Posts tagged Nina Simon

Play “A Conservation Carol” SCVNGR trek at The National Zoo with iPhone or Android app


Mobility and Museums in Action: “A Conservation Carol” SCVNGR Trek- An Interview with Kellian Adams, of SCVNGR, and Rachel Meskin, Educations Programs Specialist, Friends of the National Zoo.

A Conversation Carol PosterThe buzz has been building about SCVNGR (pronounced “Scavenger”) lately and so when Friends of the National Zoo in D.C. released a new holiday themed trek last Friday entitled “A Conversation Carol” I had to touch base with Museum Ninja and Institutional Mastermind (how about that for a job title), Kellian Adams of SCVNGR and Rachel Meskin, Education Programs Specialist with Friends of the National Zoo, to find out more. Kellian and Rachel provided some great insights into their experiences in creating SCVNGR treks and shared with me their tips for building a trek at your institution. Kellian and Rachel’s  responses to my questions are below but first a bit of background on SCVNGR.

Screenshot of SCVNGR "Homepage"Google backed SCVNGR is a location-based gaming platform that allow visitors to explore institutions in a gamelike fashion. Most of us have participated in a scavenger hunt at one time or another.  Just imagine how fun and engaging this could play out at a museum, a zoo or other cultural institution.  This spring, participatory museum guru Nina Simon wrote a post in her blog of how a mobile scavenger hunt would address the desire people have for a social experience when visiting the museum.  As Nina wrote, most museum visitors visit in groups but most museum apps derive from the audio guide paradigm which focuses on the individual.  SCVNGR is different.  It’s social from the ground up. As one blog put it “there’s an app for family time“. And the response from visitors has been phenomenal (read Rachel’s comments below).

Since the release of it’s iPhone and Android apps seven months ago users are downloading the app at a rate of 5,000 per day and SCVNGR expects surpass a million users by the end of the year.  In addition to the National Zoo, the Smithsonian, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the San Diego Zoo, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Muhammed Ali Center, The Chicago Institute of Art (take the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off challenge!), the Museum of London, and over 70 other museums, zoos and cultural institutions have joined the SCVNGR fun.
“A Conservation Carol” SCVNGR trek provides visitors of the Smithsonian National Zoo with a fun, interactive way to learn about conservation while traveling through the free ZooLights night exhibit this December. Players meet the Goats of ZooLights past, present, and future as they complete challenges that remind them of the spirit of conservation.

SCVNGR is available free as an iPhone app or on Android (search for SCVNGR on the Android Market on your device). To locate a particular trek you must be located within 25 miles of the trek. Learn more about SCVNGR and museums here and here.

Have you participated in a SCVNGR Trek at a museum, zoo or other cultural institution?  If so, please share your experience in the comments section.

Here’s a quick video from SCVNGR on how the app works:

SCVNGR | How To Play from SCVNGR on Vimeo.

Play “A Conservation Carol” on your phone!

From Friends of the National Zoo’s website:

Don’t be a Scrooge! This holiday season, remember the spirit of conservation. Explore the light displays and be visited by the Goats of ZooLights past, present, and future. The more challenges you complete, the more points you will earn—both in the name of conservation and for a chance to win an exclusive VIP tour, including a visit with the keeper of your favorite animal. Ten runners-up will get ZooLights T-shirts.

To greet the first goat, text “ZooLights” to 728647 OR download the SCVNGR app on your iPhone or Android, click on “Treks,” and select the “Conservation Carol” Trek. The trek starts at the Zoo’s main entrance on Connecticut Avenue.

SCVNGR Trek Scores
0 to 14 points You’re an Ebenezer: Better change your evil ways!
15 to 29 points You’re a work in progress: Sort of green but kinda mean.
30 to 42 points You’re a Conserveaholic: Keep up the good work making the world a better place.

Here is my exchange with Rachel Meskin, Education Programs Specialist, Friends of the National Zoo

How did you get started with SCVNGR?

Rachel – SCVNGR was recommended to us by a colleague, Georgina Goodlander, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She put me in touch with Kellian and after one conversation I was sold. We had wanted to experiment with games at the Zoo for a while and SCVNGR seemed like a user-friendly and innovative platform.

How many SCVNGR treks have you created?

Rachel – “A Conservation Carol” is Friends of the National Zoo’s second SCVNGR trek and one of many ideas we have for the Zoo. The first trek was part of a massive alternate reality game called “Save the Pygmy Dragon Panda” we ran during the summer of  2010. SCVNGR Gen2 powered the text component. We are re-launching Save the PDP on another platform because it isn’t really location-based and it has a very distinct voice that would make less sense on SCVNGR Gen3. (More on voice later!)

How long did it take to create “A Conservation Carol” trek?

SCVNGR Zoolights Badge

SCVNGR Zoolights Badge

Rachel – It took us two solid days to create the challenges and an additional few days for editing, tweaking, testing and more tweaking.*

*Disclaimer: It can be done in 2 days but I have to admit I’m pretty sure I have some of the most creative people in the world in my office to help me.

What tips would you give to institutions considering setting up their first SCVNGR trek?


·         It’s important to remember that SCVNGR is one big game. Although I love games that tell detailed stories with characters and conflict, SCVNGR is its own kind of game with its own set of rules. It has its own game language, a reward system and a structure that must be kept in mind when building. I think the best way to look at it is that each trek is like a level of the overall game. Your level should capture the tone of your institution but should be simple enough that it meshes with the challenges and treks at other locations.

·         Come up with strange ways people might interact with your collection. Challenge what people normally think of when they think of your institution (whether it be that it skews too young like the Zoo or that it’s too stuffy like a gallery). Encourage people to run around and do things they wouldn’t normally do.

·         Think of your trek as a game and not a scavenger hunt.

·         Go for a variety of challenges including text, photo, problem solving, codes, art, song, dance and even math.  Try to reach players of differing comfort levels and learning styles.

·         I think a trek should have a simple cohesive theme (like ours that drew on the concept of “A Christmas Carol”).

·         The simpler the better.

·         People respond to prizes and rewards.

·         Promotion has been our biggest challenge. Make sure you can devote a lot of time and effort to getting people to play.

What’s been the response from Zoo visitors to the SCVNGR trek(s)?

Rachel– Responses to Save the PDP over the summer were very positive. Students and campers with DC tour groups (our target audience) told us that the game was the best part of their visit to Washington. Our ZooLights trek just launched, and we’ve already started to see people dancing, singing, laughing and learning.

In one of the challenges, we ask people to pick up a piece of trash and contribute to our giant “recyculpture.” The sculpture has been out 24/7, and we’ve seen a few parents, unaware of the trek, telling their kids about keeping the earth green and clean after walking by it. We think this will be our most popular challenge during the run of the game.

Screenshot of Challenge in "A Conservation Carol"

Screenshot of Challenge in "A Conservation Carol"

Here is my exchange with Kellian Adams, Museum Ninja and Institutional Mastermind at SCVNGR:

What’s been most inspiring for you to work with institutions like Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ)?

Kellian– Every museum that gets involved with a SCVNGR project  thinks of something TOTALLY new that I never would have dreamed of and that’s really inspiring to me. I’ve learned that my SCVNGR gamebuilding team and I haven’t even scratched the surface of what can be done with the platform in the cultural space. The FONZ created the “Goats of Zoolights Past”- hilarious! They even have people singing in the giftshop (you can see pictures of it on their SCVNGR feed). The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis used SCVNGR as a tool to help people share stories and keep entertained while  they’re waiting in the Santa line. The Boston Museum of Science is creating a “Star Search” all across the city of Boston. The Mohammed Ali Center used SCVNGR for teambuilding events. Each project is just so creative and unusual and really specific to the space of the museum, and that’s my absolute favorite part.

What’s surprised you most from the results of SCVNGR at an institution?

Kellian– There have been a LOT of surprises- it’s a new media so we’re all learning. I think the most surprising thing to me was how much the delivery of the media mattered in how people responded. When I started with SCVNGR in museums, I saw it as sort of an interactive audio tour but just the fact that it’s interactive makes it totally different from a tour. When you ask visitors to interact and respond, you have to be really deliberate in how you approach it- you almost can’t ask them “on the spot” or they’ll feel like they’ve been called on in a class.

Kellian– In fact, we’ve had some really surprisingly negative experiences approaching museum-goers inside the museum and asking them if they’d like to try a new mobile game- and we never expected that! We’ve learned that walking inside the museum should not be a visitor’s very first exposure to the fact that there’s an interactive mobile game that they can play – and it seems that it’s not just SCVNGR but almost any interactive mobile experience that I’ve seen inside a museum. On the other hand… once you give visitors that permission: you tell them ahead of time: come play, you’ll need to answer but it’s okay- the museum approves- then you get this really fantastic and positive response. You do have to prep visitors ahead of time because now they’re not just a spectator anymore, you have to prepare them so that they know they’ll be part of the experience! And once they know that, they’re just so excited to participate. I always work with my museums now to write about their SCVNGR initiative, blog, Facebook, tweet, email- it’s not just advertising for a program, it’s an important part of preparing people so that they come ready to play!

What’s surprised the institution most by SCVNGR?

Kellian- I think institutions are often surprised by the demographic that SCVNGR draws. Museum professionals often expect that maybe families or school kids will like to play so we’ll send a trek live and again and again our trek photos roll in with pictures of people between 18 and 35 playing and having a grand old time. Even when we set up a trek specifically to appeal to kids or families, still we get those 18 to 35 year olds that play and I don’t think museums ever expect to have their programs “wedding crashed” by that demographic!

I think institutions are also surprised by the quality of visitor’s involvement. I like to have our museums launch a trek with a “kick off event” to start the buzz rolling but also so that they can see visitors play in real time. They’re always so excited by the amazing responses- really thoughtful comments on pieces, once we asked for haikus and got this incredible poetry! At the San Diego Zoo, we’re just asking for “animal pose” photos but people are coming up with these creative poses using their clothes as props, working with each other to make sure they look like an elephant or a kangaroo. The Joslyn museum asked visitors to create a sculpture out of natural materials and we got these amazing pictures of impromptu art that visitors built. People really do want to participate in the museum experience once they know that they can.

My thanks to Rachel and Kellian for being so generous with their time and for sharing with Museums2Go readers their experiences and insights. Thank you!

Follow A Culture Trail App


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: You can learn more about the heritage trail at Or explore it on your own with the free iPhone app: 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.

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