Heritage Walks in the Digital Age
By Kelly Cannon-Miller
There have been many interactive technologies come and go for museums. The moment cell phones became more than just phones was defining for the future of the museum-to-visitor interface. Your visitor kindly walked through the door with a mobile device in their pocket or purse! In addition, the combination of smart phones and social media allows visitors to become your best marketers by posting/tweeting/pinning their activities during their visit to a museum or while attending a museum event.
Thanks to grant funding from the Oregon Heritage Commission, the Deschutes County Historical Society took the plunge into the “mobile app” pool. At first, the seeming limitlessness of a mobile app spun images of best-mobile-app-ever-invented in our heads. Museum staff routinely ask themselves key development questions when planning new exhibits and programs—who are we hoping to attract, how do we want them to use this, what do we want them to learn? The new challenge lies in matching desired outcomes to the properties of a good mobile app.
The new Bend Heritage Walk mobile app for iPhone and Android devices provides a personal tour of some of downtown Bend’s landmarks historical sites. The app features audio narration describing the historic site, a written narrative for those who prefer to read, and historical photographs for each site. GPS capability guides the user to the next location. Additional information includes seek and find hints, links to current businesses operating at the historical sites, and other things to do along the way. On the About Us button, users learn about the Deschutes County Historical Society, see links to our YouTube channel, and can find out about the Oregon Heritage Commission. All along the route, users can “check-in” on Facebook, hopefully drawing in new users.
Our mission with the Bend Heritage Walk mobile app is to provide an interpretive experience in downtown Bend and encourage museum visitation. Using the app, individuals can view historic photographs of the place before them, and hopefully that will tempt locals as much as tourists. The desire to add more information still lingers, with a growing list of “next year when we update …” line items. Most importantly, user feedback on this first-time program will inform us in creating improvements and additions as we move more fully into the world of digital interactive programs.
Kelly Cannon-Miller is the Executive Director of the Deschutes County Historical Society