Aaron Smith, senior research specialist at the Pew Internet and American Life Project, recently released the key trends on Americans and mobile computing based on a nationwide telephone survey. You can find the entire presentation online but some highlights for historic sites and historic house museums are:
- The use of mobile devices (cell phones, laptop computers, and tablets) is growing and desktop computer use is falling. About 2/3rds of Americans connect to the internet wirelessly using a laptop or handheld device. One quarter of US households only use cell phones. [Soon everyone will be carrying an internet-connected computer with them–what will that mean for your organization? How will that change your communications strategy, your programs and activities?]
- Smartphones (cell phones with internet access) are most popular with people ages 18-29, college graduates, households with an annual income $75,000 or more, and African Americans and Latinos. [If you are trying to reach one of these audiences, you might want to figure out how to do it through a mobile device.]
- Three-quarters of all adults use their cell phones to send or receive text messages, take a photo, and send or receive email. About half use it to share a picture with a friend, post a photo or video online, or watch or record a video. Only 15% use it to access Twitter. Usage varies dramatically by age. For example, if you’re 18-24 years old, you send an average of 110 text messages a day; if you’re between 55-65 years old, it’s 10 messages. [If you are going to engage people at your site, this provides a good list of priorities.]
- A third of adults download apps but most app users use five or fewer apps regularly. The most popular apps are games, news/weather, map/navigation, and social networking. However, a significant number of people download apps to learn something they’re interested in and to get information about a destination they’re visiting. [Cultural institutions keep rolling out apps, but based on this research, they need to focus on fitting within one of these categories to attract attention and do it really well to maintain engagement. Angry Curators, anyone?]
- Most cell phone owners use their phones to get information right away, many use the phone to entertain themselves when bored. [Can visitors use their phones during your tours and events to get additional information immediately, such as a list of upcoming events or to look at historic photos while waiting for a tour to start?]
Aaron Smith notes that an increasing number of people are operating in a 24/7 world and are constantly connected, so provide them with timely information easily and connect it to real-world places. [I’m not sure how he came to that conclusion through his research, but I like the idea.] By taking advantage of the growth in mobile technology, “you can be a filter, curator, node in a network, community builder, lifesaver, and tour guide.” [Hey, we do a lot of those things already; let’s just get them online!]
Check out http://www.snocoheritage.org to see how the groups in Snohomish Couny, WA are providing cell-phone and smart-phone tours, often with “then and now” pictures. Take a tour of the Mountain Loop to see how it’s history makes it much more than just a beautiful drive!
Thanks for the suggestion, Fred! I had a chance to listen to each of the tours and I like how you used several old and new photos (even newspaper clippings!) along with a narration. I think it’s a great start and a good example of what’s possible to do with just a few resources, and to show how several organizations are able to do this together. The next challenge is moving it from being a “brochure on a cell phone” to content that takes advantage of the format. For example, it’s easier to read the history of a building than it is to listen to it–it becomes a string of dates and names that are hard to keep straight–so use a storytelling format (see Super Simple Storytelling by Kendall Haven). Thanks again for sharing!
Sounds like both fun and good advice! If you have a chance, try the Mountain Loop Tour and stop at “Old Robe Trail”, “Ice Caves”, and “Barlow Pass”. Are those representative of what you’re suggesting? Even though we’re sharing technology, there is definitely a “story” that can be told at any spot.
Fred, these three stops are much more engaging because they focus on a story, not just reciting facts. Sometimes it mentioned things to look for (e.g. historic concrete retaining walls), which combines listening with seeing and results in a more vivid experience. I did notice that some of the pictures don’t seem to be related to the narration, so it was a bit confusing. For example, Barlow Pass shows several photos over time of the same area with “The Rock” called out on each one but the narration never mentions it.