Many museums, cultural heritage sites, botanical gardens and other places offer their visitors some sort of companion mobile application. These apps’ features may include ones for use on site, such as audio tours and navigation assistance, or anywhere, such as event information and virtual tours. With few exceptions, the apps are purpose-built for each venue, and require a visitor to download one (or more) new apps for every place visited. Our goal was to create the opposite of this common model: Shoofti is an extensible platform for a universal location-based information system. Our system focuses on interactivity and location-awareness, providing verified content to users when and where it is needed. For institutions, Shoofti is an option for places ranging from those that are so low-tech that they do not even have a website, to sites that are instrumented with Bluetooth beacons or have developed AR and VR content.
Kazakhstan is a young, developing nation in Central Asia. Many cultural institutions have no digitization; however, mobile phones are ubiquitous, as is mobile commerce. It has 2 official languages, Kazakh and Russian, and the most common third language in English. Thus, Shoofti’s core features include the ability to work in very varied physical and technological environments, and to provide content in multiple languages and for different user types (e.g., adult/child, expert/novice).
Shoofti began as the combination of multiple research and student projects at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, and its university-funded development has led to the formation of a U.S. startup, Hobyatek. Kulanshi is an Art Center that has been serving as the primary test institution for the system, which was released in December 2019, but is still in beta.
Shoofti consists of a web-based content management system for institutions and a mobile app (iOS, Android or web) for visitors. An institution can store its general information, such as text and audio descriptions (per language and user type), location, prices, images and news/announcements. All other information is stored in a user-defined hierarchy. For example, Kulanshi consists of a studio, two galleries and street art installations throughout the city, and the flexibility of the hierarchy model allows them to store their content in a way that is meaningful for them. The visibility of an item/group of items can be set to visible to all, visible only to visitors at the institution, or private to administrators. Administrator access, for editing content, can also be controlled per item/group of items.
Web pages generated from the content are used to form a mobile web app for visitors who do not want to download the Android or iOS app. The pages can also be individually accessed for inclusion into the institution’s website, if desired. The apps can be used in guest mode, but registered users get more features, such as the ability to ‘like’ places and objects and to keep visit histories.
Current mechanisms for users to interact with collections are QR code and NFC tag, but other means are in development (Bluetooth beacons and image recognition). Outdoor navigation is provided using Google Maps, and indoor navigation is in development. Special tools for institution administrators are a QR code design and printing tool, and a mobile NFC tag writer.
Shoofti is a flexible system that can be used at multiple institutions whose type, language, structure and size vary significantly. More advanced features can and are being added to it. It will serve Kulanshi and its visitors in multiple ways:
- Potential visitors can learn more about upcoming events and exhibitions
- Potential visitors can learn the location of street art installations in the city
- Visitors can learn more about artists and artworks that interest them
- Administrators can develop content in multiple languages and for different types of users
- Administrators can manage their collection data in a more convenient and secure way (currently they store their data in multiple documents and spreadsheets)
- Administrators can learn more about how visitors interact with their exhibits and artworks