(post) digital visitors

qr codesGiving my presentation today at Museums and the Web’s 20th anniversary conference so that is a special thrill. My paper is online here and in the conference proceedings (thanks Nancy and Rich!) so I’m not actually talking about that. Instead, have decided to let the visitors speak about their reactions to digital (and a few other things) in museums and see where this takes us. These are categorised under a number of visitor typologies – please note that there are by no means mutually exclusive or even exclusively mine. They are just some thought-starters to give a taste of my current thinking.

First, what has changed in 20 years?

1996 2016
Curatorship as museum practice Curatorship as everyday practice
‘Content is king’ ‘Context is king’
Phonebook Facebook
Fax Snapchat
Encyclopaedia Wikipedia
MySpace Shared space
© Museum “Click here to share”
Museum as social experience Museum as connected experience
Single platform Multiple platforms
‘Cruisy’ ‘Stress-y’
Analogue Digital

Second, who are these visitors and what do they think?

The multiplatform visitor multi platform

The box ticker

  • “[we] have the experience [at the museum] and not worry about it after we leave, we just move on to something else.”
  • “It wouldn’t be for me as I get a lot here and don’t feel the need to do more”
  • “For us it’s about the experience on the day. Once I’m home I move on to other things”
  • “The reality is that kids will go on to Google to find out more [so] why not put your resource there?”

The organised visitor

  • “We’re exhausted after the visit – but before the visit is critical. [we] use the website for what’s on”
  • [it would be] Something to talk to the kids about and condition them into the experience”
  • “We are used to pre-teaching excursion and tour resources on devices”
  • [gives me] time to research and add more information to enhance student enjoyment and their learning”

The curious visitor

  • Motivation: when people were highly curious to find out the answer to a question, they were better at learning that information
  • Serendipity: once their curiosity was aroused, they showed better learning of entirely unrelated information that they encountered but were not necessarily curious about
  • ‘At the end of the day, museums might be better at provoking curiosity than satisfying it’ (Spock, 2006, p.178)

The social visitor

  • “Headphones are a me experience, not a we experience”
  • [my] family will ‘peel off’ and do their own thing and have a different experience. I’m interested in historic artefacts, our children are 7-15, the older is history and naval implements like old compasses, our middle child [interested in] tech and early equipment, our seven year old is more tactile, cause and effect. [the interactive] table is an invitation to diversity and individual need, want and curiosity”
  • “I learned more about my friends. I didn’t know they were even interested in tattoos, let alone have any”

The Googler

  • “I’m here to see some awesome dinosaurs and to hang out with my friends. I’ll Google it  later”
  • “Just give me a curated set of links so I don’t have to Google it myself”

The divided visitor

Forget the digital divide … there’s the digitally divided!

  • HER: “[I] wouldn’t want to encourage bringing a device [as] on a day out we’re away from screens”
  • HIM: “The more you put on [mobiles] the better”

Finally (and I hear this a lot), there is the worried visitor

  • “… what if I drop or damage [the museum’s device]? What if I forget to give it back? What if it’s Android and I’m an Apple user? …”
  • “If he’s happy [my son] then I can get on with it”
  • “I don’t want to waste five minutes downloading something that I don’t know we’d like, especially when I’m with the kids”
  • “What if my tablet falls in the water?”
  • “Is there Wi-Fi?”

So, what does this mean?

  • The pathways visitors take within both physical and online experiences are primarily dependant on their prior knowledge and interests
  • Coupled with their [oft] expressed desire to be transported and learn something new in a place of wonder …

To meet the needs of the 2036 visitor WE need to be: tech image

  • Agile
  • Flexible
  • Open-minded
  • Have a sense of humour
  • Trust – in technology and human nature
  • Be curious
  • And, keep the visitor / end-user at the core of all we do


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