Posts tagged Audissey Guides

Why Visit? 3 iPhone Apps for Historic Places

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Let me confess up front that I have a weak spot for apps that focus on local historic areas.  These are like someone inviting you into their home. This is where they live and work. There’s an element of pride based upon a true appreciation for a place that shines through the best of these apps. Even if it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make the physical journey to everyone one of these, the best historic places apps create a soft spot in your heart that you don’t forget by taking you on a mental journey. Let’s begin with a warm invitation to the Strawbery Banke Museum.

The Strawbery Banke Museum

App icon for Strawbery BankeMuseumRated Four StarsHave you seen the travel book series “Why Stop?” such as this one for Texas. Each book covers the historical markers in a state so that as you drive across the state you can read about the markers on your route and choose to stop at the ones that interest you or in reading about them become more informed about the places you are traveling through.  Perusing through the App Store the first question an app developer for a historic place answers is “why stop?”. Why stop and spend time with this app and then why stop and visit the historic place with which it is associated.

For me the above video answers the first question for this wonderful app developed by John Forti, Curator of Historic Landscape, in partnership with Audissey Guides (too bad the App Store doesn’t allow the embedding of videos in the app description) and this very well developed app answers the second question. After spending time with this app I really do want to visit the Strawbery Banke Museum one day.

Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, “Strawbery Banke today is unique among outdoor history museums – tracing 375 years of history in one of America’s oldest continuously occupied neighborhoods. The 10-acre site, with its authentically restored houses and shops, period gardens, and costumed role players, presents the daily lives of ordinary people who lived here – from Colonial times to World War II, from the mundane to the elegant, from economic boom to war time austerity – in engaging and accessible ways. Strawbery Banke Museum is a capsule of New England seaport life across four centuries.” (from the museum’s website).

Screenshot of Strawbery Banke map with 29 stops identified

Touch screen map with 29 stops

Navigating the Strawbery Banke app is super easy and intuitive.  From the “Home” screen tap “Property Map” and you are taken to an interactive map of the museum’s ten acres.  I really appreciate this design because including this interactive map is not only useful for the onsite visitor but also draws in the app visitor to the place. If however, you prefer a list view simply tap “Sites”. Tap stop #1 and there is an brief introductory video that invites the viewer “to come discover your place in the unfolding story of America”. This welcome is a nice touch that some apps skip. Tapping on each of the 29 stops takes the user to a screen with 1-3 videos to choose from. The variety of voices and the accompanying musical score really  do a good job of bringing user into the museum grounds. Strawbery Banke comes alive as historical pictures and illustrations are interspersed with pictures of the contemporary space.

After spending time with this app the user really feels like you’ve visited someplace. And someplace you want to return to again and again to discover the little gems provided in each stop. Tapping “Visitor Info” on the “Home” screen takes the user to a screen with links for “Events”, “Hours & Admission”, “Directions” and “About this Application”.  Overall an uncluttered navigation design. The only thing missing is any integration with social networks or the possibility to email links to the video clips to friends which I was tempted to do on the one on “Victorian Children’s Garden” in which the listener is encourage to think of encouraging the children you know to have their own garden to tend.

The Strawbery Banke Museum app is available for free from Apple’s App Store and well worth checking out. It is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and requires iOS 3.1 or later.

Chester: Revealing The Rows

App icon for Chester: Revealing the Rows

Rated Two StarsLocated about forty minutes south of Liverpool in the UK is the town of Chester which, in partnership with Imagemakers , has incorporated the children’s game of i-spy into a stroll through historic Chester.  The Rows are a system of covered walkways that run through the fronts of buildings and are found on the four main streets of Chester. This app is a game where participants try to spot one of thirty different objects from the city motto of “Aniqui Colant Aintiquum Dierum” (Let the Ancients Worship the Ancient of Days) to the marking on a building of “1274 AD” for when King Edward I of England used Chester as a base to attack the Welsh.  As the app says, “Not great for the Welsh, but good for business in the Rows!”. Each of the thirty items are assigned a point value from two to ten points each and up to four people can play together.  The thirty objects are divided into three themes: “Ancient shopping mall”, “2000 years of history” and “People and places”. In order to “spot” all thirty objects in the game one must play the game three times, each time choosing a different theme.

Screenshot of The Hand

Screenshot of "The Hand"

A list view displays the ten objects in the theme the players are trying to spot and tapping on each takes the user to a screen such as the one to the right for “The Hand”. Tapping “Look” on this screen results in a full screen view of the object. Tapping “Map” displays a map of the Rows with the location of the object.  “More” simply means in this case a more complete description of the objects significance to the history of Chester.  Once the object is spotted the user taps “Seen it”.  Modest in its ambitions this app is an interesting example of leveraging the game model to increase one’s knowledge a historical area.

Chester: Revealing the Rows incorporates no multimedia which is a shame. Although playing around with this app does not inspire me to visit historic Chester it does give me a brief appreciation for its place in history. Mostly though I kept wondering what it might be like to merge this app with the next one in today’s post: DigiMacq.

Chester: Revealing the Rows is a free app and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and requires iOS 3.0 or later.

DigiMacq

App icon for DigiMacq

Rated Three StarsFor our next historical places app we’re going down under to Parramatta in The Heart of Greater Western Sydney (as this video by the Parramatta City Council is entitled).  DigiMacq is the app as history channel focusing on the historic centre of Parramatta.  Six beautifully produced vignettes take the viewer on a journey into the past with oral narratives reflecting historical sources and actors playing the roles of the central characters in the drama of the cities early history.  This app is entertaining but frustrating.  It’s the first app I’ve come across in some time that forces the user to follow the tour lock step from start to finish.  And I do mean in lock step. The user is given no navigation options to move around in any order other than the one designed. This app may or may not be designed primarily for grade school children (I’m waiting on confirmation from the developer) but it has the feel of a DVD being played in a grade school history class.  However, I wonder if it would appeal to today’s children.

As I mentioned in the review on Chester: Revealing the Rows I really kept imagining blending these two apps.  Take the production value of DigiMacq with its beautifully crafted multimedia narratives and combine that with Chester’s three themes and game playing model and I could see a much more engaging app than either of these two individually are.

Screenshot of Parramatta Park

Screenshot of Stop #1Parramatta Park

Don’t link to social media if you don’t have a follow up plan in place.

When you finish the multimedia tour you are invited to take a survey (but the link doesn’t lead to a survey only to SurveyPirate where you can create your own survey).  Additionally the user is provided a link for DigiMacq’s Facebook Page where we read that “the DigiMacq Facebook page has been set up as so users from all around the world can discuss their experience and meet other DigiMacq users!”.  Sounds like a plan however, the two most recent post on the wall are spam and there are no discussions in the discussions tab.  Follow the link to “follow the DigiMacq journey on Twitter” and you find a hand full of tweets from months ago.  It seems like the developers had good intentions for incorporating social media into the experience but it seems to have fallen short. I’ve reached out to the developers to find out what happened here and will update this if I’m successful in reaching them.

DigiMacq is a free app available on Apple’s App Store and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 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.

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