Mobile Devices and Public History

In her lecture on mobile devices and museums, Nancy Proctor touched on several important aspects of the new digital public history frontier that I have been concerned with, including accessibility and maintenance. Accessibility is a huge factor to consider in developing mobile applications for museums. It seems like such a waste to develop amazing interactive apps that only a select few museum patrons with the correct devices can experience. It is important to make sure the apps can be used by as many people as possible.

I also appreciated her discussion of marketing. She reminded the audience to budget for marketing the product. Because I am relatively new to the world of smart phones, I am amazed at how many different apps are available when browsing the iTunes Store, and that number is only going to grow in the future. Museums need to make sure that people know about the apps in the first place. Advertising new mobile experiences could be a great way to renew interest in permanent exhibits or a museum as a whole.

Maintenance is something that I always think about when considering the positive and negative aspects of mobile devices. It goes without saying that the information provided should always be current and correct.

In our group project, the tour of historic music venues in Boise, there are several advantages and liabilities for using mobile devices. Because the application encourages touring and visitation of these sites, it is clear that the best way to use it is on a mobile device that people can take with them when they go out. Because we are incorporating sound (YouTube links) into the venue descriptions, mobile devices with headphones will allow users to best experience all of the information available. One problem with creating a mobile tour is the need for continual maintenance as businesses close or change names, website addresses change, and YouTube videos are removed. Marketing is another issue that should be considered so that more Boise music fans will know about the app and how to access it.

I think that developing an app is an excellent, and probably the ideal way to use mobile devices in a public history course. If this is not possible, students should at least use and review some available applications in order to understand the current technology available, discuss advantages and disadvantages, and consider what historians could accomplish with mobile devices in the future. I agree with Nancy Proctor that mobile devices should not be about the technology itself. They should focus on the audience and we should make them as interactive as possible. As mobile technology continues to develop, we should focus on ways to increase the level of visitor participation. Simple methods could include interactive games incorporation the information found in interpretive exhibits, scavenger hunts, or ways to personalize museum tours (think the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books). I also love applications that allow visitors to check in at certain locations. Incorporating points and “prizes,” even if the prize is merely a higher status level within the app, could increase visitation and commerce.

On a final note, I was surprised to learn that some of the first museum podcasts were made by visitors, or “guerrilla” groups as she put it. This shows that there is definitely a market for the use of mobile devices in museums and tourism.

One thought on “Mobile Devices and Public History”

  1. I really appreciated how she pointed out that it is the information that the musuem is conveying that is important, and the platform was second. It reassured me that no matter how far technology goes, the programmers and software will still need people like us filling it with engaging content.

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