Archive by Author

Free Case Study: the Edsel Ford House Smartphone App

20 Jun

Did you miss our webinar on Mobile Apps in Historic Homes? Don’t fret!

In partnership with the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, we’ve just released a new white paper that explains their award-winning app project – from conception to launch and evaluation.

Go ahead and download it – and send it to your friends and colleagues.

Click here to download the Ford House Mobile App: Case Study.ford house white paper

A Day in the Life of TourSphere

14 May

One of the best things about working with museums is, well, going to visit the museums.

Yesterday, the intrepid Clayton Jones and I had the chance to visit two TourSphere clients, both in Connecticut: the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center and the Noah Webster House. These are two vastly different institutions – united by a commitment to history and education.

Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center

We spent the morning at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum – a stunning architectural piece in the midst of the rolling hills of Connecticut. The museum tells the story of the Pequot people – and we are honored to be launching an  innovative mobile interpretive program there.

We then drove to West Hartford and spent the afternoon at the Noah Webster House, outlining an iPad app that will soon guide visitors through the house in an immersive storytelling experience.

One day. Two remarkable places. These are the kinds of days I love.

Why a Pilot App Makes Sense

1 May

It’s tempting to think about creating an app that highlights every historical point of interest in your city; or every artifact in your museum. Stop! Don’t go any further.

While it’s great to dream, and to plan in grandiose visions, the truth is – you should dip your toe in the water before jumping into the pool. What do I mean?

Mobile apps have changed, even in the couple of years they’ve been around. Now you can build them yourself – or use template-based app builders like TourSphere – to quickly and easily build apps. The best approach, in my opinion, is to build a pilot app. This is a scaled down version of an app that you can build in 4 – 8 weeks and without much staff time. Then you have a viable product to give to your visitors. They, not you, provide feedback on the experience. They, not you, tell you how to make it better.

Once you have real, quantifiable data from your visitors, you can continue to build out and enhance your mobile app. Then you’re building something your visitors want – not something you think they want.

Let’s take an example. I spoke this morning with a museum that has a campus of six buildings; at any given time they have 3 rotating exhibits; a permanent outdoor sculpture garden; and a permanent indoor collection of over 10,000 objects. They were considering making a massive financial investment, and literally years of planning and staff time, to build an app that included EVERYTHING.

That is potentially a tragic waste of resources. I encouraged them to instead offer a simple “Curator’s Choice” app, which would highlight 20 curator favorites in the permanent collection. The app will take about 6 weeks to build. They will have it in time for summer; and they will have Analytics and a built-in Visitor Survey, in the app. This will give them real data – to inform their long-term mobile app strategy.

This is the way to do it. It saves you time, money, frustration – and leaves the decisions regarding the visitor experience to, well, the visitors.

The Importance of Owning Your Own Content

20 Feb

Imagine hiring a carpenter to build you a new kitchen cabinet. You pay him for the job, he builds something pretty spiffy, and you’re pleased. But then you read the fine print in the contract, and you see that even though you paid him for the work, he (not you) actually owns the cabinet. 

Many museums have experienced something similar (although hopefully it didn’t come as a surprise) when creating an Audio Tour or an App. You hire an outside company to produce audio or video content, and it stipulates in the contract that they have partial or complete ownership of the content.

This means that you don’t own what you paid for. It means you have to get permission – and perhaps pay a fee – to make any changes, or to use that content in places other than your audio tour.  And it doesn’t expire after a year or two – that applies to the life of the content.

This is the way it was done, at times, in the past. Please do not let this happen again. 

Times have changed. The market is competitive. Production costs have come spiraling down. You can either produce high-quality content in-house or often hire it out for a reasonable price. And you will own the content 100%.  

Owning your content means you have FREEDOM!  It puts you and your organization in control and it means you can get more value out of your audio tour content.  If you have 10 videos that showcase your museum and its collection why not extend the use of those videos to beyond the tour?  You can place them on your website, put them on your organization’s FaceBook page, in email newsletter’s etc.  In this era of mass-consumption of information, content truly is king.  Make sure you own yours.

Have you run into this issue? Where you used a third-party to produce content – and they retained ownership? Any advice you’d give to other folks out there based on your experience?

For more on producing your own content in-house check out our do-it-yourself series.

Five Reasons Every Hotel Should Have a Mobile Tour

23 Jan

If you’re a hotel, you spend a lot of time and effort to provide information to your guests. Racks of brochures line the lobby with info about the surrounding area, and a concierge is available to talk with guests about shopping and dining options. But what about having a smartphone app for the hotel – where guests could access all of this information instantly?

hotels-feature-image_1A mobile app can be an awesome marketing and customer service tool for hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts and hostels. We work with large and small properties – and a hotel app provides an opportunity to engage your guests before, during and after their stay.

Here are five great reasons that every hotel should have a mobile tour app:

  1. A Mobile App Provides a Preview of Your Hotel: Statistics show that more and more people are accessing the web via their mobile device each year, yet many hotel websites have not caught up. A mobile app is an effective way to orient potential visitors and to give them a virtual tour of the property and amenities.
  2. A Mobile App is a Portal for Reservations: Once a site visitor has had the chance to view a virtual tour of your property, they can instantly parlay that into action by porting directly from the app into the hotel’s reservation systems. A mobile app provides the visitor with an instant course of action to book a room.
  3. Instant Customer Feedback: Thanks to instant information transmitted from the app, hotels can become aware of guest issues while the customer is in the hotel–and allows you the opportunity to remedy the issue immediately.
  4. Analytics Provide Valuable Customer Data: Apps can provides analytics that help hotels understand and market to their target audience. Much like the Google Analytics gathered from website visits, TourSphere analytics provide demographic and behavioral information about the people accessing your app.
  5. A Mobile App Provides a 24×7 Concierge: Many hotel visitors are more accustomed to turning to their smartphones to advice instead of a concierge. For that audience, a mobile app can provide a “virtual concierge” that orients the visitor, informs them of area attractions and provides them a full listing of the hotel’s amenities. It creates a labor-free service for the hotel to help enhance the guests’ experience without implementing costly programs and additional concierges and guides.

Curious about how hotels are utilizing TourSphere to create mobile apps for marketing and virtual concierge purposes? Check out the Mountainview Grand app or the Chandler Inn app that helps visitors explore Boston!

Smart Resolutions: Three Things You Must Do in 2013 to Simplify Your Audience Engagement

4 Jan

01.06.2012-IslandLivingStupidNewYearsResolutionsToForgetAndACoupleGoodOnesToKeepAh, New Year’s resolution time. In our personal life, we often resolve to eat healthier, be kinder or make those phone calls to long lost friends once a month. But professional resolutions can provide a boost to your year as well. All resolutioned out? Don’t worry; we’ve come up with three social media resolutions for you for 2013. Make these three simple new year’s resolutions for your social media program this year and ensure that your organization will be more engaged by the time the ball drops again!

Get Sane About Your Social Media
If you’re still logging into Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest separately to post, and posting in real time all the time, it’s time to save your sanity and get a social media dashboard. As more social networks crop up, it’s increasingly important to maximize your time and control over your social presence by using an integrated dashboard that allows you to post to multiple networks, schedule posts and review your statistics. A good dashboard also allows you to keep tabs on important search terms, hashtags, mentions and other relevant details that allow you to engage effectively with your audience.

If you’ve been itching for a dashboard but aren’t sure where to start, we have some suggestions for you (no excuses now!):

  • TweetdeckIf you’re just managing a Twitter account, Tweetdeck is a powerful tool. Available for both your desktop and mobile , Tweetdeck allows you to follow specific feeds, search terms and hashtags, to schedule tweets and to filter out the information you want so that you can be a more engaged and powerful Twitter user. It also allows you to manage multiple Twitter accounts from a single dashboard.
  • HootSuiteManaging multiple accounts and/or multiple networks–both Facebook and Twitter–is a breeze with HootSuite. HootSuite is great for teams that manage social media because you can assign tasks as well as monitor specific feeds and search terms, schedule tweets and create custom reports.

Admit that Mobile Must Be a Part of Your Interactive Strategy

If you’ve been in denial about mobile, 2013 is the year that you must come to terms with it. Numbers don’t lie, and in order to engage consumers, you have to market where they live. Not convinced? Consider this:

  • 1.08 of the world’s 4 billion mobile phones are smartphones. 3.05 billion are SMS enabled. (Source: Microsoft Tag)
  • Almost 8% of all web traffic in the US is mobile traffic. (Source: Pingdom)
  • 88% of adult Americans have a cell phone, whereas 57% have a laptop. (Source: Pew Internet)
  • 45% of all adult Americans own a smartphone. (Source: Pew Internet)
  • 55% of adult cell phone users use the Internet on their mobile phones, double the number from three years ago. (Source: Pew Internet)

Mobile use is so ubiquitous, it’s impossible to deny that having a mobile-accessible site, web app and other tactics that allow your organization to engage with your audience via mobile devices is essential in 2013.

Spend Smart on Technology
Thanks to the fact that technology continues to get better, faster and cheaper, it’s time to reassess how you’re spending your money this year. Are your technology expenditures freeing up your staff to do more meaningful work? Are you investing in flexible hardware that will change as your needs do? Do the systems you have make your organization look up to date and cutting edge, or do they seem outdated to the average user?

At TourSphere, we’re in the thick of this resolution as we launch our new kiosk product. Many of our clients are choosing to create tablet or iPad kiosks instead of traditional, bulky and inflexible kiosks. Using the TourSphere Builder, they are creating flexible web apps that they can change in an instant and simply placing tablets and iPads in place of bulky kiosks. Some apps answer basic visitor questions, allowing staff to provide more meaningful services, while others provide additional information on sites or exhibits, more deeply engaging users.

No matter how you do it, it’s important to focus on being more engaged with your audience in 2013, and that means doing your best to communicate with them in the places they naturally go. Whether that’s being accessible by mobile device, more deeply engaging them within your site itself or ensuring that you’re part of their social media feeds, develop your plan for 2013, and stick to your resolutions!

Tell us: What’s your social media, mobile or engagement resolution for 2013?

Transform a Tablet into a Kiosk – in a Snap!

11 Dec

ipadkiosk

Museums, hotels, and all kinds of destinations have long-recognized the value of kiosks.  Kiosks are great ways to engage visitors, provide and collect information quickly, offer maps and event info and otherwise cut-down on common questions which can bog down staff members.

The hold-up for most organizations has been cost.  Plain and simple.  Kiosks and software are pricey and take a lot of time to maintain. Not anymore!! We’re excited to say that having a touchscreen kiosk just got waaay easier and cheaper.

Yes, TourSphere is now offering iPad touchscreen kiosks! You can use our app builder to build one yourself (checkout the one Toledo Museum of Art did recently) or we can build it for you, fast and easy.

Using TourSphere to build your kiosk app decreases the costs of kiosks dramatically, for both the software and the hardware – as much as 85%. It also increases the speed of deployment.  You can literally have a functioning kiosk installed at your site within a couple of days.

Kiosk app at the Toledo Museum of Art. Photo by Andrew Weber.

Kiosk app at the Toledo Museum of Art. Photo by Andrew Weber.

There are just two simple things you’ll need to launch your kiosk:

1. The Hardware

Obviously you will need a tablet.  Apple’s iPads are the most popular and offer some great features for kiosks (such as “Guider User Mode” which allows you to “lock” your clients in to an app) but there are cheaper tablets out there if your budget is really tight.  Whichever device you choose you will also need a way to mount and secure it so that it cannot walk away.  Luckily there are dozens of options out there – locking, blocking the power and home button, allowing for continuous power, etc… (we have some favorites if you want to chat).

2. The Software

This is the easy part!  TourSphere specializes in visitor-based apps.  Our apps allow organizations to collect data, provide real-time, remote updates, provide interactive maps, stream audio and video and much more. Clients have built a custom app in TourSphere in as little as 3 days. To see for yourself create a free account and play around with it.

Here’s a couple of ideas on how organizations can use TourSphere kiosk apps:

Exhibits: You can build a kiosk app for an exhibit, then when a new exhibit comes into town, you can re-use the same hardware (the iPads) and simply update the app itself with the new content. Voila! Your new exhibit features touchscreen kiosks!

Photo by Andrew Weber.

Photo by Andrew Weber.

Hotels: You can place a kiosk in your lobby which provides an interactive overview of the entire property.  Guests can quickly orient themselves with the property amenities, view event schedules, log complaints or comments and see area info.  In short, they can access the most common questions which your concierge probably gets tired of answering.

Interested in creating a kiosk app? Just create a free account and get started building. If you’re thinking about touchscreen kiosks or iPad apps but don’t quite have the idea hammered out or aren’t sure how to start, drop us a line and we’d love to chat about it.

Have you worked with kiosks in the past? What do you wish was easier – or cheaper – about the process?

ipad-kiosk-enclosure-silver

No Cell Service or Wi-Fi? No Problem.

26 Nov

TourSphere apps are web-based, which means that they require either cell service or wi-fi so that the user can download and use the app live at the site of the tour. We have many clients, like parks or sites with bad cell phone service, who ask us if there are any options for them to use a TourSphere app. Our answer? Of course! When your site has no cell service or wi-fi, there are three options to consider.

Create a Native iPhone and/or Android App

The advantage of native iPhone and Android apps is that they are downloaded onto a mobile device as bundled content, and don’t require the streaming that a web app requires. This means once they’re downloaded onto the user’s phone, he or she can utilize the full-featured app no matter what type of service or wi-fi is available. In fact, we can actually convert your TourSphere app into an Android or iPhone app to accommodate sites with no wi-fi or cell service.

While this seems like the perfect solution for our clients without cell service or wi-fi, there are a few disadvantages to this option. Apps with audio and video can take up a lot of space on a mobile device. Plus, they require the user to plan ahead, which is a gamble. If the visitor doesn’t check your website to discover you have an app available, they may miss the opportunity to use it, because it won’t be accessible on-site. Finally, choosing either an iPhone or Android app can make your app unavailable to those users without that particular device, where a web app is accessible to all users with web-enabled devices.

Provide On-Site Devices for Users

Many museums and tourist sites provide iPod Touches or iPads for their visitors and pre-load their iPhone app onto the device. These devices are then either loaned or rented to visitors. Providing pre-loaded devices solves the planning issue for visitors, since they can arrive on site with nothing on their phone and still access the app via a borrowed device. This can also provide a stream of revenue for your site, if you choose to charge for the rentals. By providing the pre-loaded app on a device, you can enhance the visitor experience for every visitor instead of just those with access to your app via their own device.

However, providing hardware has its cons as well. There is a significant up-front cost to buying hardware to lend to your museum visitors. There’s also a staff burden in keeping the devices maintained and updated, as well as keeping track of the devices once they’re loaned out. Finally, the staff needs to make sure that they update each device individually when there is any update to the iPhone app, which can be time-consuming.

In 2013, TourSphere will be introducing a solution to this issue by providing a new native app publishing method for on-site devices. This solution will allow for remote and automatic app updates, reducing staff time spent maintaining the apps.

iPad Kiosks

The third option for museums and tourism sites that don’t have wi-fi or cell service is to put the tour directly into exhibits and on-site with iPad Kiosks. Traditionally, kiosks are extremely expensive pieces of hardware, but by building a TourSphere app for an iPad and mounting it directly into the exhibit, you’ve created the same opportunity for learning and information as an app on the user’s mobile device, but don’t require the user to access the information on their own phone.

iPad Kiosks basically provide a touch-screen display at a minimal price as compared to a traditional kiosk. The app can also be locked so that users can only view what’s available to them and not surf the Internet or access other programs. While the tour is not in the hand of the user, it provides an excellent and low-maintenance way of providing interactive, engaging information for your exhibit.

If you’re interested in web apps but don’t have wi-fi or cell service on site, contact the TourSphere team for additional information about your options.

 

The App “Made in Hollywood”

8 Nov

The use of TourSphere’s technology is just about endless in our imagination – we see an unlimited number of uses for our mobile app technology. From different venues and tours, additional features, and a multitude of uses, we believe that technology is always evolving just like TourSphere. It’s exciting to us when we see our clients have a similar vision and utilize their customized mobile app in a new and different way!

Today, we are very excited to present a unique use of a museum app. The Toledo Museum of Art has built their mobile app through TourSphere, and are showcasing the app in kiosks throughout the museum. As visitors walk from display to display, they are greeted by mounted iPads, providing more insight around the collection.

Currently used in the “Made in Hollywood: Photographs from the John Kobal Foundation” exhibit, running through January 2013, the TourSphere app welcomes visitors as they enter the gallery and presents context around the photos of Hollywood. This exhibit includes over 90 prints from the most important photographers of the Golden Age. As you walk through the images of people like Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and others, you can almost hear them speaking fromt he past through iPads.

Bringing together old world Hollywood with the latest cutting edge technology, visitors get the chance to experience history at its finest. We applaud The Toledo Museum of Art on their clever use of their mobile app and look forward to visiting to see technology in action, at it’s best.  It’s clear that this exhibit was meant for the silver screen!

All photos courtesy of Andrew Weber.

New Study Shows Museums Offering More Mobile Experiences

5 Nov

“His house is like a museum. It’s very beautiful and very cold, and you’re not allowed to touch anything.” – Matthew Broderick, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

People sometimes think of museums the way Ferris Bueller described them. But as you and I know, that’s changing! Especially when museums adopt mobile technology to create interactive apps that enhance the visitor experience.

Check out the recent survey by the American Alliance of Museums in the U.S. and Museums Association in the U.K. It’s predicted that by 2013, there will be two billion smartphones worldwide. Many smartphone users, of course, will visit museums – and they want a way to interact with exhibits on their devices.

The survey found the biggest motivation for most “mobile museums” is visitor engagement. That might mean guiding the visitor though the museum via a custom map or providing them with an interactive tour with multimedia features like photos, videos and audio.

Many museums may have shied away from creating a mobile experience for their visitors because:

1. They thought it would be too expensive

2. They thought it would require serious technological expertise

In the past, yep – those two reasons were true. But not anymore. With do-it-yourself app platforms now available like TourSphere, museums can build custom mobile apps that work on any smartphone or tablet (iPhone, iPad, Android, etc.).

Many museums have already employed this technology with great results. New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art teamed up with TourSphere and Green Door Labs to create an interactive mobile game that leads visitors on a murder mystery through the museum. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s mobile app is an emotional journey through the museum and the struggle for freedom. And the Boston-area based Museum of Bad Art is using its new TourSphere mobile app to showcase its pieces for its tens of thousands of Facebook fans who are based around the world.

As museums continue to adopt mobile technology and create interesting, and sometimes unexpected, visitor experiences, Ferris Bueller’s hilarious statement will itself seem like a thing of the past.

%d bloggers like this: