Cell Phone Tours

Get your phone out to follow along with this post.

I was at the Seattle Art Museum a few months ago and was impressed by the cell phone interpretation they have running through the museum. In an age when museums are going through expensive contortions trying to use technology to improve visitor experiences, I found the cell phone tour a simple and elegant a solution.

The pictures below show a few examples, and the phone numbers are still active. Go ahead and call them as you look at the images. (I was going to download the audio and link it here--but you people need to meet me halfway here!)

This carved argylite box is accompanied by an interview with a modern Indian carver. Call 206-866-3222 ext. 123 to listen.

This 1850 ceremonial headdress of the Tlingit people is enhanced by the creation myth it portrays. Call 206-866-3222 ext. 124.

One more example is this modern glass interpretation of a Killer Whale. Call 206-866-3222 ext. 122.

You can see all of my photos from the SAM here. The museum also put all of the audio up online for free download. I downloaded a bunch of them before I came to the museum, but once I was there i found it far easier to dial the numbers in front of me than to fiddle with iTunes on my phone. A museum friend told me that these phone tours get used even after the exhhibit comes down, apparently from people who are looking at their vacation pictures and dialing the numbers.

So in conclusion--cell tours, yay! Of course museums can make mobile technology far more involved and complicated if they like. This NY Times article surveys some of the mobile apps for iPhones and Androids that museums are beginning to use. What jumps out at me from the article is that none of the apps seem to be very good! And how many of your visitors are carrying smart phones, and will have downloaded your app in advance of their visit? I think around 20% of Americans carry smart phones. And of course there are all kinds of interactive kiosks and other intensive technologies out there, all of which seem expensive, prone to breaking, and quickly outdated. By comparison a cell tour is dirt cheap to produce, leverages a piece of technology that nearly visitor already has, and has a potential reach beyond the museum walls.