Archive | September, 2012

Getting Spooky: 10 Unique Halloween Tours from Around the Country

28 Sep

At TourSphere. we’re big proponents of any kind of tour. Whether it’s in-person guides leading you through exhibits or one of our mobile apps giving you the low-down on little-known city tourist attractions, tours are a great way to get the most from your visit anywhere. And in autumn, when the air is crisp and the nights longer, there’s no better way type of tour to try than one that incorporates ghosts, ghost stories and other haunted happenings.

We’ve compiled a list of our top 10 picks for Halloween tours across the country. Think we’re missing one? Add it in the comments!

  • Tour Witch City: We’d be remiss not to start in our very own backyard with “The Witch City.” Salem, MA was made famous by the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s. More than 300 years later, Salem has stayed rooted in its history with a variety of haunted and witch-related attractions. For more of a hands-on experience, check out Spellbound Tours, which combines the history of the Salem Witch Trials with ghost hunting.
  • Ghosts and Gimlets: Enjoy a drink or two with your paranormal sightings on this tour of Savannah, GA’s haunted pubs. The walking tour covers 300 years of history, ghosts and pirates and helps to explain why Savannah is considered the most haunted city in America.
  • Civil War Ghosts: There are ghost sightings, and there are historical ghost sightings. If the latter is your thing, check out Gettysburg Ghost Tours, which takes you through “No Man’s Land” to the most haunted hallways and buildings in this famous Civil War battlefield.
  • Eat, Drink & Be Scary: The Ghost Hunt at the winery Marjim Manor in Appleton, NY provides hungry participants with appetizers, a wine tasting and two glasses of wine–all the better to see ghosts. The Buffalo Paranormal Detectors bring in ghost detection equipment and leads the group through the estate to see what they can find for Halloween inspiration.
  • Hotel Haunts: The Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, CO might be better for a good scare than a good night’s sleep. Known as one of the nation’s most haunted hotels, falling liquor bottles, the roaming ghost of the hotel’s founder and mysterious switchboard calls are all part of the tales you’ll hear.
  • Redrum for Real: If you find yourself in Estes Park, CO, around Halloween, it’s time to pay homage to the master of horror himself, Stephen King. Tour the Stanley Hotel–King stayed in Room #217 when writing The Shining and based his horrifying tale on the location. The tour also covers ghost stories, haunted rooms, and a spooky underground tunnel.
  • America’s Glitziest Ghosts: Las Vegas isn’t necessarily the first place that comes to mind for Halloween, but Haunted Vegas Tours shows the haunted underbelly of a city known best for showgirls and gambling. Check out the “Motel of Death,” where a number of celebrities have died , and the home of one stubborn Vegas spirit, who refuses to leave despite numerous attempts at exorcism.
  • Terror in Texas: Thanks to its Wild West history, Galveston, TX has many tales of murder, revenge, passion and more–many of which have resulted in unsettled spirits hanging around even today. The tour is based on eye-witness account of paranormal activities and incorporates spine-chilling ghost stories.
  • Haunted Mansion: A tour of the beautiful Biltmore estate is a must-do in Asheville, NC, but their latest offering puts the bizarre past of the Biltmore Village on display for those who love a little haunting with their history. Learn about serial killers, curses and a kangaroo that arrived from another dimension in this unique Halloween tour.
  • San Diego Spirits: Considered the most haunted city in the West, San Diego boasts creepy graveyards, haunted mansions, and The Travel Channel’s “Most Haunted Site in America” (The Whaley House). Enjoy racy, historical tours with a haunted twist on the Haunted San Diego Tour.

How do you get spooked in your hometown? Share your picks for the best ghost tours in our comments section!

Exploring the Trees of the Milliken Arboretum with a Mobile App

25 Sep

With more than 150 acres of greenery, plants and wildlife to explore, the Milliken Arboretum is a hidden jewel at Wofford University in Spartanburg, SC. With more than 4,500 trees, the world-class horticultural display aims to promote environmental consciousness, educate the community and heighten awareness of the importance of trees in a rapidly developing urban world.

While visitors could choose to wander around campus to discover the Arboretum for themselves, the merging of nature and technology allows for the most robust visitor experience. Visitors to the campus can immerse themselves in the grounds by viewing photos of the trees not only as they are on the day of the visit, but throughout the seasons. An introduction provides a historical backdrop to the arboretum and stunning photos of the trees throughout the season. And to ensure that no one misses a thing, the Arboretum’s interactive map orientates the visitor while providing them with stops and tree identification along the way.

Whether you’re visiting the Milliken Arboretum or simply want to view colorful photographs of its gems throughout the seasons, the TourSphere app can transport you to the campus.

To view the mobile tour of the Milliken Arboretum, visit or scan this QR code with your smartphone.

To view the mobile tour of the Milliken Arboretum, visit or scan this QR code with your smartphone.

Seb Chan on Smart Technology in Museums and “an operating system for the building”

18 Sep

This interview is part of our “Thought Leader” series, where we get inside the heads of the best and brightest in the museum & technology world.


Photo credit JJ Halans

Seb Chan

Director of Digital & Emerging Media Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York

Seb Chan is currently the Director of Digital & Emerging Media, Smithsonian, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York. He is responsible for museum’s complete digital renewal during a time when the museum is rebuilding its main campus and transforming into a ’21st century museum’.

Until November 2011, he led the Digital, Social and Emerging Technologies department at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, where he oversaw the implementation of Open Access and Creative Commons licensing policies and many projects exploring new ways for visitors and citizens to engage and contribute to the Powerhouse’s collection, as well as state-wide and national collaborative initiatives.

As a cultural sector consultant he has helped many organisations and institutions all over the world strategise and implement cutting-edge technologies. Most recently he has been working with Culture24 in the UK on the Let’s Get Real project helping UK institutions develop better approaches to evaluating the success of digital endeavours. He also worked with Dan Hill and Marcus Westbury on the planning and development for The Edge, a digital cultural centre, at the State Library of Queensland.

He is a regular speaker on the cultural heritage and arts circuit but has also spoken more broadly at Picnic, Webstock, Web Directions South, TedXSydney.

Chan was a member of the Australian Government’s Government 2.0 Taskforce, and in a parallel life he has been heavily involved in electronic music and arts. He was the founder of Cyclic Defrost Magazine and many late night adventure playgrounds in Sydney.

TourSphere: What was a stand-out museum/exhibit that caught your interest this year?

Seb: For me there have been two museum experiences that have caught my attention.

The first was a visit to the Museum of Old & New Art in Hobart Tasmania just before I left Australia. I’ve blogged about that experience here – but the short version is that the ‘total immersion’ of that venue radically shifted my thinking about how museums could be exclusive without being exclusionary.

The second was a family visit to the recently renovated Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City. I was there at the tail end of a road trip, having driven through the surrounding landscapes for the previous few days. What struck me about the Utah museum was the way in which, unlike most other natural history museums, its spectacular collection (dinosaurs!) had come from the immediate surrounds. Thus it had a sense of immediacy and relevance that is very often missing from similar collections when they are transported to institutions far away.

TourSphere: What was the coolest use of technology you saw in a museum recently?

Seb: I see a lot of technology in my work and in the last few years I’ve become more allergic to its presence in museums. In many ways I think the job of any technology in a museum is to ‘elegantly disappear’.

That said, I paid a short visit to the Google Chrome Web Lab at the Science Museum in London a few weeks ago and the large scale robotic drawing machines ‘herding the avatars of online visitors’ was pretty cool as were the robots drawing portraits in sand. The Chrome Web Lab was one of the more successful attempts at bringing online visitors and in-gallery visitors together to be productive in the same space.

We’re also seeing a lot of activity at the moment with 3D printing (and consumer-grade 3D digitisation) which is exciting. As I opined at the NAEA Conference in January at the Met, I’m waiting for institutions to really start rolling out the “123DCatch + Maker-Bot” consumer grade model to general visitors and schools.

TourSphere: Did your museum do something this year(or have something coming up soon) that you are especially proud of/ excited about?

Seb: The best thing we did this year was close our main campus. Not permanently, but Cooper-Hewitt is undergoing a massive renovation which is why I moved over from Australia.

This is giving us the (unique) opportunity to rethink everything from the ground up. We’re working closely with Diller, Scofidio & Renfro and Local Projects to reinvent the idea of a ‘design museum’ along with a ‘historic house’ along the way.

On one level this is allowing us to ask questions about the totality of a visitor’s experience from ticketing and food choices through to how exhibitions operate in the broader context of the building as a whole. On another level it is forcing us to consider how to ‘build technology in from the ground up’ – or, as I’m fond of quoting strategic designer Dan Hill, “creating a new operating system for the building”.

And of greatest relevance in the context of this interview, this means a true ‘mobile first’ approach – not just for visitors but also for staff.

Of course, we’re doing offsite exhibitions, national outreach and education and the rest during our campus closure. We’ve been prototyping and trialling new solutions along the way using these offsite opportunities as test environments. My web team is also currently building a new toolkit for how collections work on the web which is starting from the a position of ‘default = abundance’ which, for art museums, is counter-normal.

TourSphere: Is there an app or a technology that has changed the way you do things or made your job easier this year?

Seb: Working in senior management I find that any new technologies short of time travel and teleportation are always going to be a disappointment. In fact it has been the various ‘quantified self’ technologies that have been most impactful for me this year – just in terms of tracking my energy intake and usage along with stress and happiness levels. Knowing my own physical and mental states with more clarity has had significant benefits in making my overall life easier.

I haven’t really changed my ‘tools of the trade’ since I was interviewed for Uses This  so if you are interested in my hardware and software specs then that might be good reading.

TourSphere: Apple or Android (or other)?

Seb: I still hold that eventually mobile web will be the way to go.

Nevertheless, right now I am yet to find any cultural institutions that don’t have an overwhelming existing Apple-centric userbase either in the USA, UK/Europe or Australia.

Android might have far more devices out in the world but to date the evidence is that of the people who actively visit museums and use their own devices to connect to the web, it is Apple all the way. Probably the lowest Apple figures I’ve seen have been around 65-70% (and the highest being 95%).

I’m sure that if museums diversified their audiences more then we’d see a lot more Androids in the figures. And perhaps that is becoming the case for children’s’ museums and science centers but not for art museums.

TourSphere: If you had to sum up what you think the theme for museums in 2012 will be in one word, what would your prediction be?

Seb: “Curator-Roomba-Drones”.

TourSphere: What do you see as the biggest challenge for museums in the coming years?

There’s an ongoing realignment to smaller budgets, retiring staff, changing educational priorities, and greater competition for time and attention. Put together it becomes an enormous strategic challenge for museums to find the time to reinvent and realign.

Sometimes the smaller museums have the advantage despite their smaller budgets and those who find themselves in supportive communities should be doing all they can to experiment and exert their agile structures. The larger museums are all coming to terms with their own ageing bodies and failing architectures. The sensible amongst them are doubling down their efforts on structural change.

There’s also got to be a much needed new wave of focus on collections. On one hand, how to get better at ‘editing’ and ‘deaccessioning’ what we have. And on the other hand, aggressively collecting the present with better foresight as to what will matter decades (centuries?) into the future. Global collaboration –  an equivalent of the ‘global seed bank’  for art and cultural heritage into which all institutions contribute – is something that isn’t really so far fetched these days.

I get the sense that the wave of deadening managerialism is receding and this is opening up a lot of opportunities for the ‘higher risk, higher reward’-type of charismatic and visionary leadership that so many emerging museum professionals want to experience and work for/with. ‘Museums with attitude’ might be back on the cards again. Except now this attitude comes with a commitment to access.

TourSphere: Is there something you are passionate about in the museum world that you would like to wax philosophical about or rant about?  If so, please share..

Seb: I’m always ranting on my museum blog Fresh & New(er), although a little less than usual right now because of the rapid pace of change at work. My team at Cooper-Hewitt is blogging their new projects and reports over at too.

Thanks for sharing your sense of humor and incredible perspective with us, Seb!  We look forward to hearing more (and seeing the incredible redesign at Cooper-Hewitt!).

Keep up with Seb here:

twitter: @sebchan

Imagination Exhibit @Walker Library Goes Mobile

14 Sep


The human imagination has come up with some incredible things over the centuries. The Walker Library of the History of Human Imagination focuses on the sparks of genius that have driven so many of our innovations over the years, cataloguing it all into a novel 3,600 square foot museum in Stamford, CT. But just as imagination has no boundaries, the Walker Library wanted to take their exhibit out of the box, allowing visitors to interact with it and providing a way for those who couldn’t visit in person to experience the unique collection of artifacts.

The museum’s latest exhibit, “Collecting Imagination” (which runs through October 29th) showcases imagination as a driving force throughout history and celebrates the adventure of discovery, learning, and creativity.  The staff at the library chose to add a TourSphere mobile app to the exhibit in order to encourage visitors to use their own imagination, allowing them to wander through the cases of artifacts and post their own comments directly through the app.

For those who can’t visit the exhibit in person, the mobile app showcases photos, video and commentary that make for a rich virtual viewing experience and allow the Walker Library an even greater reach.

By integrating additional information and interactive commentary, the Walker Museum created an extended experience for their exhibit visitors, engaging them and further inspiring them with the unique collection of artifacts that includes an original Soviet Sputnik, a cuneiform cone from 2000 BC, and a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible.

To view the Mobile Tour of the Walker Library’s Imagination Exhibit visit or scan this QR code with your smartphone.

5 Reasons Why App Analytics Are Critical

12 Sep

It’s always startling to me when we talk to museums, cities, and hotels who have an app – but no idea how many visitors are using it.  A huge value that an app can bring to a visitor-based organization is data, data, data!

A mobile app can provide an incredible window into what your visitors and customers want and need.  In order to optimize your mobile strategy and ensure you’re getting the maximum value out of your mobile app here are some key things to consider:

Counting app downloads is worthless – usage is what matters.
Being able to brag about download numbers is nice but it’s not really that meaningful.  Knowing, for example, that visitors who use your app onsite stay 30 minutes longer and eat at your onsite restaurant is incredibly valuable information to any organization.  Understanding these sorts of interactions – and adjusting tactics accordingly – is critical to both for-profit and non-profit organizations.

Don’t Let Your Visitors Become Invisible Once they Walk Through Your Doors
Organizations spend valuable marketing dollars to attract visitors.  But ironically once they walk through your doors they become “invisible” – you really have no idea how they are spending their time onsite.  A mobile app that is a guide to your museum, hotel, or campus makes it possible to see exactly where visitors are spending their time and what they are doing. Using this data, organizations can deliver relevant content and services.

Analyze + Evaluate + Optimize = Happy Visitors
The more data you have on a visitor, the more your content and services can serve them.  Programing, amenities, content, even signage can all be customized based on the data you gather. Customization typically leads to happy guests and it’s no secret-  the happier your guests are the longer they stay, they come back again and the more likely they are to Tweet about it.  Happy visitors are a really good thing for your brand.

If you can’t measure it you will lose it
Mobile analytics are mission critical to any organization that wishes to have a long-term mobile strategy. If you have a mobile app it is because it supports your organization’s mission in some way or other.  Analytics should be given to Directors/Boards/Upper Management on a regular basis so that everyone can see exactly how your mobile program is supporting that mission.

There is No Such Thing as a Mobile One-Size-Fits-All
TourSphere analytics allow you to see what types of devices are being used by your visitors.  Armed with this data you can make informed decisions about your long-term mobile strategy – be it app development, advertising, programming and more.

Tour Strawbery Banke Museum on your Smartphone with President Obama

4 Sep

Our friends at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH are having an exciting week! They recently announced that President Barack Obama will visit Strawbery Banke as a campaign stop this Friday, along with Vice President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden.

Obama is the first president since George Washington to visit Strawbery Banke.

If you’re interested in exploring Strawbery Banke, but want to avoid the hassles of security clearance and Secret Service details, there is another way to experience this iconic New England living history museum: TourSphere’s Strawbery Banke mobile phone tour is a self-guided tour through 400 years of history, which you can experience onsite – or from the comfort of their own home.

Whether you use the Strawbery Banke iPhone tour as a guide for a live visit or as an armchair traveler, you’ll have the chance to discover why President Obama chose Strawbery Banke as his New Hampshire campaign stop.

Congratulations to Larry Yeardon, John Forti, Stephanie Seacord, and all of our friends at Strawbery Banke!

The “Listen to the Landscape” app at Strawbery Banke Museum

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