Tuesday, 27 January 2015

iBEACONS AND THE PERSONALIZED MUSEUM

TECHNOLOGY TUESDAYS

BY: JENNY FORD

Back in 2013, Apple quietly launched iBeacons on the ever-burgeoning tech scene. In a world where smart phones ruled, the aim of iBeacons was to personalize the retail experience like never before. Now museums and libraries are using the technology to re-imagine their visitor experiences.

iPhone using iBeacons in an art museum.
The museum just got personal, thanks to iBeacons. Source
HOW IT WORKS

In a nutshell, iBeacons use small wireless sensors that send location-triggered information to your phone. The iBeacons send locale-specific info about products, objects, or maps to the corresponding app. The sensors are placed in strategic areas so they send your phone the right information at the right moment.

If you’re in a clothing store, for instance, and pass a sale rack, the iBeacon can send your phone information about the sale and products that automatically pops up on your device. As you enter a coffee shop, the iBeacon sends your “Jo’s Coffee Shop” app coupons and promotions. No longer are we burdened with scanning QR codes – the beacons know your location automatically and help accordingly.

Estimote is one of the more popular wireless sensor suppliers.

THE PERSONALIZED MUSEUM EXPERIENCE

The iBeacon has been transitioning from the retail world to museums and libraries in the last year, thanks to a number of tech start-ups working with cultural institutions. Take the company Spotzer based in Boston. Spotzer’s CEO and founder, Brendan Ciecko, has worked with a number of art galleries to incorporate iBeacons as part of the museum experience. These include the Neue Galerie in New York City and the Public Art Collection at the MIT List Visual Arts Centre.

Here’s how it works: the wireless sensors are placed at certain locations in the museum. As you linger in front of a Monet, the iBeacon sends information to your Spotzer app about the painting, including associated audio, pictures, text, and more. Not only that, it can suggest other art pieces you may enjoy in the museum, or tell you about a special Monet lecture series happening that weekend.
iPhone gets a museum promotion from an iBeacon.
Some good museum marketing. Source.
Now instead of wandering aimlessly through a museum, the Spotzer app can help chart a personalized route based on your interests and which objects you linger in front of. You can also favourite works and share them.

Libraries have also picked up on the technology. Companies such as BluuBeam and Capira Technologies are working with libraries to personalize the visiting experience. Library iBeacons send users info about library events and if they have an overdue book. If you’re browsing through cookbooks, the BluuBeam or Capira app can let you know about the cooking course Friday night at the library, for example.

A NEW KIND OF VISITOR RESEARCH

But cultural institutions can get something in return from using iBeacon technology: visitor data. How are visitors moving through the gallery? What objects are they stopping in front of longest? What objects are they favouriting and sharing? How does a personalized path change their behaviour?

While iBeacons are still a new phenomenon in cultural institutions, it’s easy to see how they can apply to any museum type, form historic sites to science centres. It’s once again reinventing and re-personalizing the museum experience.

6 comments:

  1. Such a great comparative approach to understanding technologies in museums! I think this would be a fascinating research project and museums could benefit extensively from knowing how visitors travel throughout the collection - I think this is something that many museums can do better - to guide visitors in creative ways throughout a space (often, we select our own routes, which is great as it corresponds with out post-modern ideals of freedom, but a well done route in a museum could be a wonderful experience).

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    1. Thanks, Irina! I thought it was a great example of museums adopting technology designed for other sectors.

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  2. Interesting article Jenny. iBeacons definitely have the potential of improving visitor experience. Just to play the role of the devil's advocate a little, I'd like to mention that there can also some drawbacks when it comes to their implementation. There is an article in The Wall Street Journal published in December 2014 that particularly addresses this issue that might be worth checking out. I've copied the link below.

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/when-the-art-is-watching-you-1418338759?mod=e2fb

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  3. Wow, I hadn't seen this. Thanks for sharing. There are definitely two sides to iBeacons in museums.

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