April 01. 2013 9:00AM

App will enhance Milwaukee museums

Innovations

By Dan Shafer

  
A new app is being built to connect artifacts from Milwaukee's history with cutting edge technology built for the future.

Skyline Technologies, the Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion and Alverno College have teamed up to create the Milwaukee Mobile Museum app.

"The overall breadth of the project is to help museums and similar type organizations to get their artifacts out for electronic consumption to the consumer world," said Kevin Wirth, director of mobile applications at Green Bay-based Skyline Technologies, a 125-employee information technology firm that also has offices in Pewaukee.

The app will allow users to search and view museum collections and archives, view photos of current museum exhibits and use geo-location features to figure out where a building in an historic photo once stood.

The team for this project came together in part because Jim Pabst, business development manager at Skyline, is part of the historic brewing family and remains connected to the Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion.

In recent years, Skyline Technologies has worked with not-for-profit organizations as a way to "be good corporate citizens," and "give back to the community," said Wirth.

"We do this purely as a charitable gift," he said. "There is no cost for this."

One past project for Skyline dealt with digitizing a student project done at an Appleton-area school district. This past project lent itself to the one being explored through the partnership at the Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion.

"This is not only a good institution in the Pabst Mansion, but there's a good group of institutions that we felt we could make a good impact with," said Wirth.

Jodi Eastberg, associate professor of history at Alverno College, has played a big role in the project, both by providing facilities for the work being done at Alverno for events like the development camp – or DevCamp – held on March 16-17, as well as building connections with different institutions in Milwaukee. In addition to the Pabst Mansion and Alverno College, Recollection Wisconsin and Lynden Sculpture Garden will also have its content showcased on the app, and others have expressed interest as well. The goal is to get more of Milwaukee's museums integrated with the app.

"People have mentioned that it's something that people wanted to do, and it's just a matter of getting the resources together," said Eastberg. "You have a museum in the Pabst Mansion, you've got the most important part being Skyline willing to do this work at no cost, and then a higher education institution here at Alverno, and having that many resources around it was what was needed to do this."

Skyline is creating a public website, an iOS application and an Android application, all of which will be free. Everything will be hosted in the cloud in efforts to get the content to "where people are and where they're going to be," said Wirth.

The app will be piloted during Wisconsin Museums Week, May 12–18, and is set to launch in June.

Eastberg is working with 10 students on the project, and more will be involved moving forward. From an educational standpoint, a variety of lessons are being learned through the project, from the work that goes into digitizing historical data and analyzing that in new and different capacities to finding new uses for archival and cultural materials and data in an interactive framework. Photos from Alverno's archives will also be incorporated into the project.

"There's a lot of ways the app could potentially evolve as far as the content," said Eastberg.

Outside input through social media and additional contributions will be welcomed, but content will be managed by the museums and the content experts that work there to ensure the accuracy of the information.

The Milwaukee Mobile Museum app will provide an avenue for collections of historical photographs that have not been digitally accessible to reach a new audience through a new medium.

"(The Pabst Mansion) has the most incredible collection of historic photographs of the city – thousands of them – and it's really pretty impressive," said Eastberg. "But people don't have access to them and the Mansion doesn't have an easy way to do that because this is complicated technology. They have a great website, but this is a step beyond what they've been able to do before."

Dan Schafer writes about technology and health care for BizTimes Milwaukee. Send news to him at dan.shafer@biztimes.com or call him at 414-336-7123.
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