Follow A Culture Trail App

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Guide books for culture trails have aided travelers for ages and now we’re seeing these become available as apps for smartphones. This certainly makes the traveler’s load a bit lighter during the journey but are these apps good at inspiring traveler’s to make the journey in the first place? Do they give the user a reason to follow the culture trail? To get excited about the various stops along the trail? To want to return to portions of the trail missed on a first or second visit? Or are they reference tools for when the traveler is in the midst of the journey providing logistical information in a convenient easy to navigate format? I would suggest that the best culture trail apps will inspire the journey, prove useful during the journey, and of course these days, allow the traveler to share real-time bits of their experience on the trail with not only their social network of friends but also leave tips for future travelers on the trail. Here’s a look at two culture trail apps.

Louisiana’s African American Heritage Trail

A Story Like No Other

Rated Three Stars
On February 27, 2008 Louisiana’s Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu kicked off Louisiana’s African American Heritage Trail with a press conference and was joined by former head Grambling baseball coach and Hall of Famer Wilbert Ellis. A twelve minute plus video of the press conference is located here and worth viewing for the background behind the creation of this cultural heritage trail.

A Story Like No Other app icon

A Story Like No Other

The Louisiana African American Heritage Trail takes visitors to museums, heritage sites, institutions and cultural attractions in all corners of Louisiana. At the ESSENCE Music Festival in New Orleans this summer the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism expanded the trail from its original 26 sites to 33 sites and launched a related app entitled, “A Story Like No Other“. The invitation to explore this rich cultural heritage trail begins on the app with a video featuring Grammy Award winner Chris Thomas King with music arranged by New Orleans composer Jay Weigel. This video also greets visitors to the related website.

A Story Like No Other is an easy to navigate app  with four icons along the bottom.  The “Home” icon contains the aforementioned video and links to the related website, to the Visit Louisiana Travel website, to becoming a fan on Facebook, and to following on Twitter. The “Explore” icon provides a list of the sites and one can choose to view these on a Google map.

Screen shot of stop #1 New Orleans AFrican American Museum

Stop #1 New Orleans African American Museum

Tap a stop from the list of 33 sites and you are taken to a screen such as the one to the right for stop #1 New Orleans African American Museum. As you can see there is convenient links enabling the user to locate this museum on the map, call the museum and visit the museum website. Most inviting though is the “Voices from the Trail with storyteller Louis Gossett, Jr.“. These provide the real hook for why to visit the cultural institution or site.  Not every stop includes an audio clip but hopefully this is something that will be expanded upon in the future. Can you imagine the stories if they allowed visiters to upload their own? Taking a page from Nina Simon they could even allow other visitors to do the curating so that the most engaging and relevant rose to the top. Designers of culture trail apps take note: including the audio clip is a good hook to draw the user in. What about a video with an invitation from the museum director or an authentic voice from a prominent cultural figure?

Not visible in the screen shot are buttons for a user to “Add to Favorites” allowing you to put together a customized itinerary. You can also choose “Share Location” which creates an email with the following text (which you can edit), “Hi, I’m exploring Louisiana’s African American Heritage Trail on my iPhone, and discovered a trail site I thought you’d like: http://www.astorylikenoother.com/explore/sites/1.php You can learn more about the heritage trail at AStoryLikeNoOther.com. Or explore it on your own with the free iPhone app: http://www.astorylikenoother.com/iphone Enjoy!”.  All the relevant information included and most important the link provided is specific to the location the user wants to share.  How many times have you seen the app developer be lazy and provide a generic message leaving the user to figure out on their own how to link to the specific information they really would like to share. And finally there is also a “Directions to here” button.  The final icon “Editorial” provides news and announcements specific to the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.

A short demo video of the A Story Like No Other app is located here. This is a free app and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

Connecticut Art Trail

Rated Two StarsYou know, I really wanted to like this app.  The description on Apple’s App Store sounds so promising. “Discover the Connecticut Art Trail! Visit world-class museums and historic sites and explore the lively communities in which they reside. Use the CT Art Trail mobile guide to learn about thirteen museums featured on the Trail. Each museum offers an individual guide which delivers location-specific information for each museum.”

App icon for Connecticut Art Trail

Connecticut Art Trail

Unfortunately, this app has no soul.  Maybe it’s just the contrast with the very soulful “A Story Like No Other” but that’s what’s missing from this app. The information is useful and practical but there’s nothing in this app that makes me think, “man, I’ve got to make a trip along the Connecticut Art Trail sometime”.

It doesn’t take a user long in playing around with this app to realize how cookie cutter it feels. This app could be about anything. Take out the museums and put in Connecticut Horse Farms and the feel of the app would stay the same. Sure the information about the museums would be change with information about horses but mostly this app doesn’t feel about the museums anyway.

Screenshot of Connecticut Art Trail app

I think this is an example of what happens when the app itself is all vendor centric in its design. In this case the vendor is Geodelic.  According to Geodelic’s website the premise of this product is this: “The GeoGuides Platform is a location-based content network of local directories which provides carriers, advertisers, and business a way to easily connect with customers while encouraging loyalty, simplifying discovery and increasing revenue.” I’m sure that the GeoGuides Platform has very good uses.  I just don’t think this is it.

Now one feature of the app that I did like was the “Carousel” view pictured in the screenshot to the right.  The concept is similar to  “Cover Flow” in iTunes.  Imagine instead of album covers this is for exhibitions at the museum (as it is in this app) and tapping on one causes it to flip and reveal rich multimedia and more related specific to that exhibit.  Now that might be inviting.

The Connecticut Art Trail app is a free app from Apple’s App Store and is compatible with the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1 or later.

Ireland Announces Winners of Cultural App Funding Grants

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Mary Hanafin TD, Ireland’s Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport recently announced funding of in excess of €1 million/US$1,311,060 towards Cultural Tourism Technology projects. Of the twenty-five projects receiving grants eleven are either directly related to developing mobile culture apps or this is a strong component of the project. The funding related to developing these culture mobility apps totals €272,000/US$356,406. In making the announcement Minister Hanafin noted that “great ideas and innovations in technology are developing all the time and this initiative has allowed us to marry our innovative and creative thinking to our rich and developing cultural offering, thereby allowing us to showcase the best of our Irish art, music, culture and heritage in the most exciting, innovative and dynamic ways. This is the application of smart technology to culture, heritage and tradition.”

At least one blogger thinks this is a “massive waste of money” calling it “clones of existing ideas”. I’d say don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and that the funding and the focus can only lead to better mobile culture apps. In searching for apps related to culture in Ireland I mostly find travel apps such as the well reviewed Ireland’s Blue Book but I’m not locating the duplication of these fund recipients to which this blogger refers.

The Irish Times on the other hand gave “kudos to Ms Hanafin and her department for spearheading such a smart, simple and inclusive initiative.”

Any readers have additional insight into this initiative?

Personally, I’m still waiting for the Ulysses Guide to Dublin for the iPhone. Although Robert Berry’s comic adaptation for the iPad of James Joyce’s novel is an entertaining (and free) app.

Here is a list of the cultural mobility app projects which received grants:

1. iSpysculpture – development of iPhone App for 30-50 pieces of Dublin’s public art – iPhone GPS will get the user’s current location and then plot all artworks in the immediate area and give directions to create in effect a self guided walking tour. €20,000/US$26,208.

2. National Museum of Ireland-Development and production of Audio Guide for Treasury Department in Kildare Street which will be available via handheld devices in the NMI or to download from NMI website. Guide will be available in 6 languages and will also include some multimedia content. €77,000/US$100,881.

3. Ecclesiastical Treasures of Clare-Make existing Guided Tour of Ecclesiastical Treasures of Clare available to download through Clare County Council website as an iPhone / iPad application. Pilot project and depending on uptake, may develop other similar projects that would enable other media to be made available digitally. €10,000/US$13,092

4. The Chester Beatty Library-Downloadable iPhone / iTouch application allowing virtual tours of the CBL collection. Intercultural learning centre delivered via a new educational website. Mobile version of new website. €43,000/US$56,327

5. Wexford Opera-Develop, create and maintain Smartphone App and mobile website for both Wexford Opera House and Wexford Festival, including maps and links to nearby tourist attractions in Wexford. €36,000/US$47,176

6. Dublin Contemporary 2011-Create, position and launch DC2011 website and complimentary platforms using Web 2.0 technologies and including a mobile website and iApp platform. €22,000/US$28,817

7. Siamsa Tire-Develop iPhone / iTouch app which will be available free of charge which will promote Siamsa as a cultural and arts destination, integrate with Google maps and provide opportunities to connect to other counts arts and cultural institutions.€10,000/US$13,094

8. St. Patrick’s Festival-Update, recreate and re-imagine the Festival website. Content management system and complimentary new media platforms which will allow a cross over into mobile and iPhone platforms. €15,000/US$19,653

9. Model Art Gallery Sligo-Development of 3D promotional and educational tour of Model Arts Gallery using Google earth to display 3D model of gallery itself – tour can be loaded into an android / iPhone App or viewed online. €9,000/US$11,798

10. Dublin City Council-Develop a free of charge mobile application for both android and iPhone directly linking localities in Dublin city with the life and poetry of Patrick Kavanagh. €18,000/US$23,589

11. The Gate Theatre-Develop an iPhone application for the Theatre which will be complimentary to their new website, will allow a user to purchase tickets and promote the Gate and all its productions and become the first Irish Theatre to have an iPhone app. €12,000/$US15,736

10 New Culture Apps for the iPhone

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November saw the release of a number of culture apps on the Apple App Store. Some were as alive as a business card or flyer but others were very creative, fun and inspiring in their approach to engaging users in this space. Here is a review of ten culture apps which give a representative range of the releases from cultural institutions in the month of November.

App icon for Ancient Egyptian Book of the DeadRated Two Stars1. Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead

Does your heart weigh more than the feather of truth? Answer 7 questions correctly and you will unlock the Book of the Dead of Hunefer, one of the many of the British Museum’s collection of Books of the Dead featured in the the exhibition Journey through the Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. Get the answers wrong, and you will be eaten by the Great Devourer.

This app is more of a trailer for the exhibit than an app for engaging in the exhibition. If you are planning to attend the exhibition (which runs through March 6, 2011) and have children then the app journey through the netherworld may be a good teaser to get them intrigued. (Rated for children 9+ for infrequent/mild horror/fear themes).

Given the apps trailer premise my one suggestion would be for the “Events programme” page to be integrated in an easy to read format for the iPhone. Instead one is directed to the exhibition website which while I do appreciate the link it is a bit more difficult to navigate than if this information had been integrated into the app itself.

Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead is a free app compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and requires iOS 3.1.3 or later.

App icon for BristolRated Three Stars2. Bristol: The Blitz and the City We Lost

Bristol was the fifth most heavily bombed British city of World War II. The presence of Bristol Harbour and the Bristol Aeroplane Company made it a target for bombing by the Nazi German Luftwaffe who were able to trace a course up the River Avon from Avonmouth using reflected moonlight on the waters into the heart of the city.[1]
Between 24 November 1940 and 11 April 1941 there were six major bombing raids. In total Bristol received 548 air raid alerts and 77 air raids with:
919 tons of high-explosive bombs and myriad incendiary bombs
1299 people killed, 1303 seriously injured, 697 rescued from debris
89,080 buildings damaged including 81,830 houses destroyed and over 3000 later demolished.(From the Bristol Blizt in Wikipedia).

This app gives you information on what old Bristol was like, and the effect the Blitz had, through an engaging audio commentary, and using archive photos and film provided by Bristol Record Office, and other pictures from Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery.

Bristol: The Blitz and the City We Lost is a step up from a basic audio tour and something I am seeing pop up on the App Store for many historical areas throughout the world. If you are in Bristol the app uses the phone’s GPS to play the right audio clips, and show the right archive images and films in the right places as you walk around Bristol’s old city. But for the rest of us there is browse option which I enjoyed. Two things are missing from the browse option: a map of Bristol to help locate visually how the different stops relate spatially; and also, there are no present day photographs of the stops given the design for a walking tour. All in all though I found the app an informative and easy to use bit of history.

Bristol: The Blitz and the City We Lost is $2.99 on the App Store and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.
App icon for Extraordinary HeroesRated Two Stars3. Extraordinary Heroes

The Imperial War Museum London opened the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, its first major permanent gallery in ten years, on the 12th of November with Extraordinary Heroes.

The new gallery, paid for by a £5million donation from Lord Ashcroft, KCMG, will house the Extraordinary Heroes exhibition containing the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses (VCs), which has been established by Lord Ashcroft since 1986. The 162 awards, which range from the Crimean to the Falklands wars, are on public display for the first time alongside 48 VCs and 31 George Crosses (GCs) already held by the Museum. The VC is Britain and the Commonwealth’s premier award for extreme gallantry in the face of the enemy, while the GC is Britain’s most prestigious civil decoration.

The Extraordinary Heroes app which accompanies the exhibit indicates that one can “explore 29 stories of bravery across 7 different themes” but it does so in the manner of a fancy flyer for the exhibition. One can read the brief descriptions but one doesn’t feel really drawn into the stories. On the “How to Use This App” screen there are icons and instructions for audio and video clips but it appears that this is from Toura’s (the developer) template, rather than specific to Extraordinary Heroes, as there are no audio or video clips available in the app. Which is a shame. After Bristol: The Blitz I was geared up for more history but found Extraordinary Heroes to be less than ordinary as an app. This is a step down from an audio guide.

Extraordinary Heroes is available for $0.99 on the App Store. Save your change unless you want to make a charitable donation to the Imperial War Museum. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.
App icon for Golden Gate Park Field GuideRated Four Stars4. Golden Gate Park Field Guide

This is a really cool app from the California Academy of Sciences and let me start by noting the coolest feature, “Sightings”. With “Sightings” “citizen scientist” can search for recent sightings of plants and animals in the park. For example, a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) was spotted on the grassy slope between deYoung and JFK on Thanksgiving day. Users can also upload a spotting with a picture. Unfortunately the picture of the Red-shouldered Hawk wasn’t the best and you can’t zoom yet on the picture but this is still a pretty cool way to explore the park. However, the field guide tells me that this is an uncommon sighting and even provides an audio clip of the Red-shouldered Hawk’s voice. The app also keeps track of your sightings in folder for handy reference.

A field guide highlights more than 170 of the park’s animal and plant species, “including a few surprises like wild coyotes and blackberry bushes“. An “Adventures” section includes two nature walks, two bike tours, and four scavenger hunts. This app is well thought out and easy to navigate.

The Golden Gate Park iPhone app is currently free for a limited time and then will be $2.99. If you are planning to visit the California Academy of Sciences in the coming weeks show the app at the Academy ticket window for $5 off the price of your ticket from 11/29/10-12/24/10. (Valid for up to four guests.) This app is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

App icon for MasadaRated Two Stars5. Acoustiguide Smartour – Masada

“On the cliff of Masada, at the edge of the Judean Mountains, rising over 400 meters above the western shore of the Dead Sea, unfolded one of the most dramatic events in the history of the people of Israel.

When all hope of halting the advance of the Roman forces was lost, Elazar Ben-Yair gathered the warriors of Masada, with their women, their elderly and their young in the square beyond the wall and addressed them, calling upon them to take their own lives…

“…and die we shall ere we serve our enemies in bondage, and free men we shall remain when we leave the land of the living, we, our wives and our children…’ ” (from the developer’s description)

This app from Acoustiguide is pretty much one would expect from a leading provider of audio guides. There are 41 way points and an introduction. Each is accompanied by a still photograph. I had been hoping that there would be more multi-media available to really bring Masada to the user who may not be able to visit. While this audioguide is informative it seems to fall short of really being an app. I wish this app would take a page or two from the National Constitution Center’s app.

Acoustiguide Smartour – Masada is $1.99 on Apple’s App Store and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1 or later.
App icon for Mori Art MuseumRated One Star6. Mori Art Museum Official App

The Mori Art Museum “is Tokyo’s highest museum, on the 53rd floor of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. Opened in 2003, it features state-of-the-art galleries with 6m-tall (20-ft.) ceilings, controlled natural lighting, and great views of Tokyo. Innovative exhibitions of emerging and established artists from around the world are shown four times a year, with past shows centering on contemporary Asian, African, and Japanese art.” (from the New York Times).

The Mori Art Museum Official App is the app as business card. There is basic information about the current exhibit, “Odani Motohiko: Phantom Limb” including biographical information about the artist and pictures of six pieces in the exhibition. There is no additional audio or video included. I’m not sure I understand the point of creating this app other than, as I said, as a business card. Odani Motohiko’s art looks intriguing but this app isn’t going to help the user gain a better appreciation of his work.

Mori Art Museum Official App is available on Apple’s App Store at no charge and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.2 or later.

App icon for National Constitution CenterRated Four Stars7. National Constitution Center

The National Constitution Center worked with Drexel University’s School of Education to create this excellent app. There are five navigation icons across the bottom of the app. The first icon, “Home”, provides the visitor with basic logistical information including directions via public transportation and parking rates. Let’s skip the second icon for a second. The central icon appropriately enough is of the “Constitution” and provides a full text of this historic document. The fourth icon is “Newswire” provided by YellowBrix, Inc. a service of BusinessWire. The newsire highlights articles in the news which affect constitutional issues, although not all articles seem to meet this criteria. And the fifth navigation icon is “More” which allows the user to send an email about the app, provide feedback to the NCC or take a survey.

Now back to the second icon, “Tours”, which is the heart of this app. Here the NCC introduces an in-app payment system which I applaud. There are four tours, “Art of the American Soldier”, “We the People-Constitution”, “Signer’s Hall Exhibit”, and “Ancient Rome and America”. Each tour has between twenty and forty-five waypoints and includes rich media. For example, a video of George W.H. Bush, Chairman of the NCC, welcomes the user to Signers’ Hall. After a couple of provided preview way points the user can choose to purchase the rest of the tour for $0.99. A very reasonable price considering the content provided here. If the NCC had started with the app being priced at $3.99 on the App Store users might be reluctant to purchase the app. With this model users can download the app and have convenient access to some basic features and then pay-as-you-go with the tours after you’ve previewed the content of several waypoints first.

Overall I think the NCC did a good job of creating an app that is engaging both for the on-site visitor and the at-home app user. I haven’t visited the NCC yet but after viewing this app I’m looking forward to the chance to do so soon.

The NCC app is free to download from Apple’s App Store and then charges $0.99 each for four optional tours. Try one and I think you’ll agree you’re getting your moneys worth here. This app is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

App icon for The Phillips CollectionRated Four Stars8. The Phillips Collection

The Phillips Collection has released a very professional app with great features, easy to use navigation and lots of content to explore. The audio guide consist of three tours, “Intersections” with 6 stops, “Permanent Collection” with 9 stops, and “TruthBeauty: Pictorialism and the Photograph as Art 1845-1945” (a current exhibition running through January 9, 2011) with 9 stops. A variety of voices are featured on the audio guide including Museum Director Dorothy Kosinski, artists, curators, and educators. The last time I visited the Phillips Collection the audio guide was available for access via your cell phone, which I find an improvement over many of the audio guide units distributed by museums but still you have to dial the access number repeatedly during a visit which gets old. So having the audio pre-loaded for a visit is certainly an improvement, although some of it seems lifted from a dated audio guide. When I heard curator Vesela Sreteno refer to a work from the “Intersections” series being on view until May 2, 2010 I had to double check to be sure this app had debuted in November.

But the real fun with this app is when you begin exploring the other content available. There’s a veritable treasure trove of videos to get lost exploring with content ranging from behind the scenes views of artists installing their works in the museum to visitors commenting on the recent Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition Abstraction. There really is so many wonderful surprises in exploring the videos included in this app.

A real gem of a surprise in this app is the “Love Stories from the Phillips Collection”. I haven’t seen anything like this on another museum app and found these stories very touching and really enriched the experience of my time exploring The Phillips Collection app. Do yourself a favor, download this app and take a look at these “Love Stories”.

One other feature which I really appreciate on the Phillips Collection app is the donation icon at the bottom of the app. This reminds me of the glass boxes often found in museum lobbies which provide an opportunity to donate what you wish. The Phillips house recently suffered substantial damage from a fire and so they have launched a micro-donation campaign to allow supporters to contribute to make a $5 donation, by texting “phillips5” to 20222 and to make a $10 donation, they can text “phillips10” to this same number. Even if this donation were not for a special cause I do appreciate that the Phillips Collection provided this way to say thanks for a great app experience.

The Phillips Collection app is available for free from Apple’s App Store and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later.

App icon for TakeItArtside!Rated Three Stars9. TakeItArtside!

This wonderful app from Central Kentucky’s Museum Without Walls Project represents a collaborative effort between Christine Huskisson of the University of Kentucky department of art, Lisa Broome-Price of the Gaines Center for the Humanities, Allison Hosale, a recent graduate of UK with an MA in Art History, and the direct involvement of students from the University of Kentucky and Georgetown College. The design of the app really encourages user involvement with the public art in Lexington, Kentucky. A user can browse a map of public artworks in the Lexington, Kentucky, follow directions on a Google map to the artwork and check-in to earn points (naturally, you need to be in the area for this to work). A “My Gallery” folder allows users to keep track of which art works they have visited. As a result of the check-in feature the Museum Without Walls “team will be able to track which pieces of artwork are being viewed the most and at what times and even by certain demographics, because each user will create a small profile that will give a little information about themselves,” according to Brian Raney of Apex Software, who partnered on the app development.

Museum Without Walls has even created a page for lesson plans. The lesson plans were created by Allison Hosale as part of a graduate level assignment and tested in a local elementary school.

The only thing missing currently is audio and I read that there are plans to include audio from “artists and interpretive comments from curators and administrators, as well as those who might simply want to share their experiences”.

TakeItArtside! is a free app available from Apple’s App Store and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

UPDATE December 6, 2010: The Project Team at Central Kentucky Museum Without Walls informs me that the lessons plans for the current app were designed by Sarah Piester & Jeanette Tesmer, graduate students at the University of Kentucky.

App icon for ZahnerRated Two Stars10. Zahner

Zahner has produced, what in it’s present form is, the app as digital portfolio. This pioneer in the architectural metal industry has collaborated with an impressive list of clients all over the world.

According to their website, “The Zahner iPhone App was designed to give art and architecture lovers a taste of the great works by great artists. Included in the App are many of the best designers, architects, and artists of our day, showing the works they’ve produced in Zahner metal.
The Zahner App is one of the best ways to get a taste for the projects that Zahner has done around the world. The Zahner App includes several mapped locations so that users can visit Zahner projects completed in their own area. There is no better way to understand the quality of Zahner metal-work than by seeing it in person.”

The app as it is now does include hundreds of photos and the resources section contains interesting and useful articles however, the app itself is missing a pulse. There’s no video or audio from the artists and architects. No commentary from Zahner on their processes. Nothing. Just a silent digital portfolio of admittedly impressive work. Check out the video on their website for a demo of the app.

Zahner’s app is available for free from Apple’s App Store. I’d recommend waiting until they add some more engaging content. This app is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later

Thoughts on Apple’s App Store, Cultural Institution Apps, and some Frrrrrictionn

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Searching the App Store

The Apple App Store is notoriously difficult to search through.  I thought it was bad but after spending a couple of days searching for every cultural institution app I could find I discovered it was even worst than I thought.  And forget about trying to discover an individual contemporary artist app by browsing. If iTunes were a physical store like Wal-mart it would be as if the store had this compulsively organized CD section and then the rest of the store was completely hodgepodge. You’d have TV’s next to the lettuce next to men’s socks next to camping gear and this is just on one shelf. Even Goodwills are much better organized than this.  Once you dig beyond merely browsing the app store sloppiness becomes even more apparent.  Searching for “art museums” yields apps in the entertainment, travel, navigation, lifestyle and education categories.  There’s no way to immediately tell which ones are official cultural institution approved apps and which ones are not.  It would be helpful if there were even a “verified” checkmark which highlighted which ones were affiliated with a cultural institution.  For example searching for “Central Park” returns “Central Park-The Insider’s Guide” for $1.99,  (skipping over the South Park games), Discover Central Park HD for $4.99, Central Park Guide Lite a free app, Central Park – New York for $0.99, and ShowMe: Central Park naked another free app.  Okay, I don’t think the official app would include “naked” in it’s title but what about iParks NY for $2.99.  Experience will teach me that in this case Apple’s category of “Reference” is the bingo button. Could Apple take the organizing just a couple steps further such as Reference>City Parks>Official?

Naming Your App
Cultural Institutions don’t help themselves out either by having the name of the app be the vendor’s name such as this one by Guide by Cell and this one by Acoustiguide Smartour.  The Galleria degli Uffizi helps me out by clearly titling the app “Uffizi. The Official Guide” so that even though Apple categorizes the app as “Travel”, and I might be inclined to think of this as a travel guide along the lines of Lonely Planet, the Uffizi has made it easier to not only find this if I’m browsing before a trip to Italy, but also to discover when, in this case, I’m simply looking for new official museum apps to discover.

App Store Descriptions
The descriptions provided by cultural institutions (or their vendors) on the iTunes App Store range from the succinctly thorough such as the one for the American Museum of Natural History’s Explorer app to the simply succinct two sentences describing this app.  Yes, granted it’s “free” but this description doesn’t really sell me on investing the time involved to discover this app, particularly by comparison to the AMNH Explorer’s description.  Apps have the potential of expanding a cultural institutions audience (and possibly future supporters) and institutions which have invested the resources in creating an app should also invest the effort towards creating a compelling description.  Writing a good description of the app might even be the first step to designing the app.  Taking the time to speak to your intended audience helps to formulate the “why” of the app.  Why are you designing the app? Why should I download the app? Continuing to draft this description during the design process might be beneficial in keeping the app design focused on the user experience.

But who reads the description right?  Well in some cases you can tell that it’s probably not the representatives of the institution or their vendors.

Developer Provided Links on the App Store
When I click on one of the links provided for the Ford House I’m taken to this wonderful splash page which invites me to “Enter the Story”.  I love that initial invitation.  Everyone loves a good story and even though at present it seems unlikely that I’ll be in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan any time soon I’m intrigued enough to read more about this “epic visitor experience”.  Now epic might sound like hype but at 244 MB this app is one of the larger one’s I’ve come across and so I suspect The Ford House is backing this up and I can’t wait for the chance to enter this story.  I wish more institutions approached their apps as storytellers.  But back to the link that took me to this wonderful splash page.  I clicked on “Audissey Guides Web Site” and was taken to the Ford House.  If I click on the other link provided, “Edsel & Eleanor Ford House Support”, I’m taken to Audissey Guides Web Site.  At least in this case it’s a simple mix up in labeling or the links placed in the wrong place by Apple.  But it represents a lack of attention to detail that add friction to the user experience.  Like missing that “s” that should be in “adds friction”.  You can get where you’re going but little trip ups like that don’t add to the pleasure of the journey.

What About That FAQ?
Sometimes though the links provided in the app descriptions don’t quite get you where you intended to go.  The GuidebyCell app (which is really for the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston but that’s in small type as if the ICA were the developer for GuidebyCell) has a link for GuidebyCell support which takes you to a “contact us” page which asks the reader, “Ready to be innovative?” and then provides a place to enter your question and contact information.  A FAQ page would seem to be the minimum that a user should get when clicking on a support link either on the iTunes App Store or within the app itself.  If a link is going to be provided and labeled “support” then it should take the user to a support page for this particular app and not some generic “contact us” page or worse the home page of the vendor who designed the app.  This only leaves the user on their own to navigate through to find the page supporting this app. If it exists. Most users seeking support are already frustrated but at least they are trying to get resolution because they like your app enough to want to get past a sticking point.  Why add to the frustration?  However, it does get worse.

Support Links
When I click on the link for “Love Art: National Gallery, London Support”  I’m taken to  Antenna Audio’s “Pentimento” site. But this web page does have an FAQ tab prominent and so I click on that.  Now the Pentimento FAQ is addressed to prospective institutions considering developing an app and not to customers who have downloaded the app and are seeking support.  You know, if I were an institution exploring vendors with which to partner in developing an app and I were clicking through the support link to see what kind of support the vendor was prepared to offer my users I would be concerned about this lack of attention to detail.  I’m sure Antenna Audio offers good support to consumers who download their apps.  I just can’t find it through the provided support link.  Incidentally, one has the same experience with the Antenna Audio developed app for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibit on Quilts 1700-2010 and the one they developed for the Van Gogh Museum.  So perhaps this is Antenna Audio’s support strategy.

A Good Example
By comparison check out the MoMA’s FAQ.

I didn’t intend to write a blog post about the details of culture apps before you download them from iTunes but that is where the user experience starts in most cases.  Maybe the Apple App Store isn’t the storefront for your institution like the home page of your website but this is certainly a door through which you are inviting the world to visit.  Shouldn’t the experience be less like going through the loading dock and more like the storefront?

What’s Your Friction?
Readers, what are some other examples of friction you have encountered in the App Store when searching for cultural institutions?

Thank you for taking time to read this post and I hope you found it beneficial.  As I develop this blog I most certainly welcome your feedback.  Now excuse me as I have to get back to that story at The Ford House.

Museums2Go – It’s not about the technology

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Museums2Go – It’s not about the technology.

“The real voyage of discovery consist not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust, as quoted in the preface to Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience by John Falk.

Ok yes, this blog starts with the technology but very cognizant that technology’s but a tool for other things. I’ve started the Museums2Go blog because I’m interested in the ways in which museums and other cultural institutions are leveraging mobile technologies to engage their communities. My perspective is that of an enthusiastic user of the mobile technologies being rolled out by cultural institutions.  I love the passion with which many art & culture lovers are embracing mobile technologies because this is but an early indication of a pent up demand.  How many times have you read of an art exhibit or cultural event and wished you could attend? Or have attended and hungered for more but no additional resources were available? The response to the internet from cultural institutions in some cases addressed elements of this desire and hunger but mostly in a static way. Web 2.0 and beyond reflects the consumerization of technology thankfully. This is when things really get fun!

Museums2Go will feature reviews of the iPhone and iPad apps being released by museums and other cultural institutions.  There are a number of very good sites helping us all sort through the hundreds of thousands of apps that make our smart phones sing but I’m personally having trouble sorting through which cultural apps are worth downloading even if they are free.  So here I’m going to blog about my experiences with the various apps.  And are they worth downloading only if you are planning a trip to that particular cultural institution?  What if you’re a frequent visitor? If so, how do they enhance your experience? What if you’re not going to be able to visit the institution during a special exhibit, how does an institution’s app for the exhibit address you? I don’t expect to be able to answer these questions satisfactorily with each app but I do harbor hopes that by reviewing each cultural app with these and other questions in mind that this blog will in some small way contribute to raising the bar on the experience of all who  are interested in the nexus of culture and mobility.  Ultimately it’s about everything but the technology.  Having said that though this blog’s going to focus on how successful, or not, iPhone and iPad apps are at getting users beyond the technology.

I’m starting this blog from the perspective of the iPhone and iPad because of my experience as a former Apple Education Executive who worked with colleges and universities on their mobile strategies.  However, let me just state that I’m platform agnostic and as such I’m open to reviewing apps on other mobile devices once I figure out how to do so without increasing a necessary low overhead.

All art is a dialogue.  A living conversation.  Museums2Go aspires to contribute to this conversation by blogging about the nexus of culture and mobility.

Thank you for joining me and I welcome all feedback on ways in which Museums2Go can better contribute to the conversation.

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