Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mobiles and museums - the next stage

The UK Museums Journal latest edition devotes its Museum Practice section to exploring mobile phone usage in museumsThis comes off the back of a Fusion MA Mobile Survey which sought to assess how cultural organisations in the UK and US are using mobile technology to:
  • extend audience research
  • increase visitor engagement and participation
  • provide potential new revenue channels

The report is a vital litmus test to my mind of where museum thinking is currently at or going to be shortly on the use of mobiles. My takeaways are:

  • mobile usage in museums is going to expand commensurately with the wider take up of smartphones (90% penetration by 2015 being talked about)
  • museums are managing many of their mobile programmes in house, i.e. they are being very hands-on
  • that said only 5% of UK museums surveyed had a developed mobile technology strategy, i.e. nobody quite knows what they are doing
  • QR codes already top the list of mobile features and are set to expand as fast as apps
  • revenue opportunities through social media or by allowing purchase of online merchandise are very limited.

In summary the report reflects a very fluid situation at present with everyone feeling their way, but one where the role mobiles play in visitor access is only going to get greater and that at speed. From the feedback I get, the most sought after feature is going to be way finding, the bug bear of many a great US and European museum, i.e. visitors get lost or don't explore the museum fully through fear of getting lost. Analytical capacity of smartphones is a nice-to-have but not a driving force.

So what comes out of the Museums Journal articles?

On apps versus mobile friendly sites, each have their benefits, with apps having the advantage of operating independently without an internet connection, but mobile sites are generally much cheaper to develop as they can draw on the website framework, and they don't need Apple store approval or cross platform (Android, iOS etc) development.

On the role of audio guides, it is clear that  buying and maintaining devices is a thing of the past, and that visitors are going to use their own phones or tablets.

On strategically approaching mobile projects, key themes are keeping it simple, involving cross departmental teams (especially curatorial, education, visitor services and digital media) and developing a marketing strategy to encourage visitor use.

This is going to be a subject that is going to take up an increasing amount of museum magazine column inches.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director