, “Why do babies look so weird in old paintings?” or “Why is everyone naked in the art?” We titled our show “Literally Anything at the Getty” and picked one object to discuss each week for five minutes.
To address the rhythm/culture issue, we picked a rhythm — every Tuesday at noon for five minutes — that was sustainable and memorable for the audience. A Twitter poll 24 hours ahead decides between one of two objects. The moderator’s fun and informal interaction with the audience sets the tone for the broadcast, which is intended to break down emotional, intellectual, and geographic barriers to appreciating old art.
We were pleasantly surprised by the level of interest and interaction we achieved from our very first broadcast. Based on looking at other Periscope broadcasts, we decided to stick to five minutes, then asked Twitter followers (and staff who tuned in) whether the pace felt too rushed. Almost all thought five minutes was a good amount of time, but that it was important to state the five-minute limit clearly up front and at the halfway mark. The compressed time scale gives the broadcast a rapid-fire energy that we also liked.
We’ve tried a few variations, including inviting a curator to co-host, buying new equipment (we tried various microphones and ended up with an iPhone lavalier mic), experimenting with text vs. emojis, and trying artwork of various sizes.
What were the personal challenges you faced when carrying out this experiment?
A person on my team left the Getty mid-way through the experiment and I had little time to work on this project. As the LGR participant it was incumbent on me to get things jump-started, but the people who had expressed interest in the project were also busy and therefore understandably not comfortable with the open-ended commitment — there were a lot of questions about required meetings and homework in between.
What did YOU learn?
I learned that I have an amazing small team who likes each other, is smart and talented, and has great ideas.
I learned that I need to more assertively manage meetings and interactions in ways that help projects move forward productively.
I learned that I am not comfortable with risk-taking and that I should listen to other people when they say everything is going to be okay.
What did YOUR ORGANISATION learn?
That we can experiment with new things and not die.
That digital media and education are converging.
I also shared notes and learnings from LGR with a wide Getty group, which I know many members of the organisation found valuable; and I held a hands-on training session for Periscope open to all staff, which shared the knowledge we had gained during the project.
We’re continuing our weekly Periscope sessions. We even had a fan from London, who we met via the show, join as a guest host when he was in Los Angeles. Now that we’ve gained more mastery of Periscope as a tool I hope we can expand our use of the platform and apply what we’ve learned so far to new experiments.