Hearst Castle: Crowdsourcing the Dream


A couple of weeks ago I took a trip on the fabulous Highway 1 from Orange County all the way to San Francisco to visit my family. On my way up the coast, I decided to visit the famous Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA.

My mother was visiting from Italy and enjoyed the visit immensely, but understood very little of what the English speaking guide said. The guides were able to provide a brief written summary of the tour, but did not have audio in any other language.

Included in the price of the guided tour was a movie titled “Hearst Castle: Building the Dream”. Again, there was no audio available in any language other than English.

Chit chatting with one of the park employees at the theater, I suggested that they should have audio guides in other languages for the different tours of the mansion and movie. This would increase their attractiveness to foreign tourists and in turn generate more revenues for a park that is incredibly costly  to maintain; the employee responded that the park had looked into audio guides in different languages but they had been deemed ‘too expensive’ to do. Anyone with a little business sense knows that is a bunch of nonsense, but let me show you how it would be possible with little or no upfront investment for the Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation.

The cheapest way to go about it would be to make the script for the five guided tours and movie the park offers online under the Creative Commons License. The Foundation would have to setup a space for people to translate the script into their native language and make it available to the public. Once scripts are available in common languages, the public would be free to record the audio of the localized version and upload it to the site. The best version (the decision would be crowd sourced) would be make available for a symbolic price on iTunes.

Anybody visiting the castle could simply visit iTunes ahead of time, download the audio guide and use it once visiting the castle.

The only investment for the curators of the site would be a person to take care of the process, and probably some web design to create an ad-hoc site for the cooperative translation effort. I’m not even sure that the latter would be necessary, I imagine there must be a web based tool that makes this kind of operations possible with little to no effort.

I think it’s a shame that museums are missing on the incredible opportunities that the open source philosophy provides to the world of culture in general. With a small investment and just a little bit of open mindedness they could greatly improve the experience for their non English speaking visitors.

As an added perk, imagine the interest an initiative like that would generate in the blogosphere…

The question is: is there anybody forward looking enough in the Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation to take on this challenge and make it a success story?

I’m willing to help for free…

By Luca Candela

Born in Italy, after a MS in Computer Science in Torino, Italy, I moved to Madrid first, then to California to pursue my dream of working in the epicenter of the digital revolution, the Bay Area. I'm currently the Head of Product Management at Treasure Data. I'm passionate about Agile development, User Experience and social media. In the rare occasion when I'm not working, I like to play electric guitar, ride my mountain bike and enjoy Asian food.

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