Thursday, January 27, 2011

Museums and mobile phone tracking

I'm off to the Museums and the Web conference in Philadelphia in April. It will be the second time I have been to this annual conference, at which over 800 of the great and the good from this world come together. Judging by 2009 (my last one) it will be four days of total stimulation overload, but at least I am contributing this year, giving a paper on the use of mobile phones for visitor tracking.

One of the great advantages of this technology is its ability to provide the quantative data that is currently gathered by museum guides. Check out an illuminating article on the evaluation process in the Wall Street Journal "The Museum is watching you". It details how evaluation staff spend their time watching how visitors interact with exhibits, driven by museums wanting to know that their investment in exhibitions has been well spent both through engagement and increase in traffic. But gosh it is inefficient, the article citing one observer at the Detroit Institute of Arts spending 2 hours recording a mere 14 observations on his computer of which he discarded 8 because the visitors stayed in the gallery for less than one minute. The critical issue here is a) the amount of staff time being spent inefficiently, and b) the fact that critical information is being discarded, i.e. keep the data about the 8 visitors that only stayed for less than a minute as that provides vital information on over half the visitors that entered the gallery in that time - why did they move on so fast?

What mobile phone tracking can achieve is not only the information that the DIA observer recovered but much more of it. Indeed data can be captured for every minute the museum is open. It also provides a much more complete picture such as the ability to understand where the 8 that moved on went to so their movements can also be understood.

More broadly the use of mobile phones for visitor tracking in museums and galleries can:
  • Ascertain the sequence of routes followed, and the percentage of the most popular
  • Work out the most common routes followed
  • Identify the total time spent in the museum or gallery
  • Identify the time spent at each stop along the way (i.e. dwell time)
  • Identify whether the mobile phone owner has visited before, and if so, how many times and the average gap between visits
  • Identify where the phone is registered thus providing an international visitor profile
  • Show the impact of promotional events/special exhibitions on traffic movements
We are developing a range of solutions in this field, and are always keen to hear from others working with visitor tracking solutions.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director

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