Category Archives: Technology

How a Briefcase Led to a Clever Way to Conduct Visitor Research Online

Bolt Brief by WaterField Designs of San Francisco.

If you want to conduct visitor research for a potential exhibition, school program, or tour, you might want to check out WaterField Designs in San Francisco, who has been designing and manufacturing bags and cases since 1998.  A few months ago I purchased a Bolt Brief from WaterField. It’s a great bag and I recommend you check it out, but more importantly, I’ve become very impressed with their customer research and prototyping for new products, especially if the customers are all over the country. It’s an idea that can be easily adopted by museums and historic sites if they have Continue reading

Is Your Historic Site Ready for Mobile Devices?

As we know, smartphones and other mobile devices are becoming a routine part of our visitors’ lives.  But did you know that more people search for travel information on their mobile devices than on their desktops?  It allows them to make immediate decisions while they’re on the go, including when they’re on vacation and at your site (if visitors are looking at their smartphones while walking in the door, they may be checking your admission fees and hours, not their email). Mobile users want information fast and they’re not discriminating: they’ll look for the information about your historic site from whomever gets it to them the fastest, even if it’s not your website. That’s the latest research from Think with Google on “Travel Planning and Purchasing has Evolved on Mobile.”  For historic sites and house museums, this means that you should: Continue reading

Small Museum Association Conference Was Really Big

For the first time, College Park, Maryland hosted the annual Small Museum Association conference, which was previously held for decades in Ocean City, Maryland (a seaside resort town where the rooms are cheap in winter).  The relocation was controversial but it attracted a record attendance of 315 persons, plus the facilities at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center were much better suited for a national conference.  Not only were there a nice assortment of rooms and places to meet (not just for sessions but informal chats) but it features an outstanding art collection from the University of Maryland in its hallways, not the usual hotel pablum. Paintings and sculptures mostly by Maryland artists lined the hallways and in their own galleries, curated by Jon West-Bey (formerly at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum).  Were we in a hotel? a conference center? a museum?

While some people might assume that a conference for small museums means that it’s for beginners, you’ll find that like most professional conferences it has a variety of sessions for different levels of experience, except that it’s aimed at institutions that have a small staff and budget. Flexibility and speed are among the characteristic advantages of small museums, who sometimes forget they can innovate much faster than their bigger brethern. Some quick highlights from the education sessions I attended are: Continue reading

Wikipedia Welcoming Historic Sites and Landmarks This Month

wike-loves-monuments-2016Wikipedia, the most frequently used source for information on the Internet, just launched a month-long campaign to improve its coverage of historic and cultural sites in the United States.  Called, “Wiki Loves Monuments,” it is an international photo competition where participants capture cultural heritage monuments and upload their photographs to Wikipedia. For the first time in several years, Wiki Loves Monuments is back in the United States. The contest is inspired by the successful 2010 pilot in the Netherlands, which resulted in 12,500 freely licensed images of monuments that can now be used in Wikipedia and by anybody for any purpose. The 2012 contest in 35 countries resulted in more than 350,000 images submitted by over 15,000 participants, adding to the sum of all human knowledge gathered on Wikipedia.  The contest ends on September 30, 2016.

Anyone is welcome to contribute to the project by uploading photos they’ve taken of cultural and historical sites throughout the United States. Once September is over, the best photos will win cash prizes and will be submitted to the international competition.  In addition to taking photos, Wikipedia is also encouraging editors to write Wikipedia articles on historical sites and monuments as part of the event.  They are also developing state-level guides to historic sites and have already created versions for California, Ohio, and Washington.  Here’s a chance to fix that skimpy or inaccurate entry about your site or show a stunning photo (in my home state of Maryland, Belvoir is a particularly awful example).  Better yet, engage those photographers among your members to help you promote your site and others in your community.  Just remember, you’re putting this into the World Wide Web, so content will be freely and easily used by others (what will Getty Images do?).

If you’re looking for inspiration, Wikipedia is providing links to the National Register of Historic Places, Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks, and Daughters of the American Revolution Sites (hey, where are the Colonial Dames?).

Professional Development is Taking on New Forms This Month

Historic Annapolis logoProfessional development (aka staff training) is one of the key elements for developing capacity at house museums and historic sites, but it’s often considered a luxury because of the cost.  This month, for example, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Maryland, and Historic Annapolis are hosting a two-day workshop, “Preservation Leadership Training: Invitation to Evolve” on September 8-9, 2016 in Annapolis, Maryland and next week, the American Association for State and Local History and Michigan Museums Association are hosting their conference, “The Spirit of Rebirth” in Detroit, Michigan.  Both demonstrate the continuing trend of partnerships among organizations to provide professional development to increase attendance, reduce expenses, and improve the quality.  I’m not sure if others do this, but I can only commit to two conferences per year: one is always AASLH and the other rotates among one of the other organizations where I’m a member.

But lately, I’ve noticed new forms of training popping Continue reading

Put Your Website to the PageSpeed Test

Google PageSpeed InsightsYou may have spent lots of time and money refreshing your website, but how well does it actually perform on people’s desktops and mobile devices?  If it’s too slow, people will give up and go elsewhere, so loading speed is important to monitor.  Thanks to Google, you can test the speed of your website plus receive suggestions for improvement for free.  Go to PageSpeed Insights and enter your website address. In a few seconds, you’ll receive a detailed report.  EngagingPlaces.net scored 70/100 for desktop performance and if you think that’s low, I checked a couple of my client’s websites and they fared much worse.  If you’d like to learn more, watch the Dotto Tech video “Episode #47: Importance of Site Speed” that explains how he redesigned his WordPress website to perform better.

 

Google’s New Data Gallery Suggests Directions for Historic Sites

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 10.16.58 AMGoogle has regularly shared findings from studies conducted from various sources (including its own analytics from searches and YouTube) in Think with Google, which I receive as an email a couple times each month as a subscription.  They’ve now gathered those studies together in a new Data Gallery which, of course, can be searched by topic.  There’s nothing for “museums,” “historic sites,” or “tourism,” but there is lots for “travel & hospitality.”  You can also narrow your search by industry (e.g., “travel & hospitality”), by platform (e.g., mobile, video), by themes (e.g., consumer trends, Millennials, U.S.).

A quick browse through the “travel & hospitality” shows the growing importance of video.  For example, their research shows that two out of three U. S. consumers watch online travel videos when they’re thinking about taking a trip and nearly 90 percent of YouTube travel searches focus on destinations, attractions/points of interest or general travel ideas.  This suggests that historic sites and house museums need to Continue reading

St. Louis’ new Blues Museum Needs More Artifacts (and Music)

National Blues Museum, St. Louis, Missouri.

National Blues Museum, St. Louis, Missouri.

In April, I had a chance to visit the newly opened National Blues Museum in St. Louis, Missouri while I was in town to lead a workshop with Ken Turino of Historic New England.  As the “only museum dedicated exclusively to preserving and honoring the national and international story of the Blues and its impact on American culture in the United States,” its mission is “to be the premier entertainment and educational resource focusing on the Blues as the foundation of American music.”  Those are pretty bold claims and we’ll have to give them some time to see if they can achieve them.  In the meantime, I wanted to share my initial reactions to the primary permanent exhibit designed by Gallagher & Associates of Silver Spring, Maryland (near my hometown!), who also designed exhibits for Mount Vernon, Gettysburg Visitor Center, and Jamestown Settlement Museum.

Housed in a former historic department store near the city’s downtown convention center, the bold use of panels filled with text, images, video, textures, and colors as well as a strong horizontal lines that pull you through each space, make it a compelling and attractive design. Indeed, it’s so effective that it didn’t strike me until about halfway through that the exhibit feels two-dimensional and there are hardly Continue reading

Latest National Research on Technology in the K-12 Education (with Tips for Historic Sites)

"From Pixel to Print," the 2015 report on the use of technology in K-12 education.

“From Pixel to Print,” the 2015 report on the use of technology in K-12 education.

Project Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization focused on education, just released a national study on the use of technology by teachers and students called, “From Print to Pixel: The Role of Videos, Games, Animations, and Simulations within K-12 Education.”  For the past thirteen years, Project Tomorrow has provided these annual “Speak Up” research reports to help schools and elected officials (and I’m including museums and historic sites) better understand the trends in technology in the K-12 education field. This year’s report incorporates responses from 415,686 K-12 students, 38,613 teachers and librarians, 4,536 administrators, 40,218 parents and 6,623 community members representing over 7,600 schools and 2,600 districts in the United States and around the world.

 

From “Print to Pixel” highlighted these major findings: Continue reading

Video: Detour’s High-Tech Audio Tours Come to Museums

Groupon founder Andrew Mason guides Casey Newton of Verge through the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art using the latest version of Detour, a location-based outdoor audio tour app that now works indoors as well.  Through your smartphone, Detour knows your location in the museum and presents the artworks in that specific gallery along with the associated audio recordings so you can wander (giving you the right information in the right place), as well as 15-30 minute “walks”.  Parts of this Verge video are silly and the background music too loud, but it looks like smartphone technology now has the capability to be used at historic sites for self-guided tours of the buildings, landscape, and neighborhood in a way that’s more flexible and responsive to visitor interests.

The video below is a better explanation of Detour’s ability to “automatically guide you as you walk, almost like you’re there with a real person”.  It debuted last year with ten Detours of San Francisco (including architecture) at $4.99.