Mobile Media and Open-Air Museums

Professional Forum
Michael Epstein, USA , Ronald Lenz, The Netherlands

The neighborhoods and cities that surround museums can often prove to be wonderful exhibit places: the history, energy, and art of quotidian places can provide an authentic environment to explore all types of exhibits and themes. Mobile technology has facilitated such "museums without walls" through mapping and interactive storytelling. However, there are still questions about attendance, impact, and sustainability of such app-guided experiences.

This professional forum will look closely at several projects that use mobile apps to create open-air extensions of brick and mortar museums. Specifically we will look at projects such the California Academy of Science's "Golden Gate Field Guide," Untravel's "Walking Cinema" series, the Museum of London's "Dickens Dark London" app, and Mediamatic's "National Vending Machine" and Mobile apps.

The panel will focus on end-user experiences of these in situ exhibits, looking at usability, app discovery, storytelling approaches, and permanence. From the vantage point of an evolving technique, presenters will talk about what worked and what didn't.

With regards to usability, special attention will be paid to directions, mapping, and general orientation as one moves from site to site. We will also look at the practical stuff, such as how to make video watchable in bright daylight, whether headphones are necessary or not, and battery life.

With regards to discovery, we will dig deeper into what unique experiences can only be had outside the museum walls. Where are the apps actually used? In the streets or more as a virtual, in-home, experience of the exhibit? How did people find out about these extensions of the museum? How sharable are these experiences especially through camera phones and social media? What are the audience differences between the mobile app and the museums's primary audience?

For storytelling approaches we will look how each app handles narration: real or fictional? Is the narrator in the action of the story or removed? We will also look how each type of media are used, including text, audio, video, and interactive elements. And we will examine how well each project tackled the idea of a story or experience arc. Are these linear experiences? How is one supposed to move through them and what is the payoff?

Finally, we will consider the permanence of such exhibits? What is their shelf life? Do they impact a significant number of visitors? How do they tie into the programming of the anchor museum? Are there revenue or self-sustaining models for such exhibits.

The promise of ubiquitous museums facilitated by visitor in-pocket technology is just beginning to be tested. This professional panel will level with what early results are showing.

[Note: this this is provisional text, especially examples mentioned at top, I assume this can be revised?]