Reading, listening, watching, sharing, saving, repeating, shopping … the era of smart phones has created new habits regarding the consumption of content. Pioneering museums offering mobile experiences are studying carefully these new processes, and listening closely to what the visitor has to say. Last October 15th, several success stories were showcased during the Online Museums & Mobile conference: one particularly prominent example was MoMA Audio+. We picked up some tips from the experiences of these centers.
Who is our potential user and what are his needs? It is a crucial question. Museums & Mobile recalled the case of a center that launched a mobile application shortly after the first iPhone model appeared. The interest in this tool among its potential audiences was tested through several surveys. The result was negative. However, the center persisted and released the application, making the project a dismal failure. This is in contrast with the MoMA: with each new development, this museum not only asks the end user about the general interest the app may have, but also about its specific uses. Creating new needs is a challenge close to utopia. The trick is to observe the use of mobile phones in other sectors and to adapt them creatively to the museum field.
What expertise is necessary? Drawing on the responses of the followers of this conference, mobile developments arise mainly from education departments (69.4%), digital media (44.7%) and marketing (31.7%). However, to ensure its success requires a more inter-departmental approach. The MoMA has “social engagement” experts and other participation, content, infrastructure (a WIFI connection is essential) and distribution professionals, and it outsources the services that pose the greatest internal stress.
What resources do we have? The Texas 1986 app, the mobile tour for the Cantigny Park in Illinois or the Historic St. Louis app of the Missouri History Museum achieved considerable success, and without Bloomberg’s (sponsor of MoMA Audio +) multi-million participation. However, the Bloomberg case gives us an idea of the growing importance of sponsorship in the Anglo sector; indeed, this behemoth is now also committed to the TATE Modern.
When is it best to launch the project? The MoMA proposed iterative releases at different stages, a process that takes more time but ultimately is more stable. Also, we must remember the importance of keeping the development phase open after launching, so that problems can be solved and improvements included. This can only be done if the previous budget has not been exhausted or if we know that the application will need maintenance.
What should we expect? The managers of the Cantigny Park Mobile Tour consider the experience a success, although no more than 5% of park visitors used it. However, the experience gave them positive feedback without it being an expensive undertaking. For example, after considering it irrelevant for indoor use, they decided to implement it only outdoors. Something similar is happening with the Missouri project: by focusing on the relevance of their graphic collection, they have obtained a large number of followers in social media, i.e. fans interested in this exclusive content. Museums and visitors wishes must coincide before starting a mobile development.
MoMA’s new app is easy to navigate, prioritizes images (something that is appreciated in small screen formats) and dedicates a great space to interaction (it automatically saves visited content in a “timeline”, it lets you select and re-view favorites, share content, etc..). But perhaps the great success of MoMA and other museums was designing its mobile strategy as “a part of the experience”, not as an additive or an irreplaceable item, but something that was enriching and worked independently.
* Image of the MoMA presentation in M & M 7.