Making History Personal: How Port Arthur curates individual paths through its content

Port_arthur_card_1a playing card: your invitation to explore Port Arthur exhibitions and information

upon receiving your entry ticket to Port Arthur's visitor centre in Tasmania you receive one of the above cards.  the card is one of a couple of dozen or so playing cards, and each person visiting the site gets a different one.  mine was the Queen of Diamonds.

Port_arthur_card_2the Queen of Diamonds: my card invites and allows me to take a personal journey through the attraction's exhibitions

much more than a souvenir however, each card invites it's owner to take a journey through the visitors centre following in the footsteps of one of the inmates of two centuries ago, when the port was Australia's second penal colony in then Van Diemen's Land.

each room in the exhibit is tailored to allowing you to exploring a specific journey for your card; a journey that reflects the actual journey taken by a specific inmate in the facility hundeds of years ago.  what was their name and where did they arrive from?  were they well behaved or not?  were they punished or rewarded?  did they take on a trade?  did they ever leave the facility?

I loved this approach for three reasons.  the first is that it takes something that could be quite rational, remote and, well, historic and makes it personal and personalised.  approaching the visitor's centre and its exhibitions from the point of view that someone – a real person – actually went on this journey changes your mindset towards how you approach it.  you are more involved, more connected.  you care more.

the second-reason I love this customer solution is because of how this approach mitigates choice-overload.  it tackles that feeling many of us must be familiar with when you walk into a museum and think… where to start?  and then where?  … non of this here.  you are presented with a clear path and invited to ignore some exhibits.  this doesn't compromise your visit, in fact it actually liberates it.

but the reason that I most love this approach is the extent to which – explicitly or implicitly – it invites conversation, a point made by Davey too when I was chatting with her this morning.  when a group of people goes through the visitor centre none will take the same journey.  there will be knowledge gaps that the group will fill through discussion and conversation?  where did you go?  who was your inmate?  did you see X?  these gaps, what I call knowledge differentials, fuel conversations immediately after the experience but also, by making the navigation tangible (the playing card) they can also extend into the future.

I hope that Port Arther build on what they have.  mobile and tablet functionality now allows them to take this tailored personalised approach to a whole new level.  you could choose your character in advance and then download the journey with audio that you could listen to on your phone as you tour the centre.  social functionality would allow you to share your journey with your social networks in real-time as you go through the exhibit – or share stories with strangers who went on the same journey.

a playing card.  a simple and elegant thought that added disproportinate value to my visit; and exactly what every experience should be – personal, curated and social.

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