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Towards Evaluating the Impact of Recommender Systems on Visitor Experience in Physical Museums



Recommender systems have been used in physical museums to improve visitor experience; yet to assess their impact empirically, researchers often rely on the user experience criteria alone. In this paper, we examine the multidimensionality of visitor experience, specifically the components and factors that shape it. We present a framework that is built on existing bodies of knowledge about visitor experience and that serves as a starting point to further evaluate the transformations caused by the integration of recommender systems in museums. We then conclude that current approaches to testing the impact of recommender systems on visitor experience should be expanded beyond evaluations of user satisfaction level to include the demonstrated aspects of visitor experience. This research aims to contribute to a more in-depth understanding of the differences between visitor and user experience types as well as to address the need for a more comprehensive set of guidelines to evaluate how recommender systems enhance visitor experience in physical museums.
Towards Evaluating the Impact of Recommender
Systems on Visitor Experience in Physical
Olga Loboda[0000000319500374] , Julianne Nyhan[0000000249981757], Simon
Mahony[0000000198119381], and Daniela M. Romano[0000000157560146]
Department of Information Studies, University College London,
Gower St, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 6BT, UK
{olga.loboda.13, j.nyhan, s.mahony, d.romano}
Abstract. Recommender systems have been used in physical museums
to improve visitor experience; yet to assess their impact empirically, re-
searchers often rely on the user experience criteria alone. In this paper,
we examine the multidimensionality of visitor experience, specifically the
components and factors that shape it. We present a framework that is
built on existing bodies of knowledge about visitor experience and that
serves as a starting point to further evaluate the transformations caused
by the integration of recommender systems in museums. We then con-
clude that current approaches to testing the impact of recommender
systems on visitor experience should be expanded beyond evaluations
of user satisfaction level to include the demonstrated aspects of visitor
experience. This research aims to contribute to a more in-depth under-
standing of the differences between visitor and user experience types as
well as to address the need for a more comprehensive set of guidelines to
evaluate how recommender systems enhance visitor experience in physi-
cal museums.
Keywords: Visitor experience ·User experience ·Recommender system
1 Introduction
A meaningful ”visitor experience” (VX) in a physical museum is usually one
that resonates with personal worldviews, domain knowledge, past experiences
and situated physical contexts [6,7]. Recommender systems (RSs) aim to en-
hance the VX and have gained a wide popularity in museums because they can
provide a more dynamic and personalised experience by presenting a subset of
items that reflect individuals’ interests and needs [3,11,13]. Moreover, RSs can
support guidance and group visits, e.g., see CHIP (Cultural Heritage Information
Personalisation) [26]. Up to now, the impact of RSs on VX has been evaluated
from the perspective of user experience (UX), which generally focuses on the
”user-product” interaction [9,25]. Although UX testing can offer appropriate
methodologies for examining an RS-augmented experience and user satisfaction
level, we propose that current approaches should be expanded to accommodate
Copyright held by the author(s).
2 O. Loboda et al.
the wider context of VX, which frames the interaction of the individual, the RS
itself and the physical museum space in which the visit takes place. We question
whether the impact of RSs on VX can be established through UX tests alone.
In this paper, we examine VX-related concepts and suggest that an acknowl-
edgement of the differences between UX and VX can contribute to gathering
more comprehensive and robust evidence about the ways RSs transform VX.
In Section 2, we present an analytical framework for VX that encompasses the
contexts that shape the museum experience, experience generators and VX cat-
egories. In Section 3, acknowledging the multidimensionality of VX, we discuss
the limitations of available studies that attempt to enhance VX with RSs. We
also consider how the gap in the existing studies can be filled with an extended
evaluative framework that would dwell upon UX and VX criteria as well as reveal
the impact of RSs on VX.
2 Conceptualising Visitor Experience
VX is often targeted when new digital technologies are introduced into the mu-
seum setting. In this section, we survey literature that seeks to define and/or
contextualise VX. VX is multidimensional and complex because the concepts
that constitute VX are strongly intertwined and vary greatly depending on the
setting and personal characteristics of visitors. There have been a few attempts
to categorise VX components [1,8,12,6,20,14,16]. Among them, we have found
the Doering, Pekarik and Karns’ categorisation to be exemplary because of their
extensive empirical tests and wide coverage of VX components [6,20]. Doering,
Pekarik and Karns identified four experience types:
Object experience is related to the material culture objects and their associ-
ated characteristics;
Cognitive experience addresses an intellectual aspect of VX and refers to
knowledge, interpretations, interests and understanding;
Introspective experience alludes to fantasy, imagination, reflection and mem-
Social experience refers to social interaction, such as spending time with
family and friends.
These experience types exist on the same plane and tend to influence each other.
For instance, researchers claim that there is often a negative association between
object and cognitive experiences because the emphasis can be placed either on
the object itself or on the description of that object [20]. Thus, when attempt-
ing to improve one aspect of VX, we can unintentionally manipulate other VX
components. This interdependency between the components of VX and the con-
comitant propensity for unintended consequences is important to consider when
conducting VX-related evaluations.
VX is driven by the peculiarities of a setting as well as the personal charac-
teristics of a visitor. Falk and Dierking [7] define VX as “a continually shifting
Evaluating the Impact of Recommender Systems on Visitor Experience 3
interaction among personal, sociocultural, and physical contexts”. More specif-
ically, the visitor’s motivations [18], expectations [23] and goals [5] have been
linked to the quality of VX. Motivations seem to be the most distant from the
VX influence as they carry subjective and situational characteristics from the
Falk and Dierking’s contexts [18], though goals have a tendency to change as the
VX develops [5]. Based on this, the peculiarities of personal, sociocultural and
physical contexts should be taken into consideration to have a more in-depth
understanding of VX in a given setting. For instance, researchers who developed
the adaptive guide HyperAudio had to reconsider the scope of functionality after
their empirical tests because, although based on extensive literature review and
conversations with curators, the visitors’ needs in the targeted museum did not
fully match the proposed functionality [21].
Considering the concepts associated with VX, we have populated an analyt-
ical framework for VX (see Fig. 1) based on the scholarship of those discussed
above. Packer [17] presented an early synthesis of theoretical frameworks and
personal context sociocultural context
e.g., age, gender, attitude, worldview,
interests, background knowledge,
past experiences
e.g., language, culture,
beliefs, community
e.g., architecture, spatial layout,
museum collection,
type of museum
physical context
initial /
emerging goals
by Corredor, 2006
object experience
material culture objects
and their associated characteristics
by Pekarik, Doering and Karns, 1999
by Sheng and Chen, 2012
easiness and fun,
cultural entertainment,
personal identification,
historical reminiscences,
by Packer and Ballantyne, 2002
learning and discovery,
passive enjoyment,
social interaction,
reminiscence, reflection, imagination,
introspective experience
gaining new knowledge, curiosity,
interest, clarity and understanding,
cognitive interpretations
cognitive experience
interaction with other visitors,
spending time with companions,
spending time alone
social experience
by Falk and Dierking, 2012
Fig. 1. Analytical framework that demonstrates the origin and components associated
with visitor experience
4 O. Loboda et al.
showed the relations between situational characteristics, VX categories and ben-
eficial outcomes. We want to revisit and extend Packer’s framework to accom-
modate other findings in the literature including the importance of personalised
experience. Until validated, we cannot confirm that our framework is exhaustive;
however, it does give some insights into available knowledge in the field and the
concepts associated with VX. When new technologies are introduced to improve
VX, we need to make sure that the visitor is either accommodated on the same
level or their experience is improved.
3 Evaluations of the Recommender System Influence on
Visitor Experience
With some insight into the VX categories and related components, we can now
examine and identify potential limitations of projects aimed at improving VX
with the RSs. When assessing RSs and similar personalised multimedia guides in
physical museums, researchers often rely on questionnaire-based surveys about
system usability, e.g., [27,15,24], and user satisfaction level, e.g., [10,24]. Al-
though these studies are valuable for system performance evaluations [25], they
capture little information about VX and its potential enhancement. For example,
SMARTMUSEUM, a mobile recommender system, was evaluated on a modified
System Usability Scale (SUS) [4] and was found easy to use [22]. However, the
survey participants suggested integrating functionality that would support tour-
planning and navigation within museums. This suggests that the usability scale
can have certain limitations in indicating the required level of VX support. In-
deed, a poor system performance may impose a barrier to a positive VX, yet it is
not evident from available studies. Nevertheless, it can be misleading to assume
that user satisfaction level with the system can reveal the full impact on the VX.
Following [25], UX evaluations are aimed at improving a product and thus
relevant studies revolve around the experiences caused by the product. If we
take a step further, we can analyse not only a new experience (UX) associated
with the RS but also the RS-driven changes in the original experience (VX).
This is important for understanding how RSs contribute to VX and ultimately
gathering strong evidence that the RSs’ impact is positive. To evaluate the UX
with museum technologies, Pallud and Monod [19] used six phenomenological
criteria related to VX. We believe that it is necessary to distinguish UX from VX,
acknowledging that VX focuses on the “visitor-context” interaction [7] and that
UX refers to the “user-product” interaction [9]. Furthermore, it is not enough to
examine only one aspect of VX at a time because VX components interact and
are affected by each other. For instance, a personalised guide recommendation
system, PGR, was aimed at mitigating information overload in the museum
setting [10]. Although the PGR received positive feedback in the user satisfaction
level survey, the studies would have benefited from more extensive evaluations
on how the resolution of the information overload issue with the PGR helped
visitors improve other aspects of their experience.
Evaluating the Impact of Recommender Systems on Visitor Experience 5
There is clearly a lack of comprehensive evaluations of RSs and their influ-
ence that would entail both UX and VX criteria. Othman et al. [16] presented
two measurement scales, on UX and VX, and showed that multimedia guides
can have a positive impact on four identified VX components, i.e., Engagement,
Knowledge/Learning, Meaningful Experience, and Emotional Connection. How-
ever, some prominent impact could only be seen on the Engagement component.
Similar studies need to be conducted with the RSs to show their actual influence
on VX. Moreover, to collect some statistical evidence that VX is improved with
RSs, a comparative analysis should be based on two groups of visitors, those who
browse the museum collection with and without technologies, to establish the
objective effectiveness of the system integration [19]. This was also mentioned by
[10] who agreed that their studies were limited by the self-reported perceptions
of the survey participants. In addition, Pallud and Monod [19] proposed that to
capture VX more fully, researchers need to conduct semi-structured interviews
rather than rely on the questionnaires alone. This reveals the scope of work that
needs to be done in order to have some strong evidence that VX is improved
with RSs.
From the available set of evaluations, we can conclude that the multidimen-
sionality and mutual interrelatedness of the VX components is often ignored or
used interchangeably with UX. This poses a question about the actual impact of
RSs on VX. It is also important to present an expanded evaluative framework to
clarify the differences between UX and VX. Moreover, the participants’ feedback
should be collected from semi-structured interviews to explore potential changes
in the VX categories with the integration of RSs in a physical museum as well
as from questionnaires to show the influence of RSs on the existing VX criteria.
4 Discussion and Future Work
This research paper aims to show the importance of discerning VX from UX in
physical museums and related limitations of available evaluations of the impact
of RSs on VX. It is challenging to understand VX and its transformations that
occur with the integration of RSs by focusing on UX criteria alone. This is be-
cause the multidimensionality of VX includes factors not accounted for in the
”user-product” interaction. In addition, from a more technical perspective, the
distinction of UX and VX might also be beneficial. Considering that the user’s
benefit can change depending on the UX criteria utilised in the RS algorithms
[2], there is a potential discussion to be raised on how VX components can be
transferred into algorithms to provide more accurate and diverse recommenda-
tions in a physical museum.
The framework, presented in this paper (see Fig. 1), has been derived from
an extensive literature review and aims to capture the complexity of VX. Until
validated, the framework cannot be considered exhaustive. At the initial stage
towards evaluating the impact of RSs on VX, we will carry out a survey to
measure the prominence of VX categories before and after the RS prototype
is integrated in the museum setting. Following Pallud and Monod [19], we also
6 O. Loboda et al.
aim to conduct semi-structured interviews as a means of refining the adequacy
of the proposed framework and expanding the scope of a digitally augmented
experience. Based on these studies, we hope to reveal the transformations that
occur when VX is exposed to the influence of technology, and to present our
results in one extensive framework that would reflect a potential overlap of VX
and UX components when the RSs are integrated.
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