Monthly Archives: March 2011

Looking for a contract gig in Boston?

The Museum of Science is hiring temporary full-time staff! We’ve got two jobs up for a human biology exhibition project. They are for a:
CAD Designer
Exhibit Designer

There may be a third position coming up too. Don’t me ask for details. I have none. But do tell your friends!

Museum mobile surveys

I was bummed not to be able to listen in to the online Museums and Mobiles webconference on Tuesday. Following the tweets that folks sent was almost like being there. Keep it up, folks!

I have been working on an essay for an AAM epublication on mobiles and museums, and poring through two recently released surveys on museums and mobiles from the American Association of Museums (AAM) and Pocket-Proof and Learning Times. They’re interestingly complimentary and reading them side-by-side has been valuable, both for where they overlap and where they diverge.

The 2011 AAM Mobile Technology Survey was conducted among AAM members, and is not surprisingly very U.S. focused (about 98%) in its respondents. According to their press release,

Nearly Half of US Museums Offer Mobile Information Access to Visitors
In 2011 the Fastest Growing Mobile Platform Will Be Smartphone Apps
“Mobile Giving” Emerges as Key Driver of Museums’ Mobile Programs

I admit I was a little surprised by the highlights. Almost half? Mobile Giving is a key driver? The 2011 AAM Mobile Technology Survey is definitely worth a look.  Some of the things that leapt out at me were:

One-third of respondents plan to introduce some new mobile technology in 2011. That’s in addition to museums that are augmenting or expanding existing mobile platforms (mostly audiotours). Kinda reminds me of of 1995-6, when the Web had arrived and museums were preparing to take the plunge into this frightening online sea.

Museums with static collections predominate. Art museums and history museums account for over 50% of the sample. Science and technology museums are in the cellar with 5%. Maybe it’s just cuz we already know everything about the technology?

It’s enlightening to see who responds to these surveys. The biggest categories of people filling out the AAM survey were; Senior level (21%), Ed/Interpretation (20%), Other (19%), and Curatorial (18%) The third place category is “Other”? Who are they, and what do they do that it doesn’t fit into the standard categories? Do our “standard” categories need to change? IT/Web came in at 4% which is also interesting.

What are the goals of mobile programs? This was an interesting graph. The clear winner was “Increase visitor engagement” at 83% and the second place went to “marketing word of mouth about the museum” at 51%. Marketing is in second place in terms of museums’ goals for their mobile programs. Right behind them were “bring programs to a wider audience” (45%) and “meet visitor demand” (41%) . Does anyone out there have evidence of level of visitor demand? I hear it get used a lot, but it’s usually by senior management and it’s usually anecdotal. I’d love to see something quantitative.

Down at the bottom of the list, right above “Develop more effective programs for teachers” was “visitor giving/donation” at 19%. Somehow, this is a key driver of mobile growth, according to the report’s authors, even though it came in behind “collect feedback on visitor experience”, “keeping up with museum peers”, and “provide map of venue and basic services”. In the breakout graph for the mobile giving folks, the three choices given were “Reach out to a younger audience”, “Provide a method for giving” and “Keep current donors engaged.” I’m skeptical.

The financial model responses were also interesting. Charging fees came in dead last, which, given the number of museums that charge for audiotours, is a bit schizophrenic. There is clearly a lot of educating on business models that needs to be done. If you come up with a working freemium or paid model for mobile, you can probably spend the next three years just giving the same talk at conferences the world over. It also seems we are still a craft industry. The most sought after kind of industry insight were case studies at other museums, which was more popular than research studies or evaluation strategies.

Their forecast for 2011 is also worth looking at, especially when you look at it in the larger context of the 2010 Horizon Report Museums Edition. Most of the growth is going to happen right where it’s happening; smartphone apps and cell phone tours (eek!), followed by mobile giving (?) apps. Perennial nerd favorites like my beloved AR? Dead last! Pff!

Loïc Tallon’s paper for Museums and the Web 2011 is already up. Going Mobile? Insights into the Museum Community Perspectives on Mobile Interpretation does a great job of teasing information out of the Learning Times/Pocket-Proof survey. I’d start there. Their sample size and composition are different and their questions were a bit different, but a lot of the salient points echo the AAM survey.

Experience matters. Looking at the different breakdowns for challenges perceived by museums that hadn’t yet done a mobile app and those that had was enlightening. When you’re staring at a new platform and worrying, what do you worry about? Money, keeping up to date, and the technical stuff. Once you’ve launched something, you worry about getting visitors to use it, you worry about the content, and you worry more about the content. Yes, indeed. As the paper points out, take up rates are still the thing nobody talks much about. What percentage constitutes a “successful” app? In the audiotour market, 20% is good. 30% is great. 30%. 1 in 3. Hmm…

The paper put its finger on some real issues that anybody planning a mobile app should be thinking about.

  • Who is your audience? What do they know/want/need?
  • How will you measure your success?
  • How will you get them to use your app?

Without being able to answer these questions, it’s hard to move the field as a whole forward. I was particularly glad to see them tackle evaluation. So much of my work in physical exhibit development has been profoundly influenced by evaluation that it’s hard to imagine taking something as expensive as a new platform and “just going for it” without spending a long time figuring out who the audience was, what they knew, what we wanted them to know, and so on… But it’s still early days for mobile evaluation and finding references is still hard work, although Museums and the Web and the MuseumMobile Wiki are invaluable sites to explore.

What resources, inside and outside the museum field, do you turn to for guidance/inspiration/information? I’d love to know!

Now, the countdown to Museums and the Web begins! And the lineup of mobile sessions is impressive.  If you’re coming to Philadelphia, stop me and say “Hi!”, OK?


A great post on mobility, culture, and AR fromMatthew Linley’s blog.  Read all the way through, and be sure to follow the link to Alan Moore’s presentation. Heady stuff. #Mobileculture day 2 – a blog record.

What do you do after the show opens?

So, a bit of shameless self-promotion…

We just finished our latest exhibition, , and it got me to thinking about the rhythms of this work. We’ve been busting our butts to this show completed, and this morning was the staff walkthrough. And even though it’s quite small by our standards – 1,000 sq ft. – it had all of what I think of as the hallmarks of a good museum exhibition project, There were:

  • the long, long days in the gallery,
  • the shared vocabulary of in-jokes that developed as a result of the above,
  • the period when it looked like we might open on time,
  • the period when it was obvious we’d never open on time,
  • the thing that should’ve been simple, but seemed like it’d never get done,
  • somebody bleeding,
  • the “Uh-oh…” moment,
  • the terrible agony of making decisions based entirely on getting it done on time, and
  • the little details that nobody but the team would notice that took extra precious time to include, but showed that commitment to quality that makes me glad to come to work every morning.

Pictures follow, courtesy of Emily Roose, graphic designer extraordinaire.

The entrance. Automatic glass doors. Best money we ever spent on that gallery. Like a vacuum cleaner on undecided visitors.




The entrance visually represents what we've collected over the past 180 years. The TV shows old commercials from the 70s.

The entrance - oil paintings and the big Van de Graaff in the background.

The exhibition traces the Museum's history back to 1814 and the Linnaean Society of New England.

The founding document of the institution, recording the meeting of nine gentlemen in Boston in 1830.

A representative collection of the Museum's holdings in the 1860-1940 era. "Our Insect Friends" anyone?

Behold the 1960s!

So, we stood around and told our colleagues about what we were trying to do, what we liked, what we wished we could’ve changed given more time/money/sleep/bodies, and it was lovely. There is nothing like an opening, even an unofficial one.

Mike Horvath, Exhibit Designer, Emily Roose, Graphic Designer, Yours Truly, Exhibit Developer. We thought dressing up as different eras would be fun. And it was.

Welcoming staff to a sneak preview of the exhibition. It's wonderful to watch people learn about the place they work.

And it’s done. It belongs to the visitors, not us.

I went up to the gallery later in the day, and as I always do, I watched the first visitors to the exhibition, trying to see what they liked, what they gravitated to, what they avoided. And mostly said my goodbyes to this thing as-yet-unmade, and my hellos to our latest exhibition, and the punch list of things needing to be fixed or corrected.

Over the years, I’ve had many different responses to shows I’ve worked on. There have been ones I avoided, ones I couldn’t stay away from for love or money, ones that have made me happy, ones that have left me wishing I could’ve _______. And almost always a sort of post-partum depression, the spectre of long hours at my desk, catching up on emails and paperwork, and meetings I can’t duck “because I’m in the gallery.”

What do you do after the show opens? And why?

Look outside your field! What’s going on in the world around you?

One thing I’m always on the lookout for are people outside of the museum field who are doing what I think is interesting work, defined broadly. There are lots of people who think and study and write about how people learn in free choice environments – work that can be easily transferred to museum work if you squint a little.
Over the past decade or so, there has been an explosion of interest in learning in social networks, game design, user experience design. etc… Where do you find your inspirations outside of the field? Here’s a random sampling from my Google Reader and Twitter lists of non-museum types I find interesting.

  • Cory Doctorow @doctorow

Writer, blogger, activist. If you want a reply, use email. Blog suggestions here:

  • Karl Long @karllong

Nokia games group, now working on social/mobile games.

  • Ken Eklund @writerguygames

Game designr, writr, evangelst, instigatr. World Without Oil, anyone? Yeah, him…

  • Shaun Usher @LettersOfNote

Shaun runs the Letters of Note website, which is my absolute favorite collection of primary source documents on the web.

  • Dirk vom Lehn @dirkvl

Sociologist, Lecturer in Marketing and dad. Tweets on technology, marketing, politics, the arts, museums and life.

  • danah boyd @zephoria

social media scholar, youth researcher & advocate | Microsoft Research, Harvard Berkman Center |

  • Jane McGonigal @avantgame

I make games, I play games. My book is Reality is Broken: Why Game Make Us Better and How They Change the World

Slover Linett is an audience research firm. Asking Audiences explores the fast-changing landscape in which cultural and educational organizations meet their publics.

A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language. Nuff said.

Who are your favorite outsiders and hat do they do for your thinking?