visitor information kiosks in a smartphone era

public kioskPublic touch-screen visitor information kiosks provide information and directions for local businesses and local attractions.  However, by providing access to highly developed, commonly used web services, smart phones now offer better, more up-to-date, local information and directions.  To serve visitors and to promote local economic development, public kiosks must offer something that smart phones don’t.

An obvious possibility is a much larger screen and fancier interactive technology.  The Official NYC Information Center in Midtown Manhattan has large Interactive Map Tables.  The Center’s website explains:

By moving the disc across the touch-screen tables, you can explore a large interactive map of the five boroughs. When categories of interest like “Museums & Galleries” or “Dining” are selected, flags pop up all over the map with relevant matches. Flags can then be touched to open up a box with a description, info and photos for each place. You can also browse special sections, like “Free Attractions” or Just Ask The Locals,™ which gives recommendations from famous New Yorkers. Save your favorite sites to the disc, and then take it over to the Disc Reader for the Video Wall, where you can use a custom itinerary flyover to virtually soar above an incredibly detailed three-dimensional Google Earth map of the City highlighting the spots you’ve picked out. [see also video demonstration]

The Center seems designed to be a tourist attraction in itself. Whether the Center is a complement or substitute for a real-life tour isn’t quite clear.  But surely its technology is too expensive and spatially infeasible to duplicate across many kiosk locations.  Moreover, for the practical task of getting local information and directions, even this technology probably isn’t as useful as a smart phone in hand.

While persons use smart phones to get information that they seek, public tourist kiosks could seek attention from passers-by.  Public tourist kiosks could function as digital signage showing text, images, and short videos.  Such public tourists kiosks would be designed not for walk-up viewing, but to communicate at a distance. Commercial digital signage typically has a narrow range of content serving a specific interest.  Public tourist kiosks could be digital signage with a wider mix of content serving a wider range of purposes, including furthering the style and symbolic tone of the local area.

A good community process for generating content for public tourist kiosks would help to give them public authority.  Residents could continually vote online to select among items in a time-stream of events, business promotions, and entertainment to be offered on the public tourist kiosks.  Tools for decentralized submission and rating of content, along with technologies for authenticating, validating, and moderating use, are rapidly being developed on the web.  Appropriately connected to the Internet, public tourist kiosks could draw upon such technology to determine on an ongoing basis the content that they display.

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