Innovation on a shoestring: testing BYOD concepts without building anything


Thursday, April 04, 2019: 2:00pm - 3:30pm - Back Bay CD: Papers: What is museum mobile today?

Natalia Hudelson, The British Museum, UK, Carlos Austin-Gonzalez, The British Museum, UK

Published paper: Innovation on a Shoestring: Testing BYOD Concepts Without Building Anything

While some museums have been implementing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategies for years, the British Museum has come late to this particular trend. Our reluctance wasn’t just due to our innate conservatism. We’ve been focused on delivering and enhancing our great on-site multimedia guide for the permanent collection, digital elements in galleries and exhibitions, and building up our social media following. This paper discusses our process to identify strategic goals and draw several institutional needs together into two related pilot projects. We used streamable audio to test both visitors’ willingness to use their own devices at the museum (or elsewhere) and at the same time gauge their interest in paid audio content without a formal audio guide rental. While the British Museum audio guide is generously sponsored by Korean Air, operating costs across the museum are significant, and rented audio guides have long been an important source of sustainable income for us; hence, we feel we cannot adopt the approach some peers have taken of making audio guide content freely available and streamable (e.g. Fei, 2017).

To explore our questions around audience behavior and intent, we released albums of audio content in five languages to iTunes and Google Play Music. Visitors to the BM come from around the world and speak many different languages; we’ve had to take into account, and learn about, the disparate needs of our global audience through on-site qualitative research as well as the analytics provided by the digital platforms. We conclude the paper by assessing the data collected so far, lessons we’ve drawn, and how we plan to move forward based on our findings. We also hope our journey will prove useful to colleagues at other museums on a practical level, in terms of the technology platforms we used and strategies we adopted.

Fei, JiaJia. “Setting our apps free: audio guides from Jewish Museum exhibitions now streaming.” Published July 13, 2017. Consulted September 25, 2018.

Mannion, Shelley, Amalia Sabiescu and William Robinson. "An audio state of mind: Understanding behaviour around audio guides and visitor media." MW2015: Museums and the Web 2015. Published February 1, 2015. Consulted September 21, 2018.

Spadaccini, Jim. 2001. “Streaming Audio and Video: New Challenges for Museums.” MW2001: Museums and the Web 2001. Published 2001. Consulted September 21, 2018.