Museums and Mobile Conference: highlights

Museums and Mobile Conference: highlights

On October 25th 2011, we joined an international community of museum professionals to attend the online conference, Museums and Mobile, eager to find out about the latest trends and best practices in the use of mobile technologies in museums.

All research and statistics are in fact unanimous in claiming that mobile access to internet and the use of smartphones are on the rise. Just to quote some figures, in the UK 27% of adults and 47% of teenagers own a smartphone. The most popular applications are games, followed by music (Source: Ofcom Report). The sector is clearly growing and it is very important for museums to keep the pace matching their core mission with the new visitors’ behavioral patterns and expectations.

Here you can read about some interesting projects which were presented at the conference.

Tweet & Grow, Kew Gardens – London
To celebrate the Summer Festival 2011 Kew Gardens staff came up with the idea of a mobile social game called “Tweet and grow”. The game could be played both online or via a smartphone app. The task was to nurture some plants featured at Kew Gardens. Success was rewarded with prizes to redeem when visiting the gardens. People could simply play, but with a Twitter account they could access extra features. In fact, exclusive codes were released every day via Twitter to unlock new content and give your plants a boost. Secret game levels and prizes were also available exclusively to Kew visitors during their trip to the Gardens.

The project objective was to grow audiences and increase visitors’ footfall, targeting a young audience aged between 25 and 44 year old. The game also represented a design challenge. It needed to be delightful to play, give users a challenge, not too easy, not too hard, but just right to keep them motivated to continue playing, and it needed to appeal to both men and women. To put it simply, the game was about growing your virtual plants by providing them with the right mix of water, sun, heat etc. You were allowed a maximum of 25 ‘caring actions’ a day. This made sure that people kept playing and reflected also the fact in the real world it takes time for plants to grow.
For this app Kew botanical experts worked along illustrators to ensure a realistic representation of stages of plant growth patterns and decay bearing in mind also audiences’ expectations and artistic license.

The results were quite significant:

  • 21,000 downloads to mobile phones;
  • 24,000 plays;
  • 32,000 website visits and 70,000 tweets. Twitter in particular had an increase of 5 – 10 % followers in addition to normal growth.

Kew Gardens was also able to capture 3,000 new email addresses to follow up with new campaigns and newsletters.

Click here to access the game homepage

Giskin Anomaly, Balboa Park, San Diego, California
Balboa Park is a urban cultural park comprising 15 major museums, performing arts venues, beautiful gardens and the San Diego Zoo. Giskin Anomaly is a parkwide cellphone adventure game whose most “innovative” feature is that it can simply be accessed via any traditional cellphone. The intriguing premise of the game is that two fictional characters, Pandora and Drake, have stumbled upon a technology that detects “thought imprints”, hidden in the Balboa Park landscape. The two characters respectively hold a detector and a decoder to hear voices from the past. However, they do not trust each other, and thus communicate entirely via voicemail.

Each stake includes a phone number and 3-digit code that visitors can use to hear conversations between the two main characters, and hear tips as to where the next stake is placed. The game consists of seven episodes, each containing one orange marker on a cultural institution and four white ground markers. Each episode takes about 30 minutes to complete. The narrative is extremely immersive: visitors follow Pandora’s footsteps to key points in the park listening to voices from World War II while Drakes provides further insights and explanations.

We think this game is simply brilliant. In particular we love its retro-compatibility with an “old” and ubiquitous technology such as the traditional mobile phone.
Further info here

Love Lace Exhibition App – Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

The Powerhouse Museum introduced QR codes for the first time in 2009 in the form of “extended object labels”. The idea was that visitors could simply scan the codes to access additional information on the exhibits directly on the museum website. Some relevant issues emerged from this early experiment. First of all visitors needed to have a QR-code-reader app already installed on their mobile devices; secondly some people found it hard to use this scanning app. In this respect, also you have to bear in mind that in a gallery it is difficult to scan reliably given the mixed light conditions. Finally the URL associated with the QR code linked directly to a page on the museum website which was neither easy to navigate nor readable, having not been developed for internet browsing via mobile devices.

Recently the Powerhouse Museum has created a new app for the current exhibition Love Lace. The app, which features a built-in QR-code scanner, works both offsite and onsite. People can in fact use it at home as a reference catalogue to browse through the various exhibits and artists. Onsite visitors can instead scan the QR code labels using the built-in scanner and the app will open up directly at the relevant page, inside the app itself, with info on the exhibits and artists.

The results have been very positive not just in terms of audience satisfaction but also for the opportunities this technology has opened up. It is in fact possible to gain extraordinary insights into visitor’s behavior such as the most scanned exhibits. With the wifi tracking you can also get information on how people move in the various exhibition rooms and how long they stop in front of an artwork. These data can clearly help establishing whether the content provided has been interesting or not for visitors and developing corrective strategies for future exhibitions.

Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Art
Huge murals painted by Diego Rivera occupy the walls of an internal court at the Detroit Institute of Art. The artwork is dense with meanings, articulated in various panels that reach up to the ceiling. It is generally perceived as quite complicated to understand due to its symbolic references. It tends, therefore, to be overlooked by visitors who just walk through the court during their visit to the museum. To encourage visitors’ appreciation of this work, the Museum has developed a multimedia tour for iPad. This is not however an application available from the iTunes store. It can only be accessed directly at the Museum Information Desk by checking out an iPad (for free) where the app has been previously loaded.

Rivera Court

Visitors’ feedback has been very positive. Evaluation of the project has also shown that people using the iPad tend to spend more time in the court engaging with the murals, compared to visitors having unmediated experiences, i.e. without using the iPad. It can therefore be claimed that the application has been successful in providing visitors with new and engaging content.

You can access an online version of this app here and read a very enthusiastic review here.

Other resources
We would like to suggest the following book:
Mobile Apps for Museums: The AAM Guide to Planning and Strategy by Nancy Proctor
and this blog:
Mobile Apps for Museums