In my last post about museums and mobile I quoted someone who had commented on Matthew Petrie’s article in the Guardian claiming museum apps are “spectacularly boring.” This comment seems to have stuck with me as I’ve been asking myself if it’s true ever since.
As you can see from the chart above most museum mobile interpretation comes in the form of an audio tour. That’s the same old content repackaged into a shiny new device. So are museum apps boring? Yes. I shouldn’t be so glib about it. Ed Rodley actually just wrote a post about how the right narrator can make one of those boring audio guides into an engaging experience. Content does matter, as Museum Nerd wrote in his recent review of a number of museum apps
I found that some of my favorite apps were no more than an illustrated audio tour, but the content was well-written and compelling. In short, you don’t need to wow me with your newfangled app technologies, just give me information presented in a compelling way and show me what you’re talking about and I’m happy.
Yes good content can make any format interesting but truly exciting apps do something new, different and take advantage of the medium they are in.
I had a professor in Grad school who used to tell us to use “Lateral Thinking.” Why reinvent the wheel when you can look at what others are doing successfully and emulate it? So let’s apply this and look outside the museum industry to see what’s working that we can use.
There’s an excellent top 5 matrix showing the most popular free and paid apps in different countries across categories on a daily basis. Here are some of the most popular apps:
– Skill building games like Bad Piggies where you have to build contraptions
– Games based on adorable film characters like Minion Rush
Games are popular, especially ones with puzzles (no surprise). Museums have already been using puzzles in both digital and analogue content. Maybe it’s about looking at how the puzzles are presented and why they are so compelling in games like Candy Crush. This is not a scavenger hunt where you have to answer obscure questions about a painting. Maybe that would work if you had to match three paintings or you lose one of your five lives and once you’ve matched them you proceed to the next level while letting all your Facebook friends know.
Something that requires a little creativity and skill with a bit of silliness like Bad Piggies would also be good (also check out Plants vs. Zombies for the silliness factor). Maybe we need to take ourselves a bit less seriously to create interesting apps.
Minions are cute and adorable but so are many museum mascots who would make good subjects of museum games aimed at families.
Museums and the Web Best of the Web Awards
Museums and the Web, an annual conference about exactly what its title implies, has an annual Best of the Web award. This is a good place to see the crème de la crème of museum tech. So let’s take a look at the apps that have won the mobile category since it was established in 2011.
Explore the surprising side of sound with Sound Uncovered, an interactive collection featuring auditory illusions, acoustic phenomena, and other things that go bump, beep, boom, and vroom.
Besides all the technical wins, it is extremely fun and engaging. A variety of interaction styles keeps the user interested in what the next activity will be and keeps the experience fresh and interesting.…more
Explore Picasso to Warhol: Fourteen Modern Masters temporary exhibition with photo-recognition and social media.
Snap pictures of artwork to access text and audio
Create personalized postcards to share with friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Email
Join the ArtClix Community to discuss the artwork with other visitors
Engage with Museum staff about the exhibition
2011 – AB EX NY by The Museum of Modern Art in New York, USA
Now you can enjoy highlights from the exhibition Abstract Expressionist New York and the related publication on your iPad. Use the free MoMA iPad App to view superb high-resolution images of selected Abstract Expressionist works. Learn more about the artists and NYC history with a multimedia map of studios, galleries, bars, and other points of interest. Watch in-depth videos on key works of art, browse a glossary of art terms, read about the exhibition and exhibition catalogue, share your favorite works on Twitter, and more.
Are these proof that museums can make apps that are not “spectacularly boring?”
I still have a lot of questions. I would like to know the number of downloads, one time vs. multiple use, the demographics of those who download, if they are on or off site and how users enjoyed or did not enjoy these apps. Without measurement how can we gauge our success or failure?
What do you think are the best museum mobile apps? Or do you agree that museum apps are all boring?