“Surprise Me. (Fun Mode)”

The New Museum hosted Seven on Seven this weekend (April 17/18, 2010) – where seven artists and seven technologists paired up to create social media based art and present their ideas to a paying crowd at the museum. Here’s the NYTimes review. Mark Mullenweg, a creator of WordPress, and the artist Evan Roth, collaborated to produce Surprise Me. (Fun Mode) which offers WordPress bloggers some positive reinforcement every time they hit the Publish button. “They described it as ‘an emotional plug-in’, a virtual artwork to celebrate the ‘sacred act of publishing,’ which the web has transformed as fundamentally as Gutenberg did and which is in turn, transforming society.”

Eager to try it, I was going to install it but it’s only available for blogs  hosted on WordPress. If your blog is there, try it and please let me know what you saw.

Thank You Instapaper, and Miles Davis!

Do you have a problem keeping up with all the links from Twitter posts? I do. But at last, I’ve found a way to read  them all – when it’s convenient, with or without an internet connection. Thank you Instapaper!

A friend recommended signing up for this service. Brilliant! I must have 50 tabs open between my Safari and Firefox browsers and they stare back at me, almost reproachfully, every time I use a browser, reminding me that I still haven’t clicked on a link I opened days ago.

Now I can finally settle in and read  them. Tonight, before I left the studio, I signed up for Instapaper on my laptop and downloaded one app that works on both my iPhone and iPad. I added the little ‘Read Later’ button to my Bookmarks Bar and added 30 articles to Instapaper. It automatically synched to my phone.

So I got on the subway, shuffled my playlist to Miles Davis and started reading the first one in the list. It happened to be about TAP, the new open source mobile tour platform developed by the wizards at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. I was having such a good time I rode right past my stop – really. All I needed was an armchair and a glass of wine.

So, thank you Instapaper. You’ve given me the gift of time, to go along with the gift of knowledge I get from all my Tweeps. Thank you all too!

Mobile Recommendations from the Think Mobile Conference, Part 2

According to the report by Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker, published on April 12, 2010, the mobile internet will overtake the fixed internet in the next five years. Museums have always had unique rich content to offer. The challenge now is to design ways to present that content in formats and markets where their current and future audiences are. Recent statistics indicate that 60% of users carry their smart phones with them, including at home, at all times. By 2013 the US smart phone market will quadruple to 160 million users.

Last week’s Think Mobile Conference, while aimed at large media companies, offered advice and insights that can help museums who are trying to create a meaningful and successful mobile experience. In Part 1 of my report I described three topics that dominated the presentations:

-       the importance of defining the user experience before you begin

-       the need to decide what mobile platform/s you’re going with

-       the recognition that compelling content or a unique feature are essential to success

Here in Part 2, you can quickly read about the other three key elements to focus on.

Don’t Make Your App a Graveyard! Keep Users Coming Back to It

Everyone worried aloud about the issue of how to keep users coming back to their applications once they’ve downloaded them. It’s important because one of the ways to support the building and maintenance of your application is with ads, or in non-profit parlance, sponsorship. Sponsors want to know that they’re reaching users frequently, not just once. Their recommendations:

  1. Build a content management system for your app so it’s easy to update. Providing fresh content is one way to ensure sustainable engagement.
  2. Be ready to iterate, as improvements are made to the software, be ready to take advantage of them to improve the user experience.
  3. I’d recommend adding your Twitter feed, blog and or Facebook feed into the app to ensure that there’s a minimum of fresh content, and help users contribute to the conversation.

Ways to Support the Development and Maintenance of Your App

Since people download more free apps than paid ones, most companies want to make their apps free. But they also want to recoup their costs and/or make a profit. Conference attendees talked about three approaches to financing.

  1. Sell advertising within the app. For museums, this would translate to sponsorships. Everyone had statistics from surveys showing that users don’t mind advertising in applications, as long as the ads aren’t bad. (I know, how do you define “bad”?)
  2. Make your app free to download but sell upgrades within your application, either for premium content or new features.
  3. Alternatively, since people do pay for content they really want, charge for your app. The Apple store takes 30% of each sale, but you still get 70%.
  4. Museums could also sell memberships, have links to donate, or to shop.

Last But Not Least, Spread the Word That Your App is Available!

What good will it do to produce a beautiful mobile app or web app if no one knows about it?

  1. Museums have a built in membership base and many communications tools to help them get the word out: your website, newsletters, social media accounts, blogs, and of course onsite events, so you can remind visitors and members repeatedly about your mobile applications and how to download them. Reaching out to your base is one way to stand above the crowd in the app stores. Apple’s store is very crowded, with over 185,000 apps available and the number growing daily.
  2. Tie the release of your app to an event, when you’re generating and receiving publicity anyway.
  3. Build social links into the app so people can share your content on Facebook and Twitter at least, and promote your app simultaneously

Museums have always had unique rich content to offer. The challenge now is to design ways to present that content in formats and markets where their current and future audiences are. Recent statistics indicate that 60% of users carry their smart phones with them, including at home, at all times. By 2013 the US smart phone market will quadruple to 160 million users.

Mobile Recommendations from the Think Mobile Conference, Part One

Some of today’s most active developers and strategists spoke at the recent Think Mobile Conference about the current and future shape of our mobile experience.

The conference focused primarily on newspaper and TV organizations, but I was keenly interested in how their advice could be applied to museums who, like media companies, are big institutions, slow to change, have great content, want to stay relevant, are looking for guidance about how to succeed in mobile, and who can’t afford to lose money doing it.

Among the media companies represented were NPR, Bravo, Pandora, Associated Press, CNN, Bloomberg Media, PC Magazine.

Here are the big ideas they shared about successful strategies. I’m posting this in two parts over two days.

Part One will cover:

- Start at the Beginning: Define the Experience

- Decide if Your Application is for the Mobile Web or specific Devices

- Find the Wow Feature for Your App

Part Two will cover:

- Don’t Make Your App a Graveyard, Keep Users Coming Back to It

- Ways to Support the Development and Maintenance of Your App

- Last But Not Least, Spread the Word That Your App is Available


Part One: Start at the Beginning: Define the Experience

First, you need to define the experience you want users to have. For museums this can mean defining where their audience will be accessing mobile content. For example, are you delivering content to people who are in your museum? If so, they’re already in an environment that provides a context for your content. If you’re focusing on people off site, then your app will need to give users an informative context and a reason for engaging with your content.

Take into consideration how people consume mobile content. In the words of Paul Reddick, CEO of Handmark, a leading developer of mobile software, people use their devices for  time sensitive information, like news; for reference content, so they don’t need to go out to Wikipedia; and for convenience, to access information when and where they want it. If you can look at your project this way, you’ll be able to offer a satisfying experience by providing the right content at the right time, and meet the expectations of your users.

Also, define what you want to achieve with your mobile app and how you could measure success.

Decide if Your App is for the Mobile Web or specific Devices

The general consensus is that while it’s useful, and cheaper, to build a mobile web app, it’s better to deliver your content on applications designed for specific smart phones. Here’s why:

  1. to take advantage of the rich user experience features of phones;
  2. to make the content available even when there’s no connectivity to the internet;
  3. to provide unique content that you can charge for, either from sponsors, or users;

The big drawback is that no one version of your app will work on every phone; platform specific development is required. Currently, not even most big media companies can afford to build apps for every device out there. This means making more choices. They recommend:

  1. iPhone; iPad – not the biggest user base but this user base downloads the most apps, on average 37 per month (free and paid).
  2. Android: – number of users and applications rising quickly.
  3. RIM – blackberry: biggest user base but not much interest in downloading apps; this platform is also problematic because there are so many blackberry devices the software works differently on them, so it’s been hard to develop applications. This may soon be changing. If so blackberry apps will have access to the widest user base.

Either way it’s important to understand how people use their phones so you can design your content to fit their behavior.

Find the Wow Feature for Your App

Everyone wants to figure out how to design it so that people want to use it more than once. Here are some tips, given by Brian Meehan of Sourcebits

  1. One great feature is better than feature overload, for example, the interactive ocarina on the MIA iAfrica application, the multi-tiled dinosaur portrait/interface in AMNH’s Dinosaur app, or the compelling story line in the Van Gogh Museum’s Yours Vincent app.
  2. Use the core features of the phone, such as multi-touch, accelerometer, location services to provide rich experiences. These things don’t work on the web.
  3. Make the app work with wi-fi and 3G (soon to be 4G)

10.User interface really matters. Think about what your users expect and make the navigation clear and simple use.

11.Build in connections to social media like Facebook and Twitter so people using your app can promote the app as they talk about your content;

I would add, as many others did, start with the content. Provide stories people want to read/watch/hear.

Part Two will cover

- Don’t Make Your App a Graveyard, Keep Users Coming Back to It

- Ways to Support the Development and Maintenance of Your App

- Last But Not Least, Spread the Word That Your App is Available