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Museum Mobile Myths – Busted!

Posted by Nancy Proctor on | April 3, 2012 | 6 Comments

Over the past 60 years plenty of myths have grown up about mobile in museums. Here we attempt to collect and bust them to give museum professionals the necessary ammunition and talking points to answer concerns about their mobile projects and proposals.

Feel free to add your “myths” below for the museum mobile community to bust! These will also be presented on May 8, 2012 by Nancy Proctor and Eric Longo in the Museums and Mobile Online Conference workshop, “Planning Your Next Mobile Experience: A Step-by-Step Master Class.” 


6 Responses to “Museum Mobile Myths – Busted!”

  1. Nancy Proctor
    April 3rd, 2012 @ 5:39 pm

    MYTH: Screens are “eye-traps” and screen-based mobile devices distract the visitor from the exhibits and museum experience.

    BUST: If museum visitors are distracted by a mobile experience in the museum, it is usually a content and experience design issue rather than a technology problem. A screen can enhance what visitors are seeing in the galleries by offering details and views that may not be visible in person; accompanying audio can direct the eyes to notice details that may otherwise have been overlooked.

    Of course technology that doesn’t work reliably is a distraction, so the aim should be to use existing technology well within its limits, so it is reliable and becomes “invisible” – showcasing the museum and mobile content rather than the technological gadget.

    The mobile habits and related needs of the target audience are also critical considerations. In the hands of a deaf person, a screen-based device can provide interpretation in sign language and/or subtitled audio and video. But the presentation of that content and the ergonomics of the device use must also take into account that many deaf people speak with their hands, so must be able to pause and let go of the device easily in order to communicate with visiting companions.

    In most cases, the difference between the screen as a distraction and the screen as a support for the museum visit comes down to focusing on these and related issues in the development of mobile content and experiences, not on the technology.

  2. Eric Longo
    April 5th, 2012 @ 8:21 pm

    MYTH: Headphones handed out with museum mobile devices are unhygienic.

    BUST: The idea of putting headphones over your head and ears that herds of visitors have previously worn can turn even the most valiant of us into germaphobes and deter us from getting a mobile device, even at our favorite cultural venue. It would be a lie to say that no visitor ever complained about finding headphones unhygienic.

    The reality is that headphones or headsets passed from hands to hands, and from heads to heads, often end up carrying unwanted germs, hairs, and yes, dandruffs. In fact, the issue can get even stickier, no pun intended, when visiting an outdoor site in the middle of a hot summer day.

    That said, cultural sites and tourist attractions can take some basic precautions to ensure that headphones are kept clean and effectively address hygienic concerns:

    1- Earmuffs can be washed and recycled until they become worn out and ready to be tossed and replaced with new ones.

    2- Headphones or wands’ headsets can easily be wiped with alcohol swipes. The recommended standard is that it be done after each use if possible.

    3- If a visitor insists on brand new headphones, the site could offer brand new ones still wrapped in their plastic cover, inventory permitting.

    4- Visitors could prefer to use their own headphones and sites should encourage it.

    5- Some providers have attempted to offer disposable headphones but the cost associated with this practice may have prevented it from becoming widespread.

    In the majority of cases though, visitors will happily accept headphones without hesitation. Still, maintaining a sanitary protocol for devices can be a good selling point!

  3. Nancy Proctor
    April 5th, 2012 @ 10:38 pm

    Eric, what do you think about branded earbuds, airplane-style, as a marketing opportunity? Still not as green as wipes I know…

    And do we know how many people can be counted on to bring their own headphones these days?

  4. Eric Longo
    April 6th, 2012 @ 9:25 am

    Good questions Nancy.

    1- When it comes to hygiene, earbuds are probably even worse than headphones as they need to be placed inside the ear, so they should be preferred for personal use.

    2- Any museum mobile hardware may be branded, not just headphones. Larger institutions have long courted sponsors to underwrite part or whole of their onsite mobile programs. Lanyards are commonly branded for instance. The device itself and headphones could also be.

    3- My sense is that if someone carries headphones or earbuds of their own, most likely they’ll have their own mobile device as well. If the venue only offers an interpretive program on the devices they supply, and a visitor would like to use their own headphones, they can certainly do so. In cases where the venue offers a mobile program that’s available through an App or can be tapped into using a WiFi network, then most likely visitors can rely on their own device.

  5. Nancy Proctor
    April 6th, 2012 @ 4:30 pm

    Thanks, Eric! Are you aware of any cases where museums give away or sell branded earbuds, sort of as a souvenir of the visit and mobile tour? Just curious if this has ever worked from the marketing point of view and been cost-effective.

  6. wsguerin
    April 7th, 2012 @ 8:12 am

    The Empire State Building gives away the ear buds as a souvenir. We had them printed with the iVIEW logo and they are red like the case. So far, after thousands of rentals since March 31st, most people do choose to take them. Their cost is nominal compared to the labor cost to process.

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