Blog / RB @ Arnet News – What Should A Museum iPhone App Look Like?

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Posted by Teka

I’m reblogging an interesting piece on Artnet yesterday about iPhone applications for museums.  What do you think a Nasher Museum iPhone app should look like – or any museum iPhone app for that matter?

WHAT SHOULD A MUSEUM IPHONE APP LOOK LIKE?
We have seen the future of the museum, and it involves. . . lots of people on their phones. All across the land, museums are trying to figure out how to take advantage of new internet-enabled “smart phones” in their programming. Just this week, the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Oh., launched a “mobile” version of its website, specifically optimized for iPhone (see www.wexarts.org/iphone). The Wexner went so far as to offer a special tutorial to other institutions looking to follow suit. Meanwhile, in the heart of Silicon Valley, the San Jose Museum of Art has ventured into similar territory, also offering “interactive audio and video guides” for museum visitors on iPhone and iPod Touch (see www.sjmusart.org/interactive/).

The craze reaches into the most exalted echelons of the art world. Back in July, MoMA’s digital marketing hand Victor Samra posted a question to the venerable institution’s Twitter feed, asking fans, “What features would you like to see in an iPhone app for a specific museum?” The outpouring of responses certainly signals a hunger for such a thing. (The correspondence is archived at Fluid Project, a website dedicated to community software development.) Based on the responses, museums would do well to provide at least three services to its visitors via the iPhone: 1) a convenient calendar of events, i.e. “something that describes upcoming exhibits and gives member preview dates”; 2) multimedia tours of the museum and its works, i.e. “use GPS/compass to show my location on floor plan and which art I’m standing near, click on art for text/audio/etc. about it!”; and 3) a way to buy admission tickets in advance.

Other suggestions were more adventurous, or whimsical. A user named MataHariMeow suggested the museum set up a site for viewer comments on individual artworks. Soysaucyy called for a MoMA app “that brings you on a scavenger hunt through the museum,” while Irasocol irreverently suggested a “free admission app.”

However, MoMA — and most other institutions, for that matter — are being left in the dust by the forward-thinking Brooklyn Art Museum. It launched the first real museum iPhone app, the Brooklyn Museum Mobile Collection, back in May (it was developed for free for the museum by an outside designer, Adam Shackleford, using the museum’s “open collection API”). Truth be told, it’s nothing to write home about — it offers a page dedicated to visitor information, the ability to browse the collection by keyword or artist name, and — perhaps the major point of interest — a “randomize” feature that allows a user to call up random artworks from museum holdings. (With 17 ratings, the “Mobile Collection” app is currently hovering at 2½ stars in the iPhone App Store ratings.)

But leave it to Brooklyn not to rest on its laurels. In MoMA’s Twitter dialogue, one of the most intriguing ideas was for a system whereby your phone would recommend what else you might like, based on feedback you gave regarding specific works (a bit like Amazon.com’s recommendations). And this, as it happens, is precisely what the Brooklyn Museum launched yesterday, announcing BklynMuse, a program of new “Smart Phone Customized Gallery Tours.” The program generates itineraries for visitors based on initial selections of works that interest them, allows them to access information as well as to “annotate” objects, and create tours that can be shared with others. “Through the aggregation of data provided by many visitors and their individual tastes, the guide is designed to grow more intelligent as more visitors use it and more data is supplied,” a press release says.

Unlike the “Mobile Collection” app, BklynMuse was developed in-house by the Brooklyn Museum’s intrepid technology team, whose buzz words are “visitor-friendly” and “community oriented.” According to the museum’s chief of technology Shelly Bernstein, this mission also means that they wanted to make something that was not “platform-specific,” that is, that worked on all smart phones, not just the trendy iPhone. However, she did say that in the fall, they would be working on integrating it with the pre-existing “Mobile Collection” app.

A final thought: One of the more useful things to come out of MoMA’s Twitter brainstorming session was a persistent drip of comments that museum-specific applications were inherently limiting, and that what was really needed was something that aggregated info from many different museums. The Public Radio Tuner app (now Public Radio Player), which allows users to access content from various public radio stations, was listed as a model. Someone should get on that.

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