Symposium on mobile applications in museums

31. May 2016, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (organised by LKCA and Rijksmuseum)

About 200 museum and heritage professionals attended a lively afternoon dedicated to museum apps, with a mix of lectures and short ‘pecha kucha’-presentations of practical examples.

Key note speaker Nancy Proctor, executive director MuseWeb Foundation, stressed that mobile innovation is NOT about technology, but about content. She stressed the importance of the stories behind objects. She presented a formula Collections = (Stuff + Content). Mobile innovation is about story-telling in her perception, and the stories are no longer told by the museum alone. Mobile applications will develop ‘from headphones to microphones’, recruiting the world to add content. ‘From interpretation to conversation’ was one of Nancy’s motto’s.

She also showed that museums tend to focus on short term effects by producing apps for block buster exhibits, serving a big target group for a short time. But if you produce products for more specific audiences, which last much longer, it may be as successful in the end. And far more sustainable. So she encouraged to think in long tail effects, not forgetting the ‘niches’ in the market.

A few lessons learned from the rich input by all presenters:

  • Keep it simple: often you want too much, combining too many novelties. But that certainly does not make the app better, particularly not from the user point of view. . Rijksmuseum for example skipped a lot of functionalities during the process, and now it works much better.
  • Simple is not ‘dumbing down’! It is sometimes more difficult to keep it simple…
  • Focus on content. Content will stay, technologies change all the time.
  • We are moving towards more personalised apps (choose yourself in the museum, taking your track home to re-experience the visit, add content yourself).
  • Testing, testing, testing….
  • Marketing is an issue: the most fantastic app does not work if visitors do not know about it, or are not able to download it when they need it.
  • Museums start to use apps for surveying visitor behaviour: some apps allow to follow visitors through ‘heat maps’.
  • ‘Is this all?‘ - Producing apps is a complicated process, with many people involved and high costs, and high expectations. The result is often disappointing. But visitors do expect apps in your museum nowadays, so you are almost obliged to make them.
  • In the near future a new type of glasses will be available, which do not exclude you from the outer world (like with the oculus rift-technology), but offers a transparent view, combining the virtual images with the real world around you. One of the presenters has already numerous ideas how to apply this in museums.

From the DICHE-point of view we were looking for the level of creativity for the user of the presented apps: has the user any impact on what is happening? It struck us that, apart from the film-assignments in the Dutch Maritime Museum, all the presented apps where made to transmit information. Modern ways to send messages.

Dorien and Arja

June 2016