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Museums and the Web 2015 - Mobile Insights

24 April 15 -- jsuess
Jessica Suess, Partnership Officer

This year, I was fortunate to be able to attend the Museums and the Web conference for the second year running. This is such a valuable conference, both in terms of networking and discussing key issues with hundreds of colleagues from across the sector who are working in the same zone and tackling the same challenges, and just cramming as much up to date information and new ideas in my brain as possible through the fantastic talks, workshops and discussions. It is difficult to share the amazing experiences and lessons from the many networking opportunities - though I can tell you that karaoke is a thing for this demographic - but I can share highlights from the many excellent sessions I was able to attend.

In this post I'd like to share a few insights about mobile engagement that I got from a few sessions


I hit the ground running with my first session of the conference on evaluating mobile - particularly relevant as we move forward with our in museum offer, evaluating and improving the experience for our visitors.

An Audio State of Mind: Understanding Behaviour around Audio Guides and Visitor Media

First up was and from the British Museums sharing what they have learnt from a six week research project evaluating use of their multimedia guide (with the caveat that visitors still very much think of the service as an audio guide with the term multimedia guide carrying little resonance). The two key questions: how do visitors use services like the guide, and can uptake be increased? You can read their full paper here.

The key take away for me was around how we think about visitor motivations. The British Museum team found that traditional audience segmentation was not as useful as it could have been, focusing primarily on an individual's motivation for visiting a museum, but not how their behaviour and motivation changes throughout their visit. For example, many people visit the British Museum with a list of key highlights they want to see, but once they have done those (which might take only 20 minutes) then what, what do they want then, how will this change their behaviour? This is a a key moment of opportunity on the visitor journey.

The British Museum team identified a different set of attributes to describe visitor behaviour during their time at the museum, and which influenced visitor uptake of the guide. mannion.fig3_ Importantly, these visitor attributes change throughout the visit, and are determined by user perception. This was made apparent with one of the best visitor quotes I've seen:

Interviewer: Will you take an audio guide?
Visitor: No, I don't have time.
Interviewer: How much time do you have?
Visitor: All day.

The British Museum team found that time, confidence and authority were the primary influencing factors of guide uptake - individuals confident in using museums and in their relative authority on the subject matter are significantly less likely to take up a guide. I can't wait to see how the British Museum use this information to improve their guide - both the product itself, and how it is communicated to their audiences.

A new look at an old friend: Re-evaluating the Met's audio guide service

Presented by from Frankly Green and Web and the Met's , they conducted a major evaluation of the museum's audio guide, looking at the role the guide plays in the visitor journey. Mann.fig1_1 By focusing on the guide as a service rather than a product, they were able to examine it in a new light. For example, the Met has done great work making sure much of their guide has been translated into multiple languages (at both the Met and BM, uptake of the Mandarin guide has overtaken that of the English guide). However, users of the Mandarin guide regularly reported a lower satisfaction with the guide. This was because while there are 2,600 stops in English, there were only 50 stops in Mandarin. While this still represents hours of content, it meant that as they traveled around the museum, they were also very aware of the content that was not available to them. The Met is now investing in a significant translation programme to dramatically increase their multi-lingual content.

Interestingly, they found no evidence that better technology, or fancier content formats - such as video - had any impact on uptake or satisfaction with the guide. In particular, visitors only appreciated video content when it added something significantly additional to the audio.

You can read their full paper here.

Bring it On: Ensuring the success of a BYOD programme in a museum environment

The final talk in this session from from the Corning Museum of Glass was great, as we are also looking at 'bring your own device' as a key model for our museums. Corning Museum has invested significantly in the infrastructure to support this service, in terms of Wi-Fi, network boosters, charging stations and an entire mobile accessories section in the museum shop. This was great to hear, as I think too often museums think of BYOD as a cheaper alternative to providing devices.

He also pointed out how BYOD is a very different experience for visitors. While museum guides are now a staple of the experience, many people do not think of museums as a device location - it is necessary to make people aware that it is, and that there is content available for them to access. This can't just been on arrival, but needs to be at key points throughout the visit, as unlike guides which hang around a users neck as a constant reminder of their commitment to that content, an users own device sits in the pocket, only to be pulled out when something prompts its use.

You can read his full paper here.


This is always one of my favourite conference sessions, since examining and critiquing other sites is such a great way to think differenty about our own offer. All the sites looked at this year were good!

First was Apprentice Architect from Fondation Luis Vuitton, an interactive app developed for 12 year olds as a bit of a babysitter. The games, while simple, were really engaging - I spent a little too long playing the Where's Frank game as they passed around a tablet for us to try. Check out some videos of the app here.

from on .

IWM AppNext was the Imperial War Museums touring exhibition guide app. This was lovely. The visuals of the app were very nice, and it made good use of iBeacons, locating the device to a room with a theme, and then allowing the user to explore the content on their own. The content was also very compelling. They took the stories of 8 individuals during the war and wove it into the exhibition, so when you went to an area of the exhibition with a general theme, through the app you can hear personal stories of an individual who you chose at the start of the exhibition - exerts from letters etc. At the end of the exhibition there are some large screens and you touch the device to one of the screens to say you have finished, and it brings up a video of your character, and you meet one of their ancestors, who also voiced all the recordings. A really nice experience.

Next was the Clark Museum Multimedia Guide, which was quite a staple museum multimedia guide, with a few interesting AR editions, but it was executed very well, and the crit was informative, especially around how people use it. The guide had lots of layers of information, with the most interesting interactives at the bottom, but it is less clear how people know that it is there and access it. Read about the Clark guide on the Art Museum Teaching website.

The final item was something called Social Augmentation at the Rijksmuseum, a one year research project at the museum. The idea was that in addition to listening to additional content about objects, the guide offered you the opportunity to 'overhear' the conversations of other visitors about certain objects. The first of these audio snippets were collected by the project team through interviews, but visitors using the app can also upload their own audio recordings for moderation and to be shared. The app is only in prototype, but the idea is to incorporate this feature into the museum app. It seemed to offer an interesting new way for people to engage with collections, which the project team felt could be very valuable for a museum like the Rijksmuseum which many people visit when them come to Amsterdam as a must see, but aren't sure how to engage with. It will be very interested to see how they manage to get people to leave content that is of genuine interest to other visitors.

from on .

Interestingly, all these 'mobile experiences' were delivered primarily on devices provided by the museums (even if they were also available for download). Discussions around this really highlighted what a barrier having to download an app can be, especially if someone needs to do extra things such as turn on bluetooth. Having to deal with these issues can remove some of the 'magic' of the experience for the visitor.

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