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Creating Museum Apps

Im@app makes use of beacon and geo-fence technology. Photograph: Purple Seven. Source: The Guardian.

Jeff Boardman, ‘How we made the cultural data app, I’m@app’, 12 December 2014

The journey into arts and culture is one we can all enjoy for free. Cultural spaces up and down the country offer myriad experiences and objects to appreciate, educate and inspire. But the big question is: are we, the art lovers, being shortchanged in our experiences? Equally, do we shortchange the organisations who work tirelessly to bring us these experiences?

Coming from a background of delivering actionable customer insight to venues in the ticketed world of culture, we at Purple Seven realised that we didn’t know who the millions of visitors to museums, arts spaces and cultural venues actually were. We knew that these visitors appreciated arts and culture, but we wanted to get to know them at a deeper level. What do they really like? What do they especially enjoy? How often do they visit venues? Where precisely do they visit? This was a larger question than ticketed events and one the sector was not tackling particularly well.

We wanted to take on the challenge of plugging this knowledge gap. The key to success was ensuring that while we as a sector were improving our understanding of visitors, that visitors also received an enhanced experience. We wanted to improve data collection, but there has to be a quid pro quo for the visitor: why would any consumer share their information if not getting anything in return? Simply using the visitor as a means to capture data and therefore insights for arts organisations was not an option for us. Better experience in the venue will create better engagement, and in turn better insights. The power of data is not the amount you collect, but the insight you draw from it.

We needed to build an offering that was dual-purpose, with the key objective being to enrich both visitor and venue. This is when we realised an app would be the best way to improve the users’ experience and in turn collect data for organisations.

Our first step in making this happen was to research, test and understand the potential of beacon technology. This tech is already being used on the high street to push promotional offers out to consumer smartphones at a very specific level, for example, very precise aisle locations in-store. This technology was perfect to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time – it would allow us to collect data on what content was engaged with, how visitors moved around the venue, how long they spent in parts of the venue, and whether they socially shared comments or content.

Once we had in place the goals we wanted to achieve, we needed a brave soul to test it with: a single venue with lots of ambition. At this point in time, we were having many conversations regarding data with Liverpool Vision, who themselves had a major project with the International Festival of Business (IFB), and so the beta trial was born. Our outputs would aim to engage the business user of IFB, the city visitor and the local dweller, turning that information into insights.

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