Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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First of our walking tours is in the AppStore

June 1st, 2011 by Seb Chan

This week the first in a series of walking tour iPhone Apps went live in the AppStore. Here’s the skinny.

This tour has been developed from a printed tour produced by Curator of Astronomy, Dr Nick Lomb, in 2009. It has been expanded to include a tour of the Sydney Observatory precinct, the Observatory, grounds, Signal Station, flagstaff and Fort Phillip. It reveals how central Sydney Observatory was to the development of scientific research in New South Wales. Observatory Hill has been the astronomical hub of Sydney since 1858 when the Observatory commenced operation there, and also played a vital role in the time-keeping, navigational and meteorological life of Sydney. The tour includes not only fascinating historical information but also captivating views of Sydney Harbour from Observatory Hill, Sydney Harbour Bridge and Dawes Point, as well as taking a delightful path through the Rocks.

Online Producer Irma Havlicek started this project by first walking the original printed map tour (PDF). As she walked the tour she found that there was a lot more opportunity to highlight other locations, whilst at the same time removing a few locations that were too far away to comfortably reach in a single walk.

Using the intuitive online tour App maker, MyTours, she pulled together images, dropped pins on the interactive map, wrote a script, and built a demo version. It took several more walks with the demo version on her iPhone to refine the tour to the current version.

After the literal road testing, Irma then recorded the audio track from her script and walked the route again this time with audio in her ears. This continuous in-situ testing was very time consuming but ultimately incredibly worthwhile as we now have a tour that is tightly edited and, depending on the weather, great to walk and enjoy.

When it came to submitting to the AppStore we had a lot of discussions about the pricing. Because the MyTours pricing model charges a monthly fee for free Apps but takes only a cut from charged Apps we were already leaning towards a low-price.

In the end we settled on an initial list price of AU$2.49.

Of this Apple takes its customary 30% and then MyTours 50% of the remainder (35% of the total).

Personally I think this is a very fair price. It is as cheap as can of soft drink and less than a coffee. I hope that the price also indicates that the walking tour has been made with care and we feel is worth at least that much.

We aren’t measuring success by the number of downloads but in the number of completed tours. And I strongly believe that a low price (vs free) will lead to more tour completions relative to total downloads. We will get less ‘speculative downloads’ and more intentional ones – unlike a general informational App that a museum might make, a walking tour App is not something that has a great deal of purpose unless you are intending to walk it. (And we’re keeping the free PDF version available regardless).

We’ve got signage coming at the Observatory so that visitors to the site in the day will be aware of the existence of this ‘visit extension’, and the public wifi at the site will make downloading the App and the tour as painless as we can currently make it.

We are launching a few more walks in the coming weeks with some other models being experimented with – and I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Tags: 5 Comments

  • Nice work.  (Especially good to highlight the careful iterative testing.)

    I hope I get to walk the tour someday!

  • I downloaded the App and think it is excellent.  Great work!  No, I didn’t walk the tour yet – but I know that area pretty well.

    Seb, you say, “We aren’t measuring success by the number of downloads but in the number of completed tours.”

    How will you know how many tours have been completed?

    • Anonymous

      Hi Bob

      We’ve got analytics built in so like a website we can see what stops get viewed, time spent, paths etc. Plus more rubbery qualitative feedback like you tell us that you’ve walked it (after you do).

  • Nice work Irma! Seb, I know the goal is for people to complete the tour, but based on recent experience with city walking tours in Spain and Portugal, I used them to pick out the most exciting landmarks only (and directions to get there). I like the idea of completing a whole tour, but found I was often too strapped for time to get through everything. Even dipping in and out of the app in a non-linear way was still incredibly useful. 

  • Nice work Irma! Seb, I know the goal is for people to complete the tour, but based on recent experience with city walking tours in Spain and Portugal, I used them to pick out the most exciting landmarks only (and directions to get there). I like the idea of completing a whole tour, but found I was often too strapped for time to get through everything. Even dipping in and out of the app in a non-linear way was still incredibly useful.