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MW2010: N. Proctor, The Museum Is Mobile: Cross-platform content design for audiences
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MW2010: N. Proctor, The Museum Is Mobile: Cross-platform content design for audiences


A presentation from Museums and the Web 2010. …

A presentation from Museums and the Web 2010.

Acknowledging that the only constant in technology is change, this paper proposes ways of ‘thinking outside the audio tour box’ in developing mobile interpretation programs in museums: instead of making mobile interpretation a question of which device, platform, or app the museum should invest in, it puts the focus on cross-platform content and experience design.Putting audiences at the center of museums’ mobile content and experience designs make it possible to engage them through the media consumption practices and platforms that they already use outside of the museum.

Based on research conducted at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and with the principals of, this paper offers a ‘question-based’ methodology for developing an interpretive strategy that starts with mapping visitors’ queries in the galleries. From this conceptual map we can derive a matrix of platforms, media, and narrative voices that work cross-platform. The traditional audio tour, with its analog ‘linear’ content and random access ‘stops’, offers important paradigms for ‘mobile 2.0’ content design: on the one hand, conceptual overviews and immersive ‘soundtracks’ provide a ‘score’ for the museum experience, and on the other hand, ‘soundbites’ in a range of media (audio, multimedia, or text) can be searched, saved, shared and favorited in multiple contexts. From social media, we can also learn how to integrate links, apps and user-generated content into the mobile mix. Finally, the paper considers how content style impacts shelf-life. What is the enduring legacy of creating ‘quick & dirty’ interpretive ‘snacks’ versus investing in more nutritional fare? How can museums best allocate their mobile content budgets in this light?

Session: Mobiles: A Panel [mobile]


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  • The paper accompanying this MW2010 presentation is freely available online:

    Proctor, N., The Museum Is Mobile: Cross-platform Content Design for Audiences on the Go. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2010: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2010. Consulted June 10, 2010.
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  • How many people have taken an audio or multimedia tour? Did they enjoy their experience?
  • How many people have taken an audio or multimedia tour? Did they enjoy their experience?
  • Yet all too often, visitors complain that audio tours give them this sort of experience: Although this video shows an example of one of the earliest tour technologies from the 1960s, excavated by Loic Tallon, the perception of audio tours is that they are not terribly different today in terms of inspiring a herd mentality among users, producing crowding around exhibits and a sort of dumbed-down, one-size-fits-all experience. All the issues that have plagued audio tours throughout their history are visible here: The linearity of the tour lead to a herd-mentality among visitors and crowding around exhibits In addition the challenges of: Hygiene: led to one of the earliest audio tour technology debates: headphones vs wands? Distribution issues always a challenge, but complexity also driven by technology choices, including the headphones or wand choice Very homogenous audience
  • But in fact, I think of SAAM like this: a multinodal and multimodal network - a distributed network, in fact. My aim is to build content, experiences, and services that reach visitors wherever and whenever they happen to be on this network.
  • Some are now predicting that mobile devices will be our primary means of accessing the Internet by 2020. If that sounds like a dotcom boom kind of prediction, that’s probably a fair way to characterize the hype. In comparison to fixed web’s development history, mobile is somewhere between 1995 and 1998: a wild, wild west boom town where fortunes are going to be made and lost probably even faster than in the 20 th century. But don’t get me wrong: I’m a believer!
  • Another way to represent this is as a multi-tiered architecture with up to three kinds of content: 1. -+-+-+-+-+ The Soundtrack 2. o o o o o The Soundbites 3. / | / | / Links
  • As Clay Shirky might say, there is no point in fetishizing the technology or arguing that museums and their audiences necessarily need audio tours, or iPhone apps, or any other flavor-of-the-month mobile platform. Instead, I believe that now is a time for lots and lots of experiments that take us far outside our comfort zone, outside the audio tour box, if you will. I’m not going to pretend to have any crystal balls or easy answers for these chaotic times in the mobile landscape. But I hope I’ve offered a few principles, theories and tips that may help us navigate this transformational period for mobile interpretation in museums. By putting our visitors at the center of our Museum practice by listening to our visitors and studying how they are already engaging with the Museum through social media and their personal networks, I think we can already identify some important needs that should inform the development of the 21 st century museum and curatorial practice. In the Museum as Agora, we need curators (and museums) who: Inspires us to connect, learn & experience; Makes the Museum relevant to our lives; Helps us see, read & think critically; Engages us in a conversation with experts and ‘citizens’. There will be many more new models and paradigms to emerge in the coming decade, butif you’re willing to join us in this journey, share a few risks and a lot of conversations about the mobile experiences we’ve all had, we might just, when the dust settles, get the mobile interpretation that museums and their audiences need.
  • In the museum as agora, our audiences access our content through a wide range of platforms beyond the museum’s walls and website
  • As Chris Anderson noted in his talk at SI 2.0, it is our hobbies – often niche activities and content - that inspires the most passion in individuals. And the niche is the space that museums know best. They’re staffed to a large extent by people who have been lucky enough to turn their passions into professions: specialists who understand subjects in the greatest depth and finest nuances, working with rare content and collections. And yet for over 50 years, the blockbuster has been the engine that drives the mobile interpretation industry. I want to ask if there are business models that play to our natural strengths with niche content and niche audiences?
  • Like museums, mobile lends itself both to the extreme personalization of niche activities, and to connecting disparate, passionate subject specialists and longtail markets. There is a powerful network effect of connecting lots and lots of people who are passionate about the same niches. So I have been asking myself of late: can mobile help museums conceive of new business models, products and practices that play to museums’ strengths in the longtail and niche markets, rather than perpetuate often futile attempts to compete in mass markets?
  • Mobile is an ideal vehicle for niche content, experiences & audiences because both personal – intimate, even - and social. The highly personal nature of the mobile experience also makes mobile a great vehicle for the kind of niche content and experiences that museums excel at. + How many people do you let whisper in your ear? Or put content onto your personal, mobile device that is always with you, and usually carried very close to your body? Although it’s arguably the social applications that make mobile products revolutionary, it may just be the intimate, personal nature of the mobile experience that ‘makes them stick(y)’! ;-)


  • 1. The Museum is Mobile Cross-platform content design for audiences on the go Museums & the Web 2010 17 April 2010 Nancy Proctor
  • 2. The Museum is Mobile Social Media Designing mobile content & experiences beyond the ‘tour’ and the ‘stop’
  • 3.  
  • 4. In the Museum as Distributed Network…
  • 5. … at least half of the Museum’s platforms are already mobile.
  • 6. So if we want to meet our audiences where they are
    • And take them some place new…
  • 7. Mobile is a great vehicle
  • 8. But if we want to avoid this guy… We need to think outside the audio tour box
  • 9. Thinking outside the audiotour box means…
  • 10. Thinking beyond the research
    • 2009
    • CHNM survey on Museums and Mobile Adoption
    • Learning Times International Survey on handheld use in museums.
    • 2008
    • Whitney Museum of American Art: Audio Guide Technologies Survey Final Report
    • 2007
    • Matthew Barney: Multiplatform interpretation at SFMOMA
    • La Placa Cohen Culture Track 2007 (with Antenna Audio)
  • 11. Fraunhofer Institute, Kunstmuseum Bonn: ‘Beat Zoderer’ exhibition (Listen project) 2003 Fraunhofer Institute, Kunstmuseum Bonn: ‘Beat Zoderer’ exhibition (Listen project) 2003 Thinking beyond the technology
  • 12. Question mapping in the gallery: Thinking beyond what we want to tell them
    • Semi-structured interviews
    • FAQs and comments cards
    • Questions posed to staff…
  • 13. Thinking beyond the ‘stop’
    • + - + - + - + - + Soundtracks
    • o o o o Soundbites
    • x x x x Interactives
    • | | | Links
    • ^ ^ ^ Feedback
    • § § § Social media
    Narrowcast/ Offline or Networked Networked only
  • 14. Thinking cross-platform & about pre-, during & post-visit Audio player Multimedia player Personal media player Cellphone Smart Mobile Browser phones Mobile App Short Soundbite X X X X X X Long Soundtrack x x X (x) X X Interactive X X X Links X X X Feedback X X X Social media X X
  • 15. Thinking outside the Acropolis The Reynold’s Center, home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery
  • 16. Thinking about the Agora Kogod Courtyard of the Smithsonian American Art Museum; quotation by Steven Zucker, 2008
  • 17.
    • Make the Museum relevant to our lives;
    • Inspire us to connect, learn & experience;
    • Help us see, read & think critically;
    • Engage us in conversations with experts and ‘citizens’.
    And mobile experiences that: Raphael, The School of Athens , 1509-11, Vatican Museums
  • 18. Photo by Mike Lee, 2007; from the American Art Museum’s Flickr Group And reach audiences beyond the museum’s walls…
  • 19. Thinking outside the audiotour box Means going from headphones to microphones
  • 20. From “We do the talking” to “We help our audiences do the talking.”
  • 21. From “We do the talking” to “We help our audiences do the talking.”
  • 22. Museums are very good at niches
    • Niche collections
    • Niche expertise
    • Niche content
    Can we be good at long tail markets too? “ It's possible to be niche and popular at the same time. – Natasha Waterson Royal Observatory
  • 23. Thinking beyond the blockbuster Edward Hoover , 2010, from Flickr.
  • 24. Mobile is personal and social
  • 25. The Un-tour
    • What would a mobile experience look like
    • That plays to museums’ natural strengths
    • That is not built for the mass market
    • That does not aim to be a blockbuster
    • That connects small communities of passion
    • That is not a tour?
    That is mobile social media?
  • 26.  
  • 27. Gardening Change Model* Build a platform & cultivate Web 2.0 as a way of thinking about work * Via Josh Greenberg, NYPL & Mike Edson @mpedson Every user is a hero In their own epic journey
  • 28.
    • Faster than traditional committee-driven process (Time is the enemy)
    • Increase size of brain trust (Joy’s Law)
    • Improve the odds for change
    • Improve odds for execution (public promises not easily forgotten)
    • Outside champions more likely to support “commons” goals than status-quo insiders
    • Walking the Talk vis-à-vis crowdsourcing and innovation model
    • “ You get what you practice”
    The advantages of public, transparent, and fast Very important slide!
  • 29. So I tried that…
    • Data capture & feedback on where visitors go, what they see, and what questions they ask
      • Analytics & metrics
      • Search & interactive maps (don’t forget the services!)
      • ‘ Create (comment), share, connect’ functionality
      • Contributors decide with whom they share their contribution
    And here’s what I got:
  • 30.
    • Museum helps communities of interest form around objects/exhibits; facilitates the conversation
      • Supports the community/conversation with comments, answers, or new content ‘just in time’
      • “ Don’t be stingy” – or cheap! Quality content is worth the investment (in time & expertise as well as money)
      • Strategies and events to help connect individuals: SlowArt; Nina Simon’s work; Brooklyn Museum…
    Sketch of an Un-Tour
  • 31.
    • A personal adventure, surprise & serendipity:
      • Taking the museum into the world with LBS
        • AR
        • ‘ Easter Eggs’
      • Meeting people
        • e.g. connecting web & on-site visitors
      • Games and other rewarding things to do
    Sketch of an Un-Tour
  • 32.
    • Connecting the dots
      • Every platform is a community
      • Using established social media platforms
      • Deciding where a museum-specific version (like ArtBabble) adds value
      • Building a ‘distributed network’, not just a multi-platform museum
      • Avoiding ‘one-offs’
      • Iterative development
    Sketch of an Un-Tour
  • 33.
      • Tate’s Miroslaw Balka: How it is
      • American Museum of Natural History’s Dinosaurs
      • Scopitone, CultureClic
      • Musetrek
      • SM in Toura, Autour (Tristan), Nousguide
      • SCVNGR
      • Foursquare, Gowalla
    Some models to look at
  • 34. Let the artists be our guides Oxygenate! 2006-7 Joanna Rajkowska Words Drawn in Water, 2005 Janet Cardiff Follow Through , 2005 Jennifer Crowe & Scott Paterson Euphorium 2002-3 Antenna Theater