An App called Farting Statues, I made it, here's why

Farting Statues, yes really an app called Farting Statues.  If you don't believe me go and have a look on the  Google Play Store  If you have a Android device install it and have a play with it.   Ok it's a real app that I made, explaining why I made it might take a bit longer but here goes.

 

Farting Statues main screen
Farting Statues main screen

At the end of last year i took a Coursera course called  Creative, Serious and Playful Science of Android Apps an introduction to computer science and writing Android apps. I'm not a really a beginner but it was a nice course to do. I picked up  some useful tips and tricks when using the Eclipse IDE and it was good to have a lot of the things that I have taught myself verified as the right way to go.

One of the early assignments was to produce a simple app that displayed a photograph of an early computer along with explanatory text. The assignment didn't require any coding as such, just to produce a portrait and landscape layout and have it swap between the two when the phone was rotated.

The assignment did get me thinking, it had a very stong museum feel to it , very similar to the sorts of apps that museums produce, but theirs are so much more polished and professional, but here is me writing a very small and simple museum type  app. Would it be possible to use app writing as a way for visitors to engage with content.  Instantly I fell in the love of the idea of guerrilla museum apps. Visitors writing apps using the content available on museum websites . Distributing them on app stores for other people to use when visiting museums.

There is a big push at the moment for people to learn to code, to use computers to not just to consume content but to create it as well.  I decided to write a museum app to explore this idea and look at the the potential pitfalls of doing this both from a app writer ,visitor point of view and what benefits and problems it would cause a museum.

First thing pick a museum and collection. The Science Museum might seem an obvious choice as I have easy access to the collection and information. I also really like my job and The Science museum had just launched an official iPad app. Creating a guerrilla version of that app seemed a really bad idea if I wanted to keep my job.  I wanted to be a little subversive but I'm not stupid.

Around Christmas Time  Team Cooper launched a game little browser game  called Farter Christmas. It was silly, childish and great fun.  That gave me the idea, combine the childishness of a fart app with the high culture of the statues in the Victoria and Albert museum.

The concept was simple and didn't change. Pick around five or six statues, find out a few  facts for each one and reveal a random fact combined with a fart noise.

The first version of the app was really easy to write and operationally didn't change through the development. It had just one small problem. The app crashed a lot.  It took quite a lot of digging around the developer docs and Stack Exchange pages to find out how to cure the problem. hitting a problem like this instantly takes the app creation process from something that an absolute beginner could do to something that requires either great determination and time spent learning other app development skills and knowledge, or assistance from somebody more experienced.

Once I had solved that problem there wasn't really any other technical problems.

Finding Content 

The next part was to find the  statues and facts about each one. The finished app only has two statues from the V & A.  They are the Dacre beasts - Dolphin and the Bather by Albert Toft. The biggest problem with selecting statues was finding the Content.  I  really loved the Dacre beasts so was glad to find information  about them, but very little on the V & A website.  There was only really Rodin's The Thinker that had a lot of easily available information because it is such a famous piece.

 

The Dacre Beasts, The Dolphin
The Dacre Beasts, The Dolphin

So not only did I have to widen it out to to statues not only in the V & A I had to widen it out to statues outside of museums all together. That is why the Moai Statues of Easter island are included.

Morals and Ethics

Its a silly app with farting statues, it might not seem that Morals and Ethics would be a concern.  While walking around the V & A I realised that a lot of statues are of a religious nature. They have representations of Buddha, other Indian Gods and the Madonna and Child.  Using any of those in the app could potentially be offensive to people of any of those religions. I wanted to create a fun app not one that could cause serious offence, again i wanted to be a little subversive but i'm not stupid.

Copyright and Licensing

The two V & A statues that I used the Dacre Beasts Dolphin and the Bather are both photographs that i took myself, why? I couldn't find any appropriately licensed images to use.  All of the other photographs are from Wikimedia and either Creative Commons Licensed or released into the public domain. That was the reason for the prominent credits button on the front screen, I wanted to make sure that the licensing of the images  was clear and up front.

It was only near the end of the development process I realised the image I was intending to use for the Bather wasn't licensed for use, so had to take my own photograph.

One of the statues that I did consider using has a image available from Tate images. The cost of using it was prohibitive so wasn't chosen, looking at  the categories of products and media available they were all aimed at physical products, mousemats,mugs posters etc. nothing suitable for use in a digital product. It makes me wonder how museums will handle people wanting to use images in apps

Advertising and Distribution

The app has adverts in it. The are displayed on the individual statues but not on the front screen. This was something I hadn't done before so wanted to do it from a technical point of view to see how easy it is and to consider what happens when an app developer uses a museum content to make money.  I'm not sure how much the app will make. I'm not expecting to get rich from it.  Just as the museums has no control over people developing apps with its images I have realised I have no control over the content of the adverts. On the Play store the App is marked as suitable for all ages but looking at a few ads that have come through on my phone already, one is to download a 'virtual girlfriend' not the faintest idea what that is and don't plan on finding out, but not convinced it is suitable for 'all ages' or wouldn't end up creating a massive security hole on my phone.

Are museums set up to make money from apps that other people develop. I have not made any connection in my app between myself and the V & A or other museums.  If people were to write apps using museum content and distribute it would it be clear that it isn't an official app produced by the institution. What if there are mistakes or offensive content? what would happen then. How much trouble would it cause for the museum or gallery?

Conclusion

So do I still think that that writing guerrilla apps is a way for people to remix and engage with museum content while learning to code?  The barebones of this app were written in a single weekend but it took a lot longer to research the content for it. I am lucky to work next door to the V & A so popping across the road to take photographs wasn't a problem but if you aren't near a large national museum or the museum that you want to take photographs of doesn't allow them could cause problems.

It won't be straightforward and I can see  apps like these developing in two ways.  People who can already code will develop apps along similar themes to Farting statues. Hopefully not loads of clones of the this the world doesn't really need any more farting statues apps. But being creative and having fun. I have been careful to make sure the images were properly licensed. The majority of the content comes from wikipedia rather than museum websites, so is the information correct?   its as good as i can make it but i'm not a expert on any of the statues or the artists. I would rather have the information come from the  definitive source of the museum website but wasn't able to.

The other possibility is for museums to run coding workshops with visitors, start with part written apps or web pages and embed museum content into them.  Web pages can easily be converted into mobile apps.  This would give people an app they can take away with them and would hopefully be a springboard into finding out more about coding and app development.

Either way it needs museums to push out more content and information, the internet isn't limited to the space on a label.  Its a lot easier to find information on wikipedia than it is on a museum website.

In the same way that museums worried that putting content online  would reduce physical visitors to their institutions I have no doubt there will be similar worries to putting content online in a way for people to re-mix and develop. While developing this app I found myself  becoming more interested in the information than just reading it, having to find useful facts and  break down  the content down in to small chunks made me draft and read and re-draft the text several times.  This is something Museum exhibit developers have to do so why not break down the barriers and  give visitors this chance to get down to the nitty gritty with the content. After  all as its digital it can easily be changed, thats the beauty of it.

If museums want to stay relevant as hopefully their  visitors become not just consumers of digital content but creators as well a shift will be needed to make more content available online and encourage its use rather than creating barriers.  Guerilla apps and Farting Statues may not have all the answers but I think it could be a start

 

 

 

 

 

Comments are closed.