Nancy Proctor heads up mobile strategy and initiatives for the Smithsonian Institution, and is co-chair of the Museums and the Web annual conference. From 2008-2010 she was Head of New Media at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Nancy served as program chair for the Museums Computer Network (MCN) conference 2010-2011, and co-organizes the Tate Handheld conference among other gatherings for cultural professionals. She also manages MuseumMobile.info, its wiki and podcast series, and is Digital Editor of Curator: The Museum Journal. Learn more about Nancy at museummobile.info
Why is mobile interpretation important for Museums?
According to Nancy, mobile interpretation has the potential to allow for a plethora of interactivity between the museum and its visitors. It allows museums to add more information than what can be put on a label or wall text and can even offer interpretation in a multitude of languages, the impetus for some of the very first mobile devices in use in museums. Mobile interpretation is important because it opens up the collections and allows for increased access to the stories behind the objects but it also, especially these days, allows for a lateral communication with museum visitors. Social media, web presence, and apps network the visitors and the museum constantly. This is unprecedented in the history of museums and now more than ever the conversation between the museum and its visitors is easier, quicker, and more transparent due to the rise of mobile devices.
Mobile interpretation is important for the future of museums but it needs to be included in the overall planning process of museums. See the Smithsonian Mobile wiki for how to build strategy. It cannot be an afterthought or technology for technology’s sake. If mobile planning is tied to the overall mission of the museum it will be invisible, meaning it will fit in with the overall visitor experience in a museum and will not stick out like a sore thumb. If it is the museum’s mission to increase the diffusion of knowledge, mobile strategies need to provide avenues for this mission to take place.
Mobile business models and Return on Investment
Mobile apps or mobile websites will not reach 100 percent of museum visitors because not everyone has the technology in their pockets, yet. Many sources predict mobile internet usage to top desktop usage by 2013-2015. Although, 100 percent of the public cannot physically visit the museum due to geographic location but with network technology a museum does have global reach. With the 2010 Horizon Report: Museum Edition stating that, “The global network supporting mobile devices of all kinds now covers more territory than the electrical grid.”
Having a presence on mobile devices will allow museums to meet people where they are and cultivate niche audiences right now. Free apps achieve the greatest number of downloads and therefore have the greatest reach. As soon as charges are applied, the download numbers drop significantly. Apps are expensive to produce today and generally apps do not make the money back, but if the traditional view of return on investment is updated to include education, increased website visitation or increasing support for another revenue generating initiative memberships for example, than mobile is successful. The network effect is key. See the paper Nancy co-authored at the Museum and the Web conference 2010 regarding mobile app business models. Using the Smithsonian Mobile wiki, transparency and openness plays into this as well. By publishing work on a wiki and allowing people to collaborate, contribute, and create solutions that would otherwise not be possible, Nancy has been able to produce successful projects with volunteers and relatively no budget.
Mobile = Awareness and Relevancy
I encourage you to listen to the audio file, there is so much more in this interview than I can possibly sum up in this blog post. Mobile meets our 21st century visitors where they are; having a presence on mobile devices is imperative for museums. It increases awareness and in turn increases the relevancy of the museum, that network effect that Nancy talked about. Museums can now concentrate on augmenting their collections, to bring out stories, to leverage mobile to work for them. Mobile is not only about engaging people but getting them involved in a dialogue with the museum.
Listen to the interview
Listen to the streaming audio above or download the mp3 file.
- Kelly, Lynda. Mobile apps: to charge or not to charge? Audience Research blog.
- Burnette, A., et al., “Getting On (not under) the Mobile 2.0 Bus: Emerging issues in the mobile business model.” In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2011: Proceedings
- Mobile by the Numbers infographic. Mashable.
- Smithsonian Mobile Wiki
- Tallon, L., and I. Froes, “Going Mobile? Insights into the Museum Community’s Perspectives on Mobile Interpretation.” In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2011: Proceedings
- “One Year or Less: Mobiles.” 2010 Horizon Report: Museum Edition.