MuseumMobile Wiki

Media and Technology on the Go

Case Studies

Case studies of tours and mobile programs

...of cultural sites, cities, monuments and places of natural beauty, wherever they may be found. These case studies will be discussed in the March 22-23, 2011 Museums and Mobiles Online Conference

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Which technology to use for your app?

Posted by Jan Bossier on | May 25, 2011 | No Comments

Many people have talked about native apps vs web apps. Some point out the differences, others show how you can combine the two with a wrapper to create hybrid apps. Hoppr, our iPhone application, is such a hybrid application which uses Phonegap. We have come to the point however where we wonder if it’s still the right choice.

The idea of our application is pretty straightforward: a catalogue of multimedia museum tours which can be downloaded to your mobile device. We made a list of features we thought that were a must for version 1.0: support for audio and images, multiple languages and offline browsing were the big ones. Given the size of our small team, which mainly consists of web developers, we decided to choose for HTML5, CSS3, JS and Phonegap.

Read more


Leafsnap from the Smithsonian’s NMNH

Posted by Nancy Proctor on | May 2, 2011 | 1 Comment

Recruiting the world to help increase and diffuse knowledge of tree diversity and distribution

Reposted from

collection.jpgSometimes it takes a while for the technology to catch up with a great idea.

Leafsnap, the app from the National Museum of Natural History, the University of Columbia and the University of Maryland, was conceived over 8 years ago. It’s the product of determination, tenacity, and the marriage of two keen visions:

First, as NMNH’s John Kress put it, “If people know what they’re looking at, they can start to care about it.” It’s not just cool to be able to identify the trees around us; that knowledge engages us with our environment in important ways that can lead to concrete, positive outcomes.

And then there was the insight from Professor Peter Belhumeur of Columbia University: traditional taxonomy techniques could be applied to visual recognition technologies to create new, more accurate tools for identifying shapes and species. Rather than the brute force computational method of comparing two images, pixel by pixel, the teams at Columbia and University of Maryland developed new algorithms specifically tuned to recognize shapes and outlines.

Combined with stunning images of trees’ leaves, fruit, flowers, bark, seeds and petiole (the join of the leaf to the branch) by the not-for-profit photography group, Finding Species, the result is a handy field guide to “woody plants” that really will fit in your pocket.

The thing that makes this guide so powerful to my mind, though, is not the computing solution (though impressive), nor the database of leaves and tree attributes (though comprehensive), but rather the human ingredient that is required to make the app “work.” “What?!” you may ask, “Isn’t this supposed to be point and click identification?”

bark.jpgWell, no: the point here is not to give you a barcode scanner for trees. Rather, the aim is to engage you in your environment and help you both learn about the trees around you, and develop basic skills for recognizing new species. As John Kress put it, “Leafsnap is interactive”: it recruits you as a “citizen scientist” to help the Smithsonian and the world with the important work of recording and tracking the biodiversity of the planet. Your geo-coded photos of trees are uploaded to the project database and marked on a Google map in the app to add to our understanding of where different tree species are found, and in what quantities. This means the app produces true “network effects”: it gets smarter and better at the job of identification the more it is used and the more photos are added to the dataset. But most importantly, as you look through the list of possible tree matches for your leaf, you learn about its flowers, its fruit, its seeds and bark patterns. You develop new visual literacy and close looking skills as you realize, for example, how two trees with very similar leaf patterns can actually be from quite different species, and how much bark can vary in texture in different parts of a single tree. Your eyes are opened to the incredible diversity of life all around, and the app tracks every identification you’ve made for future reference. Three games included in the app are designed to test your knowledge and help hone your botany senses, and links to the Encyclopedia of Life and Wikipedia deepen your understanding by providing more on each species.

This is mobile that goes beyond one-way delivery of information in the traditional field guide or audio tour model. Resonating with the Smithsonian’s vision of using mobile to “recruit the world” to help with the increase and diffusion of knowledge, Leafsnap opens up an important, multi-party, networked conversation that engages collaborators in creating something meaningful and self-sustaining. Participants learn in the most potent method possible: by doing – and not insignificantly they use their own smartphones as tools in the process. As if following in the footsteps of the Smithsonian’s first secretaries, Henry and Baird, this app leverages the power of the crowd, students, volunteers and institutional partners to accomplish far more than the Smithsonian will ever have enough staff or budget to do on its own. (See “Smithsonian Crowdsourcing since 1847!”)

Map.jpgCurrently Leafsnap can help users identify 191 species from DC to NYC, but by the end of the year will include all 260 species of trees found along the eastern seaboard of the US: both native plants and the dominant “introduced” species. The aim is to offer identification for the 750+ species of North American within two years. The app will be released on iPad next week, and on Android thereafter. Leafsnap does require a relatively strong network connection in order to match your photos against the species database, and so in some areas of sparse network connectivity or high network use you may find that the technology still has some ways to go to catch up! But just as surely as we can count on Moore’s law to double the speed and power of our mobile experiences every 18 months, you can look to Leafsnap as a rare example of an app whose value and appeal will increase with time.


Front-End Evaluation of the Mobile Learning Institute

Posted by Nancy Proctor on | March 22, 2011 | No Comments

ICF Macro, a company with over 40 years of experience in research and evaluation, conducted a front-end evaluation of the Smithsonian Institution’s (SI) Mobile Learning Institute (MLI). The purpose of the evaluation was to provide SI with evidence-based findings and a logic model that could be used to inform the planning and implementation of future workshops. ICF Macro collected and analyzed data from workshop observations, participant focus groups, staff interviews, and follow-up participant interviews. Findings and recommendations were presented in five key areas: strategic marketing, participants’ experience with technology, participants’ experience with museum resources, sustainability, and staffing considerations. In addition, the evaluator developed a logic model of the MLI, based on its implementation and findings from the evaluation, that identifies the key inputs, activities, and outcomes of the MLI, and shows the relationships between them.



National Portrait Gallery – London: Creating Our First Mobile App

Posted by CharlesOuthier on | March 16, 2011 | No Comments

By Andrea Easey, Interpretation Editor, National Portrait Gallery, London

1. Background on the planning and development process

The National Portrait Gallery undertook a content audit and thorough upgrade of its audio guide for the Collection in 2009. One of the main changes was to move to a PDA-style touchscreen video guide for which appropriate new content needed to be developed. The final new product offered the existing approximately 400 audios for the collection but added layers of interpretation to give some contextual material within which to approach the audios. This took the form of videos of the Gallery curators introducing the Collection and the story it tells of 400 years of British history, themed tours linking audios together and scrolling maps.


The Gallery’s partners in the audioguide project, ATS Heritage, proposed that some of the content of the relaunched guide could be packaged as an App that they would develop at no extra cost to the Gallery but using a profit-sharing agreement based on sales. This made a package of content that would work well on smartphone and tablet devices and was designed in general for greater ease of use off site than on the premises. The Gallery had buy-in to the project from the Curators and the Senior Management team with the Gallery’s Interpretation Editor leading the project in-house with the project team from ATS Heritage developing all the software and managing the roll out though iTunes. The app includes this new video content; 5 themed tours each covering the historical breadth of the Collection made up of about 10 audios each; zooming and scrolling floorplans of the Gallery and information pages that include links back to the Gallery’s website for more detailed or timely information.


This App represents a ‘toe in the water’ for the National Portrait Gallery, which has set up a small working group to monitor its progress and report back to Senior Management before decisions are made on other plans for development.  At present the app is available for Apple iPhone, iPod touch and iPad devices. A version for Android operating systems will be developed in the future, as will other products in this area. The Gallery is committed to making its material available to the widest possible audience.


The original cost of the audio guide upgrade was made with a one-off allocation from Gallery funds. Raising extra revenue in return for this expenditure was an advantage when making the case for finding extra staff resources to enable the development to take place.


The development of the app took about three months from approval for the project to go ahead to delivery, with about nine months of development time spent on the original audio guide upgrade content.


The app is sold for £1.19 through iTunes and can be downloaded on site in the Gallery for the same price. Hiring the full Gallery audio guide on site costs £3 – but this includes all the audio tracks and is available in 5 languages. The app is only available in English as present. The income from the app is then profit-shared with ATS. The income from the on-site audio guide goes directly to the Gallery alone.


While the app has been a new offer, its take up rate has been about twice that of the on-site audio guide. However we see this as being off-site pick up rather than among the Gallery audience. The Gallery is working to promote the app internally to visitors during spring 2011.



2. App Content

As the content is shared with that of the audio guide we do not expect to see much cross-over between user groups, unless visitors wish to remember their visit to return to ideas from it later. There has been some feedback to this effect from infrequent visitors.


The content in the Gallery can be downloaded from specific locations in the main circulation area and therefore all the content needs to be contained within the app as wi-fi coverage would be lost when visitors move deeper into their visit. Because the app is large it cannot be downloaded with a 3G connection alone.



The Gallery’s app and e-publishing working party will review the success of the current app before deciding whether to release another version. The Gallery views this app as the first in a family of National Portrait Gallery content for smartphones and tablet devices, and so it may be more appropriate to move to another product rather than updating and enlarging this offer.


The content is currently aimed at a general audience, however the Gallery has also developed audio and video content for specific target audiences for use on the on-site audio guide players that could both very easily be repackaged as an app in the same way.


This app is not primarily intended for visitors to the Gallery – the audio guide in the Gallery relies on entering in three-digit codes displayed on the labels next to the Collection items to access audio content. As it was realised that app users need not be in the Gallery at all, scrolling menus are used to view the audios included on the tours and there is no keypad presented. However the scrolling floorplans do mean that visitors brining the app to the building will be able to use it as a source of personal guided tours.


3. Feedback Data

The content of the original audio guide was created with the help of consultation across the Gallery, examining responses to detailed visitor questionnaires and user testing. Therefore the content of the app was already user-tested before it moved to that platform. Since its launch, the Gallery has monitored download rates and responses through the iTunes page for the app. There has been positive word-of-mouth feedback from visitors using the app in the Gallery and emails sent through to the Gallery’s contact email address on the website.


A question about awareness of the app will be added to the Gallery’s year-round visitor surveys and the app will continue to be promoted on the Gallery’s website and on site in the area in which wi-fi can be used to download from iTunes.


In the first 6 weeks since launch the app has had 2500 downloads – all at the full paying rate with no free trial period.


4. Mobile Product Design

The app design follows on from the audio guide design, although to some extent it follows a user interface template for apps successfully deployed by ATS Heritage using the ‘Talking Guides’ marque with the look and feel of the National Portrait Gallery’s branding.


5.  Marketing

The app had a high number of downloads following word-of-mouth recommendation within the e-publishing industry. The app was also promoted by Apple on the ‘new and noteworthy’ panel on the iTunes app store homepage.

The app is promoted on the homepage of the Gallery’s website and will be gradually added to items of publicity print.

6. Reflections

The working relationship with ATS Heritage built on an already successful partnership and much of the concept development had been undertaken with the development of the original audio. This made the decision to go ahead one that was very easy to take.


The thing that other prospective developers would do well to learn from this account is that when your product is uploaded to iTunes, it takes on a life of its own. You can respond with updates and fixes, but basically there is nowhere to hide and you make any mistakes in public.


The National Portrait Gallery will be monitoring the success of this first app, its user feedback, where it has been advertised, frequency of on-site downloads by Gallery visitors etc. before committing to mobile products in the future. It has been a very useful experiment at the most opportune moment.


At the moment we would deem the project a success, but will bring together the all the relevant material within the next six months for a full evaluation.



PLAY SCVNGR @ JOSLYN: Integrating Location-Based Gaming in an Art Museum

Posted by CharlesOuthier on | March 16, 2011 | No Comments


By Laura Huntimer, Interpretive Media Manager, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE


It all started with a cold call from Nick Herbold at SCVGNR on a crisp October 2009 day here at
Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. Nick wanted to visit with someone about something
called SCVNGR. I thought, ok, what could it hurt to learn more, however I knew I would have to
figure out a polite way to say “no thank you” due to our unfortunate economic state, as many
museums were experiencing at that time. We set up a time to meet – a Friday afternoon. It did
not take long before I was hooked! I wanted to see what the back‐end looked like, and on a
Friday afternoon at the end of my day after a long, very long week, my mind started racing. I
immediately started coming up with ideas with how we could use this technology at Joslyn – use
it not pay for it. This idea of location‐based gaming was just filled with awesomeness.


I took an enormous amount of notes after asking every question about SCVNGR that you could
possibly pose. Then I demonstrated it to my boss and questioned, can we do this? And the
answer was not this year due to budget constraints. Sadly, I had to call back with the update. I
told him not to forget about us because again, I was hooked. We kept in contact as SCVNGR
grew and developed, so did my interest in creating treks at Joslyn. Eventually after the start of
the new year, SCVNGR @ Joslyn became a reality, and we started the process of integrating
location based gaming into our technology plan.


Background | planning and development process
Joslyn Art Museum was a generous gift to the people of Omaha from Sarah H. Joslyn (1851–
1940), who upon her husband’s death, devoted herself to creating a memorial that would
perpetuate their shared interests in music and art, as well as benefit the greatest number of
people possible. When it opened on November 29, 1931, the new museum received several
private collections as gifts, as well as collections from the Art Institute of Omaha and the Friends
of Art. After she gave this gift, Sarah decided it was up to Omahans to determine what to do
with it, and said, “If there is any good in it, let it go on and on.”


The Walter and Suzanne Scott Pavilion, a 58,000 square‐foot addition built in 1994, connects to
the original Art Deco Memorial building with the magnificent glass ConAgra Atrium. In 2007,
Joslyn celebrated 75 years of achievement and inspiration, and soon after a year of events
construction started on the Peter Kiewit Foundation Sculpture Garden that opened to the public
on June 6, 2009. Then on October 31, 2009, Joslyn Art Museum opened a children’s Discovery
Garden, the final phase of the campus redevelopment.

(For additional Joslyn history, visit


PRE‐SCVNGR. Joslyn has had the traditional interactive museum‐type offerings:
• Interactive computer kiosks featuring Art of the American West and Native American Art
• Art Packs filled with hands‐on activities for families to take into the galleries
• Audio Guides featuring the extensive Art of the American West collection
• Scott EdTech Gallery with computers highlighting various interactive programs and web


While these are still valid offerings for visitors who would prefer the solo experience of an audio
guide or the hands‐on tactile encounter the Art Packs provide, but what about the high‐tech
savvy audience glued to their mobile devices? Do we really want to tell them to put away their
cell phone*? It would seem like this is an easy way to alienate an important audience, and
strengthen the flawed image that an art museum is an arrogant place intended only for those
intelligent enough to view art. *At the start of this experiment, cell phones and photography were NOT
allowed in the galleries, and these rules have since reversed.

SCVNGR EXPERIMENT. When SCVNGR was officially part of the Museum’s agenda, I took
ownership of the bulk of this program creating the content as well as making sure all the moving
pieces fit together. The treks, a series of challenges connected and automated through SCVNGR
technology to create an engaging experience for museum visitors, were built completely in
house. Most staff members were hands off at first when it came to the technology, and it took
much coaxing to get them to at least try a challenge. Then I was able to get SCVNGR on the
schedule for the summer programs under the Late ‘til 8 umbrella.


So at first, I was the team, but I should include SCVNGR as creative partner because when they
say they are there to help you after you begin planning and building your treks, they really are
available in ways I that could be described simply as Customer Service Plus. Their staff created a
static web page, reviewed scripts, designed graphics, and answered more questions than you
can imagine. I’m a museum educator; we’re inquisitive.


So who is SCVNGR? The company is quite fun to work and interact with, just look at the titles of
some of the staff members: Chief Rockstar (COO), Pixel Czar (Design Architect), Clue Shredder
(Game Designer), and King of Bling (Designer). And be prepared to be called “Rockstar,” and get
ready to capture the ENERGY everyone expresses. The company is fairly young, in fact their
Chief Ninja (that’s “founder” for those of us with an old school vernacular), Seth Preibatsch, is in
his early 20s. But do not let his age distract you as he created his first web start‐up when he was


FIRST ATTEMPT. After a disappointing summer 2010 of Late ‘til 8 events, ZOMG!, enter the
fabulous Kellian Adams, better known as the Institutional Mastermind at SCVNGR. Nick was
transitioning to a new position, SCVNGR Guru and Recruiter, and he was putting me in the quite
capable hands of Kellian. I will admit, after the dismal summer, I was ready to throw in the
towel. This is after thirteen evenings sitting outside conversing with visitors to convince them
that it is ok to use your mobile device as more than a phone or a time piece. I think I had heard
every kind of rejection including versions of “it’s not you, it’s me” from those who did not text.


To continue reading please download the following  PDF of this case study:

Case Study – SCVNGR @ Joslyn Art Museum FNL

If you would like to see the “Resources and Technical Details” referenced in the this case study please contact Laura Huntimer via email:



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Houdini at The Jewish Museum, New York – Acoustiguide Smartour iPhone App

Posted by CharlesOuthier on | March 16, 2011 | No Comments

By Katharine Staelin, Assistant Curator, The Jewish Museum, New York


As a specialty museum with both a local and national audience, one of our goals is to make exhibition information digitally available.  Further, we are seeking to expand our audience and attract additional technically savvy visitors.  With the arrival of the iPhone and its quick gains in market share we knew we would like to offer museum content geared for the iPhone platform.

Develop In-House or Partner with a Vendor
In 2009 and 2010 we met with various mobile application vendors and simultaneously investigated whether developing an app in-house with the Corona SDK or similar tool made sense.  Given staffing and resources TJM decided to work with a vendor.  Two vendors were technology companies that made content agnostic platforms and understood the needs of museums and marketing issues.  The third vendor, Acoustiguide, was primarily a content development company, and in 2010 they worked with a third party to develop Smartour that debuted with the Asian Art Museum.

Initially the vendors offered different pricing models.  One model involved an upfront fee while the other was revenue sharing based.  Ultimately, the museum chose the revenue sharing model and given our agreements chose to partner with Acoustiguide.  The audio content development had kicked-off two months prior, in July, and this decision allowed us to smoothly incorporate the audio content.  Smartour did not have a CMU but that meant Acoustiguide would take over the final steps of the process.  At the time Smartour worked on the iPhone only. Concurrent to this decision making process the museum installed Wi-Fi on the first floor.

Content Selection
We chose to start with an exhibition, and Houdini: Art and Magic seemed like a good exhibition to experiment with since we envisioned it having a broad appeal that would include many Smartphone users.  Upon considering what content to include in the app we concluded that the audio content for Houdini was an essential component.  The app includes images  of artworks, labels, audio clips and video clips, as well as social media capabilities, an exhibition map and basic visitor information.  The images and audio and video clips in the app are also freely available online, integrated into the Flash based online feature.

Development Process and Multiple Venue Question
We committed to creating the app two months before Houdini: Art and Magic opened, and since the exhibition loan forms did not cover app rights we had to re-contact many lenders.  Given that this exhibition involved several lenders and artists this portion of the project consumed the most time.  When we re-contacted the lenders and artists we asked for rights for TJM and the other three venues.

The options of offering updates to the app and creating a version of the app for each venue each had their pros and cons.  Ultimately we decided to offer our version of the app through the last day of the last venue.   Depending on the complexity of the rights and the stability of the checklist between venues I could see choosing another option another time.

While clearing the rights took a fair amount of time, assembling the assets to send Acoustiguide took less than a week.  Acoustiguide integrated the assets into Smartour, tested it, and  submitted it to Apple.  The submission date was contingent on the audio clips being ready and that date was dictated by the gallery walk-through review of the audio.

Pricing and Reception
We view the Houdini app as an experiment.  Initially the app was priced at $2.99, essentially two dollars less than the audio guide.  At the end of January we changed the price to 99 cents.  The pick-up rate has slowly trended upwards since then.  At $2.99 the app downloads were about 5% of the audio guide rentals.  Since changing the price to 99 cents the downloads are 10% of the audio guide rentals.  As of March the revenue from the app does not cover the costs of creating it.  For our next Smartour application we are trying the upfront fee model and will offer the app for free.

Promotion and Next Phase
The lobby monitor provides information about the app as does the lobby handout.  The exhibition web pages link to iTunes and we promote the app in our social media efforts. For the next app we may include additional lobby signage and will better integrate the promotion of the app with the general exhibition marketing.   We would also like to do additional assessment.

We have started work on our second Smartour app and the process is much faster, in part because the rights are simpler.  In the future we could see incorporating more information and media into the apps and creating “micro-catalogs” for the exhibitions without printed catalogs.

PDF: Case Study – Houdini at The Jewish Museum, New York


Teacher Leaders Program @ Smithsonian National Postal Museum

Posted by M.Jeff on | March 14, 2011 | No Comments

The Teacher Leaders Program is a three-year initiative at the National Postal Museum incorporating new technologies into classroom teaching. The program provides teacher workshops connecting Smithsonian collections to classroom content using new media tools. Educators in the workshops develop teaching skills through the lens of new media, producing mission-focused lesson plans for use in their classrooms. Lesson plans emphasize object-based learning through in-gallery and virtual museum access. These missions will be posted online for other educators across the nation.

Educators in the workshops comment that the benefit of sharing ideas with other educators is a powerful incentive for participation. Changing the teaching approach to education technologies emphasizes not only the digital tools available, but the tools that many students already possess. This helps blur the lines between formal and informal education. The teacher workshops @ Postal Museum are helping establish a single learning environment in the 21st century.


Mobile Learning Institute at the Smithsonian

Posted by Nancy Proctor on | February 14, 2011 | No Comments

Mobile Learning Institute at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Movie Sample: Summer 2010 Workshops for Teens

Youths become “experience designers” for their peers using the latest in mobile technology.  They use Nokia Point and Find (AR) to link original videocasts to their self-prodcued SCVNGR hunt. Each workshop focuses on a particular theme to explore the riches of the Smithsonian collections. Youth work in teams making interdisciplinary connections through research, writing, video and game production. Please view the following link for further details:

PowerPoint: Framework for Art Lab Programming
This PowerPoint reflects our programmatic response to SCEMS evaluations of our recent summer program and is based on the MacArthur studies into digital learning. This shift moves the Art Lab away from solely focusing on workshops towards a holistic approach of interlocking social clubs, production crews and teen-initiated workshops. We will be introducing the use of mentors into our upcoming academic year program.  Please view the following link to download the PPT. We invite you to also visit our website for more information.

ARTLAB+ Program Categories FNL

Summer 2010 Workshop Teen Evaluation

Complete 2010 SI-MLI Student Post Reflection Results.doc