Tinder may have one of the most recognisable user interfaces of any app in popular usage, but what can the dating platform have to do with the museum sector? In fact, it is just the exact approach taken by Tinder – whereby users swipe left or right on the image of a person they see to determine whether they have a match – that a German museum is now using to match its visitors with its artefacts. The Badisches Landesmuseum decided it could improve its visitor engagement by developing an app which would work on much the same basis. So, is this a dating app for artefacts or for visitors or both?
Located in the southern German city of Karlsruhe, the State Museum first introduced its app, known rather prosaically as My Object, in February 2021. Although the cultural exhibits the museum has in its collection are certainly of interest, there can be little doubt that they won’t generate the same sort of excitement as the prospect of a date with a Tinder user who has, at least superficially, signalled some kind of romantic interest. the exhibits.
“My Object is like dating mobile app Tinder,” said Eckart Koehne, the State Museum’s director, “only it is for items in a museum.” Equally, the idea is as simple as the user interface that the dating app uses. Visitors will head into the museum and be able to download the app onto their smartphone or tablet via the institution’s Wi-Fi. Then attendees will be encouraged to swipe on pictures of artefacts on their device as they walk around exploring the various galleries in the museum. Initially, the app will display around 80 different items from within the museum’s collection. The idea is that they will select the sort of things that interest them most and discard those which either hold no interest or are less of a priority. Just like the picture of someone on Tinder you don’t think there will ever be the chance of romance with, the process may seem very cut and dried but it allows the algorithm behind the suggestions to work out what a visitor might actually like to see in person.
Once My Object has gathered enough data about a visitor, it will be able to tell them whether or not it has found a ‘perfect match’. This will result in the app creating a personalised dialogue with the user concerned that they can interact with. Essentially, this is a bit like the artefact selling itself just as might happen on a dating app where two people are first getting to know one another. The State Museum is full of historical items, including ancient clay jugs used for hand washing and the gravestone of fallen soldiers from centuries ago. However, rather than being passive objects, these artefacts come to life, as it were, within the app.
In other words, just like Tinder users will be used to, both parties have to show an interest in one another for the process to work. Rather than being a one-way flow of information, the various exhibits may decide that they aren’t interested in a visit from the person they have been matched with. This allows for the potentially galling possibility that you might find yourself very keen on finding out much more about a particular historical artefact only for it to decide it has had enough of you and, in effect, dump you.
This aspect of the app’s design ought to be taken as a bit of fun. However, it is also there to make the app as reminiscent of Tinder as could be possible when you are talking about real-life visitors and inanimate artefacts. Perhaps more importantly though, the dialogues people will enjoy with items in the museum will mean that they will necessarily learn more. According to Johannes Bernhardt, the State Museum’s digital manager who – along with Christiane Lindner – was responsible for developing the software, there is much more information to be garnered from the app than the displays in the museum’s galleries.
The project is perhaps reminiscent of the Canadian Museum that put a T-Rex on Tinder.
(Image: Uli Deck / dpa)
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.