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Rousing The Mobile Herd: Museum Apps that Encourage Real Space Social Engagement


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Do museums’ mobile apps encourage their visitors to spend more time looking down at their phones and less time interacting with their environment and each other? Matthew Fisher and Jennifer Moses' paper for the 2013 Museums and the Web conference entitled Rousing the Mobile Herd: Apps that Encourage Real Space Engagement, explores how mobile apps can encourage social engagement, tapping into the museum’s distinct potential as a social learning space.

This paper seeks to answer the question: How can mobile apps encourage and support meaningful, face-to-face social interaction in museum spaces? Museums are increasingly focused on creating more engaging visitor experiences, in part by encouraging participation in dialogue and social interaction in the exhibit space. At the same time, we are embracing mobile technologies. At first glance, social interaction and mobile engagement might seem to be antithetical. Many popular museum mobile apps divert visitors from interacting with exhibits, objects, and each other, undermining social interaction and dialogue.

In surveying the top-rated museum apps in the iTunes store, as well as popular social apps outside the industry, we examine how apps both limit and nurture real-space social interaction. We identify key characteristics of mobile-supported social exchange, assessing which app features provide the best opportunities for fostering meaningful social interaction, both between visitors and other visitors, and between visitors and the museum. We explore specific social interactions conducive to the museum environment—game play, team work, polls, affinity-mapping, creating and sharing content, conversation prompts—and align them with mobile app features. We both analyze existing social engagement models with the greatest potential for contributing to mobile-museum projects, and identify opportunities to leverage those successful engagement models to create new types of mobile experiences.

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Rousing The Mobile Herd: Museum Apps that Encourage Real Space Social Engagement

  1. 1. Rousing the Mobile HerdApps that Encourage Real Space EngagementMatthew Fisher 4/18/13
  2. 2. 1996 vs 2012
  3. 3. Social in real space or “real social”
  4. 4. Things we doin real spacewith other people
  5. 5. Social engagement supports moreeffective museum experiences―conversation is a primary mechanism ofknowledge construction and distributed meaning-making.‖Lienhardt & Crowley, 1998groups observe each other to learn, to understandexhibit interactions and model behavior.Falk & Storksdieck, 2005
  6. 6. Playing single-playergamesWeb browsingListening to audioWatching videoPlaying multi-playergamesPosting/commentingSharing links/retweetingFavoriting/friendingShopping/bidding
  7. 7. • A) want to be social in the museum• B) want to make apps• C) think radically differently about their design.
  8. 8. So how are museums using mobile?• Over 80 of the top museum apps in the iTunesstore*• Quantity and quality of user reviews and comments• Assessed their social and anti-social features• Apps were NOT designed to be social in real space* Complete list available at
  9. 9. by Don Pollard
  10. 10. Twitter: @mefisher
  11. 11. What we missedA LOT…• New apps since summer 2012• Apps installed on museum devices
  12. 12. Talking about the exhibitGames in the spaceFacilitated discussionsTouch-tables & multi-person interactivesPhotographing/observingothers
  13. 13. Getting social: app features• Location awareness• Gaming• Crowdsourcing• Polling• Personalization• Affinity-mapping
  14. 14. Location awareness• AMNH Explorer• MOMA• London Museum• High Museum
  15. 15. social location awarenessKismet: Seemutual Facebookfriends & interestsLoKast: Create―spaces‖ fordifferent types of―conversation‖Highlight: alertsyou whenpotential ―friends‖are near
  16. 16. The London Zoo app’s “Friend Finder”• Have to have a PIN• Can see whereyour friends are onthe zoo map for 24hours if you bothhave the app open.
  17. 17. GamingNOT real social• Single player• Multiplayer– One device per playerReal social• Group plays together– ―Host‖ controls device– Players share device
  18. 18. SCVNGRLocation checkin & participatein challenges toget rewardsView check-insby FacebookfriendsLocatepre-packagedtreks nearbyShare pictureswith other users
  19. 19. Museum HuntFind a nearbymuseum orsearch for one inanother cityChoose from alist ofscavengerhuntsFollow the cluesin a galleryspecific huntShare your finalscore
  20. 20. Murder at the Met: Metropolitan Museum of ArtChoose a pathand follow thecluesFind witnesses,possible suspects,and crime scenesthroughout thegalleriesTake notes onyour findingsChoose asuspect, weapon,and crime sceneto solve themurder
  21. 21. Crowdsourcing: Access American Stories
  22. 22. Polling - AmenMore ―popular‖statements―Nearby‖ sort
  23. 23. Polling – Show of Handsvote on numerouspolls—political,social, culturalFilter results: state,national, gender,age, income, politicsMake and readcomments onresults
  24. 24. Personalization• Hermitage Museum• Powerhouse Museum PHM Walks• AMNH ExplorerAllows visitors to focus their interactions withpersonally relevant content, a more comfortablearea for visitor conversation and reflection.
  25. 25. Affinity Mapping• Object or experience affinities– ―Related‖ objects in museum online collections• Visitor affinities– Compare interests and favorites with other visitors
  26. 26. A model for “real social” museum apps• What NOT to do important as what TO DO• Discard conventional approaches• Don’t overload the visitor
  27. 27. Give visitors space Family watching television. Evert F. Baumgardner, ca. 1958.National Archives and Records Administration
  28. 28. What an app SHOULD NOT do:Be a guide.• Be too engaging• Provide too much text• Play lengthy audio• Play length video• Require too much interaction• Require typing
  29. 29. What an app SHOULD do:Be a host!• Engage you in your environment• Provide prompts for discussion• Engage you with your group• Engage you with other visitors(comfortably, safely, optionally)• Provide insights into the community• Reflect back what’s important to you• Make unexpected connections
  30. 30. Personalize your visit?OKSkipMuseumparlor gameA prototype thatprovides a sociallearning experience inthe museum galleryspace facilitated by amobile app.Welcome to the Fisher/MosesMuseum of Curiosity!
  31. 31. Thank you!• Jennifer Moses, Ph.D., co-author• MWEB committee• All articles copyright New York Times• All screenshots copyright of the app publisher• Contact:–– @mefisher