Google Hangouts: Live Video Chatting between Museums & Online Communities

feat-chatBy Brinker Ferguson, Digital Media Fellow, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

In the past several months, many museums have begun using live video chat as a way to enhance and foster new online discussions and interactions between museum educators and the public. One of the most popular tools has been Google Hangouts which is part of the Google+ social network. It allows for up to 10 users to video chat together and gives them the ability to broadcast the video stream live to a large audience and even record the session for future viewing. The recorded video, which is archived on the museum’s G+ page and YouTube channel, can be shared on various social networks. In addition, the videos collect (limited) analytics information so museums can track the attention it receives. Users who express interest in a museum video session ahead of time can be alerted when it is about to begin via Google+ email messaging.

This use of video chatting has spawned a new online forum that helps to bring together museum curators, directors, historians and educators with different virtual communities for in-depth conversations of art and ideas. Rather then a YouTube video, which disseminates information in a “I talk, you listen” format, video chatting can enable a more flexible and collaborative seminar style discussion. This idea of accessible online videos is very much in keeping with many museums’ mission of providing an open space for dialogue, learning, and exploration for the public, and working toward developing meaningful online communities of practice.

Current Projects

Though relatively new, there have been a large number of museums using Google Hangouts from all over the globe. This past month alone, MoMA debuted its “Art Hang” series, which brings together art educators with other art enthusiasts to discuss topics surrounding art and identity. The Google Art Project began its #ArtTalk hangouts with the National Gallery on March 20th and more recently with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The series, which discusses the stories behind famous works of art, will continue to take place each month at different cultural institutions such as the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico and the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar.

screenshot of Google Hangout of artist Felipe Iskor

screenshot of Google Hangout of artist Felipe Iskor

Hangouts have also been leveraged in several other artistic ways. For example Google Brazil has used hangouts for their street art campaign, where artist Felipe Iskor created a mural live.

Likewise artists have conducted live studio visits, in which they talk with interested online groups about what inspires them, what their next artwork might look like, and get much needed critical feedback from online art communities.

Understanding Its Impact

Of course, use of a new medium brings new challenges. In trying to gauge the success of video chats, museums are learning how to interpret the relatively sparse analytics information provided by Google+ and YouTube. Statistics like “this video was viewed 5000 times” does not paint a full picture of just how beneficial the video was for the museum and its viewers. It is very clear, however, that hangouts have the ability to reach far greater percentage of the global online community and can do so in a more engaging way. And while it can be difficult to measure the success of these videos, museum educators know it is worth their time to continue exploring the limits of new this technology in order to captivate a broader audience and share more of the museum’s passion for art and cultural heritage.

Possible Uses in the Future

Tools associated with video chatting such as live commenting, image sharing, hash tags, and social media sharing have become additional ways of connecting online viewers with the live discussion. Recently, Mike Murawski of the Portland Art Museum brought up another possible use for video chatting. He suggested using Hangouts as a way of connecting living contemporary artists with museum visitors both in the gallery and online. What would it be like then to talk with an artist about his/her work right in front of the artwork in the gallery? Or watch an artist explaining his/her artwork online while you ask questions?

How can we use these new tools to better facilitate learning and interaction onsite and online in the future? Are there other ways that Google Hangouts or other chatting services will connect people, or perhaps help the museum’s visitors feel closer to its collection?

Anybots meets Wall-E and Eve.

Anybots meets Wall-E and Eve.

Taking this question further in a mini-thought experiment, imagine what would happen if the video feed were not fixed to the wall. What would a more intimate conversation with an artist look like? While you ebb and flow around the gallery, could an artist virtually tag along with you?

One company exploring the idea of digital presence is Anybots, a team that has created a roving avatar robot with video screen projecting the face of a remote participant. The robot is controlled remotely and reacts to speech frequencies to directly address and react to questions or comments from multiple people. Right now, the Anybots are in the hypothetical realm (due to the hefty $15,000 price tag).

While video chatting environments will continue to develop (though at the moment we are not yet sure in what form they will appear) the strides taken by #ArtHang, Google Art Projects, and many other institutions and artist communities will continue to push online connection and conversation.

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12 comments

  1. Pingback: Google Hangouts: Live Video Chatting between Museums & Online Communities | Tech in Museums

  2. This will make museum-going such a fuller, better experience. Thanks for posting.

  3. What an interesting idea! It would be great for people who live across the country and can’t go to such distant museums. I love that museums are trying to think about the technology available and how it might be used for them. It is probably a great way to get kids interested too!

  4. A great way to bring the kind of events we do live – artists’ gallery talks, panel discussions – to a remote audience, and in an interactive, not unidirectional, way. My concern is always that small museums (like mine) without the resources will get left in the dust. But I think there’s room for all of us on the spectrum, and it’s great for the institutions that can to lead the way!

    • Hello Andrea R. thank you for your comment. Yes free software is so crucial (and wonderful) for non-profits no matter how big or small. It allows for museums to explore different solutions without having to be tied to one resource because of funding.

  5. powdahound

    Really interesting. I bet the artists really enjoy participating in the hangouts as well!

    • It seems that more and more artists are using hangouts as a way to solicit feedback, as well as connect with potential clients and groups interested in their art. :)

  6. For a natural history approach too, The Royal Ontario Museum recently started using Google Hangouts for chats with their curators of mycology and entomology, for example: http://www.rom.on.ca/en/activities-programs/events-calendar/google-hangout

    I’d love to hear more feedback about the challenges and successes of using Hangouts from museums that have tried them!

    • brinker

      Hi Catherine, I checked out the Royal Ontario Museum G+ page, and LOVE that you have so many hangouts for the month of April with scientists and researchers! At the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco we hosted a hangout event with a live audience, the numbers for watching online however were not as high as we wanted them to be, but we hope it will grow each time we do a new one (has this been your experience?) This also might have been due to some technical issues at the beginning of the hangout, which resulted in us started late. If you are viewing the feed remotely, I imagine it would be quite frustrating if you are not sure you hit the right link at the right time etc…

      Thank you for the comment, I am now following your museum on G+ and look forward seeing your projects in the future. :)

  7. Pingback: Hangout with NAEA’s New Online Peer-to-Peer Initiative | Art Museum Teaching

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