Tag Archives: Case Studies

App Spotlight: Texas Time Travel Tours

7 Jul

Q&A with Susan Shore, Heritage Tourism Program Specialist at the Texas Historical Commission

Texas Time Travel Tours, the mobile app created by the Texas Historical Commission, is a true portrait of Texas. The app features over 550 sites, 170 of which are highlighted with audio and video. Currently there are seven statewide tours in the app and one site-specific tour for THC historic property Fulton Mansion. Points of interest cover the entire state, from Amarillo to Brownsville, to Texarkana to El Paso. The primary goal for the app is to inspire people to travel Texas and specifically historic sites, whether that is a historic fort or a downtown district.

Q. Why did the Texas Historical Commission decide to create an app?

A. 
Our team had been considering the development of a mobile app for some time. We traditionally have created travel guides in a print format, but not only is it quite expensive, it limits the content we can include. In addition to broadening our user demographic by introducing Texas history on a mobile device, we also wanted to broaden our storytelling capacity to drive visitation to communities across the state. The THC’s motto is “real places telling real stories”—what better way than to encourage travel to those places?

Q. What are the benefits for visitors to use the app?

A. Accessing the stories of Texas using the app allows the user to have information at the ready on their personal device, whether they are traveling to a location or simply viewing from the comfort of home. Once the full native app format is complete with individual tour download capability, users will have more complete access to points of interest in areas of the state that are quite remote and have limited cell/wifi connectivity.

As mentioned earlier, the app allows for rich visual storytelling with the inclusion of image galleries and video, something not possible using print formats.

We have lots of stories to tell! The app’s capacity to house multiple tours gives users access to all of it with just a click or a swipe. Users can also quickly know what places are close to them by using the Nearby map that shows points of interest for all tours.

Q.  How did the THC team go about planning such a large project?

A. Planning began about a year before the initial RFP was issued. We researched other apps for excellence in both storytelling and user experience, and developed a strong vision for our end product. While we had a long list of functions we would like to have in the app, we also realized that the costs of having a platform custom developed for our project probably didn’t meet the long term ROI. We found that already established platforms like the one offered by OnCell could meet our needs with some customization.

Q. Can you tell us a little about how the content was created for the tours?

A. Most of the initial tours built upon existing agency print guides or guides under development. These guides served as the foundational material to help define the scope of each tour. We established small groups of subject matter experts and advisory stakeholders to work with the staff development team. We contracted external vendors for scriptwriting and video production services.

Q. Can you tell us about your marketing strategy for the app?

A. Much of our publicity is tied to the THC’s social media channels–Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blog posts. Videos from all of the tours are included on our YouTube channel and descriptively tied to the app. This also makes it easier to embed in posts on other channels like Facebook. We experience very high engagement on Facebook when video stories are included in posts about the different tours on the app.

Launches for individual tours are tied to related external events when practical. For example, La Salle Odyssey launch corresponded to the opening of a new permanent installation of the reconstructed ship, La Belle, in a major museum. Hispanic Texas launched during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Each tour provides many storytelling opportunities, and will make it easy for us to continue promotions throughout the year with little or no content repetition. All of these contain language that directs user to the full app experience.

Q. What advice would you give to other organizations who are looking to create an app?

A. Do your research and ask questions for both platform selection and content development. Keep your audience top-of-mind and be consistent in the style and quality of all elements of the project.

Texas Time Travel Tours features an immersive blend of interpretive audio with first person interviews, video, and image galleries that allows users to experience the real places and real stories of Texas. GPS features allow visitors to locate nearby points of interest and offers people an easy way to share content with social media. Explore the rich heritage of Texas by downloading the app, available for iOS in the App Store and Android in Google Play. Access the web app on any web-enabled device at http://texastimetravel.toursphere.com

App Spotlight: Cranbrook House and Gardens

2 Jun

Cranbrook House and Gardens smartphone app for iOS and Android

Q&A with Eric Franchy, Public Relations Coordinator at Cranbrook House and Gardens

Cranbook House and Gardens, located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, is the oldest historic manor in metropolitan Detroit and serves as the centerpiece of the Cranbrook Educational Community campus, a National Historic Landmark. Formerly the estate of Ellen Scripps and newspaper mogul George Booth, Cranbrook is an English-Tudor house designed in the American Arts and Crafts style by famed Detroit architect Albert Kahn in 1908. The grounds of the house and gardens spans over 40 acres and sees over 5,000 visitors a year. The app provides an audio tour rich with historic imagery and introduces visitors to the history of Cranbrook prior to guiding them through the gardens.

Q. What was the main goal for creating an app for the Cranbrook House and Gardens?

A. 
The goal for providing an app was to enhance the visitor experience. Our initial idea was to take our garden tour into the virtual sphere and to help our guests navigate the property. Once we began working with the OnCell app builder we realized there was potential for us to create an all-inclusive app.

Q. You launched your app last year and put it on hold for the winter lull. Did you learn any lessons from the previous year and make any adjustments for your spring relaunch?

A. The native app wasn’t live until the end of summer last year; as such, we decided to use the remainder of our tour season last year as a soft-launch for testing purposes. As a result of testing we did make some edits to the app, such as slowing down the duration of our image gallery from light speed to one that allows the user to actually see each image! We changed the design of the app homepage this year to make it more visually inviting and mobile friendly, and also incorporated OnCell’s new ‘Favorites’ function.

Q. How has the app been received by visitors and colleagues?

A. Our app was just announced to the public in late-May, but so far it has been well received. I spoke with two guests yesterday who were visiting from out of state, they told me they were in front of one of our sculptures and wanted to know more about it, so they opened the app and found exactly what they were looking for. The beta team of members and colleagues that helped us test the app during the soft-launch last year were really impressed with the app and all of its features.

A visitor uses the Cranbrook House and Gardens mobile app

Standing above the reflecting pool, a visitor uses the Cranbrook House and Gardens mobile app to tour the gardens.

Q. How does your organization promote the app and encourage its use?

A. We promote the app and encourage its use through a press release announcement to media, email announcement to the public, inclusion on our website, social media postings, onsite signage, inclusion in our Visitor Guide & Map brochures, and informational rack cards.

Q. The app looks great–nicely curated with both modern and archival images along with wayfinding info. How long did it take your team to gather the content and publish your app?

A. Thank you! It took us about two months of researching archival databases, scripts, and other information to gather the tour content, and another one to two months to design the app. The biggest challenge was trimming all of the content gathered into an amount acceptable for display on a mobile device; Cranbrook has such a rich history!

Q. Do you have advice for other orgs that may be interested in developing an app?

A. Have fun with it, be creative, and think about how you want the app to be structured before you begin building pages.

Q. What are the next steps in your organization’s visitor engagement strategy?

A. We plan to continue to find creative ways for the app to improve visitor engagement. In addition to the app tours, we may add one or a few scavenger hunts of varying difficulty. New technologies such as push notifications that could give us the possibility of alerting users of what’s in bloom each week are currently being explored as well.

The Cranbrook House and Gardens smartphone app features interpretive audio, video, and image galleries, along with an interactive map and visitor info such as events and admission. It is available for download on iOS in the App Store and Android in Google Play. Access the web app on any web-enabled device at http://cranbrookhouseandgardens.toursphere.com

App Spotlight: Des Plaines History Center

21 Nov

Q&A with Shari Caine, Executive Director at the Des Plaines History Center

Founded in 1968, the Des Plaines History Center collects, preserves, and interprets the history of Des Plaines, Illinois and its people and provides access to those resources through exhibits, educational programs, and research facilities. They launched their mobile walking tour in late October, 2014, which includes interpretive audio for 10 historic sites in downtown Des Plaines and features a room-by-room tour of the Kinder House–a 1907 Queen Anne home turned museum.

Q. Why did you decide to create an app for your organization?

A. This was something we’ve been discussing for the past year. We wanted to do something technology-based that was interactive and available to as many people as possible. At first, we talked about working with an app developer, but around the same time we learned about what TourSphere had to offer, and after trying it out, we knew it was the type of app-making tool we could use ourselves.

Q. What are your interpretive goals and what are the benefits for people to use the app?

A. Our goals include increasing attendance, improving the quality of program content through historical interpretation, and increasing awareness of history in the community. We believe that this app will serve as both a great educational tool and a marketing tool, helping to make people more aware of the history of the community and bring in more visitors to the History Center. The proximity of the walking tour to our downtown area will reach many people who are in the area, whether they are residents, commuters, or visitors. The nearby transportation services, including the bus transfer points and the train station, are opportunities for us to promote the app further.

Q.  What advice would you give to other organizations who are looking to create an app?

A.  First, I would suggest that they determine whether they need someone to create and design the app for them, or if they are willing to do the work themselves. Then, I would recommend they look into all the tools that are available, compare the costs for each option, and take advantage of opportunities to test out the free trial for app-building tools. Finally, they will need to identify their potential audiences and how far they can reach by using the app to bring in new visitors.

Q.  Can you tell us a little about how you created the audio content?

A. The script was written by our Curator based on information and photographs from our historical archives. The audio was created by a volunteer who works in the IT field and who also has a bit of a background in voice acting and recording. He recorded the digital files from his own studio and delivered them to us. We were fortunate to find someone willing to work with us on a volunteer basis. I would recommend working with a volunteer to keep costs low, but it’s important to interview the person first, and review their demos, in order to assess their level of skill, knowledge, and ability in this type of work.

Q.  How are you planning to market the tour?

A. We held a special event on October 17, planned in conjunction with a re-opening of the second floor of our house museum. There was a special introduction to the walking tour app featured during the event. We also published information about the new app in our newsletter, and we’ve been interviewed by the local newspaper. In addition to the publicity for the special event, we will also distribute a poster and other materials relating to the app itself, with QR codes printed large enough for passersby to see as they are in the area of a building that is featured on the tour. We will promote the tour on a continual basis throughout the community, at other events, and through our Facebook and Twitter feeds, as well as in other community publications. We also just had a group of 44 high-school aged German exchange students visit the History Center, and they participated in a demonstration of the walking tour app.

Des Plaines Mobile Tour App Screenshots and QR code

The Des Plaines mobile tour app can be accessed on any web-enabled device at http://desplainestour.toursphere.com

App Spotlight: Newport Historical Society Native Apps

5 Sep

Q&A with Stacie Parillo, Head of Collections and Manager of Digital Initiatives at Newport Historical Society

Newport App Splash ScreenThe Newport Historical Society originally launched their web app in November of 2012. TourSphere worked closely with the NHS team to develop a custom theme and build an app that launched a historic properties tour with over 40 sites. They have continued to grow their app over time to include special digital exhibitions of unique treasures from their collection, tours by theme, and additional points of interest that include the famed Newport Cliff Walk. The NHS has broadened the accessibility of their app by releasing both a native iOS and Android app.

Q. Can you say a few words about the success of the app?

A. The app represents an exciting new way for the public to access historical content that the NHS has generated, as well as raises local awareness of Newport’s historic significance by providing pride of place for residents. The app replaces the need for museum-loaned devices as visitors can access Explore Historic Newport from their own personal devices. A supplement to our guided tours, users of the app can curate their own experience of historic Newport, from anywhere in the world, any time of day or night. The history of Newport is now accessible in a way that it never was before.

Q. Why did you decide to create new native apps in addition to the web app?

A. We discovered that many people do not know how to use or are not very familiar with technology and many smartphone users are accustomed to going to either the App Store or Google Play to search for and download an app. The native apps were created to help those that were unfamiliar with the concept of a web app to still be able to access the content via the app stores – many smartphone users instinctively jump to the native stores when they think of mobile apps, so we wanted to work with that behavior.

Q. How do the native apps fit into your interpretive goals?

A.  The native apps will increase exposure and access, which will allow the app to do what we hoped from the onset – put Newport history in the palms of peoples’ hands.

Q. Do you have any new content that people familiar with the app may not know about?

A. Because the app is so flexible and accommodating, it is also infinitely expandable. A newer addition to the app is the integration of NHS exhibit content, allowing visitors to learn more about collections items on exhibit as well as the opportunity to virtually visit the exhibit. We have also started generating born-digital exhibits curated by interns that highlight their subject expertise and our collections. Historic sites continue to be added on a routine basis, and soon to be added are oral histories, video, and more exhibit content.

Q. How do you like working with the team at TourSphere and the App Builder?

A. We’ve had a very positive experience building the app with TourSphere – the team has been very responsive to our questions and concerns and have been quick to help us solve any issues that arise. The interface of the CMS is very intuitive, and has been able to be used by several staff members with little training, making it very easy and convenient to continually add content. It was important to us to make the app dynamic and current. We did not see this as a project that would ever be completed. The app would continually grow, never getting stagnant and TourSphere’s CMS allows us to do just that.

Download the native iOS and Android apps to take a tour through historic Newport, RI.

app-availability-appstore

Available on Google Play

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