Technology, we all know and experience, evolves very quickly. Some advances have become well rooted and extended at a breakneck speed. Others that it seemed would do so have been left aside on the way. This suggests a certain prudence prior to embarking our museum on new developments, channels or functionalities, but without nodding off, because social uses also evolve very quickly and it’s not good to get left behind. Some have been around the net for quite a while and are now taking off again or with new twists.
Since just before the end of the year, there have been lots of articles predicting where we are heading in 2015 in terms of technology. Adding these to reflections I’ve listened to in a couple of talks as well as my own contributions, it seemed interesting to me to try to outline the leading trends which affect museums closest.
Technologies and trends growing strongly
1. Integral digital transformation
Digital technology is already everywhere, but it’s still not integrated enough throughout the organisation. The technological innovations plus the growing demands and expectations of the users, require an integral and strategic approach so as to use the digital technology effectively as a driver of change of processes and services. With more tools, channels and uses, the need becomes more evident for a digital strategy that interconnects everything and that orientates it effectively towards fulfilling our mission and goals as a museum. Two excellent examples of digital strategy can be found in the Tate Digital Strategy 2013-15, and in the just published Strategic plan 2015-2017 of the Digital Library of America, a digital project that comprises libraries, archives and museums.
We need to rethink the processes in digital terms (of work, collaborative tools, integrated DAM-digital assets management), the services to the users and the distribution channels. It’s becoming more necessary than ever to include the digital dimension from the beginning of the programme and not as an afterthought. That doesn’t mean doing the same with the digital as we did with the analogue; it requires a new approach, new methods, new ideas, new products. Linked to this, even though it’s not only in digital terms, the need will also become greater for a content strategy, that is to say, to plan and govern the contents in multiple supports and platforms for multiple audiences in an integral way, coordinated and distributed throughout the museum.
2. Mobile everywhere and to do just about everything. The characteristics of ubiquitous and permanent connectivity, global and in real time, plus the functions of geolocation and personalisation make contextually relevant information that only mobile can provide.
Museums and mobiles have been travelling along this path for some time now, but it’s no longer enough to have more or less successful apps, above all it’s necessary to have our websites adapted for mobile devices and to incorporate the mobile first mentality when planning new projects. According to various studies, more than 50% of the time spent on Internet is done from mobile. It is essential, as a consequence, to ensure that the user experience of our content is mobile friendly. The access to social media from the mobile is higher than the access from the desktop computer or the laptop. It will therefore be important to bear in mind the mobile browsing (for example, the simple fact of informing that a link is a video or a pdf is a small gesture which is very useful for our mobile users).
Tools such as the iBeacons will facilitate the incorporation of interpretative elements in the galleries with no WiFi and without being intrusive for the rest of the visitors.
3. Placing the user at the centre, more than ever. Achieving a good user experience and as a consequence their engagement will guide the development of tools, contents and functionalities. More and more we have multi-device users who are permanently connected, with high expectations. As Gerry McGovern recently said on his Customer-Centric Webinar, “the website is not for the organisations, the website is for the customer [user]”. What he points out about websites can be extrapolated to the different services and content that we do in museums. Or, as said in the Forrester Webinar Top Emerging Technologies, it is necessary to attract, serve and retain clients/users through three aspects: technology, technologically empowered staff, and a greater offer of digital products and services. I recommend reading the interview with Peter Gorgels, the person behind the digital renovation of the Rijksmuseum, about how the renovation of the museum and the digital strategy have transformed the experience of the visitor. The most recent case is that of the renewed Design Museum of the Smithsonian, the Cooper Hewitt that has provided three different tech innovations –digital pens, screen tables, and ‘immersion rooms’– that bring technological components of design into the museum experience.
All the touchpoints with users will be highlighted, therefore, CRM systems (Customer Relationship Management), the integral relational management of the contacts, will be boosted more.
4. More analytics and more predictive analysis. Immediately related with the previous point of being user-centric driven, there is the need to know these users and their digital behaviour better, so as to adapt them to our offer of contents and services. Once a new website or app is launched, if we analyse well the data that results from use and interaction, we will have valuable information for improvement. The studies are focused on knowing better how the users interact with the different devices for different moments and contexts. The advanced analytics will increase, which will allow predictions to be made based on the exploitation data. Real time data will help to shorten the gap between the knowledge and the actions to be taken. It will be fundamental for museums to apply an integrated data management data regarding the users’ behaviour across the different digital channels – website, mobile, networks, eticketing– and, in addition, to crosscheck this with the onsite visit.
Good examples are the Tate with excellent digital metrics and the Dallas Museum of Art (DAM),which has been analysing publics for years through its Framework for Engaging with Art and which in 2013 incorporated a digital analysis platform of the Friends of the museum to analyse, amongst other things, the repetition of the participation.
5. Social media: more intensity, more complexity, more cost
Entering the social networks is free of charge, it’s true, but the maintenance, the continual uploading of new content and the interaction with the users are not: they require time, training and effort.
Once past the start-up phase of museums on the networks, it’s necessary to allocate more resources, especially for the centres undergoing exponential growth in terms of the number of networks and users. This makes even more necessary to have a good tactic: the distribution of the social action throughout the museum, both for the sustainability of the resources as well as for offering a plurality of perspectives. This distributed social action needs to be planned and coordinated, to not get off course or be duplicated. A strategy is also needed for the social web.
Worth highlighting is the growth of the social video platforms. We live in a visual culture. Predictions say that in 2017, 70% of the online consumption will be of video. The tendency will increase of directly publishing native videos in other social media beyond YouTube: the videos on Facebook are shared more than those on YouTube, Slideshare has opened the functionality of video to the general public and it seems that Twitter will do so shortly. Interactive video will also increase. In this field, the majority of museums still have homework to do: to increase the quantity and quality of our videos and sharpen the imagination, for example, to create series of episodes in video and to explore transmedia storytelling.
6. Open Data: for facilitating the discovery and use of content. The free access to data with the right to use it, reuse it, mix it and to generate new content, products and knowledge is a clearly growing global trend. Museums have already started out on this path to free the images and collections’ databases, to licensing texts in Creative Commons, to provide access to the API (Application Programming Interface) so that the developers can work. Magnificent examples are those of the Rijksmuseum and the Europeana that launched the API to allow free access to more than 30 million objects from aggregated collections of museums and libraries from all over Europe.
An excellent approach, with references of museums that have freed images and content, can be found in the article by Mia Ridge in Museum identity: Where next for open cultural data in museums? Museums should make an effort to improve the quality of the metadata so as to make our content easier to find, useful and relevant. More and better connections between the objects of the collections will be established and this will lead to the creation of new research, applications, maps, infographics, new educational uses, games and many other new things, by facilitating the development and innovation. This path is not exempt from difficulties, from technological to conceptual ones, including issues related to copyright. But it is a trend that will grow, and I believe that, at least for public museums, it should be, both as a mission and a vocation, a goal to reach.
7. Social selling and mobile selling. The monetisation of social media can only grow more. This concept, initially, seems to go against the nature itself of the networks, born to be connections between people and not at all as commercial channels for brands. But it is true that users are on the networks and it is there that the companies have launched themselves to “sell” their offer. We museums are surely little inclined to do so and we prefer to focus on spreading the knowledge and generating interest for the museum (whether or not they come to visit it, or whether or not they buy what we offer). Give it time. The networks can also be a good channel for museums to sell tickets, membership, packages of services, or items from the shop. It is necessary, however, to do so very well, so as not to generate a rejection by the user and to make sure that the content and interaction prevail over the commercial message.
Linked to this, advertising on the networks and mobile will also grow. According to the experts, the revenues from advertising are now being produced by mobile. Facebook has for some time included advertising, Twitter has recently launched its promoted tweets and it has been announced that soon Instagram will also incorporate advertising. The more content is included on social media, the more difficult it will be for our content to be discovered, and the trend will grow of paying to be seen.
All this and more will have greater sense if we contribute added value and we make better connections between the collections and the publics.
It should be noted that technologies such as augmented reality and gamification, that could be qualified as growing trends in museums, have been considered by tech experts as a low priority. This could be due to the fact that they already have a strong degree of implementation, even though museums are still on the outward journey in this respect. From these and other emerging technologies such as 3D printing, Wearables, Big Data, Internet of Things and others, we will shortly be talking about in the second part of this post.
10 Social Media Trends for Museums, Arts Digital
Linked Open Data, Europeana (video 3’18 min)
Looking forward to 2015: GLAMs and the Creative Commons Movement, Molly Schwartz
How Engagement Analytics Can Help Museums Connect to Audiences at Scale, Robert Stein, Museums and the Web 2014
15 Mobile Trends to Watch in 2015, Mashable
6 Jaw-dropping Mobile Innovations for Museums and Art Galleries, Mobile World Capital, Alberto B. Sáez
Digital by Default, UK Government, 2014