Go on, ASK Brooklyn Museum!

The Brooklyn Museum is an excellent place to cool off on a scorching Saturday afternoon, unless you can be at the beach. But the beach doesn’t have the ASK Brooklyn Museum app and I wanted to try that out, especially after having an interesting conversation about the app with Seb Chan and Micah Walter.


Once I downloaded and opened the app in the lobby, (a quick and trouble free operation) I wandered into the Double Take: African Innovations gallery, preferring to stay away from the madding crowds upstairs in The Rise of Sneaker Culture exhibition.
ASK Brooklyn Museum home screen



Knowing very little about African Art, I wasn’t at all sure what would interest me enough to ask any questions but literally every object, whether contemporary or historical was magnetically attractive in one way or another.

Eventually I came across this copper plaque from 16th or 17th century Nigeria, depicting a Portuguese trader with his European style dress, flowing beard and mustache.


Portuguese Trader by Nigerian artist 16th or 17th CDetail of a Portuguese Trader by a Nigerian artist, 16th or 17th C

The African artist had seen his nose as sharp, and curved. I became curious to compare how the Nigerian artist saw the Portuguese with how Japanese artists depicted them after they arrived in southern Japan in the 16th century. (Remember Shogun?) I snapped a picture of the plaque in the app and sent it to the ASK team, as requested, then texted my question.

The answer came back almost immediately, from Stephanie, who texted:

My question in the ASK app



Then before I knew it, another text arrived from her:

Additional response from the ASK team









I used the link to see what the sculpture looked like and wandered around again until I found the Horn Blower, meanwhile stopping to admire several other dramatic and mysterious masks and figures. Here’s the Horn Blower with a kilt decorated with the faces of Portuguese men. You can see the faces, though not very well.

The Horn Blower, Nigerian 16th or 17th C

Close up of kilt with Portuguese faces



Then, because there’s an area where visitors can touch samples of different types of cloth from Nigeria, Mali, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and a few other countries I texted Stephanie to see if she knew what kind of cloth the Horn Blower’s kilt would have been made of. She didn’t, and unfortunately the app doesn’t save our conversation for very long so I’m not able to go back and show you how gracious her answer was.


I’m 100% sure that if I hadn’t had the opportunity to ask these questions through the app I wouldn’t have thought of them at all. For me the opportunity became kind of a responsibility. The app inspired me to look more thoughtfully at the works, and to come up with some not so obvious questions that I wanted answers to.

I know I’m not your typical museum visitor, but the visitor experiences that Shelly Bernstein, the Brooklyn Museum’s Vice Director of Digital Engagement & Technology, and Sara Devine, Manager of Audience Engagement & Interpretive Materials reported in their recent interview with Nina Simon at Museum 2.0, were very similar to mine.

“We were heartened when early testers told us they felt like they were looking more closely at works of art in order to figure out what questions to ask. They put down the device often, and they would circle back to a work to look again after getting an answer—all things we verified in watching their behavior, too. “

In that interview Nina notes that many museums position staff or volunteers in the galleries with Ask Me buttons, but usually visitors don’t ask. I’ve certainly seen these friendly people but would never stop to ask them about the art.

Why not? Why does the app work, while real people don’t? My first thought is because I don’t want to get trapped in a conversation with a real person, but it’s easier to dismiss or terminate a text chat.

Was using the ASK app an enjoyable experience? Did it make looking at the art more enjoyable – did I get more out of the experience? The answer is yes and yes. I think it’s going to set a new standard of expectation for visitors. I’m looking forward to going back and using the app again, with a friend so we can share our questions and answers.

You can find out a lot more about the development of the ASK app on the Brooklyn Museum’s blog.

I’d love to know what your experiences with the ASK app have been, so let’s compare notes!

After I wrote this we posted it to Linked In and several people did add their comments here.



6 Cool Museum Apps for 2010 Gift Giving, for iPhone & a couple for Android too!

Why not give your friends a smart phone app this year? If they’re into art, paleontology or just appreciate inventive interface design, here are some of my favorites, based on the following criteria. A really good app has to:

  • Have great content, designed for the small screen experience
  • Provide an immersive experience
  • Be a self-contained experience – no need to be at the museum to enjoy
  • Present content designed to be consumed in short sections – so you can complete reading something, playing something, listening to something in a few minutes
  • Allow you to access at least some content without an internet connection
  • Do one thing really well

It should also:

  • Link to social media so you can share what you’re doing/seeing/loving
  • Link to additional content on the web so you can find out more if you’ve been inspired

Here’s my list, in alphabetical order:

1.    Dinosaurs: iPhone, Free, from American Museum of Natural History.

Currently eight dinosaurs and their discoverers get the full treatment. Did you know Barnum Brown was a spy for the US government, as well as a prodigious fossil hunter, discoverer of three T-rex skeletons and an oil prospector? Neither did I till I had the app on my phone. I’ve read the label copy on the museum wall before but info didn’t stick until I was holding it in my hands.

You can navigate through the stories, or with the marvelous mosaic of dinosaur images and then share any picture you like via social media. Recently updated with new stories about Triceratops and Psittacosaurus, and with more updates planned, this app keeps on giving and giving.

2Exquisite Clock , iPhone: Free, from Fabrica

Based on the concept of the “Exquisite Corpse” this app uses crowd-sourced pictures of numbers to tell the time in hours/minutes/seconds. The numbers are represented by objects, landscapes, vegetables and other things that people have photographed and uploaded to the Exquisite Clock website. The site then feeds the app. Exquisite Clock is also available as a screensaver and an art installation. I came across it first at the Victoria & Albert Museum last year where it was part of their exhibition Decode: Digital Design. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing my photo on the clock more than once.

3.    How It Is, iPhone: Free, from The Tate Modern

In the museum version of the exhibition How It Is by polish artist Miroslaw Balka people could walk up a ramp to enter inside a “giant gray structure” and walk through its vast black interior, or they could walk beneath the structure and listen to “the echoing sound of footsteps on steel.” The app is a small screen version that manages to be immersive, creepy, and unlike any other app. It’s a compelling art experience in itself, rather than a tour. Use the onscreen joystick to zoom around the black environment and explore whatever you bump into. Have a good set of noise cancelling ear buds handy to hear the eerie 3D sound track, and it will help to be in a low light space as well.

4. Meanderthal: iPhone, Android, Free, from The National Museum of Natural History

Ever wanted to see what you might have looked like if you’d been alive 700,000 years ago? Now there’s an app for that! Meanderthal has a one-two punch that stimulates your curiosity about paleo-anthropology while bringing you literally face to face with our ancestors. Upload your photo and watch yourself morph into a male or female version your favorite early human. Then share your new self-portrait with the world on Facebook and follow the links from the app to the website, What Does it Mean to Be Human, and feed your growing curiosity about how we became the humans we are today. Fun!

5.    Smarthistory Travel: Rome, A First Look iPhone, Free

Smart History Travel is a project of Smart History, a multi-media web book about art and art history. The app is bursting with the trademark videos Smart History is well known for – videos capturing short, informal and very enlightening conversations between two engaging art historians who talk about some of Rome’s most famous buildings and artworks: the Pantheon, Column of Trajan, the Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s School of Athens and many more from Ancient, Rennaissance and Baroque periods in Rome. Drs. Beth Harris and Steven Zucker will give you a refreshing view of these cultural icons. Of course there are useful tips about doing a few other things in Rome too, like eating, shopping and getting around.

6. Yours,Vincent: iPhone. $3.99

This is the story of Van Gogh’s life and his art, evocatively told through his letters to his brother Theo. It’s an immersive, intimate, narrative experience with very well produced short audio and video clips. You can pinch and zoom the letters themselves to look closely at Vincent’s handwriting, his words, and his sketches. Most of the chronological sections conclude with a gallery of paintings, sketches or watercolors. You can’t enlarge them to look at details, but there’s a surprising amount you can appreciate, even at this screen size. Visual storytelling at its best, but no social media or web links.

I’ll recommend a few others in an update next week. If you have other favorites I’d love to hear about them!

Treat Yourself to the NMAI Infinity of Nations iPhone App

If you want to make the most of your visit to Infinity of Nations, the new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in the Old Customs House at the tip of Manhattan, then download the iPhone app before you enter!

The app, with its illuminating audio clips and visual navigation complements the in-gallery experience of this knock out show, and serves as a rich souvenir of your visit. Together they will give you a fresh perspective on the worldview and culture of Native Americans.

To start with, the app content is awe inspiring – a collection of 60 stunning objects from the NMAI collection, representing Native North, Central and South America. Small but essential maps are provided.

Clear, even delightful, navigation also helps! Primary navigation is by region, mirroring the presentation of the story in the exhibition. In addition to the ten regions, there are two sections that offer a cross-region perspective where examples from many tribes provide a comparative view of Native cultures. One is devoted to Contemporary Native Art, and the other to Headdresses. Here you get to see how one type of object operates as a symbol with so many different meanings.

Once you’ve selected a section/region, such as Mesoamerica, you can use the List or the Case view to explore in detail. In either view you also have a choice to see a small image of the object and read a description, or see a larger image and listen to a narrator tell you about the object.

Choose the audio version!

Not only is the image larger, it’s also so really interesting to hear an expert speak the native names and words. The narration is often accompanied by music or sound effects and the total mix creates a multi-sensory environment that you happily enter for a brief time.

Navigating through the objects by Case diagram is helpful when you’re in the exhibition, and also gives you a feeling for the gallery installation when you’re offsite, even if you’ve never been there.

To set the stage and frame your experience of the content in the app there’s also an Introduction that explains that native historians and community knowledge keepers collaborated with NMAI to interpret the objects. It concludes by reminding us that there continue to be diverse, self-governing native peoples and this exhibition pays tribute to their culture, past and present.

As good as it is, the Infinity of Nations app also left me feeling frustrated, longing for more connection.

Why couldn’t there be larger images to zoom in so we could admire the intense details of these art works? Even in the gallery we can never get close enough to the objects so providing higher resolution images on the app would be a great service.

Why couldn’t there be a search option so we could find a specific object, or see all the garments, weapons or chairs if we wanted to.

Why couldn’t I access links to more information about these evocative objects? Surely NMAI’s site must offer up a wealth of material to feed my curiosity at the very moment when I’m hungry for it.

And finally, why couldn’t I share my enthusiasm about what I’m looking at with other people, on the spot! I would be a walking ambassador for the exhibition and the app if I could send pix via Twitter, Facebook or email.

Also, on the day I attended, the Museum hadn’t put up any signs promoting the app so no one else was using it. Hopefully they’ll take care of that right away.

No matter what, Infinity of Nations is a fine example of how a native app can offer audiences in the galleries or offsite a totally engaging experience. It was produced by Tristan Interactive. The audio content was produced by Earprint Productions.

What Does it Take to Get a Conversation Going?

Shelly Bernstein at the Brooklyn Museum, wrote a blog post on Oct 4th, in response to Ed Rothstein’s fairly disparaging article “From Picassos to Sarcophagi, Guided by Phone Apps”,in The New York Times, three days earlier, about museum smart phone apps. She defended her museum’s efforts to date, and the efforts of all museums, to bring their content into this all important environment, the mobile landscape. I completely support the arguments she made.

Toward the end of the piece Rothstein dismissed the BklynMuse app’s capacity to allow visitors to leave comments about artworks for other visitors to find, saying “The various votes for “likes” in the museum are equally unilluminating. The result is a kind of scarcely literate cybergraffiti that does nothing to help reach a deeper understanding of the works or reveal their artistic traditions or cultural significance.”

It’s true that Likes and one word tags are not all that illuminating. I’m reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article, Small Change about social media and revolutions. Pressing the Like button next to an object is easy. It takes a higher level of commitment and interest to write a quick comment about an object, and an even higher level to write a thoughtful comment.

I left a low level comment about a little Figure from the Nicobar Islands via  BklnMuse when they launched the mobile web version back in March. I wrote about my experience in this blog post, expressing excitement about the possibility of being able enter into a dialogue with other visitors and even the curator, about works of art that I love for one reason or another.

But, six months later I see that I’m the only person who left a comment, even though the little figure has been Favorited by four other people. Why did they Favorite him? Do they see what I see? What else do they see? Why has no one else chimed in? Did they not really care enough to comment?

Rothstein’s article got me thinking. How do you prime the pump to get that conversation started? How do you get people to say something that inspires a response? And how do you keep them coming back?

Could one of the curatorial staff have responded? Obviously curators can’t be responding to every comment. But – what about docents or volunteers? Could this be part of their job description?

I know I’d be more likely to leave comments if I thought that someone would read them and respond. No one wants to be lonely.

When SFMOMA created a blog for their Olafur Eliasson show visitors to the show left lots of advice for others about how and what to see. Part of the allure was the time sensitive nature of the exhibition – it was temporary and therefore it was an event.

Perhaps featuring certain objects for a specific period of time – turning them into an event based experience – would generate some action, and interaction.

What are other successful examples?

Meanderthal: The App That Takes You To Your Roots

Finally, there’s an app that let’s you see what you might have looked like if you’d been alive 700,000 years ago. Meanderthal is the Smithsonian Institution’s first official app for iPhone and Android and was released in May.

This is a well-designed app with a one-two punch that invites users to have fun, while it stimulates your curiosity about paleoanthropology, and then makes it easy to find out more – as much as you want – about it.

Here’s how: the app lets you upload a photo of your face and then blends it to one of the faces of three different human ancestors: homo floresiensis, who lived between 95,000 and 17,000 years ago; homo neanderthalensis who lived between 200,000 and 28,000 years ago; and homo heidelbergensis who lived between 700,000 and 200,000 years ago.

As soon as you’ve watched yourself morph from homo sapiens into one of our ancestors you can replay the morph, or choose to learn something about your new / old self.

The Share option lets you show off your new self-portrait on Facebook or email it to someone. The More option lets you choose a new species, start over or go to the exhibition website What Does It Mean To Be Human. You arrive at a vivid display of headshots of many of our human ancestors and can continue to explore from there.

One of the things that makes Meanderthal so good is that users get to see themselves in faces created by one of the world’s great paleo-artists, John Gurche. The faces come from the early human models he created for the Hall of Human Origins at the National Museum of Natural History.

According to Briana Pobiner, a paleoanthropologist at the Smithsonian Human Origins Program who spoke to Live Science, the app provides an opportunity “for people to make emotional connections to our ancestors….It’s an important way to break down that barrier between things we think are so different or so ‘other.'”

It’s Gurche’s skill as an artist that helps us make this personal connection; the faces looking out at us are compelling, even at the size of a smart phone screen.

The app provides an engaging experience because it’s fun, focused and simple. It takes advantage of pop culture notions about Neanderthals to attract people, then provokes their curiosity and generously feeds it with information. Bravo!

By the way, the app’s release just happened to coincide with the announcement of a recent study showing that non-African modern humans carry between 1 percent and 4 percent of Neanderthal genes, and suggests early humans mated with Neanderthals.

A Fun Game, But a Missed Opportunity

In the iPhone app game Dali’s Soft Watches, players get the chance to explore several of Dali’s surreal landscape paintings. The paintings are intriguing and the game provides an engrossing experience even if you’re not a big Salvador Dali fan.

Players must search for the famous melting clocks that go missing from their painting, The Persistence of Memory, and turn up in other landscapes. To find them you must examine every inch of the paintings. So you play the game, becoming curiouser and curiouser as you spend time pouring over Dali’s trippy environments. The images are big and scale up very well to the iPad, so you can really see the details. Each painting has it’s own evocative musical score as well. There doesn’t appear to be a time limit for finding the clocks, so you can take your time and really look around.

Surprisingly when you click the Info button all that appears is the title (in English, French, Spanish and Dutch), the date and size of the painting, and which museum owns it. Nothing more – there’s no information about the artist, no back story about the individual paintings. This seems like such a missed opportunity to take advantage of players’ interest and provide more context! Dali was a flamboyant character. Even a casual player would get a kick out of knowing more about him and his work after being so immersed in it.

Interestingly the comments in the app store page didn’t mention this oversight, even though people loved the chance to really look at Dali’s paintings.

An original and compelling game about art is a way for you, the museum, to attract new audiences to your content.  Once someone has downloaded the app to their phone and enjoyed it, they’re half way to your front door. I wonder why the makers of this app didn’t go out to meet these players and invite them inside virtually by offering them more information about Dali, or other surrealists. Or if they had provided a Comment or Share Information link people could have provided their location and the producers could have recommended the closest museum with Dali paintings. A lot more could have been done.

If you’re thinking about a game, bear this in mind.

Meanderthal is a very different museum game experience that offers fun, and information at different levels and ways to share what you’ve created. It was just released by the Smithsonian this week (May 10, 2010). Haven’t you always wanted to see what you’d look like as a Neanderthal? You can download the iPhone app here. It’s also available for Android. I’m going to write about this and one or two other museum game apps soon, so please check back or subscribe.

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

Use BklynMuse!

I think this is a very exciting time for museums who are willing to be experimental. Yesterday I whiled away an hour in the Brooklyn Museum‘s galleries, trying out a new version of BklynMuse, to access their online collection, on their newly upgraded mobile website.

Here’s how it works: once you’ve joined their public wi-fi network, you stand in front of an object, type in its number on your phone and, presto! you can pull up the image, “like” it, a la Facebook, leave your own comment, see other visitors’ comments and learn more about it from experts.

You can also play Gallery Tag, where you collect points for every item you tag, and extra points for doing this on more than one floor.

I wanted to try out BklynMuse  because I was curious to see how disruptive the social media activity would be to my experience. Normally when I go to a museum it’s to see a specific show, or just wander with a friend through the galleries. I couldn’t really imagine wanting to interact on my phone.

There’s a piece that I’ve always loved in the Arts of the Pacific Islands gallery, so I went there first. Here he is, a little figure from the Nicobar Islands.

To me he looks like kind of a crazy, happy guy, and maybe he’s surfing.

I typed in his number and, to my surprise, this is where it got to be fun. Thanks to BklynMuse I saw right away that five other people have also “liked” the Nicobar Island man so I know I’m not the only one. I happily left a comment, and am eager to see what future visitors think of him,  and how that might give me fresh ways of looking at him.

I tried the tagging game too, and racked up 25 points, which put me in 3rd place! BklynMuse just launched this week so very few people are using it yet. Gallery Tag reminded me of a home made version of FourSquare.

What’s unique about BklynMuse is that it’s entirely visitor driven. It’s not a tour or guide to the collection designed by Brooklyn Museum. It’s a vehicle for visitors who are motivated to feed their curiosity about particular artworks; it encourages them to voice their reactions to the works, and validates what they have to say by publishing their comments.

Tagging too can have its serious purpose; even as a kid just playing a game, you have to look at the object you’ve chosen, look at the tags that are offered, think about which is most appropriate, and if there isn’t one, create a new one to use. It’s empowering in its way!

We’ve been members of the Brooklyn Museum since we moved here from Manhattan 20 years ago. I took my son to more Arty Facts sessions than I can recall. In 1997 I produced a big, beautiful 24 screen video wall program for the exhibition Monet and the Mediterranean, in their old, cavernous lobby. That was large cutting edge technology for its day, and the Museum used it to make the space more friendly for visitors waiting on line to see the show.

Today they’re carrying on that tradition of being out in front in using technology, with imaginative, experimental efforts in social media and mobile,  to make the Museum friendly to new audiences. As a visitor I really feel that they’re trying to give me a wonderful experience and I’m willing to try it. In the process, I learn from them and they learn from me.