California Mapping Multitouch Exhibit

Part of Exhibition: Gallery of California History

Topic: History Subtopic: General

Case Study

of an Exhibit

by Jim Spadaccini

Published on August 26, 2010, Modified on August 26, 2010

  • Description and goals

    Earlier this year we worked with the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) to create an exhibit allowing visitors to explore early maps of California. A multitouch table with custom software is a centerpiece within the larger exhibition space.

    OMCA describes the Gallery of California History:

    “The new gallery is based on the theme of Coming to California —an idea that evokes not only the arrivals and departures of people throughout human history and their interactions with the inhabitants already here, but also the notion of coming to terms with the influence of California on our individual and collective identities.”

    California maps from 18th and 19th century help tell the story of Coming to California. Maps and other documents from various locations throughout the state can be examined, digitally through the exhibit software. Visitors can select maps and expand them through multitouch gestures. The maps and other documents show land ownership and usage.

    A major challenge in this exhibit was to present the regional maps and documents with enough detail in a multiuser environment. Since multiple users can interact simultaneously, we needed to limit the zoom size so that one visitor wouldn’t be able take over the entire table surface while examining a map or document. We developed a magnifier feature that allows visitors to view details on any image, as well as the base map. The magnifier component resembles a “real” magnifier, so it is obvious to visitors as to what its purpose is.

    The table format and the shared touch surface help promote visitor interaction. At the opening, we were able to see this first-hand as visitors discussed the maps they were interacting with and even passed the magnifier across the table in one instance.

    From a design standpoint, creating a user interface(s) for multiple visitors is a huge challenge. Much of what we’ve learned to date is from direct observation, and we continue to apply what we learn to new exhibits. At the moment, there are only a few articles and research papers exploring this type of interaction. There is more to be learned, as these types of shared surface exhibits are still relatively rare.

    The exhibit software was developed in Adobe Flash and we used the GestureWorks framework (which we developed.) The documents in the exhibit are drawn from a Flickr account, making it simple to update. OMCA staff did all of the content development for the exhibit and they continue to maintain it through Flickr. This exhibit, like the rest of the Gallery of California is meant to be flexible and dynamic.

Latest Comments (2)

Multi use map installation

by Abhishek Ray - November 23, 2010

Hi Jim
It was interesting to read about the zoom feature and its limitation to allow for multiple use of the platform.
The cost seems very steep for a country like India. Can we make do with a projection based format where there is no touch screen but a sensor receptacle which could map your movements aping the touch screen system and achieve the same results. Could this reduce the cost of the installation?


by Jim Spadaccini - November 23, 2010

Thanks for the question. There are a number of ways to reduce the cost of the installation. The first has to do with hardware. A DIY solution would certainly be more cost effective. Also, a slightly smaller projected surface (40" instead of 50") would allow for 1 camera instead of 3 which would not only reduce the hardware cost, but also the need for commercial software that supports 3 cameras. With only one camera you can use open source software like CCV.

From a software standpoint mapping software like this is freely available for educational use. Open Exhibits ( is just getting started, but we have already posted a number of software modules and we will be posting full-scale exhibits. I encourage you to check it out.



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