Apps in museums

One of the things I love about ‘new media’ (call it what you like) is that it is so collaborative. Ideas are tested, tried out and built upon. If someone doesn’t like how something is done, they can change it; try something else. It frustrates me when people stand around complaining about all the things that are not done right, are wrong or silly, like they are made by some omniscient being who can’t be contacted for a discussion on how else it might be done. Especially in the museum/library/archive sector. In fact, with the take up of Twitter by these peeps, it is easier than ever to suggest a tweak, report a problem or generally interact about the stuff they are doing (and these organisations should be listening).

And, just by the way, have the balls to do in the first place. It does take courage to be the testers, the early adopters and the developers. Not only do you set the standard or approach of what comes after you but you get to take all the crap about how badly you did it as well! There are some seriously clever people out there and some of them get the chance to play around with their ideas. The organisations that allows this should be commended.

But, I’m going to pick a few bones (you knew that was coming, right?) about this stuff. In particular the apps I used when I was in London. It seemed to me that perhaps these apps are being outsourced with very little curatorial control or much thought about the actual application of the app. Perhaps, initially, it was a case of ‘we need an app in the app store!’ but by now it really needs to be more than that. This stuff doesn’t start with the app itself either. If you want people to use an app in your building (and you should) that needs Internet connection, for goodness sake, provide that connection. As a traveller who was hyper-aware of roaming charges and with a locked iPhone, I only got Internet in wifi areas. I didn’t go into one gallery or museum that provided it. And, by the way, it should be completely free and sign-up-less. If you want to collect details, ask nicely for them, don’t use blackmail. I went to a pub here in Perth the other day that had wifi that was as easy to connect to as mine at home, actually, easier because I didn’t need a password. This is how it should be.

The app store allows updates. This feature should be used. It is very disappointing to go to a gallery to see, say, a painting of Germaine Greer, and for it not to be on display, even though it is in the (otherwise very nice) ‘Writers’ themed audio guide.

Apps are not brochures. Don’t put the same information that is in the museum/gallery/library in the app. What’s the point of going? Apps allow for some lovely sophisticated, curated information. It is perfect for all those things that have to be left out of the exhibition due to space or for making connections between seemingly unconnected objects in clever and interesting ways. I want to see more of this.

Think about how the sleep mode of phones will affect your app – is it going to turn off when the phone goes to sleep, even though someone is listening to it?

Apps are also not audio guides. Make them better than the audio guides because that will get people through the door! An audio guide is for someone who is already invested enough to have turned up.

It is okay to charge for apps, especially if this means you’ll make an awesome one.

Apps should be publicised in the building – this might seem like an odd thing to say, but if I hadn’t already actively searched for the apps for particular places I would never have known they had any. Another good reason for wifi – ‘this is our app, download it now! (and by the way, you can ask our guides how to use it!)’.

I love museum/gallery apps. I want to see more of them and I want people to learn from the mistakes of those brave organisations that tried it first.

2 Responses to “Apps in museums”
  1. Grahame Bowland says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I’d love to see some a wiki-like approach taken to museum guides, with collaboration between staff and visitors. An app which allowed museums to upload their map layout, exhibition information along with labels which users can use to orient themselves would be wonderful.

    I wonder why it hasn’t happened – perhaps it has and we haven’t heard about it!

    • I’ve done some pretty thorough research into it for UK/Europe and nothing like that. I love the wiki idea and I think the stuff with museum layout is coming – have a look at Scvngr – there is so much potential and perhaps orgs are getting caught up in this and skipping some basics. Thanks for the comment!

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