NEH and Mobile Media

July 17, 2008

Three screens.  Smart phones.  Locative media.  I recently participated in Beyond Broadcast, Silverdocs and the Digital Media Conference. At each of these conferences, there was lots of buzz about applications and content for mobile phones. 

According to a market summary by m:metrics, there are 226 million mobile phone subscribers in the United States. Twenty-seven percent of these subscribers use their phone for Internet browsing or downloading.  Internet use is expected to rise dramatically in the near future.  Most phones in use (about ninety percent) have browsing capabilities.

Mobile technology offers tremendous potential to provide scholarly content about historic places.  In the humanities, the technology is becoming especially popular among sites that offer tours, such as museums and historic places or areas.  Many mobile tours include Web sites and podcasts that take advantage of the browsing and audio capabilities of mobile technology. 

The next generation of tours will work with smart phones that can locate users geographically and can track browsing. So, for example, if you are walking around a city, the phone will alert you to the presence of a historic site.  The phone will also deliver scans of primary documents, audio-visual materials, and scholarly analysis to enhance your understanding of the site. 

While mobile devices offer all kinds of possibilities for exciting humanities programming, the technology is still in the early stages of development. It is difficult to produce and deliver content over mobile devices.  There are several problems concerning standardization of screen size, aspect ratios, screen resolution, GPS systems, bandwidth requirements, connection speeds, handset systems, and carrier systems.

At the NEH, we look forward to funding humanities projects that will begin to address some of these problems.  We welcome projects that would serve as models for historical and cultural organizations and that would establish best practices for using mobile technology.