October 24-26, 2007
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paper: CAT™: Assemble Your Own Multimedia Tour

Silvia Filippini-Fantoni, Antenna Audio/University of Paris I – Sorbonne, United Kingdom/France


Antenna Audio's latest Web-based software application, the Content Assembly Tool (CAT™), responds to the growing need for museums to reduce the cost of Multimedia Tour productions and take more control over the creative process.

The CAT™ allows clients to create and/or update their own Multimedia Tours by assembling pre-existing content assets such as text, audio, images, videos and Flash animations. The software is used primarily to publish to Windows Mobile handheld devices (including smart phones) but in future iterations it will also work on other platforms, such as the Internet or kiosk-based systems within the museum.

Based on the results of an on-line survey that was distributed to several museum professionals, the CAT™ was designed specifically for use in this sector and therefore it is intuitive and easy to use even by those who have little software experience.

During the demonstration we will show the different features of the system and, by using pre-existing multimedia content, assemble small Multimedia Tours that we will then preview and publish on to different types of PDA, including those that users might have with them (if compatible).

Keywords: Multimedia Tour, software, PDA, assembly tool

1.0 Introduction

Since the turn of the century, various museums worldwide have piloted or adopted Multimedia Tours, providing access to rich and interactive content (text, audio, images, videos, interactive games, etc.) about their collections or temporary exhibitions using PDAs and, more recently, smart phones. Examples of these solutions are available for use by visitors include those at Tate Modern (permanent collection / main temporary exhibitions), Tate Britain (permanent collection), the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge (permanent collection), The Glenbow Museum in Calgary (permanent collection), The Natural History museum in London (architecture tour), and the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid (Sign Language tour), just to mention a few.

Despite the great potential of these solutions, which offer (among other features) a more in-depth and varied level of interpretation of the exhibited objects as well as a useful support to visitors’ orientation (static maps, interactive maps, RFID, bluetooth, GPS, wireless, etc.), Multimedia Tours have not yet replaced audio tours as the mobile interpretation of choice in museums, mainly because of the high costs involved in developing and maintaining such solutions.

While the costs related to the use of the equipment are getting progressively cheaper as the technology evolves and audio tour companies are developing their own multimedia players, expenses associated with content development (interface design, multimedia content development, assembly, copyright clearance) are still quite high.

In order to reduce some of these costs, Antenna Audio has decided to develop a piece of software that allows museums to create and/or update their own Multimedia Tours by assembling pre-existing content assets, such as text, audio, images, videos and Flash animations. The software (Content Assembly Tool - CAT™), which has been available to our clients via a licensing model since May 2007, is used primarily to publish to Windows Mobile handheld devices (including smart phones), but in future iterations, it will also work on other platforms, such as the Internet or kiosk-based systems.

2.0 The Survey

As we have seen in the previous paragraph, the CAT™ is a tool that is meant primarily for museums and cultural institutions that want to develop and update their own Multimedia Tours, hence the importance of involving the museum community in the software development process. In order to get a realistic sense of what museums expect and need from this type of solution, Antenna Audio created an on-line survey that was sent, in the summer of 2006, to a list of existing and prospective clients.  The aim of the survey was to investigate, among other things, the respondents’ interest in creating Multimedia Tours, their capacity to develop their own multimedia content (competences, resources, etc.) and finally their preference for different multimedia content types as well as software specific functionalities (e.g. interface customization, location awareness, etc.).

The results of the survey were very useful and helped us not only to understand the nature of the existing interest in Multimedia Tours but also - and especially - to better define the features and the level of complexity of the software. In particular, we learned that among those museums surveyed there is quite strong interest in Multimedia Tours in general (see table 1), and specifically for in-house development (see table 2), which would allow museums to control the content creation process (82.4%), provide a unique visitor experience (64.7%) and reduce costs (58.8%). (Filippini-Fantoni, 2006).

Table 1
Table 1: Level of interest of the respondents for Multimedia Tours in general

Table 2
Table 2: Proclivity for in-house development.

The majority of the respondents (both medium and large-sized museums) expressed some interest in Multimedia Tours and seem to possess the necessary technical skills (see table 3) as well as the experience to create multimedia content internally. This confirmed the need for a tool that allows them to do so in a flexible but also intuitive way. This is particularly important if we consider that the people assembling the tour (curators, interns, interpretation specialists, etc.) might not necessarily have the same competences and software experience of those creating the actual multimedia content (Filippini-Fantoni, 2006).

Table 3

Table 3: Specific skills required to develop multimedia content possessed by the museums who participated in the survey.

Based on the results of the survey, museums seem to be particularly inserted in different types of Multimedia Tours, (including permanent collections, temporary exhibitions, children’s/school/sign language tours, etc.), as well as different multimedia content types - the most important being audio, audio with a single image (usually an image of the artwork in question with an associated audio commentary), video, text, slideshows, interactive maps and games, opinion polls and bookmarking. Other, more complex content types or features like 3D images, group games, paging, text messaging, web browsing, annotation, etc. were deemed less important (see table 4).

Type of Content Response Average
Audio + Images 1.44
Audio 1.65
Video 1.67
Help Information 1.72
Museum Information 2
Text 2
Touch and Listen (i.e. interactive image) 2
Welcome Message 2.06
Bookmarking (i.e. saving artworks of interest to review later at home on the institution website) 2.11
Interactive Maps 2.17
Zooming (i.e. image close ups) 2.29
Opinion Polls 2.44
Animation 2.53
Interactive games 2.56
Sing Language Tours 2.61
Quiz 2.65
Annotation (i.e. take notes about a work of art) 2.82
Copyright Info 2.88
Visitors Taking Pictures 2.88
Paging 2.94
Group Games (i.e scavenger hunts) 3.06
3D Image Rotation 3.06
3D Reconstructions 3.24
Web Browsing 3.35
Text Messaging 3.41

 Table 4: This table summarizes the respondents’ level of interest for content types. Please note, all content types with a response average below 2.56 (median) should be considered of high interest for the respondents.

As far as the software functionalities are concerned, the data suggested that a tool for assembling Multimedia Tours should allow users to add, update and remove stops; include practical museum information and interactive maps; support room-based and object-based manual content triggering (e.g. through a keypad); provide usage statistics; allow for different types of tours in different languages (including non-Western languages) and allow for branding and basic interface customization (Filippini-Fantoni, 2006).

3.0 The Development Process

Based on the survey results and our creative department’s 6 years of experience developing Multimedia Tours, we defined the software requirements and specifications. Testing was carried out internally (February) as well as externally by three museums (March – April): The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, SFMOMA in San Francisco, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

After changes were made based on the feedback provided by the test sites, the product was officially launched in April 2007 at the Museums and the Web conference. Since then two further versions of the CAT™ have been released (1.1 and 1.2) with added functionalities, including on-line support and additional content types (see next paragraph for more details).

4.0 Main Features and Functionalities

The CAT™ has been developed using Open Source technology and programmed in an Object Orientated way (OOP). It uses Web services which communicate with the multimedia devices, and is hosted on-line. Hosting on-line allows for easy software upgrades and avoids compatibility issues with clients’ hardware. The CAT™ is, in fact, designed to work on both Macs (Firefox only) and PCs (both Firefox and Explorer).

In response to the specific needs of the museum community, as highlighted in the on-line survey, the current version of the CAT™ (1.2) supports the following features and functionalities (Filippini-Fantoni & McGlynn 2006a):

  1. It allows users to create and/or update Multimedia Tours by assembling the following pre-existing content types: text, audio files, images, audio + single image, videos, slideshows and interactive games. As the user creates projects and uploads content files for images, audio commentary, video and flash, brief guidelines on the requisite file types and sizes are provided.
  2. It provides a standard layout for the different content page types which can be easily customized according to the museum branding requirements.
  3.  It provides a semi-flexible tour structure, including both optional and mandatory elements (Welcome message, homepage, keypad, stops and icons, etc.) that can be changed or manipulated to meet the needs of the museum.
  4.  It supports manual content triggering via a virtual keypad (see figure 1), which is automatically added to every tour under the Home Page. The Keypad will show on the hand-held device for keying-in the stop number. A stop is a point of interest in the exhibition that corresponds to a number that the visitor has to key-in to get information about an object, exhibit or group of exhibits.
    Figure 1
    Figure 1: An example of a virtual keypad (standard) as it appears on the device.
  5. It includes a preview function which allows the editor, at any time through the project creation process, to see how selections of content or layout will play on the device. This is an extremely useful function to help the editor get everything as s/he wants it to appear.
  6.  It includes a publish function which allows the user to get the files ready to load onto the players, once the project is complete.
  7. It includes a version control which allows users to save different versions of the same project as well as to create a new project starting from an already existing one. This feature is particularly useful when a project becomes too big to fit on the device’s memory card and so needs to be broken down into two or more smaller projects. This can be done simply by copying an existing project and then deleting some of its elements.
  8. Technical help and support for the CAT™ are provided in 4 different ways: Via a contextual help feature which provides short explanations of what to do directly within the application, a downloadable version of the manual (PDF format), online help support which allows users to search and browse for subjects and finally via a ticketing system, which allows the client to send an e-mail to Antenna Audio’s technical support team.
  9. The software is designed specifically for use in the museum sector and therefore its interface is intuitive and easy to use, especially for those who have little software experience. It privileges a visual approach that helps users better understand the Multimedia Tour structure (even when it grows exponentially) and it includes a series of wizards that guide the user through every step of the process.

The CAT™ will be continuously supported and developed to add new features, which will be made available to clients according to their specific needs.

5.0 Conclusions

This document has set out to provide an overall description of the reasons, development process and features of Antenna Audio's latest web-based software application, the Content Assembly Tool (CAT™), which allows museums to build and/or update their own projects by assembling pre-existing content assets (such as text, audio, images, videos and Flash animations). By doing so, museums and other cultural institutions can reduce the costs of developing multimedia tours and take more control over the creative process.

To find out more about this tool and its latest developments, please join us at the demonstration session that will take place during the ICHIM conference in Toronto. All through the demo, we will show the different features of the system and, by using pre-existing multimedia content, assemble small Multimedia Tours that we will then preview and publish onto different types of PDA, including those that users might have with them (if compatible).


Filippini-Fantoni S. (2006), Content Assembly Tool: online survey evaluation results (unpublished), London, August 2006.

Filippini-Fantoni S., McGlynn R., (2006a), Content Assembly Tool: specification document (unpublished), London, November 2006.


Cite as:

Filippini-Fantoni, S., CAT™: Assemble Your Own Multimedia Tour , in International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Published October 24, 2007 at http://www.archimuse.com/ichim07/papers/filippiniFantoni/filippiniFantoni.html