The Museums are going Mobile / 2. Notes from #mw2011

Just as Social Media were the key theme of the 2010 conference, at Museums and the Web 2011 the main topic was Mobile. A lot of sessions, workshops and debates were devoted to it and it was present in many of the stands and conversations. We even had a Mobile Parade! Here we will focus on the Mobile Strategies in Museums workshop run by Nancy Proctor, Head of Mobile Strategy & Initiatives at the Smithsonian Institution, and some of the tips from the Crit Mobile Room.

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1. The concept of mobile includes not only smartphones, iPhones, iPods and iPads but also downloadable content such as PDFs and e-books.

2. Museums do not need a mobile strategy, but need mobile to be part of the strategy.

3. Mobiles in museums…Why? In order to diversify the offer, attract and engage visitors, create a more interactive experience and create new learning environments.

4. Mobile is a unique mix of personal and social.

5. The basic strategy is to keep in mind the museum’s mission and key messages, define the target audience, define the results to be achieved (what we want visitors to know, experience and do), know what platforms are already being used, offer user-centred content and audience-led design, and plan evaluation indicators.

6. It is important to think about multiple platforms right from the start. To quote one speaker from the SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), ‘we have to assume that all content will be used on more than one platform, now or in the future.’

7. A quick SWOT of museums and mobile:

  • Strengths: the diversity of museums’ content and initiatives.
  • Weaknesses: museums’lack of experience of mobile platforms.
  • Opportunities: museum users’ increasing use of mobile applications; the new uses and potentials of the new platforms.
  • Threats: legal restrictions, many other mobile publishers.

Nancy Proctor during the workshop. Strategic objectives of the Smithsonian Mobile. The Smithsonian’s wiki on its strategy won the Best of the Web prize in the Social Media category at Museums and the Web 2011.

8. Nancy’s basic recommendations for putting together a programme:

  • first do the research
  • gather in pre-existing content
  • prioritize the content over the technology
  • experiment
  • built a team
  • cultivate a diversity of viewpoints via user-generated content
  • put up video content whenever possible
  • and even if we can’t do much more at the moment, at least create a version of the website suitable for mobile devices.

In the Crit Mobile session a number of museums — ours among them — presented the applications we have developed for iPhone, iPad or others and a panel of experts commented on these before opening up discussion with the audience.

The screen showing the mobile applications at the Conference, including the MuseuPicasso (last row). The Museu Picasso presentation at Crit Mobile, Museums and the Web 2011. Photos: Anna Ramos

Some of the observations made by experts and the public may seem absolutely obvious, but the fact is that we, museums, often fail to bear them in mind. For example:

  • take great care of the description of the app that appears before the download option: this isthe major influence on the user’s decision to download the app or not
  • make sure that the download time is not too long, users don’t like to wait
  • incorporate a download progress bar to let users know how long there is to go
  • plan your information architecture thoroughly. Some applications have ‘hidden’content — maps may be under Images, for example
  • monitor reading accessibility and usability
  • if there is a video, draw attention to it with an icon
  • ensure that users can return to the previous screen without having to go back to the main menu
  • clearly signal the existence of mobile applications in the physical museum and in communication materials.

In forthcoming articles we will have more to say about mobile content and other aspects of the Museums and the Web conference.

Conxa Rodà
Project Management

And you? Are you an apps user? What would you like to see in future mobile applications from the Museu Picasso?

Related Links (holiday reading)

The Museums Get Mobilized / 1

“From Headphones to Microphones: Mobile Social Media in the Museum as Distributed Network”, an excerpt from Nancy Proctor’s essay in the book Creativity and Technology: Social Media, Mobiles & Museums, Museums Etc, 2011

Museum mobile wiki

  • Marc
    April 21, 2011

    Hola! solsament una puntualització amb respecte a l’inciativa, com a usuari de móbil de 4 generació, us pregaria no us basessiu tan sols en el Ipod tecnológicament parlant i fessiu una aplicació vàlida en programari lliure, vàlid per exemple x Android (Google). Sistema cada vegada més estès entre usuaris i que ben aviat li passarà la ma per la cara al Ipod d’Appel.

  • Museu Picasso
    April 21, 2011

    Hola Marc, sí, tenim previst fer l’aplicació del museu també per Android. Gràcies!

  • Catherine Girardeau
    April 21, 2011

    Conxa, My partner, Jason Reinier was at the sessions at MW. We worked on the NMAI’s Infinity of Nations app, one of the apps critiqued. We will be in Barcelona 26-27 July and would love to meet you at Museu Picasso to take a look at the museum’s media mix and strategy.

  • Conxa Rodà
    April 28, 2011

    To Catherine: thank you for your interest. Please send an e-mail to my attention at and we’ll discuss meeting details. The NMAI’s app is really great!

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