Location, location, location! The proliferation of indoor positioning and what it means and doesn’t mean for museums

Matthew Tarr, American Museum of Natural History, USA

Published paper: Location, location, location! The proliferation of indoor positioning and what it means and doesn’t mean for museums

Many venues are in the process of adopting indoor positioning systems (IPS) and wayfinding solutions, incorporating them into mobile apps, and hoping to improve visitor experience while gathering meaningful analytics. Industry giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple are moving into the space (on the heels of a deluge of startups), mapping civic centers, hospitals, airports, stadiums, amusement parks, and even museums. With a clear view of the sky and a smartphone, there is no longer any reason to ask directions. Why shouldn’t this same device provide us with this information during out time indoors? “Indoor location” is on track to become commonplace, but that doesn’t make it easy.

What is “location”? The familiar “blue dot” (often used as a synonym for “location awareness”) is not one singular technology. Digital “wayfinding” is made up of at least the following three interrelated components: locations, maps, and routes.

Location is simply one of the critical aspects of the “context awareness” that visitors are coming to expect. These mobile devices could certainly create value for the visitor by determining WHAT they are actually trying to find, not just how to get there.

While it is critical that we keep up with visitor expectations and provide context-aware services (including location), it is equally important that we don’t give ourselves and our visitors a partial picture. IPS will give analytics about what the user is doing (what, where, and when). However, even the most elegant, thoughtful, and exciting digital experience will capture only a fraction of the total visitorship, and of that fraction only a subset of their actions will be handled via the mobile device. What about the other interactions they have with the Museum?

Location should be a native data point for all interactions. If we include “location” data with every recorded transaction, not only those via the mobile app, we can start to make a complete picture of a visitor’s behavior and preferences.

AMNH app Explorer version 1
Forrester Feb 2103: “Next in Tech: indoor positioning”
Gartner May 2014: Innovation Insight: Indoor Location Technologies — The Looming Battle Between Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Other Wireless Technologies
Independent analysis
8-week engagement to study the state of the art for IPS as we embark on updating our Explorer app