BIG MUSEUM WALK
The game is created for families with 5-12 year- old children. There is a chatbot called Chizhik in VKontakte and Facebook messages of Big Museum Walk pages. He suggests starting acquaintance with various museums from home and then continue visiting them offline.
Big Museum Walk was started in August 2021 as a new project among different museums of St. Petersburg. The Chizhik guide bot acts as an interlocutor and a guide for children along museums and urban spaces. He tells stories and asks questions, helps to find a the routes, offers play tasks and encourages small discoveries.
The chatbot contains play guides to nine St. Petersburg museums. Some more city guides and three museums of Vladivostok, Perm and Tallinn will join it in autumn 2021. Guidebooks have three complexity levels of the routes: for 5-8, 7-10 and 9-12 years. To start a walk, write "start" to the chatbot Chizhik in the messages of the project pages on VKontakte or Facebook, choose a route and then - a museum or a place. Once at the right point of the route, continue chatting with the bot: it will tell you where to go and what exhibits to look for. Thus, you will explore places and objects together. Guidebooks are available to everyone for free. To get to the museums, you will need to buy common entrance tickets.
In St. Petersburg, the guides are available until September 30, 2021. The game involves: Zoological Museum, Museum-apartment A. A. Blok, Workshop of M. A. Anikushina, the Raznochinny Petersburg Museum, the Apartment Museum of the Samoilov actors' family, the Faberge Museum, the Bread Museum, the Museum of Urban Electric Transport, the Museum of the History of Religion, as well as the Museum of the History of the Far East named after V. K. Arseniev (Vladivostok), Perm Museum of Local Lore and Tallinn Russian Museum. The project is being implemented using a grant from the President of the Russian Federation for the development of civil society provided by the Presidential Grants Foundation. Support is also given by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation. Partner: Luxoft LLC. Media partner: Children's Days in St. Petersburg Festival.
PROJECT WE THOUGHT WE KNEW EVERYTHING ABOUT AT THE BEGINNING, CONTINUES SPRINGING SURPRISES UPON US AT EVERY STEP
How did you come up with this idea?
It took a while for our team to come up with the idea of a chatbot that would offer children to play and walk around museums. We had many years of experience in developing paper play guides to museums for the travel game "12345 - I'M GOING TO SEEK!" ("Ready or not, here I come"), held annually as part of the Children's Days in St. Petersburg festival. We were discussing the possibility of making guidebooks interactive with various experts from time to time: with programmers, website and mobile app developers, parents experienced in museum trips. It was important for us to make the guidebooks as convenient, understandable, accessible and public as the Children's Days itineraries used by tens of thousands of people to walk through museums every year. Deciding on the media to be used for the guidebooks we asked followers of the Children's Days festival VKontakte group. The poll showed that our followers, mostly parents of preschool and school-age children, definitely prefer to stay inside a familiar social network and avoid installing additional applications on the phone and using any additional websites. We also held a vote on the network which would be more convenient to make a chatbot in. It is very important for the technical implementation of the project to find partners and like-minded people. Experts of the Luxoft company became such partners, consultants and assistants for us. It was in a dialogue with them that we set the task and developed the first chatbot. Thus, in 2020, the Museum Pet game appeared as part of the Children's Days festival: you could learn more about butterflies, bumblebees, horses, listen to music, watch videos, and find out what your own museum pet could be at the same time by chatting with a bot and looking at photos from 17 different museums. The Big Museum Walk where museums offer play guides to their expositions, was the next step.
What hidden pitfalls should be kept in mind?
Probably, we are yet to come across some pitfalls. So far we have found out that the project, we thought we knew everything about at the beginning, continues to spring surprises upon us and to set interesting tasks at every step. Expectations from an interactive guidebook are much higher than from a paper one — every completed task, every answer must be carefully elaborated, it is even more important to be able to write briefly and succinctly. It is also important for us that children did not "get stuck" in the gadgets, so that the guide gave additional information and offered a "background" — photos, videos, music — and encouraged them to explore the museum's exposition, look at objects and find answers to the questions of our Chizhik there. Probably, we don't fully understand the possibilities of this new format yet, and though we have conducted preliminary tests, we have yet to find a convenient chat "tempo", to understand what is the most comfortable and intuitive features for our users, which of their needs can be fulfilled by a chatbot acting as a museum guide. Up till now we have deliberately tried to make all the guides different and we hope that users' feedback and votes will help us understand what works in such a hybrid format and what does not. If we talk about what should have been done differently is to allow for a little more time and resources on preliminary research and the "first steps". As well as for the promotion. Another risk is technical issues. These are both bot build errors and service problems, which are even out of control of our best administrators. We've been there: two days before the start, service was down — tested and perfectly functioning bot fell silent for almost a day. Luckily, this problem was solved by the launch. Here you need to be ready to communicate a lot: constantly being in touch with the support service, with users whose bot was suddenly off. It would be great to be able to be on shift duty in order to react to what is happening right away.
Why do we need projects like yours? What is their value to people?
Museums and heritage are a huge resource. They are much more than just information, and even more than stories preserved by the objects. In the museum, you can learn to ask questions and to discourse, see and hear more, you can go through a rich emotional range, feel and nearly live through the experience of other generations and other cultures. But for this purpose, all the visitors, especially children, need certain tools. You need to learn how to "use" museums. We try to turn interactive guidebooks into one of such tools — a guide, an intermediary, a means of communication, an occasion for conversation between children and adults.