How many museum apps do you have in your smartphone?

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Some ideas for developing truly engaging applications (almost like Wordle!).

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In our daily routine, we use various apps on our smartphones for work, entertainment or information. These are apps that have entered our daily use and help us fill a need we have.

In this broad range, in most cases museum apps do not fall into this category of use. For what reason?

In a recent article, Cait Reizman wondered why museum apps are not used in people’s daily routines, as was the case with theWordle app.

The purpose of museum apps according to most museum institutions.

In most cases, cultural institutions’ apps are designed to fulfill two basic purposes:

  1. Scheduling your visit: within the app, you can get information on schedules, fees, current exhibitions and events, and additional information;
  2. The tour inside the museum: to discover the works inside the rooms and the route to follow through a map of the place. Sometimes integrated audio guides and descriptions of the works can also be found for free.

However, if the purpose of museum apps is community engagement, most apps do not achieve their goals.

Moreover, within the cultural landscape, few apps offer a digital experience designed to be used even after the visit.

An example of a museum app that could potentially be used after the museum visit is the Ask Brooklyn Museum app. Those who have questions about works in the collection, concerns, or want to interact with museum experts can do so through the use of this app.

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Being able to engage their community would provide cultural institutions with an opportunity to build audience loyalty and be able to maintain an activeinterest in cultural reality.

If people are willing to download useful apps for their daily routines, what should museum apps look like?

Market analysis: What is the use of museum applications?

Although there is little data available, through Colleen Dilenschneider ‘s reports it is possible to analyze the market trend in the United States on how museum apps are being used.

Through the collection and analysis of data for U.S. cultural organizations, the 2017 and 2019 reports show a clear snapshot of the use of museum apps before the visit, within the halls, and their level of satisfaction.

The use of museum apps before the visit

In 2017 (graph at left), 5.5 percent of users in the United States used a museum app to acquire information prior to their visit, and in 2019 this number increased to 6.1 percent, an insignificant increase (less than one percentage point).

In comparison, mobile Web use since 2017 has increased by 3.7 percentage points to involve 77.5 percent of users who use it as a source of information before visiting. Similarly, social media use has also increased by 6.2 percentage points to include 74.2 percent of people.

The use within the halls

During the visit, the percentage of people using apps increased from 4.1 percent in 2017 to 6.9 percent in 2019.

This increase may be a small step toward greater public involvement, but it cannot be considered a major change.

During the same time period, social media use within the museum increased by 7.6 percent to 59.9 percent, and mobile Web use in relation to visitation increased by 18.3 percentage points to 49.8 percent of users. Almost half of visitors to cultural organizations search for information through websites from a mobile device when visiting the museum.

The degree of visit satisfaction for the visitor(s)

As the report points out, the more satisfied a user is with his or her experience, the more likely he or she is to return, bond with the organization, and believe he or she received added value in his or her visit experience.

If the purpose of apps, as we saw earlier, is to improve the degree of satisfaction and engagement of users interacting with the museum, the graphs show how museum apps are not such a relevant tool to be able to improve their degree of satisfaction. From these reports, it can be inferred that museum apps are ineffective in the purpose museums have set for themselves because they do not meet the needs of the market.

Why museum apps should look more like Wordle

Recently acquired by the New York Times, Wordle is a great example on which museums can take a cue to develop apps that are in line with their mission and that are interesting to people enough to add them into their daily routines.

Wordle is a perfect example of what a museum could develop to create equally compelling digital experiences for their audiences because:

  • It allows people to use it every day;
  • It requires less than 10 minutes of attention per use;
  • It provides a predictable, but slightly different experience every day (Wordle never changes its user interface or what it asks users to do, but it never repeats the same word);
  • It is in line with the mission of the organization, but it does not talk about the organization and its work;
  • It is not trying to solve the organization’s internal problems (such as museum apps that show the museum map to solve the difficulty of visitors/visitors in understanding the best route through the museum halls);
  • It doesn’t have to be an app: it can be a device-optimizedin-browser experience as long as you don’t have the adequate resources to justify using space on your users’ smartphones;
  • Its branding allows the flexibility to become part of a broader set of digital experiences (going beyond use in the moment of visit and expanding it to other spheres of everyday life).
Dawn-Chours_The_Carnegie_Institute-app
Credit: Carnegie Museum of Natural History

In the face of these observations, a good place to start is theApp developed by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, called Dawn Chorus. This app allows users to wake up to the chirping of birds observed in Pennsylvania.

Putting yourself in the user’s shoes in museum app development

As we have analyzed in this article, museum apps are not essential for improving the engagement of one’s community.

There are other aspects that can be taken into consideration in order to achieve a better result through sustainable use of economic resources.

Being able to get into the everyday life of one’s audience does not mean equipping oneself with every technological tool; strategy is often confused with medium.

If developing an app to publicize one’s institution and keep the interest of one’s community active is a possible direction that the cultural institution is considering, it is necessary to ask: why should they use the museum app?

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