Inside the Collection

Self-guided walking tour mobile app reviewed

The release of another self guided walking tour (part one of the new ‘Exploring old Sydney’ series on the Powerhouse Museum walking tours iPhone application) marks a perfect opportunity to critically review how this product has performed to date. For those adverse to detail, key lessons are highlighted in bold.

A significant technical factor in the Museums quick transition from original tour idea to app release has been the My Tours solution. Its use highlights the strengths that a software as a service methodology can offer. In the Galleries, Libraries and Museum (GLAM) sector there is no need (and often budget) to reinvent the wheel for certain digital products. My Tours is an example of a competent package that works well to cover a common GLAM experience like audio tours. Treating ‘software as a service’ gives our curatorial staff the opportunity to focus on the all important content creation aspect of product development.

Since launching June 2010, around 4,000 people downloaded the App. Beyond interest in brand or service, it is difficult to come to any direct conclusions from application download metrics alone, though I notice many in our industry do try. The real data comes from:

1. Downloads of individual tours within the app.
2. In app behaviour, such as tour completion rates, in app downloads and access to other features.

The data we have in this area does not have 100% coverage as its collection relies on the tour being used with an active internet connection. This is not always the case but there is enough data to draw some strong conclusions.

Smart phone showing list of available tours
Home screen with list of available tours

The tours home screen has been uniquely viewed over 5,000 times since launch. We are confident that of the 4,000 people who downloaded the App a healthy percentage have taken the effort to launch the application at least once. That said, there is no evidence strong evidence for sustained repeated use of the app that would be highlighted by multiple hits to this page. This is not surprising to us given the number of new tours offered since the initial launch release of 3 tours. When it comes to ongoing engagement, constantly updated content is king for repeated use.

Smart phone showing 'about this tour'
About this tour screen

The about this tour screen is used to download AND launch an individual tour. This screens have been uniquely viewed around 1,600 times for each free tour. Download logs indicated that 38% of people who viewed this screen downloaded the App. This is a better download rate then we had expected. But if you look at the number of unique visits to the first stop on the free tours, only 25% of people who download the app itself convert to viewing one or more tours. The important lesson here is you should never measure success by App downloads alone. It is misleading to think, X number of people have downloaded our App, thus X number of people have engaged with our content.

In that vain, what about tour completion rates. Who actually reaches the last stop, where do they start to drop off in a tour and so on? This can tell you a lot about the quality of engagement your content creates. For free tours the percentage of people who start and complete a tour is between 30 and 35%. Not surprisingly this rises to over 50% for the paid Sydney heritage pub tour but not necessarily because it is a better tour. The relative rate (or trend) at which people drop off follows a similar shape for both free and paid content. This highlights the impact of paying for an experience has on user engagement. People who pay for content are more committed to fully experiencing the App.

Smart phone showing 'tour stop'
Tour stop screen

Of significant note, only 2% of people who downloaded the App have opted to pay for the Sydney heritage pub crawl tour. We have been experimenting with the ‘freemium’ model to see what works and what does not. Paid digital content still represents a challenge for the GLAM sector. We can see that represented in the percentage of paid vs free tour downloads. Whilst some may emphasize pricing point concerns, deeper issues exist around the ‘freemium’ model.

Whilst value is provided straight away with a number of free tours, that value proposition creates immediate tension between those tours valued at free verses paid. The majority of consumers know that the app features and performance will be identical, paid or not. That leaves the only significant point of difference being the ‘quality’ of the experience. And quality is most often directly related to production effort.

It is near impossible to justify in app purchases to your customers based on the number of extra production hours your team put in to the tour. Really what you are doing is pitching your sale like this. ‘Be sympathetic towards us and pay for this, we put a lot of effort in’. The issue here is that this is a difficult sales pitch. I would argue you are not going to achieve any significant sales using only this approach. It is much more realistic to look at your audience and ask yourself (or more importantly them!), ‘what is compelling about this additional purchase’. What makes our customers say ‘I need to have that.’ Tough call in the GLAM sector I know.

It may well be that from the outset you need to make a decision to either go completely free or completely paid. The Sydney Observatory walking tour is a purchase only app. It has seen over 130 downloads in a similar period. The statics here highlight that the choice between paid or free content is strongly related to how many people will engage with your content. It plays into the almost universal truth that free information travels further.

When the Powerhouse Museum Tours App was featured in the iTunes store, we saw a significant but short lived spike in downloads. Having digital marketplaces feature your app helps kick start uptake but the long tail requires a more sustained marketing strategy. I believe we failed to initially market the tours within the Museum visitor experience. This has been changing with the reintroduction of digital signage as part of the revitalisation project, plus training sessions with all floor staff around our mobile products. It is still to early in that process to make any calls on the success or failure of these initiatives. Never the less offline marketing and staff training is critical and should not be undervalued as we had initially done.

Our updates, in the form of new tours, have also been spread to thin. This shows a hole in the web team’s content strategy which we are now addressing. Sustainability and maintainability of digital experiences are key factors to long tail success. Remember the early days of the web, when you had that under-construction animated image appearing on sites. It was a promise to your visitors that work on your site was ongoing. Those little animated images began to disappear when people realised that information is never complete. Any website not under construction is dead. The same principle applies to the walking tours app. For us, the gap between initial and follow up tours content has been far too great. This is now being addressed with more tours under production but given the ease at which tours can be curated there is no technical reason why this gap existed. Having a long term content strategy, appropriately resourced is a must. We have been much more successful with this with our Love Lace exhibition app, as it is regularly updated with new features and content (audio tour coming out soon!).

We are looking forward to future iterations of the MyTours product, particularly as it is ported to more and more mobile platforms. Our aim is to gain audience in as many significant device markets as possible. Windows Phone 7 is now supported by MyTours but our data indicates that the market share is below 100 Museum website visitors per month. Certainly, in the Android market we are seeing some big growth. My Tours is expected to release an Android version any day now, they say this was based on the requests from clients. Making data driven decisions really helps you focus efforts. We are fortunate that My Tours has demonstrated an active interest in building in features that are requested by institutional and individual users.

Looking further ahead we expect to release new tours covering more of our collection in content. The Exploring old Sydney series has markets for tourist, local studies and general interest categories so we will continue to focus efforts in these mixed audience tours.


About this Author: Nicolaas Earnshaw is a Senior Online Producer with the Powerhouse Museum’s Digital, Social & Emerging Technologies team.

8 responses to “Self-guided walking tour mobile app reviewed

  • That’s a really useful review. 

    I’d add that there are other non-user metrics that this project might be fruitfully measured by such as the upskilling of curatorial staff in authoring and testing content for mobile (as well as thinking about how to engage visitors outside of the museum itself).

    The use of Google Analytics in MyTours is not the most robust way of measuring interactions and it would be interesting to compare with the data from Flurry in other apps.

    And at the end of the day, 4000 downloads isn’t too shabby in the museum world – especially given the circumstances you’ve outlined.

    • I totally agree regarding up skill of those who know the content. I’m actually writing another post of that right now.

      Agreed on use of flurry. Will talk to mytours about that feature request.

      • Let me look at putting Flurry in along with GA. It would be interesting to see the differences in stats. We used GA originally as it was something we knew but always happy to look at other solutions.

        • Cheers Glen, we’ve used flurry a bit in our apps (love lace particularly) and we like what it can do. Let us know what you think.

  • That’s a really useful review. 

    I’d add that there are other non-user metrics that this project might be fruitfully measured by such as the upskilling of curatorial staff in authoring and testing content for mobile (as well as thinking about how to engage visitors outside of the museum itself).

    The use of Google Analytics in MyTours is not the most robust way of measuring interactions and it would be interesting to compare with the data from Flurry in other apps.

    And at the end of the day, 4000 downloads isn’t too shabby in the museum world – especially given the circumstances you’ve outlined.

    • I totally agree regarding up skill of those who know the content. I’m actually writing another post of that right now.

      Agreed on use of flurry. Will talk to mytours about that feature request.

      • Let me look at putting Flurry in along with GA. It would be interesting to see the differences in stats. We used GA originally as it was something we knew but always happy to look at other solutions.

        • Cheers Glen, we’ve used flurry a bit in our apps (love lace particularly) and we like what it can do. Let us know what you think.

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