Israeli technology revolutionizes museum browsing

ESPRO’s MyCollection tool – enhances the museum-going experience by delivering personalized products for the visitor to take home.Have you ever visited an art museum, and the beauty of a certain painting overtakes you? You think to yourself how wonderful it …

ESPRO’s MyCollection tool – enhances the museum-going experience by delivering personalized products for the visitor to take home.Have you ever visited an art museum, and the beauty of a certain painting overtakes you?

You think to yourself how wonderful it would look hung in your living room, and you make a mental note to keep an eye out for a print at the museum gift shop on the way out.

But the odds are good that you’ll leave the museum without buying the print. Either it’s out of stock, it’s available in the wrong size, or you never even make it to the gift shop to check. For whatever the reason, both you and the museum loses – for you, a painting for your living room, and needed revenue for the museum.

However, a new tool developed by a growing Israeli company will soon change all that. ESPRO, which has been supplying museums with audio guides in multiple languages for more than decade, is launching a new innovative service called MyCollection.

Designed to enhance the museum-going experience by delivering personalized products for the visitor to take home, the MyCollection solution not only provides information to visitors while they are in the museum, it also allows them to bookmark, select, create, print and take home customized catalogues or posters – a personalized ‘created for you’ memento of their visit produced from the museum’s stock of images, text and audio clips.

A variety of sizes and media types are available for the visitor selection, from postcard to large-format posters, printed on photography paper or cloth (canvas, cotton, silk) to get the desired look. The visitor can personalize the product in several additional ways, like adding a name or a dedication text, or even a personal picture.

The MyCollection system can work in two ways:
If the museum visitor has an ESPRO audio guide, the information can be recorded on the device itself. Using the portable unit’s keys while walking through the exhibition halls, the visitor can both activate audio guidance as well as bookmark selected exhibits reflecting personal interests. At the end of the visit, the visitor plugs the portable unit at the interactive ‘kiosk’ equipped with ESPRO’s MyCollection software.

The bookmarked list is automatically uploaded from the portable unit enabling the visitor to review, modify and confirm their selection of items. Once the details of the order are confirmed, the selected items are printed and bound on the spot, in the selected media, for the visitor to take home.

If the visitor wants to wander without the audio guide, they can still order works via the interactive kiosks dispersed throughout the museum. With an ID number they receive upon entering the museum, the visitor can log in and bookmark the selected exhibits reflecting his personal interests on the screen, and create his own personal “basket”. At the final kiosk, the visitor can review, modify and confirm his selection of items, preferred publication product and preferred media type.

Here as well, after confirming the details of the order, the selected items are printed and bound on the spot, in the selected media, for the visitor to take home.

First installations of this system will be opened to the public this year in a number of museums around Europe – the first, an Austrian museum, is slated to launch the new service in April.

The new product is the result of cooperation between ESPRO and the printing giant Hewlett-Packard. Hewlett-Packard’s global leadership in digital scanning, digital printing and color management technologies ensure that all the MyCollection products are produced at the highest level of quality.

For ESPRO, MyCollection represents a move into the realm of the visual, after it has already revolutionized the world of museum audio guides. The company was founded in 1992 by three employees from the technology giant NICE systems, who spun off their own company with NICE support. Since they came on the scene, Espro has been engaged in the development and implementation of exciting new directions and applications in information technology.

“The original team had the idea for a digital audio technology for translation in various languages. At first they considered using it for language instruction, but instead, they entered the museum market,” Nadav Karni, ESPRO’s chief financial officer told ISRAEL21c. “Their first major customer was a company called Acoustiguide, which sold museum guides (called MyGuide) in the US using cassette tapes.”

In the late 1990s, ESPRO changed business direction and moved from being a supplier for companies that sell audio systems, to marketing their own guides – base on MP3 technology – directly to tourism venues themselves, primarily in Western Europe.

“We essentially reinvented ourselves in 1999 with a new product and new marketing strategy,” said Karni. “Historically, ESPRO was financed by private shareholders, and we have warm relationships with longtime shareholders in the United States who have stuck with the company over the years.”

Last year, the company went public on the British stock exchange.

Today, ESPRO provides audio tours and audio content oriented by theme or by location, delivered on various platforms, for tourists and visitors in art, culture and tourism sites and venues, and at trade shows and visitor centers.

Among the sites that use their systems are Israel Museum, the Centre George Pompidou and the Reunion des Musees Nationaux (RMN) in France, the entire municipal museum network in Bruges, Belgium, the historical ruined city of Pompeii, Italy and the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the former seat of the Ottoman Empire.

At the end of February the company came full circle, signing an agreement to purchase Acoustiguide: the dominant force in museum audioguides in the US.

“We are about to undergo a period of major change,” said Karni. “Currently, we have about 20 employees in Israel, and seven abroad. Once we acquire Acoustiguide, we will have approximately 85 employees, and we will be involved with the Asian and American markets – until now, we focused on Europe.”

MyCollection also represents a major change in orientation. Until now, ESPRO has specialized in audio. According to the company’s philosophy, the audio tour is what conveys the message, tells the story, and turns the visit – whether taken by an individual visitor or a group member visitor – at a museum, site, a sightseeing tour on a bus or a boat or a walking tour, into an all-sense memorable experience.

Appreciating this, ESPRO has in recent years specialized in the production of high-end quality multi-lingual audio content, employing top writers, translators, narrators, production staff and special effect experts.

The company’s developers work closely with customers on the processing stages, starting with the telling of the story, composing and editing the conceptualized text, continuing with casting of the voices to narrate it and integrating music, sound effects, authentic recorded interviews. The recording and processing of the tour content comes next, utilizing ESPRO’s sound technicians, audio production and audio processing people.

According to Karni, the MyCollection product will add a whole new dimension to ESPRO’s relationship with their clients, as it won’t just improve the experience of their visitors, but will also help them make their museums and sites more profitable.

MyCollection gives sites the opportunity to develop a whole new group of customized and personalized products that provide additional revenues, utilizing existing site collection. At the same time, the site could receive more income from increased in-store traffic and return visits from satisfied visitors.

“There is great potential for the tourism market,” says Karni. “In all kinds of places: like museums or aquariums, you can bookmark whatever exhibit you like and save it – and create your own custom-made catalogue printed on the spot. There are going to be other uses for this technology as well – at large trade shows and conferences, instead of collecting brochures in a suitcase, you will be able to bookmark exhibits that interest you and have them printed out afterwards.”