Mobile User behaviour

Chickens, eggs & QR codes

Adam Greenfield at Urbanscale just posted some interesting research his team has been doing in NYC on the citizen familiarity of QR codes.

This is especially timely as QR codes are getting a lot of interest (finally) from the cultural sector. The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has been doing QR codes for a few years – first failing – but now perhaps getting good traction with them now that the code scanner is built into the exhibition catalogue App. Shelley Bernstein’s team at the Brooklyn Museum have also been rolling them out. And Wikipedia’s been promoting the nifty language ‘auto-detect’ QR codes that Derby Museum & Art Gallery have developed (QRpedia).

But there are still very valid concerns about the appropriateness of them – especially now that visual recognition is coming along rapidly (see Google Goggles at the Getty) and maybe even NFC might gain traction (see Museum of London’s Nokia trial). QR codes feel very much like a short term intermediate solution that isn’t quite right.

Here’s Greenfield:

While general awareness of the codes was frankly rather higher than we’d expected, and a majority of our respondents knew more or less what they were for, very few … were successfully able to use QR codes to resolve a URL, even when coached by a knowledgeable researcher.

A strong theme that emerged — which we certainly found entirely unsurprising, but which ought to give genuine pause to the cleverer sort of marketers — is that, even where respondents displayed sufficient awareness and understanding of QR codes to make use of them, virtually no one expressed any interest in actually doing so. As one of our respondents put it, “I’ve already seen the ad, and now I’m going to spend my data plan on watching your commercial? No thanks.”

These findings mirror the anecdotal experience most of us have had with QRs ourselves. The value proposition just isn’t obvious – and the amount of scaffolding required to encourage scanning can, in museums, sometimes take up as much visual space as the content that ends up being displayed (especially for object labels).

Is this just a chicken and egg situation? I’m not sure.

Greenfield’s initial findings do show that even when there is awareness there isn’t interest. And, I’d add, even when there is interest, museums need to be especially careful to consider what visitors actually want/expect to see when they scan vs what museums are able to show/tell. This is a crucial distinction that is often missed in discussions of in-gallery content delivery.

Mobile User behaviour

Early MoveMe wi-fi heat maps from Love Lace exhibition

Several months ago I announced that the Powerhouse Museum was a partner in the MoveMe pilot project funded under NSW Government’s Collaborative Solutions Program.

We’ve been working with Ramp, MOB Labs, ShopperTrak and Smarttrack RFID to deploy the pilot in our recent Love Lace exhibition.

This exhibition is ideal for trialling location aware content delivery because it is already kitted out with public wi-fi and we have the cross platform iOS and Android free exhibition App. Even better, the exhibition uses QR codes and the QR code reader in the exhibition App which gives the pilot project a great baseline to compare usage against.

While we don’t yet have the location aware content delivery working – that will come in a future version of the exhibition App – we have started to get access to wi-fi tracking data using the ShopperTrak system. As explained by Christopher Ainsley & Julian Bickersteth in their paper for Museums & the Web earlier this year, the ShopperTrak system is already used to create heatmaps and visitor journeys through shopping centres (or ‘malls’ as some readers might describe them).

The first data has started to emerge from the system and it is already very interesting.

Here’s a dwell time heat map that shows the areas of the exhibition where the wi-fi enabled devices (presumably carried by visitors) spend the longest time. This shows data from Sunday Oct 30 and 226 tracked devices.

(click for larger version)

A couple of important caveats.

Whilst the sample sizes are unexpectedly quite high (largely because the wi-fi tracking doesn’t require an actual connection to our wi-fi network, just that it is switched on on the device/phone), the sample rate at which devices are ‘pinged’ is quite low. iOS devices, for example, are only pinged every 2 minutes and so the resolution is very low – unless they are actively connected to our wi-fi network for the exhibition. This means that if an iOS device has wi-fi switched on but they aren’t using our Love Lace App and not connected to the exhibition wi-fi and they spend 10 minutes walking around the gallery their device will be counted in a maximum of 5 locations. Of course this can be offset by the volume of tracked devices (which almost certainly exceeds that of other manual people counting methods employed by traditional audience research).

What is interesting about the data is that it pretty much mirrors the distribution of the QR code usage I blogged about earlier. Unsurprisingly the longer dwell times are where the sit-down video experience is.

Mobile User experience

Experiencing The O at MONA – a review

A lot has been written about the Museum of Old and New Art and I’m not going to rehash any of that. Instead I’m going to look at their mobile guide – The O – which is provided to every visitor and included in the admission price.

Here some of the fleet of 1300 Os sit charging in enormous custom charging bays where they can also be updated.

The O is an iOS App that runs on an iPod Touch comes ready to run and with a quality pair of Audio Technica headphones. Developed by Art Processors, The O is described thus;

Wall labels are at once didactic and limited. They inhibit imagination. Squinted at through a dozen huddled heads, they are barely useful tools for learning, much less free thinking, or a private appreciation of the objects they describe.

The O solves these problems. It delivers information in a way that enhances the visitor’s experience of the gallery, and enables curators and exhibition designers to display the works the way they want. Museum researchers can present the best, most relevant textual, visual and audio content at their discretion. It provides information on visitor viewing habits, trending and satisfaction via integrated statistical reports. Above all, The O is an intimate, intuitive interface of the learning and autonomous response.

None of this would matter if it was a pain to use.

I was very impressed by the ‘technology concierge’ skills of the ticketing staff – they run you through the basics of the App and the hardware as they sell you your ticket and set you off on your way. Sitting beside the cash register is a graphic clearly explaining each of the main interface screens of the O as well. I’ve never seen this level of ‘scaffolding’ happen in other museums and the deftness with which visitors are set off on their way quickly is a testament to their staff training (and acceptance amongst these staff of the value of the O itself).

Descending into the museum itself you launch the O and you are off. Pop up instructions help you through the basic App operations and after a while you are prompted to enter your email address (and optional country) to ‘save’ your journey to the MONA website. Once this is done there are no further prompts and even when, as I did, returned after lunch and was given a different O device, the final ‘saved tour’ seemed to accurately aggregate my whole visit (over the two different devices).

At its most basic level The O replaces wall labels. Entering a space you simply click ‘Update’ and, using wifi triangulation a proprietary real-time system (see comments), the device provides a list, with thumbnails, of objects ‘near’ you. This works surprisingly well despite the split levels and bulk showcases of coins and other small objects in some areas. The scrollable list relieves the technology of the difficult task of ‘exactly positioning the visitor’ whilst at the same time emphasising the visitor’s own agency in choosing what they are ‘seeing’. (I think this is going to be an increasingly important balance as location and compass headings give mobile devices better granularity at guessing what you are looking at).

However the most impressive part of The O is the content – not the technology.

The O provides simple label text and an image for every object. I was disappointed that the images weren’t zoomable, however on most objects there was also a curator’s piece amusingly titled Art Wank. These were short, very accessible and gave useful context and background without overdoing it. A slightly smaller subset of objects are augmented with options called ‘Ideas’, ‘Gonzo’, and ‘Media’. It is in these three areas that The O really differentiates itself from every other museum mobile App or guide I’ve experienced.

‘Ideas’ is simply a set of provocations – or talking points. Some are quotes, others are just statements. One of the many ‘delighters’ I discovered on The O visiting with my companion (with her own O), was that often there were multiple ‘Ideas’ and that very rarely would we both get the same one at the same time. This gave us prompts to talk to each about the objects we were looking at – ensuring that sociality was not eroded by every visitor being glued to their own screens.

‘Gonzo’ is almost mostly responses or stories from MONA’s owner David Walsh. Sometimes these are stories about the acquisition of various objects, other times they are hilarious, for want of a better word, ‘rants’ about the artist, a style, or a moment. Like the ‘Ideas’ they make great talking points.

‘Media’ are short audio files – interviews with the artist and others. Some objects also have songs by Damien Cowell who was commissioned to record them ‘about’ certain works.

The interviews blew me away.

Unlike every other ‘museum tour’ the audio interviews are completely raw and lo-fi. This shocked me – and I loved it. Almost all the interviews that I listened to sounded like they were recorded in a noisy cafe – and in more than a few the interviewee’s mobile phone rang in the middle of the recording (usually followed by an apology ‘sorry I’m in a meeting’). This made it so approachable and friendly – and, importantly, felt candid – like I was there with the artist. This also reminded me that the quality of the content always trumps the fidelity of the recording.

‘Loving’ or ‘hating’ objects is possible too, and doing so gives you a simple quantitative statistic on the objects popularity amongst other visitors. I did wish that this recommended me other things to go and see. I also missed any kind of search functionality – I understand that this is probably because ‘searching’ is the exact kind of intentionality that MONA is trying to disrupt, instead forcing you to be in the moment – but it was frustrating when there were certain works I knew about that I wanted to locate.

Leaving MONA, the headphones and The O were given back to the friendly staff at the door. Arriving back home, there in my inbox was an email from MONA linking me to their website where I could browse through the objects that I’d seen – after supplying the email address I used to register), and find out which I’d missed.

The post-visit web experience is interesting in that it requires a MONA visit (and user registration through The O) to get access. On one hand this might seem exclusionary – and is definitely an option that is really now only open to private museums with no public mandate – but on the other hand this did re-emphasise the importance of connecting the physical experience of MONA and its works with the online experience. And, that I couldn’t access the objects of the museum before my visit (beyond a few selected pieces), meant that I was more open to exploring than targeting only things I was interested in when I was in the galleries.

On the web you have access to all the same content you could get on The O – the audio, the text, but rather disappointingly only the same small size of image. Your path through MONA is visualised and able to be played back on a timeline. I’m not sure that this adds any navigation ‘value’ but it does re-emphasise the physicality of visiting MONA, its unique spatial construct, and its primacy in understanding and experiencing ‘the works’ inside.

This is one of the few examples of where a museum website actually enhances the post-visit experience by connecting it concretely back to the physical experience (and does so be explicitly preventing pre-visit planning and expectations).

There’s a couple of minor quirks (primitive audio player controls especially) with The O but overall it sets a new benchmark in terms of integrated interpretative devices.

I do wonder, though, how much it relies upon a few uniquely MONA attributes – its entirely private vision (versus public duty/mission), the design of the museum itself which prevents any other form of internet access (it is underground), and the tabula rasa upon which it has been able to construct its content all at once (no legacy material or practices to deal with)?

And, how the aggregate usage data – the loves/hates, the pieces that are most/least viewed, the contours of content – is used will be fascinating to see.

Mobile User behaviour User experience

More on mobile tech impacts in museums (extended Mashable remix)

There’s a nice introductory piece today that features some of the recent Powerhouse Museum work in Mashable. It is a broad overview piece of how the Smithsonian, the NY Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Powerhouse have been utilising mobile technologies in galleries and exhibitions.

Reading some of the comments and picking up on some of the chatter on Twitter I thought it might be valuable to include two of the Q&A from the journalist that didn’t make the cut in the final story. They add a little more context and introduce more complexity into the issue – probably less interesting for non-museum people but useful to those deeply engaged in the field.

Q – How are you measuring the effectiveness of the technology you’ve deployed? Downloads? Data capture? Usage stats? I noticed you are going to put in moveME wifi triangulation system. What will the data from this tell you – you had mentioned in a post dwell time and loves but how will you put those findings to use? (Why are you doing this?)

We’re really interested in changing the physical design of our galleries so that they are able to deliver better experiences and tell more effective stories to and with our visitors. Once a visitor carries a fully searchable encyclopedia in their pocket (not too mention access to all our collection including the objects not on display), the whole idea of a ‘museum’ and how it could and should be designed, changes.

The ‘effectiveness’ of technologies has a number of different facets –

1. We look at raw usage data – downloads, views, interactions in order to redesign and iterate new versions of the technology itself.

2. Then we look at how visitors are using it both individually as as groups through observation and also data collection. This helps us to think about the social impact of our technologies in the galleries. For example, are our mobile apps meaning that families visiting together are talking to each other less than before? (a possibly negative outcome!)

3. We also look at the aggregate usage data to help us think about what content is being accessed (and what is being ignored) and then follow up with qualitative research to understand why. This, over time, helps us better understand which objects, for example, visitors are interested in finding out more about, and which, perhaps need a little more prompting.

4. Finally, and holistically, we aim to bring all this data together to better inform the spatial layout of galleries, and also the ancillary services such as education kits for teachers or curator-guided tours, that might further enhance a visit.

As we move from 1 to 4 the impact and time taken gets longer and longer obviously – and impacts much more broadly on the museum and its various operations.

Q – Where do you think things are going in terms of digital tech in your museum and in museums in general?

At the Powerhouse we are certainly getting far more strategic in our deployments rather than being seduced by novelty. This has been largely possibly because of the way digital has evolved at the museum with significant internal capacity and on-staff developers, digital producers, and strategy.

Broadly in the museum world we are seeing much higher volumes of technologies deployed – Google Goggles at the Getty, NFC at the Museum of London, AR at the Stedelijk, touch-tables everywhere – and I expect that over the next decade we will see the very idea of a ‘digital team’ or ‘digital unit’ or even ‘CTO’ at a museum as quaint. Simply because the very definition of a museum will be, itself, ‘digital’ and cross-platform.

Mobile QR codes User behaviour

Early App and QR code scanning data from Love Lace exhibition

I promised updates on the data coming from the QR code implementation in the Love Lace exhibition so here are the results of the last 4 weeks since opening.

Already we’ve released updates to both the iOS and Android versions of the Love Lace App. Perhaps surprisingly it has been the Android App that has given us the most trouble. Carlos has been troubleshooting various Android devices and OS versions to make the QR code scanning work properly – something that has been made much easier on iOS because of the consistency of hardware and lockdown of other apps. Now, though both are humming along nicely.

In terms of downloads we’ve had 572 iOS and 165 Androids. And using Flurry we’ve tracked 3,126 sessions on iOS and 502 on Android.

But let’s jump to the meaty data.

When we designed this App the QR code scanning tool was built in to try to maximise the use of QR code scans in the exhibition. Of course users could still just browse the scrolling list of objects and artists if they wished, but we hoped to get the QR scanning up to a reasonably good level by reducing user friction.

Looking only at the iOS figures we can see that browsing is by far the preferred behaviour although we haven’t segmented this by location. Obviously the QR code scanning only works when the visitor is in the gallery and outside of the gallery any App use would involve the scrolling browser only.

233 items (objects and artist records) have been viewed a total of 6933 times using the scrolling interface.

The QR code scanner has had 844 scans including 45 failed scans and 17 non-exhibition codes. Many objects have not been scanned at all.

Where this becomes interesting at this early stage is when we overlay the scans on the exhibition floor plan.

(click to open this at full size in a new window/tab – 457kb)

Visitors enter this gallery space from the bottom left and then complete a circuit counter clockwise. The triangular grey area in the very bottom left is the exhibition title wall that has signed promoting the App and the free in-gallery wifi.

Not unexpectedly the first hemisphere of Room 1 followed by Room 2 attract the most scans. However after that things become interesting.

What is striking about the overlay is that the most popular object (Meghan Price’s Habitat Wave) is near the end of the circuit of this part of the gallery in Room 8 and this is a rare outlier, being surrounded by almost entirely unscanned objects. Similarly Room 6, full of smaller objects, has a cluster of scanned objects but these are comparatively low numbers.

The cluster at the top of Room 10 are a set of five QR codes linking to the Inter Lace microdoumentaries that are projected in a remixed form in this space. Visitors dwell for significant time in this area but from the low figures would not seem to be aware of the full versions of these documentaries that lie in wait on YouTube.


In the next few weeks we will be rolling out a newer version of the App which will incorporate both these documentary videos as well as the ability to ‘love’ objects and share them more easily. We will be able to compare this data with the scan and view data and see if there are any correlations. Then, in about six weeks time the moveME wifi triangulation system will also be integrated allowing us to overlay and correlate dwell times in the space against ‘actions’ such as ‘love’ or scanning.

Stay tuned for the results of that.

Developer tools Interactive Media Interviews Mobile User experience

Interview with Rob Manson on Layar, streetARt and the AR Dev Camp

A little while back at the beginning of June we hosted the Sydney AR Dev Camp. Organised by Rob Manson and Alex Young, the AR Dev Camp was aimed at exposing local Sydney developers to some of the recent developments in augmented reality. A free event sponsored by Layar and the Powerhouse, it filled the Thinkspace Lab on a Saturday to network and ‘make stuff’. Rob and Alex also launched their new buildAR toolkit for content producers to quickly make and publish mobile AR projects using an online interface.

AR Dev Camp Sydney
(AR Dev Camp Sydney by Halans)

AR Dev Camp generated many discussions.

Some of these are covered and expanded on by Suse Cairns and Luke Hesphanol.

The ARTours developed by the Stedelijk Museum and presented as incursions into other spaces – including a rumoured temporary rogue deployment at Tate Modern – really demonstrate the way that AR popularises some interesting conceptual arenas. Indeed, just walking down Harris St that morning, booting up Layar and seeing a giant Lego man hovering over the Powerhouse was something that you’d rarely see. Margriet Schavemaker, Hein Wils, Paul Stork and Ebelien Pondaag’s paper from Museums and the Web 2011 this year explores these in detail.

I spoke to Rob Manson in March, as the event was being planned, about some of the changes in AR.

F&N: A lot has changed in both AR and Layar since we last spoke, way back when MOB released the PHM images in a Layar in 2009. Can you tell me about some of the changes to the Layar platform and other AR apps as you’ve seen them mature?

RM: I can’t believe how quickly that time has passed! But in a lot of ways we haven’t even started and the path in front of us is starting to get a lot clearer now.

Layar has continued with their main strength which is massive adoption (and those figures are just for Android!). It’s now the most dominant platform in the whole AR landscape. And just this week they announced Layar Vision, their natural feature tracking solution. Layar has become the default AR app that everyone refers to.

With this new version 6 of Layar you can now add image based markers, animation, higher resolution images and a much simpler improved user experience. And of course it supports a lot more interactivity than it did way back when we created the first Powerhouse layer – it now includes layer actions and proximity triggers. Our buildAR platform makes it easy for you to customise all of these settings and we’ve already announced full support for the new Layar Vision features.

Despite being an early adoption, the Powerhouse layer was loaded 2384 times by 853 unique users in 13 countries in just under 18 months. Whilst that may not sound like a lot, we’ve also had heavily promoted layers run by advertising agencies for major brands that did almost exactly the same numbers as the PHM layer. So on the whole I think the PHM layer has performed pretty well. Especially considering it was created quite early on and there’s not really a lot of reasons for people to return to the layer or share it with their friends.

Now Layar have also released the Layar Player SDK which allows us to embed the Layar browser within our own iPhone applications. This has opened up a world of new opportunities and means we can wrap layers in even richer interactivity and allow users to create and share media like photos, audio and videos. This is what led us to create

F&N:Obviously your StreetARt App is indicative of some these new changes – the ability to separate off as an App in its own right and have interactions.

Yes, we’ve created an App framework around the Layar Player SDK that integrates with our buildAR platform.

The response has been great. We’ve done very little if any promotion except for twitter, a blog post and being promoted as a featured layer and in our first month we’ve attracted over 25,000 unique users from 166 countries. Our total count is now well over 200,000 unique users from over 194 countries.

We’ve engaged with street art and graf communities through twitter and the response has been really good. We’re really outsiders that just enjoy the art and really wanted an easier way to find it ourselves. The artists that have used it have given us really positive feedback and seem happy to spread the love.

F&N: What happens to the aggregated dataset of geolocated works?

This is part of our new features road map. The first phase of social sharing with multi-device permalinks has been released. We’re now working on ways for people to import/manage photo sets from Flickr and to be able to map out and share their own sub-sets of the streetARt locations to create walking tours, etc.

Plus we want to focus on specific artists works, publish interviews and bubble up more dynamic content to the make the whole platform feel more alive.

F&N: How do you see it complimenting non-AR graf apps like All City and others?

There’s quite a few actually. There’s Allcity which was sponsored by Adidas. which was sponsored by Red Bull and most recently Bomb It which is an app based on or supporting a movie. And also the Street Art paid iPhone App.

We think there’s plenty of room for all of these apps I’m sure there will be a lot more soon too. However, I think there’s a bit of a backlash building around the sponsored apps as some people in the scene see this as just an exploitation of the graf/streetart community.

We considered this a lot when we built streetARt. In some ways people could point the same finger at us but we don’t charge for the App and we don’t sell sugary drinks or expensive sports clothes/shoes. We just want to find out what happens when you mix cool content with cool technology and so we hope people see our good intentions.

And of course we were the first to do it with AR!

F&N: One thing I’ve been finding challenging with AR, despite all the talk of ‘virtual and physical worlds merging’, is that the public awareness of the data cloud that surrounds everything now is still very low. I’d be interested on your thoughts as to how to make people aware that AR content exists out in the world at large.

I think that’s a critical point. Recently some artists published what they called the ARt Manifesto but David Murphy posted a really valid critique.

There IS an interesting debate to be had around “control” of the digital layers and where they can be overlaid onto the physical world. But the digital layer is an abundant, effectively infinite resource where the cost to create is continually dropping. The really scarce resource that we should all really be focused upon is “attention”.

Getting people’s attention, keeping it and then getting them to engage on an ongoing basis is the real challenge. That’s why we’re so happy with the results that streetARt has created too. Not only have we attracted tens of thousands of users from all around the world, we’ve also been able to attract hundreds of really engaged users that return on a regular basis, many of them almost daily. The key to this was populating streetARt with enough Creative Commons-licensed content to kickstart it. This made sure that most people would see some cool art right from their first experience. In locative media [getting the first experience right] can be a real challenge – so we started with over 30,000 images from over 520 regions around the world, and now the users are helping us grow that further. But the 90/9/1 [participation] ratio is a reality and you have to plan for it.

AV Related Mobile QR codes User experience

Love Lace App instructional video

One of the biggest hurdles for in-gallery App take up – actually any in-gallery technology take up – is awareness. So when you’ve just released an App (read the full story), a cross-platform one at that, for a new exhibition (opening July 30), then it really helps to have some very obvious visual promotion of it.

Here’s our instructional video put together by Estee Wah and Leonie Jones. (No questions about where we found the enormous iPhone please! Or the hand model!)

If you’ve only visited the Love Lace website on your computer you might want to try it on your iPhone too . . .

[Android version of the App is on the Android market now]

Conceptual Geotagging & mapping Interviews Mobile User experience

A new Powerhouse Walking Tours App and a Q&A with Glen Barnes

About a month ago our second walking tour App went live in the AppStore and was promptly featured by Apple leading to a rapid spike in downloads.

The Powerhouse Museum Walking Tours App is a free download, unlike our Sydney Observatory App, and it comes pre-packaged with two tours of the suburbs surrounding the Museum – Pyrmont and Ultimo. Both these tours are narrated by curator Erika Dicker and were put together by Erika and Irma Havlicek (who did the Sydney Observatory one) based on an old printed tour by curator Anni Turnbull.

Neither Pyrmont or Ultimo are suburbs that are likely to be attracting the average tourist so we felt that they should be free (as opposed to the Sydney Observatory one) inclusions with the App.

Additionally, as an in-App purchase you can buy a really great tour of historic Sydney pubs around the CBD written and narrated by Charles Pickett. We’re experimenting with this ‘freemium’ approach to see what happens – especially in comparison to the Observatory tour which requires an upfront payment. So, for a total of AU$1.99 the buyer can get the two included tours and the pubs tour.

So how’s it going?

As of last week we’d had 1,437 downloads of the free App with the two included tours since launch on June 13. 13 of the 1,437 have made the decision to go with the in-App purchase (that’s a upgrade conversion rate of less than 1%). We started getting featured on the AppStore on June 25 and the downloads spiked but there was no effect on in-App purchases. In comparison, the priced Sydney Observatory tour has sold 53 copies since launch a few weeks earlier on May 23.

We’re pretty happy with the results so far despite the low in-App conversions and we’re yet to do any serious promotion beyond that which has come our way via the AppStore. We’re also going to be trying a few other freemium upgrades as we do know that the market for a tour of Sydney pubs is both smaller and different to that of more general historical tours. You’re unlikely to see families taking their kids around Sydney’s pubs, for example.

We even had an unsolicited review from local blogger Penultimo –

We learned a few things very quickly – mostly about our own expectations. The first was this: it’s not going to be like a museum audio tour. The Powerhouse Museum did not pay a professional audio-speaker to make these tours. This means they have a kind of nice, very slightly amateur feel to them. At first this felt a little strange, but we got used to it.

Glen Barnes gets inspired about outdoor mobile tours during a visit to Pompeii 2003

Glen Barnes runs MyTours, the company behind the software platform we’ve been using to make these tour Apps. Since KiwiFoo, Glen and I had been conversing on and offline about a lot of tour-related issues and I got him to recount some of these conversations in a Q&A.

F&N: My Tours has been very easy for non-technical staff to build, prototype and test tours with. How diverse is the current user base? What are some of the smallest organisations using it?

We’ve got about 26 apps out right now covering 3 main areas:

– Tourism boards and destination marketing organisations (Positively Wellington Tourism in New Zealand and the St Andrews Partnership in Scotland)
– Museums and cultural institutions (Powerhouse Museum, Invisible City Audio Tours, Audio Tours Australia and Invisible City Audio Tours App mainly because the content is great and the they’ve spent a lot of time on the stories, photos and audio. (Did you know that people used to sink ships of San Francisco so they could claim the land over the top of them when it got reclaimed? How awesome is that!)

Invisible City App

I think a good tour has to have something to hold it all together – putting pins on a map just simply doesn’t cut it and neither does copying and pasting from Wikipedia.

I’m also a big fan of real people talking about their experiences or their expertise and this was really bought home to me when I meet Krissy Clark from Stories Everywhere at Foo Camp a couple of months ago. We went exploring out into the orchard and ‘stumbled’ across a song that was written about the place by a passing musician. The combination of the story and the song really took me back to what it must have been like in the middle of the hippy era.

Of course a great story is no good if people can’t find it. Promotion is key to any app.

I think this is one area where organisations really have to start working with local tourism boards and businesses. If you are from a smaller area then band together and release one app covering the local heritage trail, museum and gardens. The tourism organisations tend to have more of a budget to promote the area and by working together you can help stand out amongst the sea of apps that are out there. Also make sure that you tell people about it and don’t rely on the app stores. Get links of blogs, the local newspaper and in real life (Welly Walks had a full page article in a major newspaper, two more articles and a spot in KiaOra magazine). Talk to people and make sure the local hotels and others who recommend places-to-go know about what you are doing.

F&N: Do you see My Tours as creating a new audiences for walking tours or helping transition existing printed tours to digital? I’m especially interested to know your thoughts on whether this is a transition or whether there might actually be a broader market for tours?

We fit the bill perfectly for transitioning existing printed tours to the mobile space but that is definitely only the start. It is easy to do and creates a first step in creating more engaging content. A criticism some people make is that some of the tour apps don’t have audio – but in reality audio can be expensive to produce. I don’t mean we shouldn’t strive for the best but I would rather see some tours out there and made accessible than not published at all. Also if a few new people who wouldn’t dream of going to the library to pick up a walking tour brochure or booking a tour with the local historical society get interested enough to spend their Sunday exploring the town then that is good enough for me.

F&N: Here at PHM we’re trying both a Freemium and an upfront payment model for the two apps we have running. How have you seen these models work across other My Tours products?

We’ve tried to experiment a bit with different pricing models both for our own pricing and the app pricing. In-app purchasing hasn’t really taken off just yet and I’m not sure how this is going to work long term for this type of content. I’m hopeful that as more people become used to paying for things like magazine subscriptions through apps simple In-App purchases should become the norm for content just as it is for in-game upgrades. My main advice would be that if you can give the app away for free then do it as your content will spread a lot further that way. One way of doing this would be to get sponsorship for the app or some other form of payment not directly from the users.

F&N: What are the essential ingredients to having a chance of making a Freemium model work?

For any app you have to provide value off the bat to have any chance at all. For example you can’t give away an app and then charge for all of the content within – You will get 1 star reviews on the store straight away. Apart from that are you offering something that someone just has to have? That is a big call in the GLAM sector but if anyone has ideas of what content that is I would love to hear about it!

F&N: I was struck by My Tours affordability compared to many other mobile tour-builders. Do you think you’ve come at the ‘mobile tours’ world from leftfield? What assumptions have you overturned by being from outside the ‘tour scene’?

When we started we didn’t really look at any other solutions (as far as I know we were working on My Tours before anyone else had a completely web based tour builder like ours). I think we also did a few things with our tour builder that are a bit different because we hadn’t come from within the tour ‘scene’. The whole idea of having to upload ‘assets’ to your ‘library’ before even getting started just seemed a bit weird and convoluted to me so we we just let people add images and audio directly to the stops as they needed them. Also opening up the tour builder to anyone without them having to sit through a sales pitch from me was a first – I see no reason why you have to qualify people before they even kick the tyres.

We also challenged the assumptions that apps were only available to those with lots of money. The internet has this amazing ability to put everyone on an equal footing and let everybody’s voice be heard. This doesn’t mean that all voices are perfect but what it does mean is that money isn’t the measure of quality. Put another way there is no reason why the Kauri Museum shouldn’t have their own app just like the MoMA. It might not have all of the bells and whistles of an app from a major museum but at the same time it won’t take a hundred thousand dollars to develop.

It is interesting to look in more detail at pricing. We approached pricing by looking at a couple of other generic app builders and also looking at what value we provide. We’ve based the value proposition on the number of downloads that most of our apps will receive. Welly Walks is doing around 30-50 downloads a week which means they are paying around 30-50 cents for each app that gets downloaded. That is great value for them. Other apps are not getting quite so many downloads. If you are a smaller organisation you may only get 10 a week and the price per app is $1.50-$2 which still seems OK.

Looking at the charging models for some other tour builders and at those same download rates over a 2 year period you’d be looking at $11 and $16 an app for 10 downloads a week or $2.50 and $3.50 for 50 downloads a week. Of course, there are other factors apart from cost per download that come into it (For example renting the devices on site) but the bottom line is “Are we getting value for money?”. We may add in different pricing tiers as we add more features but I expect this will be around how deep you want to go with customising the look and feel of the app – custom theming for example.

F&N: I was really impressed to see that you had been implementing TourML import/export.

TourML to just seems like a no brainer. To me it serves 2 purposes. 1) To enable organisations to export/backup their data from a vendors system in a known format and 2) Allow content to be easily shared between different platforms.

Now some vendors want to lock you into their system and their way of doing things and they try and make it hard to leave. Instead we started from scratch building our company based on the modern practice of monthly charging and no long term contracts. As they say, “you’re only as good as your last release” and this keeps pushing us to build a better product. And while we don’t have the TourML export in the interface yet (the standard isn’t at that stage where we feel comfortable putting all of the finishing touches on our proof of concept) we see no reason why people who want to move on should not have access to the data – after all it is theirs.

We also want to see content available on more devices and pushed out to more people. Isn’t the whole point of the GLAM sector to enable access to our cultural heritage? By having an open format it means that a tour may end up on devices that are too niche for the museums to support internally (Blackberry anyone?).

F&N: What do you think about ‘augmented reality’ in tours? Do you see MyTours exploring that down the track?

I’ve got a love/hate relationship with AR. On the one hand I really want it to work but on the other I have never actually seen it work.

I think two examples show this clearly.

On a trip to London last year I was looking forward to trying the Museum of London’s award winning Streetmuseum app which places various historical photographs around the city. But having done so I came away with a couple of nagging issues. I never once got a lock on an image actually hovering over the correct location (even at which has a wide open sky due to the construction of the new crosslink tunnel). Here’s a screengrab from my phone where you will see the photo is way off the mark.

The second unfavourable experience with Streetmuseum was less technical and more a psychological issue – I actually felt really vulnerable standing in the middle of touristy London holding up my iPhone with my pockets exposed. I was always conscious of a snatch and grab or a pickpocket.

The second example was during Museums and the Web 2011 where Azavea held a Walking tour of Historic Philadelphia.

A group of about 15-20 of us set off with the mobile app and walked around the city looking at various sights. It only took about 10 minutes before our devices were tucked firmly back in the pocket as we couldn’t really get it to work reliably – and this is from 20 dedicated museum and mobile practitioners! Let me point out that I don’t think it was a bad implementation of the current technology (they really have a bunch of talented people working there), I just think that the technology isn’t ready. You can download a whitepaper from Azavea on the project from their website which goes into some of the issues they faced and their approach.

I think there are some opportunities around where it does make sense but the outdoor ‘tour’ space I don’t think is one of them (yet). So will we be adding AR to My Tours? Not any time soon in the traditional sense but if someone can show me something adds value down the road? Sure.

F&N:You are also really committed to open access to civic data. How do you see commercial models adapting to the changes being brought through open access?

I’m a big Open Data fan (I helped found Open New Zealand). I’m not sure where that came from but I got interested in open source in 1999 when Linux was starting to take off and I just loved the way that many people working together could build tools that in a lot of instances were better than their commercial equivalents. I’ve also worked for companies where there were a lot of manual tasks and a lot of wasted human effort. Open Data means that we can all work together to build something greater than the sum of its parts with the understanding that we can both get a shared value out of the results. It also means that people can build tools and services on top of this data to without spending days trying to get permission before they even start and can instead focus on providing real value to others. I’m really proud of the work myself and the other Open Data folk are doing in NZ. We’ve got a great relationship with those within government and we are starting to see some real changes taking place.

How will companies adapt to this? If you are charging money through limiting access to content then you will no longer have a business. When you think about it how did we ever get in a situation where businesses produced content and then licensed this under restrictive licenses back to the organisations that paid for it in the first place? If you commission an audio track then you should own it and be free to do what you like with it. Mobile? Web? CC licensed? That should all be fine. Therefore the value that the producer adds is where the business model is. For My Tours, that is in providing an easy to use platform where we take all of the hassle out of the technical side of the app development process – you don’t need a ‘computer guy’ and a server to set up a TAP instance. That is what we are experts in and that is what we will continue to focus on.

Collection databases Mobile QR codes User experience

Making Love Lace – a cross device exhibition catalogue & the return of the QR

Estee Wah has been busy bringing Love Lace, our upcoming contemporary art exhibition, online. She’s been wrangling content and ensuring that the website is able to act as a fully fledged (and expanding) catalogue for the show as well as revealing much of the individual artists’ processes in a behind the scenes section.

This exhibition sees the return of QR codes to the Museum (as well as, later, the trial of the tracking pilot).

To solve one of the big problems with QR codes – that people just can’t be bothered downloading a QR code reading application (or firing it up if they do have one), our internal developer Carlos Arroyo has built the exhibition iPhone and Android App with the QR code scanner built in! This means anyone who downloads the exhibition App – itself a full catalogue of the exhibition designed for in-gallery supplementary browsing now also has their QR scanner at their finger tips.

As the QRs are scanned – from within the App – the relevant exhibition object immediately launches in the App. Carlos has also managed to nail down error correction and the scanning is now really good even in low light and on low resolution cameras.

Like for Sydney Design and the Go Play Apps we’re using Flurry to track in-App actions so we can see which objects get scanned and viewed.

(There’s even a mobile website that mimics the App – without the scanner – if you don’t choose to install the App!).

We’ll keep you updated on how it goes and when the automated tracking goes live. Carlos is already working on a v1.1 version of the App to roll out shortly with some new interaction options.

Try out the iOS App in the AppStore. And the Android version of the App is on the Android market also.

Mobile Powerhouse Museum websites Young people & museums

Updating Go Play – the cross-agency school holiday calendar

Last September we quietly launched the alpha version of Go Play, a site that Powerhouse was commissioned to produce for the then Communities NSW (now Office of Communities). Go Play was built to address the problem of the general invisibility of the wealth of great school holiday events, often free or low cost, put on by government organisations. On commercially operated parental events calendars these cultural events are buried amongst the latest family movies, and on individual government agency websites there is no suggestion that there might be other relevant activities nearby. Beginning with the cultural institutions and sport and recreation facilities, the site was also built to ensure that event metadata was enhanced with standardised parent-focussed information like age suitability and whether or not the venues have baby change facilities etc.

Initially managed by Renae Mason at the Powerhouse and programmed by the IXC, the Go Play went live as a public alpha with school holiday activities collated from five NSW government agencies to test the database structure and robustness. In December the site, complete with a stack of bugfixes, went into beta with more agencies involved.

Under the purview of a new producer at Powerhouse, Estee Wah, the April holidays came around and the site continued to grow with more and more contributors and general operations for the site began shifting over to staff fat Office of Communities. At the same time for April, we launched a mobile App version of Go Play funded through Apps4NSW and was developed by The Nest.

Now we’re in the winter school holidays and the site has just added even more partner organisations and the App has also received its first major update.

Not only that, the enhanced event copy is now licences under CC-BY-NC for re-use by others (excepting, of course, the images). The event data and venues can be obtained as XML from the Data Output section. (Alternative licensing of the data can no doubt, be negotiated).

So how has it gone?

Go Play, to date, has shown that with a mix of great SEO and search marketing coupled with a relatively simple UI there is a good audience for tightly focussed cross-agency event calendars. Traffic has been strong with each holiday period delivering more and more visitors to the site – now nearly 60K – and consolidating repeat visitors. The iOS App has had nearly 1100 downloads since launch, and the update has been applied 234 times in the last few days since release showing ongoing usage by those who downloaded the first version.

Not surprisingly, those institutions who chose to add the Go Play banners to their own sites ended up sending a good deal of traffic to the site – showing that, unsurprisingly, parents who visit, say the Powerhouse Museum website looking for holiday activities are interested in seeing what else in on too. It would seem, too, that those who sent traffic also had their own events viewed the most in Go Play creating a net gain in traffic and awareness, instead of a net loss.

The initial ideas that such a site might be able to run automagically, harvesting new content from participating institutions, have unsurprisingly been optimistic. In fact these were scoped out after the initial alpha release and the focus on having a human editor who ensures that events have full enhanced metadata not only makes the site a lot more valuable to parents but also realistically deals with resource levels at contributing agencies.

Next school holidays the site will be completely under the operation of Office of Communities and will hopefully grow to take on many more content partners (local government is an obvious option), and maybe down the track be able to operate all year round.

Check out the Go Play site and the free iOS App!