Augmented Reality Mailbag

(Reading time: 2m, 45s)

List members Aylin Tito and Jim Thornton responded to last week’s letter about AR in museums, which they’ve agreed to let me share with you here.

Aylin said:

I think every museum is different, and depending on the exhibition it could be a great feature to add AR, but it could be a distraction from certain exhibitions and a deterrent to some older or not tech savvy audiences (that wouldn’t even use it) … but I think it’s not a priority at this time for us, even though I have seen some cool applications (like the Perez in Miami: In the right place, and within the right context, it can be very cool and interactive. Getting our website and ticketing systems to work more efficiently are a priority. Plus, most visitors comment on how much they enjoyed the docent tour, and what a great docent tour they had. Not many comment on the audio tour or even use it… Seems our visitors enjoy the human interaction or reading a brochure more.

Aylin’s comments kind of mirror how I felt in that many museums may be better off investing in foundational improvements that may contribute to a better visitor experience with less risk and expense. Obviously, it all depends on the resources available. And today’s fancy tech is tomorrow’s commodity — right now, AR may be too costly for many organizations, but that could change in five or ten years.

Jim said:

I think people look at a new tech like that and there are lots of shiny possibilities, real opportunity. But if it doesn't trace back to the objective, whatever it is, then it's a distraction and potentially an expensive one.

This is a great point. I think it relates to what I was saying last week when I wondered aloud whether AR might be used as a way to improve visitor experience at those times/places where attention or satisfaction may be at a low point or as a way to gather feedback from an audience. In either scenario, you’re using the technology to improve visitor satisfaction or as a mechanism to improve the product (the museum) as a whole.

Jim continues:

If instead you look at your members and see the strongest member group is aging, it will be an existential problem someday and they're already feeling the effects. Then maybe AR could be used as a draw to get young families through the door and campaigns like that could help solve that problem.

It would be interesting to find out whether some implementation of AR could itself draw younger audiences or whether it might just contribute to certain audiences perceiving the museum as being more modern, relevant, or relatable in some way.

What excites me the most about any technology or system is when it can be used as a tool to absorb information as well as distribute information. That information can then be used to help decision-makers understand their audiences and make improvements that will benefit the organization and patrons. Websites can do that for organizations now. They’re no longer simply broadcast mechanisms (or they don’t have to be).

Maybe we’ve stumbled upon some kind of heuristic here — When evaluating whether to adopt a technology, you could look at whether it’s able to function in several ways at once. Can it serve its nominal purpose while also being used to generate valuable feedback that can be used to improve the organization as a whole? If so, it may have greater value and have matured to a point where it’s a safer investment.

Evaluating software and technology is a topic that’s been surfacing a lot in my world lately. Maybe we should look at that more in future letters.

Meantime, as always, I welcome your thoughts on this — hit reply and let me know your take on this or any other topic that strikes you.

Thanks for reading,


Kyle Bowen