A 3D Documentation primer for cultural and historic sites

In the 21st century, 3D documentation (including laser scanning) has emerged as the pre-eminent technology to document and support historic preservation around the world. Organizations like UNESCO, the World Monuments Fund and Smithsonian actively participate in programs for 3D documentation of historic objects and sites.

More recently, the technology has evolved to impact digital interpretation as well. Advances in preservation technologies are aligning with those in interpretive tech, so bridging the two to create virtual experiences and kiosks is finally beginning to be possible.

What is Laser Scanning?

Laser scanning enables a large quantity of three-dimensional measurements to be collected quickly. Laser scanners are devices that can be placed on land or on aircraft such as planes and drones. The scanners measures distance by systematically illuminating a target with a laser light, and recording that data. The point cloud is the raw product of a survey. It contains a large number of coordinates that detail every aspect of a surface, measured in microns. There are 25,400 microns in one inch. These points form the skeleton over which a skin can be rendered to create a recognizable 3D model.

What is Photogrammetry?

Photogrammetry works by taking many images of a scene from different locations using standard digital cameras (there are even smartphone apps) and then processing them through programs to determine the exact location from which these photos were taken. When the positions of the camera are known, specialty software looks for common points in two or more photos to determine where objects exists in 3D space. The result is similar to the point cloud captured by a laser scan, though less accurate when measured in microns. It can still produce a very detailed virtual model. The technology is useful on a small scale, to document objects or fragments of architectural detail on buildings. It can be used for more frequent visual detection of deterioration for at-risk heritage resources, at lower costs than laser scanning.

What questions can 3D documentation answer?

Laser scanning, supported with photogrammetry, can provide critical insight into a site’s built heritage that cannot be accomplished as efficiently by any other means. These include the following:

  • How quickly a feature is changing. Laser scanning can contribute to a detailed record where a feature, structure or site might be lost or changed forever. Is the architectural detail on the barge measurably fading at a faster rate than that of the main house or the garden mound? Laser scanning can help predict the rate of deterioration, and inform conservation priorities.
  • How one feature in the landscape relates to another. What is the proportion of an institution’s grounds to its built structures? Based on the contour of the landscape, how will sea level rise affect the estate over time? Laser scanning can help inform study of the overall cultural landscape–how it was fashioned and how it compares to the surrounding landscape. It can also uncover previously unnoticed archaeological features in a landscape covered in vegetation or woodland.
  • The size of a structure. Laser scanning provides pinpoint accuracy regarding dimensions of objects and structures. This can be useful in planning for preservation projects by contributing to a record before renovation of a structure or landscape.
  • Improve accessibility. For tall structures, a frieze, tiling, or other architectural detail may not be entirely visible from ground level. For others, environmental barriers may block access. Often, objects in museums are blocked from close inspection and certainly from touching. A 3D scan can replicate the proportions and form on an object for access on digital platforms.
  • Aid expert understanding. Because of the detail it is able to capture, elements of an object or structure can be enlarged and examined on a virtually unlimited scale.
  • Improve engagement with the general public. Models produced as a result of scanning can be incorporated into interpretive kiosks and digital tour apps for mobile devices, allowing the public to manipulate, enlarge and examine objects from all sides. This can further enrich their connection to the site/objects and allow them to share their experiences through the web.
  • Replication. An accurate model is useful for producing a replica for display, or as a replacement in a restoration scheme. This could be useful in milling replacement replicas of the peacocks for the marine garden or sculpture on the barge that is at risk due to climate. Models can also be used by educational departments to 3D print objects as part of a handling collection.

Universities with 3D Documentation Programs

University Partners are highly aware of the grant landscape for laser scanning projects and are willing to collaborate on funding proposals. They also have excellent reputations for understanding how this technology can be applied to the entire range of cultural heritage documentation, preservation and interpretation.

In turn, universities benefit from a partnership with your institution because their students will have access to a living laboratory of historic structures, objects and landscapes to capture and evaluate. Here are a few universities that are capable of 3D documentation projects:

Ball State University Hybrid Design Technologies, Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts They have performed interesting projects on sculpture related to museum interpretation.

Oregon State University Pacific Slope Archaeological Laboratory focuses on archaeological assets. Their site lists rates for services and provides interesting online video about the applications of their work.

The University of Michigan 3D Lab provides 3D capture and printing as part of its processes. They can assist with all phases of projects including planning, design and development.


In 2012, the University of Florida Historic Preservation Program launched the Envision Heritage initiative with the mission of exploring how new and emerging technologies can be utilized to document, conserve, and interpret historic sites.

The University of South Florida Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies (AIST) is a Research and Education Support Unit in the School of Geosciences, College of Arts and Sciences, at the University of South Florida. Its research interest is “preserving and protecting the world’s cultural and natural heritage through education and global engagement.”

Related Questions

Q: How will I be able to access and use the file?

A: You could use Autodesk Recap (subscription; $300/yr – Smithsonian uses this) to access the actual point cloud and MeshLab (open source) for solid models, or Rhino3D ($1,000 for a license). The partnering institutions are willing to work out a plan to offer training to staff on the use of these technologies as well. This will empower the organization to make better use of the data and learn to capture small-scale scans for predictive conservation modeling.

  1. How large might the file(s) be?

A: File sizes vary by the scale of the object and resolution. Estimates regarding the point cloud for the are about 15 GB. A solid model would be more than 100 GB depending upon the level of detail. Video animations can be 1GB or more depending on length. These are large, but still manageable sizes to store and access.

Q: How often would scanning need to be done to track preservation/conservation issues?       

A: This will take time to determine. Laser scanning and photogrammetry could be used to focus on specific, collectively decided target areas and not record the entire structure each time. That would decrease time in field, processing, and cost. Of course, time intervals would depend on what we are monitoring for, and would be informed through a regular visual analysis by the conservation team, including observed rate of deterioration due to cyclical tides, storm events, etc.  

Q: Can we use the resulting animated graphic in  360 photo tours?   

A: The partner institution can provide the point cloud or solid surface file in a number  of different formats. 360 tour vendors could integrate a 3D model so that it can be opened within the tour as a web-poi. For an off-line version (kiosk version) it may be possible to have a normal poi (point of interest) featuring still angles of the 3D barge that could be scrolled through giving the appearance of it rotating 360 degrees. Regal 360 could also just come out and photograph on top of the barge, but that still leaves the water side undocumented.

Q: Who owns the product(s)?

A: The point cloud, solid model and video animations should be specified as the sole property of your institution. A partnership should be structured so that the documentation partner would seek permission if they sought to publish anything regarding the work they did at your site.

Strategic Directions

To fully realize its value, a 3D documentation project should inform a broader systematic program of laser scanning.

Learning Experiences

Universities that teach 3D documentation skills and execute related projects internationally can be valuable partners. This expertise can be leveraged for knowledge among staff, and provide learning experiences for university students and the general public.

Staff Workshop: A partner institution could provide an on-site workshop for relevant staff on photogrammetry. Staff would be instructed in the significance of 3D documentation, how to perform it, and how to use it to inform their work. This would include targeted documentation training that would allow staff to see differences between the images they capture, and those resulting from an initial high-resolution scan.

Community Day: Your institution could hold a community event to introduce local audiences (including students) to the technology and how the institution is using it. The event would showcase commitment to preservation while enabling the public to see heritage resources in ways (both micro and macro) that were previously impossible. This event could include the following:

  • a presentation by the site and its partner institution to present preliminary data
  • A demonstration of the documentation technologies.
  • 3D printing of objects based laser scans that the public can touch and examine.

University Classes: University partners participating in 3D documentation could involve their students in the project. With an ongoing program of 3D digital scanning, a historic site could become a living laboratory for these students, providing a diverse array of architectural and environmental elements to round out their experience.

Grant Opportunities

A university partner is particularly useful in identifying and acquiring grants for 3D documentation projects. The following granting agencies have expressed past interest in funding such projects:

Additional Platforms

3D objects can be rendered in formats suitable to a wide variety of digital platforms, including the following:  

Mobile Apps: For institutions investigating app development for enhancing the visitor experience. 3D models could be judiciously integrated into such an app, giving visitors the opportunity to manipulate select objects as part of a larger virtual tour. Additionally, USF AIST has student developers within its program that could potentially create a custom experience centered around 3D objects.

Sketchfab: Many institutions worldwide publish the renderings from their project portfolios to Sketchfab. Sketchfab is a leading online repository for publishing 3D and virtual reality content. It integrates with all major 3D creation tools and publishing platforms. Files can be uploaded in almost any 3D format, directly on sketchfab.com or using an exporter. Once models are on Sketchfab, descriptive text can be added and the resulting image can be embedded on any web page and are sharable on social media.

SCENE Webshare Cloud: SCENE WebShare Cloud is a cloud-based hosting solution from FARO that allows easy and secure sharing of scan data worldwide. It offers the ability to can see the renderings of structures or objects on an interactive map. It offers a the ability to include very detailed information, including measured distances, GPS coordinates, project descriptions. Though engaging for a general audience, it is most useful in working with contractors or managing entities. The degree to which it can zoom from estate map to details on architectural features also makes it a powerful computer-based solution to understand and analyze complex on-site conditions, including conservation issues. The base package for SCENE Webshare Cloud is $990, which includes 50GB storage.

YouTube: 3D documentation efforts can be rendered as video products that can be published to its YouTube Channel. These videos can be simple “virtual tours” of objects. They could also be stories about the process of documentation. Some of the University of Florida’s renderings can be viewed on the Envision Heritage YouTube Channel.

3D Documentation Specialists

Cultural Heritage Imaging (CHI) is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to advancing the state of the art of digital capture and documentation of the world’s cultural, historic, and artistic treasures. One of its goals is to create robust, low-cost imaging tools to document cultural heritage. It is noted for unique approaches to 3D documentation, its commitment to training people in these technologies, and its willingness to use social media as an outreach tool.

CyArk was founded in 2003 to ensure heritage sites are available to future generations, while making them uniquely accessible today. CyArk operates internationally as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with the mission of using new technologies to create a free, 3D online library of the world’s cultural heritage sites before they are lost to natural disasters, destroyed by human aggression or ravaged by the passage of time. CyArk tends to focus on high-profile projects, supported by large grants.

3D Data Exchange

The ASTM E57 Committee on 3D Imaging Systems Sub-committee on Data Interoperability (E57.04) has developed an open standard for 3D imaging system data exchange. Working with partners to follow this standard is important to make maximum use of 3D products. The standard’s goals include the following:

  • Cross-platform
  • Open source
  • Easy to use API, designed for common use cases

The E57 File Format for 3D Imaging Data Exchange is capable of storing point cloud data from laser scanners and other 3D imaging systems, as well as associated 2D imagery and core metadata.

Supporting Documentation

The following documents will be helpful for partners assisting with 3D documentation projects

  • Strategic Plan
  • Historic Structures Reports
  • Blueprints
  • Cultural Landscape Plan
  • Related Archival Images

HABS/HAER/HALS Documentation

Participation in National Park Service Heritage Documentation Programs (HDP) would complement, inform and strengthen a built heritage site’s own 3D documentation efforts. In particular,  a documentation project as part of the the Historic American Building Survey (HABS), or Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS) are options for documenting in this way. Much of the work of HABS is done by student teams during the summer, or as part of college-credit classwork. An institution could sponsor a student team in partnership with a university with an architecture program.

The measured drawings, photographs and reports produced from these programs are archived by the Library of Congress and made accessible through their online database.

Related Research

Bennett, Michael J. “Evaluating the Creation and Preservation Challenges of Photogrammetry-based 3D Models.” http://digitalcommons.uconn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1057&context=libr_pubs

Kronkright, Dale. “Applications for Digital Photogrammetric Methods of Preservation Documentation of Historic Homes.” https://ncptt.nps.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012-11.pdf

Related Linkset


Augmented reality tactics for museums and historic sites

The ultimate potential digital technology can bring to people visiting historic sites is context — that it deepens the experience of being in the space.

Even the most relevant and informative digital interventions can shift attention from the act of experiencing a historic site. A great value of visiting a historic site is its ability to help a visitor feel as though they have stepped into another time. Augmented reality (AR) may help future visitors achieve a pleasant balance of historic and digital. Unlike virtual reality, in which a device (usually goggles) immerses the user in a world that is all they can see, augmented reality is a technological approach that adds a context layer over the user’s current field of vision.

Using the Wikipedia definition, augmented reality is “a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.” The term was first used in 1990 with functional prototypes developed soon after. AR’s first use in a cultural heritage setting was was Archeoguide in 2005. The system required The equipment made up by a Head Mounted Display, a laptop, and a wireless router. Today, a similar experience can be replicated with one of the smartphone apps that began to appear in 2010.

This technology is evolving to function as the “ultimate label text.” Museum visitors will be able to point their mobile device (or tech-enabled glasses) at what they want to know more about. It will be an asset that can be called up when needed but does not need to be always on or actively navigated, like a tour app.

The most effective implementations of the technology for cultural heritage settings today typically take one of the following approaches:

  1. An outdoor “site” (building, street, archaeology) with some distance between it and the feature. Typically, archival photos from the same vantage point are displayed.
  2. An object or collection of objects that loosely grouped, and fairly close (as in a gallery). Additional text is displayed or the scene becomes animated. These feature a specific subset of collections content, or a limited area of the gallery.

The following examples show effective and emerging approaches to augmented reality in cultural heritage settings.

Museum of London Streetmuseum App

Streetmuseum was one of the first history-related augmented reality apps for iOS. Its last update was in 2014 and the app is not in active development, though it is still available on the app store. The app allows users to select a destination from a London map or use geo-tagging and Google Maps to discover their location. Once selected, a historical image of their London location appears on the screen, which can be expanded and explored in detail, along with historical information about the subject. The historical image can be overlaid onto the current view of a given site.

Skin and Bones App

This downloadable app by the National Museum of Natural History was developed to be used by visitors to the Bone Hall, an exhibit of nearly 300 vertebrate skeletons that was first opened in 1881. The app highlights 13 skeletons, including one of a swordfish, and shows 3D animations of the animals and how they look and move with their muscles and skin.

Though a highly impressive visual experience, the app is very limited in its useful time, even at the site.

Transparent Image Displays

Transparent image displays feature a clear panel that can overlay imagery that can be watched (like moving label text) or interacted with like a multi-touch screen. It can house an object, or be placed in a room as a freestanding panel. Cost of the Hypebox interactive (shown left) is approximately $9,700 for the equipment. An additional budget would be required for custom development of graphics.


The Perceptoscope updates the classic concept of stationary binoculars seen traditionally used at landmarks, museums and scenic roadside vistas. But the Perceptoscope is a device that fixes the augmented reality experience to a single location. Such a device could be stationed overlooking a historic site’s gardens. Visitors looking through the eye pieces could rotate the device and see historic photos or interpretive information overlaid on the landscape from a similar perspective, perhaps with the ability to scroll through a timeline of imagery, beginning with construction all the way through a historic site’s evolution. It uses 3D vision and motion tracking. This product is newly developed through a Knight Prototype Fund Grant and is currently looking for implementation partners among museums and historic sites. It was created by Ben Sax, who says “The idea is that there’s a lot of stories and hidden histories to every place you’re in, so how could we create a tool to let you expose those things … I see this as a tool for historic sites, museums, parks.”

This technology has several advantages:

  1. Stationary device means there a focused approach to interpretation (no expectation by visitors that every room be interpreted equally), and fewer potential issues with tracking technology or facilitating app downloads for visitors.
  2. It is one of the few technology approaches that can serve the outdoor nature of gardens efficiently.
  3. Users are able to contextualize many elements of the historic site’s cultural landscape in one experience.


Augmented reality only achieved mainstream use in summer 2016 with the release of Pokémon Go. The impact of museums and historic sites has been mixed. As popular “Pokéstops,” where gamers catch characters and gain points, these sites do see more (and younger) visitors, often in groups. Frequently these new crowds miss interpretive opportunities entirely, and sometimes damage the site by lack of awareness or deliberate acts of vandalism.

Museums are actively trying to capture the attention of Pokémon Go users, and several tactics are emerging from this effort that could be replicated.

  • A Facebook event was posted advertising an opportunity to walk together through the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens attracting one thousand people and inspiring the hashtag #PokeGoWalk.
  • The Philadelphia Museum of Art created a Pokémon meet-up during the museum’s “pay what you wish” hours.
  • Share screenshots from the app throughout social media using the hashtag #PokemonGO.
  • The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, FL, has been internationally noted for catering to the platform’s players. Morikami uses it as a cultural connection, as Pokémon was created by the Japanese game designer. It has engaged the community on social media to attract players, despite problems with vandalism.
  • Cross-promotion with other museum programs with potentially similar audiences.
  • Use an in-game app purchase “Lure” (method described here) to get Pokemon players to arrive at a specific Pokestop for 30 minute intervals.

Resource Links:


Layar is one of the earliest augmented reality apps still in active development. From the user’s geographical position, the various forms of data are laid over the camera view like inserting an additional layer. Data in the browser comes in the form of layers.

The National Museum of Australia successfully used Layar in its “Garden of Australian Dreams” digital exhibition. More than 100 collaborators produced 700+ images, texts and sounds for the exhibition within two weeks. The project began with a visit the Garden of Australian dreams to find five symbols or locations that had personal significance or resonance. The points were photographed and uploaded to a website database, and the GPS location was marked on a Google map. The way-points were then visible on database, and would pop-up in the Layar browser when users were close to the GPS coordinates in the garden.

The next stage was to create a personal journey through five chosen waypoints, using text, image and sound. Visitors to the space could then use the Layar browser to follow an individual journey through the garden, or view the range of responses to a particular symbol or place, such as the Chinese character for “home”, or a town like Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.

Other institutions that have created layers in this platform include the Andy Warhol Museum and the Powerhouse Museum.

Related Linkset


A review of mobile tour platforms for museums and cultural sites

Increasingly, museums are seeking to move beyond the one-way communication common for most of their existence. The tool being used for this purpose are app or mobile-optimized websites that allow visitors to create their own experiences while gaining deeper knowledge of collections-based subject matter. Museums increasingly seek to evolve their interpretation into multimedia experiences that engage visitors more deeply, and provide them with a “keepsake” of the experience which they may continue to explore after their visit. Additionally, these apps provide the organization with useful information about the visitor experience. But will these experience provide a deeper level of understanding sufficient to offset the additional complications of technology support and content production required? What the options for service providers, and what is the cost involved? This post details the features, costs and considerations regarding some of the major content delivery systems.  

Platform: Cuseum


  • Content management
  • Beacon support
  • Indoor wayfinding
  • Social sharing
  • Multimedia support
  • Data analytics
  • Recommendation Engine


  • Subscription $1,000/month  (includes mobile-optimized website); $30/beacon initial cost (10 recommended, plus $100 installation fee).
  • Can assist content development with à la carte pricing


  • MIT List Visual Arts Center
  • Boston Atheneum
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • Lyman Allyn Art Museum
  • Art Gallery New South Wales
  • Asian Art Museum
  • Bellarmine Museum of Art
  • Milwaukee Art Museum
  • Finnish National Gallery
  • Davis Museum
  • Empire State Plaza Art Collection
  • National Museum of Wildlife Art
  • Dallas Contemporary
  • Denver Art Museum
  • Contemporary Art Museum Houston


Cuseum is a platform that works using a CMS from which a mobile-optimized website and downloadable native app can be created. Its visitor-facing experience is cleaner and more sophisticated than many of its peers in this field. Typically, it features a unique interaction bar at the bottom of the screen that allows users to like, comment on and share content. Additionally, it allows users to view a map that shows them where points of interest are near them, and can recommend options for exploration based on their actions. 

Platform: OnCell/Toursphere


  • Content Management System
  • Data analytics
  • Social sharing (on personal devices)
  • Multilingual support (manual input; does not translate languages)
  • Ability to create downloadable app for iOS, Android
  • Test flight capability


$399/month for a one-tour web app (mobile-optimized web site). No contractual commitment.

$10,000+ for custom web app design in tour builder


  • MOMA: Murder at the Met*
  • Texas Historical Commission
  • National Park Service: Saratoga National Historic Park
  • Henry Morrison Flagler Museum
  • Denver Botanic Gardens


Oncell recently acquired Toursphere to create one of the largest providers of guided tour experiences in this format. The basic subscription includes a dedicated template website with a limited number of color schemes. It is functional and well supported. Tours are built using a collection of widgets (i.e. buttons, text, audio and video) that can be dragged and dropped into the desired location on a page. Custom apps can be created from the tour content, though the price goes up considerably to build such an experience and the result looks very close to the web-based templates offered by Oncell/Toursphere.

Platform: Guidekick


  • 3D map of institutional space as a tour interface
  • Content Management System
  • Wayfinding with beacons and indoor positioning technologies
  • Analytics (with heatmapping)
  • Social media sharing


Subscription fee: $1,000+


Development for iOS and Android platforms: $50,000+


  • Hearst Castle*
  • de Young Museum


Guidekick provides a custom-built option that includes three-dimensional models of the museum and gardens. Of the platforms examined, Guidekick functioned most smoothly and exhibited the most “wow” factor with its 3D aerial interface. Other than the 3D map, Guidekick’s unique selling point is that it offers a custom-built experience around its CMS, which allows the institution to achieve a product that reflects its needs for connecting to audiences. The costs are higher than those of other apps mentioned here, but they are drastically reduced from the typical costs of custom-built apps.

Platform: GuideOne


  • CMS “G1-Curator” designed “specifically around the needs of Museums”
  • Wayfinding with beacon technology
  • Multilanguage support
  • Accessibility features
  • Ability to integrate 2-D maps (e.g. in Longwood Gardens)


$200,000 (Development)


  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach
  • National Park Service Kids App – Independence
  • Longwood Gardens
  • The Barnes Foundation


GuideOne is an established mobile app developer based in Brooklyn. It develops custom applications much like Guidekick. The Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach organization launched an app with GuideOne in September 2015. Key points about the experience were related by the organization’s executive director, Sharon Horowitz:

The purpose of an app is to provide more depth about the memorial, and the history it represents, to visitors. Visitors often left with many of their questions unanswered because there are no interpretive staff on site. Representatives of the Jewish Federation went to the Museums and the Web conference in Boston and interviewed several tour app vendors. GuideOne stood out because they had produced several successful products with historical organizations.

Memorial staff contracted GuideOne for approximately $200,000 to work on development of an app and an accompanying micro website. They dedicated another $200,000 to content development, working with subject matter experts in Los Angeles. Three people from the Jewish Federation also assisted. GuideOne helped locate experts to translate the tour into multiple languages. The process took about one year of dedicated effort to launch. The site was prepared with increased Wi-Fi capability and beacon technology to trigger points of interest on devices. The Memorial’s visitor center has information about the tour, and has iOS devices available for users to borrow. They are currently finding that people prefer to use their own devices. Staff strongly encourage visitors to download the app, and will help them do so. Visitors are often reluctant to wait for a download of the app as they are anxious to get to the Memorial site, but they report that the app greatly enhances their experiences afterward.

A primary market for the Memorial is school groups. The app and microsite are offered to classes that are planning visits and sometimes staff will make presentations on the content and its online availability beforehand. The site even includes lesson plans to prepare these groups to make the most of their visits.

Since launching in September 2015, the app has been downloaded about 2,000 times. The microsite has experience a great deal of traffic from school groups and others who are researching Holocaust subject matter.

Platform: Acoustiguide


  • Custom app development
  • Social sharing
  • Interactive maps
  • Multimedia capability
  • Beacon wayfinding


Variable. They work with the highest profile clients of the firms documented here, indicating a higher price point.


  • 9/11 Memorial
  • The Art Gallery of Ontario
  • National Gallery of Art
  • Musée du Louvre
  • Guggenheim
  • Kimbell Art Museum
  • The Barnes Foundation
  • Smithsonian Institution

Analysis: Acoustiguide is a Canadian company that traditionally has produced audio guides for museums. It is a prolific developer, with dozens of tour apps available on the iOS app store. Most of these are moderately sized cultural institutions whose tours are based on the same template. Higher-profile clients like the Guggenheim and the 9/11 Memorial have custom swipeable interfaces. The 9/11 memorial has an element in which users can post a tribute. They can also pinch and zoom a field of circles to view tributes by others. There is also an interactive 3D map (simplified) where points of interest can be selected and then maximized and scrolled through gestures like pinch, zoom and swipe. The costs for using Acoustiguide are highly variable depending on whether the organization opts for the templated approach or the more customized experience.

Platform: TourBuddy


  • Multi-Guide Starter (User chooses from multiple guides to download within the app)
  • Social Sharing
  • AppBuilder CMS
  • Geolocation triggers (audio automatically plays at predetermined GPS points
  • Multiple language tours
  • Embed capability for video and web links


  • Annual fee: $2,000/year
  • iOS Set-up fee + Android: $4,000


  • The Ringling Museum, Sarasota, FL
  • City of Savannah, GA


This platform seems to be used more for walking city tours than museums. The Ringling Museum is the most prominent museum-specific app by TourBuddy that is currently active. Its interface is primarily text and images, with embedded maps for points of interest. One interesting feature of this app in particular is its robust settings menu, which allows the visitor to configure GPS trigger settings and media play settings. Otherwise it is an unremarkable platform based on available app experiences.

Platform: TAP

Features (authoring tools):

  • TAP CMS (for managing content)
  • TAP iOS (iPhone/iPod Touch)
  • TAP iPad app
  • TAP Web app


Free to reuse code via GitHub. Would require development assistance for custom configuration.


  • Indianapolis Museum of Art: 100 acres
  • Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
  • National Air and Space Museum: Co-Pilot
  • National Museum of the American Indian


TAP is a collection of free and open-source tools (developed through an IMLS grant) that support the creation and delivery of mobile tours. The tools also serve as examples of producing and consuming tour content using the TourML specification. Currently TAP consists of authoring tools built on top of the content management system Drupal, a native iOS mobile application, and a web-based mobile application built upon the jQuery Mobile library.

A number of museums adopted TAP at one time or another, though considerably fewer still have active applications that can be reviewed. The interface for those that can accessed tends to be less refined than other tour experiences. The institution retains full freedom to customize and retain control of all aspects of content development and delivery.

Publishing the resulting product requires an iOS developer account to publish on the app store. The code is sporadically updated, which means it may not be fully compatible with the latest operating system versions.

Platform: TourMate



  • Application Development, Hosting and Support Fee * (using Tour‐Mate App Template)
    $2, 500.00/ year; $3,500.00/ year (per App)
  • Tour Content Setup and Assembly + $2,750.00 (one time fee)
  • Online Access to OSS+ Content Management System
    and Usage Analytics $2,500.00/yr (optional)
  • Custom App Development $135 per hour


  • Bata Shoe Museum
  • Spadina Museum Historic House and Gardens
  • John Hopkins Medicine, Baltimore
  • The Biltmore Estate
  • The Alamo

Analysis: The TourMate platform offers similar capabilities to other systems reviewed here, but has a higher price point. Its customer service is extremely responsive and its costs for development are high, but realistic. However, based on currently available applications, its user-facing interface is dated and mostly skewed to the Android platform. It does offer numerous products on which to play tours without requiring a web connection, though its focus seems to be heavily on audio tours.

Platform: Google Cultural Institute


  • Ability to easily curate app tours from Google Cultural Institute account.
  • Integrates user-friendly Google tools like YouTube and Streetview
  • Content sharing capabilities


There is no cost to use the platform or develop an app based on content you own


  • MAO Museo d’Arte Orientale
  • Emergence Festival
  • Rijksmuseum van Oudheden
  • Palazzo Madama Torino

Analysis: This platform has the option to publish an app free for organizations who are members of the Google Cultural Institute and have content there. It has a clean and easy-to-navigate interface, with options for multimedia integration, and easy sharing of content. However, it is for the Android platform, using only Google tools such as YouTube and Google Street View. It is not available for download on iOS devices, which is the platform many organizations have invested in to this point. 

Considerations for adoption

Location Positioning Technology

The most challenging aspect of any mobile tour will be making the application aware of a visitor’s position in relation to points of interest (POIs). Wi-Fi signals can help triangulate position, but this depends on Wi-Fi signals that are strong and varied. Even in defined galleries, it is very difficult to maintain a consistent Wi-Fi signal across a large area. All museums struggle with this issue–even those housed in newer, compact facilities with fewer thick walls. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons are more accurate and have a high industry uptake. Of the museum app developers offering location-aware products, BLE is the default technology due to its relatively low cost and more refined positioning capability.

The vendor chosen to facilitate a mobile app will have to work closely with the institution regarding beacon placement. While beacons respond to proximity, they can’t necessarily extrapolate which direction they are coming from, which could cause some confusion in wayfinding. An interactive map can mitigate this confusion.  

3-Dimensional scans and artwork

The Guidekick 3-D animation of the museum and ground is a desirable model interface for a tour system. It also factors greatly into the additional cost of that platform. The Guidekick-produced 3D map would draw upon references such as CAD data, floor plans, GIS data, and a detailed maps of the grounds / gardens. From here, software tools process the references and 3D-artists work on details such as props, embellishments, texturing, and lighting.

Content Allowance

The applications considered in this document are very focused in the amount and type of information they provide. This is primarily to prevent “app bloat” in which the app becomes too large to accommodate a reasonable download time. Apps downloaded in reasonable time initially. Upon launch, however, most required a content update of 100MB-plus before the app could be accessed at all. These updates took between 1-5 minutes to download on standard Wi-Fi. It is often desirable for a mobile-optimized website be developed concurrently with the app so that visitors can point their phones to a web link if they wish to begin the tour immediately using their cell connection without downloading content. For devices that an institution would loan out, the pre-loaded native app will provide a better quality experience, but options for sharing the content on social are limited since users cannot log into their accounts on those devices.

Content Development License

For the purposes of search, and for content ownership, the institution should procure its own developer accounts for the iOS and Android app stores. This will cost $25 (one time) for the Android license and $99/year for the Apple license. Both the iOS App Store and the Google Play Store take 30 percent of revenues from any paid app.


Cisco Whitepaper on Artlens: http://internetofeverything.cisco.com/sites/default/files/pdfs/Cleveland_Museum_Art_Jurisdiction_Profile_final.pdf

MW2015 Talk on Triangulation and NFC: http://mw2015.museumsandtheweb.com/paper/location-location-location-the-proliferation-of-indoor-positioning-and-what-it-means-and-doesnt-mean-for-museums/

Google Cultural Institute Free Apps


The Manual of Museum Learning: “Wayfinding the in the Digital Age”


APPS v WEB and other digital grudge matches


Tour a Museum from Anywhere (New York Times)


Best Apps for Visiting Museums (WSJ)


Museum tour apps for <$25k at Museums & Mobile conference


Mobile experiences in museums


Digital media approaches in gardens and historic landscapes

Digital strategies and tools in use for museum collections and built heritage are extremely well documented. But what are best practices when an institution’s collection is living, and its story changes with the seasons? Here’s an overview of tactics used by gardens and historic landscapes for collections management, on-site technology and online outreach at institutions with a core mission built around gardens and historic landscapes.

Arnold Arboretum

As part of Harvard University, Arnold Arboretum’s mission is to “increase knowledge of the evolution and biology of woody plants.”


The institution uses BG-BASE with several other platforms to achieve a high-quality records search experience. This includes the following features:

  • User ability to favorite records with “My Visit” functionality. Includes the ability to print results or export to a CSV file.
  • Map zooming capability tying in Arc-GIS and Google Maps.

Arnold Arboretum Resources

Digital Media

The website is based on WordPress. It has a modern design that balances imagery between plants and people. The navigation lacks contrast between the text and background, but otherwise works very well, empowering the user to find a lot of information quickly.


Arnold Arboretum has a Flickr image pool which encourages people to upload photos from their visit. Flickr is also the platform powering the image search capability on their website.


Arnold Arboretum has four blogs, which are essentially categories of a common blog. Posts from the Collections is written by Director William Friedman and highlights ephemeral moments in the life cycles of plants at the Arnold Arboretum. Library Leaves is published online by the staff of the Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library. Plant Profiles describes various plants. The ARBlog is a aggregation of all blog content. These are valuable institutional memory sources that can be continually updated and reused as social media fodder.


This page has a following of about 25,000 people. Engagement averages about 50 per post, but can range from 16 to nearly 800. The most popular posts were images that were updated to be the page’s profile photos, such as the image below.


Arnold Arboretum began using the platform because so many visitors were tagging them in pictures they posted on Instagram. They currently have 960 followers about average 70 favorites per post. Videos, which show people or animals in the gardens, routinely receive twice as many favorites as images.

The problem Arnold Arboretum sees with this platform is the institution cannot post links, so there is no way to drive traffic back to their website and blog.


Though content is posted to Twitter almost daily, it is not suited to the conversational nature of the platform and only receives about two engagements per post.


The channel was last updated a year ago. Its most popular uploads include scholarly presentations, demonstrations of plant care, tutorials on using their GIS plant map.

On-site Technology

There is a large monitor in the visitors center. Explorer is on it, so people can interact with the map to provide context for their experience in the gardens.


Chicago Botanic Garden

The mission of CBG is to cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life. The Garden today is an example of a successful public-private partnership. It is owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and operated by the Chicago Horticultural Society.


The CBG Plant Collections Department acquires, documents, and studies all of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s permanent plants and their associated environments. Their “Plant Finder” page integrates living collections search into its main website, which is built on the Drupal CMS. The search form overflows into the website’s footer in some browsers.

Results (example: Corpse Flower) are attractively rendered, with information desirable to the general public or gardening enthusiasts. Map locations and related photos are linked as well.

Chicago Botanic Gardens also has a science-based plant conservation database. As part of a National Science Foundation-funded Conservation GIS Laboratory in the Plant Conservation Science Center, the program partners with Seiler Instruments, Trimble GPS, and CartoPac Field Solutions to automate and streamline its field data collection procedure for its Seed Bank. This helps them manage, and visually map within a GIS environment, the data-intensive information associated with its 300-plus yearly seed collections. Data is collected in the field with Trimble Juno GPS devices and directly uploaded to the database online.

Digital Media

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, CBG created a website with a timeline of significant events from its history.

Another website functions as the organization’s “digital annual report,” which integrates its strategic plan, and is illustrated with YouTube videos.

CBG’s Pinterest page has more than 10,000 followers. It’s most successful boards feature DIY gardening tips.

On Instagram, their approach is to showcase high-quality close-up photographs of flowers and plants. They have 19,000 followers there and average 500-600 likes per post, but generally fewer that 10 comments for each. Engagement typically doubles when video content (such as this video) is posted.

On Flickr, CBG created a group photo pool, which has 600 members and more than 14,000 contributions. It includes a map, which shows where the images were taken.

Its Twitter page employs a similar emphasis on gardening tips and has 19,000 followers. The posts there include high-quality photos of people interacting in the gardens. Hashtags are generally overused, including uses in mundane words or marketing terms that are unlikely to trend. It frequently retweets appropriate posts other accounts.

It’s Facebook page has over 104,000 likes and leverages holidays related to plants and animals for content. Most recently, it has begun featuring PokemonGo-related cross-marketing. It attracts some likes, but relatively few comments from page followers.

On YouTube, CBG has a highly respectable subscriber count of more than 5,000. Videos are uploaded multiple times each month and curated into playlists. The most unique playlist includes video annual reports that are hosted by the organization’s president. Their most popular videos are gardening how-to demonstrations such as “How to Repot an Orchid” (251,000 views). Other popular approaches include the use of timelapse photography of its famous corpse flower, a tactic that has been frequently employed by numerous other botanic gardens as noted in this Wikipedia entry.


Launched in 2013, the GardenGuide app features an interactive map, tour guide, event calendar, What’s in Bloom, Garden plant finder, and general plant guide.The app works on iOS and Android. Visitors without smartphones can also access the plant finder while they are at the Garden or at home. Visitors can pin favorite places, and mark their parking space and personalize their home screen. Search can be customized as well. It was funded by an IMLS grant.

Note: Attempts to use the plant finder feature in this app failed on several occasions in the research of this article with a reported server error message.

UC Davis Arboretum

The UC Davis Arboretum was founded in 1936 to support teaching and research at the University of California. The Arboretum occupies 100 acres along the banks of the old north channel of Putah Creek, in California’s Central Valley. Its collections include 22,000 trees and plants adapted to a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. The plants are arranged in a series of gardens that represent different geographic areas, plant groups, or horticultural themes.

Collections Management

Access to collections is integrated into the main website through a “Collections Search” page. This search allows search of some of the more popular species with a small amount of filtering options. Results are cleanly rendered, and information is targeted to the needs of gardeners.

Living Collections can be viewed through the Esri ArcGIS Collections Mapper. In this experience, living collections are pinpointed on a map. Clicking a point will result in a pop-up screen with summary collections data.

Digital Media

U.C. Davis is relatively strong and consistent with its online media. The Arboretum’s website is a subsite of the U.C. Davis website. It is primarily a list of resource links. It prominently features links to its social media in the top half of its homepage, including a preview to its YouTube “How To” series. The Arboretum’s blog is based on WordPress, and features news items, calendar events, and previews of social media feeds. Examples of blog content include:

  • Garden enhancement
  • Job announcements
  • Grounds maps
  • Charitable involvement


Approach is focused on marketing, with plant sales advertised in the header, Facebook events throughout, and posts about volunteer and employment opportunities. Posts usually generated 30-40 likes, with shared video generating the most likes and an updated visitor map generating the most conversation.


This account has over 3,000 followers and features close-ups for flowers and animals in the garden. It recently began to post PokemonGo images.

Overall engagement on Instagram is stronger than Facebook with average post favorites of 150. Video posts (which usually feature animals) have been favorited up to 900 times.


Linkedin is used for updates about project updates and for employment opportunities, which is an appropriate use of this platform.


The YouTube channel features interpretive videos featuring Arboretum staff. Videos are uploaded every 2-3 months and often examine the characteristics of a specific plant species. The most popular video on the channel is about Salvia (6,000+ views). These videos are sometimes repurposed and shared on other social media channels.

Missouri Botanical Gardens

Founded in 1859, the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) is the nation’s oldest botanical garden in continuous operation and a National Historic Landmark. The Garden is a center for botanical research and science education, as well as an oasis in the city of St. Louis. The Garden offers 79 acres of horticultural display, including a 14-acre Japanese strolling garden, Henry Shaw’s original 1850 estate home, and one of the world’s largest collections of rare and endangered orchids.


Until 2012, MBG was using an outdated database system, which after years of iterative development, reached the stage where an entirely new platform was needed. They developed a web-based “Living Collections Management System” (LCMS). This is a cloud-based system that is built to facilitate curation, documentation, inventory control, plant care, and interpretation to meet the needs of research, conservation, and education.

In 2013, MBG received a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) to modernize its data collection system. This system advances the process of data collection using technology to solve many of the challenges and issues with paper-based methods. Utilizing mobile tablet computers and QR code technology, the data collection system interfaces directly with the LCMS. Eight wi-fi hotspots were installed throughout the gardens to accommodate data collection and 30 iPad Minis were purchased so that every horticulturist could have one.

The MBOT System powers Tropicos, which was made available to the world’s scientific community. All of the nomenclatural, bibliographic, and specimen data accumulated in MBG’s electronic databases during the past 30 years are publicly available here. This system has nearly 1.3 million scientific names and over 4.4 million specimen records.

Online Media

MBG’s website is attractively designed, though weighted down with navigation options. It responsively reformats its content for mobile devices. It is a custom design.


The Home Gardening blog is updated monthly. It features a mix of  gardening tips, and content is categorized by season with appropriate tags applied to each post. Views per post range from a few hundred to about 3,000. Options for sharing to social media are added to the end of each post. Interestingly, the commenting function is not enabled on the blog.


Nearly 120,000 people like this page. Content is posted almost daily. MBG does respond to audience comments, specifically to clarify information on events. PokemonGo events are promoted, though response through comments is very mixed. Likes per post typically range from 100-300.


The MBG Flickr photostream was established in 2006 and contains more than 7,000 images. The profile page is optimized to point visitors to engagement opportunities, including group photo pools. It primarily serves as a repository for images related to events and projects at the garden.


The Twitter feed is embedded in the right sidebar of MBG’s website. The feed frequently retweets its visitors, resulting in more engagement on this platform than other gardens. There are about 34,000 followers for this account. They also retweet content from other gardens to build an online network. Garden events are thoroughly publicized, with a balanced mix of institutional and visitor tweets. They don’t consistently use a unifying hashtag in these cases, which could confuse current and potential followers.


MBG supports an active presence on YouTube, though its usage appears to be based on providing content for embedding to other platforms rather than engaging the YouTube community. It has relatively low 480 subscriber count. The channel is not optimized with playlists or institutional branding. Content uploads seem to be based on frequency of events at the garden. Commenting is disabled for videos. Most popular uploads include the following:


More than 23,000 people follow this account. Engagement averages 500-600 likes per post, and posting is daily. The account features mostly landscape imagery. The most liked post is the Corpse Flower, with 900+ likes. The plant was also timelapsed on YouTube. MBC altered its “About” language on Instagram to specifically promote its Japanse Festival.


This Pinterest account has more than 4,000 followers, 39 pins and more than 2,000 pins. The boards are extremely well conceptualized: clearly labeled with excellent images. Among them is a collaborative board with 15 participating gardens, which has 32,000 followers. Vizcaya could request to be added to this board and be seen by new audiences through its posts there. Other popular boards include:

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Fairchild is dedicated to exploring, explaining and conserving the world of tropical plants. Currently Fairchild has field programs in over 20 countries including support to protected areas in Madagascar and Africa and botanic garden development and renovation projects in South and Central America, the Caribbean and the Middle East. It has 45,000 members and over 1,200 volunteers. Its roles include museum, laboratory, learning center and conservation research facility, but its greatest role is preserving biodiversity.


Fairchild uses BG-BASE as its collections management system, but does not offer public collections access through its website. Instead, a downloadable PDF list of living plants is offered.

Online Media

Fairchild’s website is built on the DotNetNuke CMS. The Twitter feed is incorporated into the sidebar of the website. Their blog is incorporated into the site. It is updated weekly, but less frequently during the summer. The blog uses the Disqus tool for managing comments. Content is focused on project updates and garden how-to tips.


Nearly 46,000 people like this page. Content is visually very modest. They do ask questions of followers to increase engagement, but are not making use of hashtags and rarely respond to comments. Likes per post range from single digits to more than 200. Among the most popular recent posts is one about water lilies getting ready to bloom, which had more than 400 likes and 89 shares.


In contrast to Facebook, Fairchild’s Twitter stream is very visually engaging. It has a follower count of 7,700, and followers are frequently retweeted. Hashtags such as #bloomingnow, #funfact, #DailyView and #OrchidOdyssey are used often.


About 9,500 people follow this page. Content is landscape flora and fauna, average 300 favorites per post. The most popular post is a timelapse of the making of mango salsa, with more than 1,200 favorites.


This channel is used as a video repository and not an engagement platform. The channel has not been optimized with custom playlists or channel art. It was last actively updated 2-3 years ago. The video that is there was largely successful, with several thousand views on several of the posts. The most popular video is “Veneer Grafting” with 207,000+ views. The channel has more than 3,000 subscribers.


More than 600 people follow this Pinterest account. It contains 28 boards. Several are flowers organized by peak blooming months.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden App

The Fairchild App replicates much of the feature set of their website. Including the following:

  • Events
  • Membership information
  • Google Map identifying garden names, locations, Wi-Fi hotspots, food and beverage,etc. This does not include interpretive information.
  • Links to social media

Though attractively designed, the app is not a visitor experience tool.

The Huntington

Building on the legacy collections, The Huntington’s mission is to encourage research and promote education:

  • Growth and Preservation of collections
  • Develop and support research with the collections
  • Display and interpret the collections to the public

The Huntington has a finely managed online presence. Visual media is elegantly presented and balanced by scannable text and engaging multimedia content.

Collections Approach

The Huntington is a long-time user of BG-BASE. Because of the amount of investment in the platform over the years, and staff comfort levels with using the software, they plan to continue use of BG-BASE in the future. The evolution of their collections management approach has been detailed in David Siversten’s presentation “Managing a Century of Botanical Collections in Southern California,” from the 2015 ESRI conference.

The Holden Arboretum has a grant to find a way to push information into BG-BASE from Arc-GIS. Arc-GIS has an excellent mobile device interface, which makes it handy for data entry.

The Huntington uses the ESRI Arc-GIS data model. There are free licenses for this for public gardens. Some gardens use volunteers to help document information for this system.

Online Approach

The Huntington actively curates the look and contents of its online platforms. Their design approach prioritizes clean lines and an image-centered “gallery” experience. The Huntington website features a two-level header, with the top level focused on visiting and the bottom level focused on the collecting areas of the institution. This is an elegant solution that Vizcaya could employ as well to avoid complex navigation common in other museum sites. A panoramic gallery slider includes content from across the institution. The center of the homepage promotes content from “The Huntington Channel,” which is their brand for audio and video content.

The institution uses several online media platforms to host and promote content that goes into The Huntington Channel, include a few that are unconventional.


The Verso blog is built on WordPress. It is produced by the Office of Communications. Through contributions from Huntington staff, visiting scholars, educators, and volunteers, it explores the many facets of The Huntington, a collections-based research and educational institution. Content is delicately balanced between museum, garden and library collections; imagery and text. Sometimes posts are blended with podcasts (embedded from Soundcloud) featuring staff members. The posts are added to the blog with transcription.


Items from the blog are routinely promoted on Facebook. This page also includes several image galleries. Featured blooms from the garden are intermixed with library and museum content, and are among the most popular posts. The page has 64,000 likes.


This account has about 19,000 followers. It is more garden focused than The Huntington’s other social media accounts. Posts include a mix of GIFs and video, but mostly include images. The posts get more engagement from followers than other Twitter accounts featured here, often approaching more than 20 favorites and retweets.


More than 21,000 people follow this account. Posts are evenly distributed among archival, garden and museum collections content. Video content, like the “30-second Mid-afternoon Monday Meditation” gets 4-5 times the engagement than standard image posts.


This is where scholarly insight and conversation is captured. Soundcloud is a “social” audio hosting site. Soundcloud content is embedded on the blog and website as part of other stories from The Huntington.


The Tumblr blog reflects much of the same content from the Verso blog. However, due to the platform’s “social” nature, posts are favorited or commented upon from 20-100+ times.


The Huntington has branded and optimized its channel well. Content is segmented into the following playlists:

  1. LOOK: Objects from The Huntington’s Collections
  2. Lectures and Events
  3. Behind the Scenes: Staff and Researchers at The Huntington
  4. Videre: Sights, sounds and sensing at The Huntington
  5. Through Artists Lenses


This online video platform is used for higher-quality content. The Huntington uses it to show museum collections stories. It does feature an interesting 10-minute introductory video for the institution that may provide a direction for Vizcaya to create something along the same lines.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew


Kew’s specialty Living Collections (LivColl) Database contains records of living and past accessioned specimens. The database contains 178,000 accessions, with data categorized in five areas:

  • Curation
  • Collections
  • Cultivation
  • Taxonomic
  • Scientific

Kew’s Electronic Plant Information Centre (ePIC) is a major project to bring together all of Kew’s digitized information about plants and make it easier to search. LivColl can be searched through this interface. Visitors can use it to pinpoint information of interest in Kew’s varied collections, bibliographies, nomenclatures and checklists, publications and taxonomic works, as well as links to information resources provided by external organizations.

Online Media

The Kew website is a Drupal-based site. It is functional and colorful, though older in design, which may cause minor rendering issues in some browsers. Site search is powered by a Google Custom Search.


More than 117,000 people like the Kew page on Facebook. Content likes average about 100 per post. Video content is typically 500 or more. For example, a video showing horticulturists pollinating a female specimen of Dioon spinulosum in Kew’s Palm House received 582 likes and was shared 124 times.


Much of the content posted on Twitter is geared toward promoting visits to the garden or events. Kew has 82,000 followers on this platform and gets higher numbers as a result. Posts draw and average of 50 engagement interactions (favorites/retweets).


The YouTube channel has nearly 4,000 subscribers and is optimized with promotional channel art and curated playlists. Videos are uploaded on average once per month. Most popular content includes timelapses, and “top ten” lists (e.g. Top Ten Attractions at Kew Gardens — in Two Minutes)


The Kew Instagram account has 51,000, and a high degree of interactions from followers. Image-based posts usually get 1,000 to 2,000 likes. For video, this can be as high as 7,000, even when very little motion is used in the video.


Kew has a promotional video on its YouTube channel to orient viewers to use of its app. The app is elegantly designed, making use of the user’s location, and providing notifications when beacon activated “Discovery Zones” are nearby. The Discovery Zone map guides the user through the Gardens, letting them pick out landmarks and attractions, as well as adding places of interest to their “list.” The app is available for iOS and Android.

UC Botanical Gardens at Berkeley

The UC Botanical Garden is a non-profit research garden and museum for the University of California at Berkeley, having a notably diverse plant collection including many rare and endangered plants. Established in 1890, the Garden, which is open to the public year round, has over 13,000 different kinds of plants from around the world, cultivated by region in naturalistic landscapes over its 34 acres.


The Botanical Gardens extension for CollectionSpace was implemented at U.C. Berkeley. The project was documented on a wiki as part of the IMLS Leadership Grant that funded it. The collections search interface is comprehensive, allowing the user to search 24 criteria, as well as the option to only search items with images. Search results can be downloaded as a CSV file. Results can also be viewed in tabs identified by Facets, Maps and Statistics.

Botanical Apps


Similar to iNaturalist, Pl@ntNet is an app to enable crowdsourced identification of plants with pictures. It is available for both iOS and Android devices. It features 247,000 pictures illustrating more than 6,000 species. “Projects” include Western Europe, Indian Ocean, South America and North Africa. Users of the app sign up for an account, capture photos and “observations” using the app. Pictures can be categorized by species for flower, fruit, leaf, habit and bark.


Leafsnap is an electronic field guide developed in 2011 by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution. This free mobile app uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from photographs of their leaves and is illustrated with high-resolution photographs. The City College of New York developed and tested curricular materials that use the Leafsnap app to help middle school students notice, group, and contextualize street trees in the patterns of evolution. It is available for iOS devices like iPhone and iPad.


Cultural Landscape Foundation

A non-profit established in 1998, The Cultural Landscape Foundation® (TCLF) connects people to places. TCLF educates and engages the public to make our shared landscape heritage more visible, identify its value, and empower its stewards. TCLF achieves this mission through the ongoing development of its three core programs:

  • What’s Out There®, North America’s largest and most exhaustive database of cultural landscapes;
  • Pioneers of American Landscape Design®, an in-depth multimedia library, inclusive of video oral histories, chronicling the lives of significant landscape architects and educators;
  • Landslide®, an ongoing collection of important landscapes and landscape features that are threatened and at-risk.

BGCI Care for the Rare

Care for the Rare provides free, easy-to-use interpretation resources that any garden can use to clearly communicate conservation stories of threatened plants in their collections.

Unique Spaces GIS

Unique Places GIS & Design merges advanced spatial technologies with the power of elegant design to produce stunning and informative visual creations.

Blue Raster GIS

Blue Raster helps organizations tell their stories through interactive mapping technology. User-friendly for both mobile and web platforms.

Garden Conservancy

The Garden Conservancy works to preserve and restore gardens in many ways, in both short-term and long-term partnerships.

Historic Landscapes Grants from NCPTT

The Preservation Technology and Training (PTT) Grants program provides funding for innovative research that develops new technologies or adapts existing technologies to preserve cultural resources. Grant recipients undertake innovative research and produce technical reports which respond to national needs in the field of historic preservation.

NCPTT funds projects within several overlapping disciplinary areas.  These include:

  • Archeology
  • Architecture
  • Engineering
  • Historic Landscapes
  • Materials Conservation

In order to focus research efforts, NCPTT requests innovative proposals that advance the application of science and technology to historic preservation in the following areas:

  • Climate Change Impacts
  • Disaster Planning and Response
  • Modeling and Managing Big Data
  • Innovative Techniques for Documentation
  • Protective Coatings and Treatments


Crowdsourcing Historical Memory with TellHistory

I’m thrilled today to introduce a project that combines my biggest interests–oral storytelling and cultural heritage outreach through crowdsourcing. It’s appropriately called Tell History.

And it was developed by Alex Whitcomb and Sarah Hayes. They’re crowdsourcing video-based memories that they tie to themes, timelines and maps. We all have a friend or relative who has a fascinating story to tell. TellHistory.com can help you help them to share that story in historical context. It’s also an inspiring story about how you can take your passion, and evolve it into a platform for the greater good. The interview starts with Alex and Sarah describing their own bit of history in the development of this project….

Crowdsourcing Historical Memory Topics

  1. What has the response been like?
  2. I know from personal experience that it can be very difficult to build engagement in digital projects. How have you gotten so many folks to contribute videos to the project?
  3. Tell me a little about how Tell History works …
  4. I think it’s interesting that you use a Theme of the Week to focus your contributions. How do you identify those?
  5. What kind of audiences are contributing to Tell History, and what kind of stories are capturing your attention? 
  6. You’ve made it very easy for folks contribute to Tell History. Describe that process …
  7. How have you been using social media to support the growth of Tell History?
  8. What kind of stories and themes are you focusing on for the future?
  9. Describe what your “big picture” goal is for Tell History …
  10. A project of this scope only happens because of people who believe in you and what you’re trying to achieve. Are there any folks who have contributed to the site that you’d like to give a shout-out to?
  11. How do folks connect with you online?

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2006/2016: What’s changed over ten years in #DigitalHeritage

It was 2006 when the digital heritage bug first bit me. I was working as public information officer at a remote National Park Service office serving a national constituency comprised of several very specialized technical fields. Oh, and there was no budget for outreach.

How to reach audiences, put the organization on the map, and perhaps feel a little less isolated?

The answer came at a Ragan public relations conference that October, when it was mentioned as an afterthought in one of the sessions: “watch the social media stuff. It’s going to change everything.”

I went back home to rural Louisiana and began investigating right away. To say things have changed a lot since then is an understatement. Scarcely two years later, the world had indeed changed. The place I was working got some notoriety for its social media involvement and our audiences grew.

Today, social media has become a big part of how we establish our identities. It’s the lens through which we view one another’s stories today, and will play a starring role in how history sees us in the future. So what has evolved in the attitudes and approaches in the “culture” of cultural heritage between 2006 and 2016?

The Awesome
  1. We’re more open and transparent. Whether it’s our data or our inner workings, we’re documenting heritage preservation and putting it on platforms ranging from Github to Tumblr to Wikipedia and The Commons.
  2. We’re valuing communication that goes beyond the broadcast model. My first podcast interview was with Nina Simon. Nina rocked my thinking regarding how museums facilitate visitor interactions with “me to we design.” Nina’s participatory  ideas have gone on to influence the way hundreds of museums do business. That Skype interview led to many other podcast interviews I have had with people from around the world.  A definite cure for the cultural isolation I had been feeling in those early days!
  3. The process heritage preservation is as valued as the product. We can go into institutions and see conservators and archivists at work, and even see them talk about their work online.
  4. Personal and professional interests are more blended. We’re becoming advocates for heritage preservation. Even when the tweets are presented as “views are my own,” we’re putting out content that reflects our values and beliefs, and heritage preservation is part of that no matter the context.
  5. Technology doesn’t scare us (as much). People don’t traditionally go into cultural heritage fields because they are early adopters. But we’re learning to embrace it with digital preservation and innovative outreach methods.
  6. We’re more focused on storytelling. That was always there to a great extent, I believe. But stories about cultural heritage are certainly more accessible now and people harness the power of online video, timelines and maps to support their narrative.
  7. History is shared like never before. Because of its presence online, the emergence of mobile devices, and tools like tour apps, people can share these newly accessible stories at the touch of a button.
The Scary
  1. Increasing lack of self-determination. I worry about Facebook taking over the internet and feeding us its version of events when the emphasis used to be providing sets of tools among providers to create our own experiences. Remember the emergence of RSS and Mashups and curating your own experience? I was on the verge of tears when Facebook bought (and suffocated) Friendfeed, which I still mourn. It’s hard for cultural heritage to compete with pop culture in our increasingly algorithmic world.
  2. When tech overshadows heritage. When I see my younger friends  repeatedly switch between social media apps during any given  conversation, I wonder if they will ever know the joy of being quiet and present (an even bigger worry for my 11-year-old daughter, whose device time I limit).  A great part of respect and preservation of history lies in being present with it–with an object or at a site and letting your imagination roll with historical implications. Will we lose that?
  3. Lack of knowing why we use these tools. Though my first product in this space was a strategic plan with audiences and outcomes, those are still relatively rare. As the adage goes–fail to plan; plan to fail (or spin your wheels in irrelevancy at least). Fortunately, some folks are putting their plans out there so no one has to reinvent the wheel.
  4. Digital preservation is a ballooning issue. There are certainly innovators out there, but many organizations are still either putting a bandage on the situation or ignoring it entirely.

In the final analysis, I believe heritage preservation has been served well by the transformation of digital and social tools. We’ve evolved from a recalcitrant attitude toward social media interaction to one of acceptance. Along the way, we’ve found new audiences and allies to make the field stronger.  Though the digital landscape is a bit more complex, these tools are still accessible to everyone–from history enthusiasts to small house museums to large-scale archaeological projects like Pompeii. We all have an opportunity to make our voices heard. The more we come together online to advocate for the cause, the stronger cultural heritage as whole will become.

This post was inspired by the WordPress blogging topic: Contrast

#DigitalHeritage 1-2-3: APIs, Apps & Social Media Preservation

#DigitalHeritage 1-2-3 represents news and ideas that caught my attention recently. Have any suggestions for future editions? Let me know via Twitter @heritagevoices.

1: APIs: How Machines Share and Expose Digital Collections

Finally, an explanation of APIs I can get my head around. This item from the Library of Congress blog uses examples from The World Digital Library, HathiTrust and OpenSearch to illustrate how APIs work in digital collections.

The Big Idea: “Offering an API allows other people to reuse your content in ways that you didn’t anticipate or couldn’t afford to do yourself … That’s what I would like for the library world, those things that let other people re-use your data in ways you didn’t even think about.”

The Revelation: a demo of the International Image Interoperability Framework in action as a research tool. See for yourself how to compare and annotate side-by-side digital objects from Harvard, Yale, the National Library of Wales and other participating partners.

The Strategy: Besides the API explanation, what I appreciate about this post is how LOC is using journalism practices by interviewing people who work their about their areas of expertise. A great tactic for deepening and sustaining content on an institutional blog!

2: ActionShow App Blog on Mobile Tours

For all the years I’ve worked in cultural heritage, there seems to always be one more tour app provider I never heard of. ActionShow is the latest. And though their blog looks a little spammy at first (and indeed, does sell a product), it hosts some good, clear-eyed analysis of the issues.

The post that drew me to the site was Who Wins? Mobile Apps vs. Mobile-Friendly Websites. The topics are a virtual FAQ for cultural heritage sites considering such a tool (i.e. all of them): how much does it cost, which is easier to use, what if you have inconsistent wi-fi, etc. Use them as a guide on the issues; just keep in mind they have an app service to sell.

Here’s a useful graph on their site I’m embedding from the post Custom Built Apps versus Platform Apps:

Tour Guide App Comparison

3: Preserving Social Media Tech Watch Report

This came by Twitter:

If you haven’t been to visit the Digital Preservation Coalition’s Technology Watch Report page, now’s the time to discover it. DPC has published a 42-page “Preserving Social Media” report that should have a lot of cultural institutions thinking about why they aren’t preserving this growing part of their legacy. One reason is that it’s very hard, with rapidly shifting targets of technology, platforms and service agreements.

The Big Idea from this report (for now): “…the preservation of social media may best be undertaken by a large, centralized provider, or a few large centralized providers, rather than linking smaller datasets or collections from many different institutions.”

The Revelation: The North Carolina State University, Social Media Archives Toolkit is “a freely available web-based documentary toolkit that publicly documents our own effort to develop a sophisticated social media archival program in a way that may help guide cultural heritage organizations that are interested in collecting and curating social media content.”

Due to the complexity of these issues, it looks like we’re heading down a road where the archives profession will be start turning out specialists to deal with this ever-shifting landscape.


That’s it for today’s #digitalheritage stories. Feel free contribute your thoughts for a future edition through the comments, Twitter or email.


Traits of an e-newsletter worth staying subscribed to

Someone asked me recently to name examples of good email newsletters. I have to admit I scratched my head a bit on that one. In the last two weeks I used Gmail filters to effectively get rid of 90% of my subscriptions. Boy has my life improved!

A lot has changed on the e-news front in the past few years. Folks are really simplifying their newsletters so they are more easily viewed on mobile phones. One that I’ve historically liked is World Monuments Fund (I always click on something there). Brooklyn Museum has some good content too. Rather than sending you down rabbit holes in search of the perfect e-newsletter, I’ll tell you about some traits that make up the one I would stay subscribed to:

  • It’s a good snapshot of the organization overall. Generally it’s the only time someone will get a sense of the breadth of your offerings. Offer a variety of content from several of your departments.
  • It has short teasers with a picture. Skip feature-length stories. All your content should be able to be scanned with a couple of thumb swipes, with included links if your reader wants to know more.
  • ONE major call to action.
  • It features links and directions on following/subscribing/sharing social media. Emphasize those that have the most creative input (I.e. Storytelling) from staff. Featuring the latest episode of a podcast is a good example of this.
  • It offers a frequency option. People are inundated with email, so having the option of weekly/monthly/quarterly or by subject matter is important for keeping them on your list.

Those are my thoughts. If you think differently, I’d love to see your comments on this post. If you believe the perfect email newsletter exists for a cultural or heritage institution already, feel free to share a link to it as well.

Teaser image credit.

Can you spot the historic inspiration for the Voices of the Past logo?

When I looked into a new logo for Voices of the Past, I wanted something that represented both history and technology.  I discovered the graphic above while visiting the Minnesota Archaeological Society website, and something about it struck me. Check out the tailfeather of the bird on the right. Does is remind you of any new media symbols out there? How about this one:


MAS, which uses the entire bird on the left for its logo, states on its website:

The inscriptions … are from a 1,000-year-old pot that was discovered in 1957 near Red Wing, Minnesota by an MAS member. The thunderbird motif is representative of Middle Mississippian iconography.

I love the thunderbird legend and its symbolic meanings of courage, transformation, and victory so much that it remains my one and only tattoo.


Did Native Americans first conceptualize RSS 1,000 years ago? I’ll leave that to the conspiracy theorists 😉 But it did inspire me enough to use it as the basis for the logo Voices of the Past has today.


Tips on Creating a Large Family Tree for a Gift (with templates)

By Suzie Kolber

A large family tree framed and presented as a gift is a wonderful way to honor a person. It is the ideal choice for a milestone birthday or anniversary and has a lot of meaning. It can be difficult to choose the right template with so many options. The right one for your family may be different from what would work for someone else.

Consider Presentation
Since the family tree will most likely be prominently displayed, it should have a nice visual presentation. A circular family tree provides a continuous, symmetrical design that looks nice when framed. A fan is another option that appears like a piece of artwork when hung.

Another choice is the bowtie family tree chart if you want to include both sides of a family member. This is ideal for anniversaries where you would feature the married couple in the center and branch off for both of their families. Since there will be a lot of information or a long list of names, you want the shape to stand out even if someone doesn’t take the time to read the words.

Consider Information
To choose the right template for your gift, you have to consider how much information you want to include. This will influence the selection as to which style works best. If you only plan to include photos or a name and birthdate, a family tree with oval spaces will look nice. If you want more information included such as birth, marriage and death dates, lines or boxes will be more practical.
The landscape and pedigree styles are the most traditional. They can hold a lot of information in a way that is easy to follow. If you are giving this gift to a couple who did not have children, you may want to use a partner family tree. It allows you to trace the history on both sides of the family with the couple as the starting point.

Keep these tips in mind when designing a family tree print as a gift:

  • Choose a template that doesn’t have a lot of holes that are glaringly obvious – you don’t want to highlight missing people or unusual circumstances that may make people uncomfortable
  • Remember that your family tree chart doesn’t have to be an 8×11 piece of paper; it can be as large as you need it to be to fit the information
  • Consider making it vibrant with a colored background but choose a shade that doesn’t take away from the information or make it difficult to read
  • Find free templates online and try out different ones – you only know when something works once you see it
    A family tree chart is a fabulous gift that many people will appreciate. It is a gift from the heart and one that is personal to the recipient but that others can enjoy. Be willing to play with different styles to fine the one that fits your needs.

Suzie Kolber created http://obituarieshelp.org/free_printable_blank_family_tree.html to be the complete online resource for “do it yourself” genealogy projects.  The site offers the largest offering of family tree charts online. The site is a not for profit website dedicated to offering free resources for those that are trying to trace their family history.