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New cultural playgrounds: merging physical and digital worlds

Since its release in 2016, Pokemon Go has become a true social phenomenon, illustrating the growing public appetite for solutions that combine real and virtual worlds via a smartphone. New cultural experiences that use augmented reality technologies, geolocation or game mechanics to entertain mobile customers are constantly emerging. At the same time, museums are striving to reinvent a more interactive and immersive visitor experience. How can virtual reality be used to enrich the cultural experience, without cutting people off from the real world? 

This article explores the initiatives and innovations of three key players featured at the Hacking de l’Hôtel de Ville on March 6th. They are reinventing the experience of visiting cities and museums, making forgotten places and works of art accessible to the general public.

The city as a new playground

The mobile phone has become our favorite go-to resource for information, entertainment and new experiences. We are constantly on the lookout for new solutions and cultural experiences that let us learn and share while jogging or going for our daily walk. With solutions like Hootside and Rewind, the city is emerging as a new playground for culture. The technologies they offer, combined with quality content, make it possible for the physical and digital worlds to cooperate intelligently.

Hootside is the first mobile marketplace offering augmented reality gaming experiences accessible everywhere in France. Each experience is linked to a reputable and influential license in a range of areas: video games (such as Assassin's Creed), cinema or comics. Mathieu Gattano, Communications Director at Hootside, says games and augmented reality are raw materials for transforming any street or city into a virtual entertainment field. The studio creates experiences that will soon offer the public a new leisure format, a new way to visit and learn, and above all a fun way to discover the cultural heritage that surrounds us. Hootside is part of a changing cross-generational user context, where it’s all about new and interactive experiences - especially in the era of the "mobile-first" mindset increasingly rooted in French habits. The studio mixes three ingredients - video games, augmented reality, and leisure - joining the digital tourism revolution that has already begun. Hootside launched a first pilot project at the Army Museum in January 2019 in collaboration with Ubisoft, tripling museum attendance over 3 months.

Rewind is an application for podcasts geolocated in the streets of Paris. The application triggers stories as the user walks through the streets, choosing between different types of experiences. The first format is a guided stroll to (re)discover the districts of Paris with a range of themes: Le Paris Coquin, Mysteries & Legends of the Capital, Famous Paris Crimes... The second format offers short historical sound capsules (under 2 minutes): Hemingway about to free the Ritz, a plane landing on the roof of Galeries Lafayette, or the Vertical staircase race up the Eiffel Tower - a race unique in the world! Julien Wouters, co-founder of Rewind, reminds us that these mini podcasts can also be listened to remotely. Since its launch at the beginning of the year, the application has already been downloaded more than 10,000 times.

Cultural Open Content: a successful adaptation of the museum experience

The new law which makes cultural data accessible to the public is a formidable lever for artwork visibility. Museums are reinventing themselves, not just as physical and contemplative venues, but as places where the visitor experience is increasingly interactive and immersive. This trend is demonstrated by the 525 museum and heritage applications that have been launched in France since 2009 [source: CLIC dossier of 20/11/2019: http://www.club-innovation-culture.fr/applications-mobiles-france-3/].

In an era where visitors of all ages carry their smartphones in their pockets, museums must find a way to maintain contact that goes beyond mere physical visits. With the availability of Open Content digital reproductions, as proposed by Paris Musées, how can the museum experience be extended to better connect institutions with society at large? Martjin Pronk, digital and editorial manager at the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), states that "The individual encounter with an original work of art is a strong and powerful emotion, that is in no way dampened by previous encounters with its reproductions". On the contrary, opening our museums to the digital world makes it possible to introduce new practices, without affecting attendance.

For example, since January Paris Musées has offered more than 150,000 digital reproductions of works exhibited in 14 museums and sites in Paris through Open Content (free and unrestricted access). It guarantees free access and reuse of digital files by all, without technical, legal or financial restrictions, for commercial or non-commercial use. Paris Musées gives everyone access to high definition images simply, sustainably, free of charge and instantaneously, in support of research and improved physical and digital mediation tools.

Philippe Rivière, Head of Communication and Digital Services, Deputy Director of Audience Development, Partnerships and Communication at Paris Musées explains that this reflection on Open Content was inspired by cultural institutions in Northern Europe and the United States, notably the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Many questions have been raised about the business model associated with the opening up of cultural data. These works of art are not subject to copyright and they are in the public domain. The user can therefore copy, modify, distribute and represent the work, even for commercial purposes, without having to request permission.

In just 2 months, Paris Musées already has 2,086,382 users and 1,160,302 images downloaded. Several projects for commercial or non-commercial reuse have been launched, including one supported by French and European researchers creating databases for artificial intelligence. The clothing brand ZARA has also uploaded designs for a future clothing collection. Open Content makes Paris Musées a focal point and contributor to a European research consortium on open content and cultural open data. This novel format also lets Paris Musées reach new professional and international audiences, making it possible to envisage future collaborations with startups for increasingly immersive and interactive experiences.

 

Hootside

Rewind

Paris Musées

Hacking de l'Hôtel de Ville