Divided Attention Exhibit on Exploratorium Island: Porting a Museum Exhibit to 2D and 3D Web
by Rob Rothfarb • May 3, 2010
I'm using the term "porting" since it speaks to the process of creating versions of a multimedia museum floor exhibit for online web and virtual world. The Exploratorium has several examples of interactive exhibits that were designed for the real museum which have subsequently been translated into a form that works in our virtually real museum spaces including our website and in Second Life. One of the latest additions to these virtual spaces is the exhibit, "Divided Attention." A perception exhibit that's part of the Exploratorium's Mind exhibition, it explores our ability to pay attention to several things at once. In the exhibit, you follow a number of colored balls that move randomly and slowly change color to the same color as a set of colored balls that the balls are mixed in with. You can vary the number of balls you must keep track of. Exhibit developers designed a version of the exhibit for the exhibition website that I think faithfully reproduces the physical exhibit, sans the shared social interaction affordances of the museum floor. This version works great as an individual experience and is fun to use. SL resident and Exploratorium fan Patti Ceawlin, a builder and scripter focusing on physics exhibits, decided to adapt the Divided Attention exhibit for SL. She got the essence of the exhibit concept and built a dynamic, interactive 3D version which can be seen on Exploratorium Island. Visitors to the exhibit have commented that it's a lot harder to keep track of a greater number of balls moving in 3D space as opposed to 2D space like the versions of the exhibit on the website and in the museum. The SL exhibit allows the avatar to control her/his position in relation to the plane the balls are moving in by moving the avatar or a camera POV. I'm not sure if or how this affects a visitor's ability to keep track of the moving balls, but that presents an interesting twist and something we'll have to observe.