What does success look like for museum QR code usage?

Image from IWM Family in Wartime Gallery

We all know that developing ways to define, evaluate and ultimately measure the success of digital activities is an issue faced by all parts of the cultural sector.  It’s a difficult task, particularly as definitions are still fluid, and what is measured is ultimately down to the requirements of funding rather than visitor engagement.

So as part of the Social Interpretation Project we have done a lot of thinking about how to evaluate success on all three digital outputs.  For online success we have taken a lot of ques from Culture 24 lets Get Real Report.

But for Digital interactives on the gallery floor and QR codes we’ve had to be a bit more inventive. By inventive, I mean ask other people what they have done.

We’re going to try and tackle QR code success criteria first.  This is where the twitters came in.  I asked

“ Does anyone have any benchmarks for success on QR code usage that they would be willing to share with us for #socialInterp?”

And I had a great response.

First up looking at some of the scan rates of QR code use in museums.

QRpedia use at Fundació Miró

Here QR codes were placed alongside 18 of the most prominent artworks of the exhibition. These codes linked to Wikipedia articles. The sample is from October 1, 2011 – March 30, 2012 (data taken from here)

The scan rate is pretty impressive!

month scans
OCT 2124
NOV 2293
DEC 1990
JAN 1966
FEB 2014
MAR 1994
Total scans 12381

Next is

QRpedia use at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

The Children’s Museum has four QR codes against four specific labels. Again the codes linked to Wikipedia articles. The sample data is from June – November 2011. (data taken from here)

QR code label Scans Average scans/day
Broad Ripple Park Carousel 1300 8.5
Captain Kidd’s Cannon 797 8
Reuben Wells (locomotive) 378 3
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis(The Museum itself!) 69 1
Total scans  2,544

These QRpedia examples, with really impressive scan numbers give QR code use in Museums hope.  However when not linked with Wikipedia, QR code usage leaves a lot to be desired.

Brooklyn Museum have done various trails with QR codes, and admitted to multiple fails, including a five fold drops in traffic.

So should we all be linking QR codes to Wikimedia?  Shelley asks “Could Wikipedia get visitors over QR code hump of technical hurdles and poor user experience?” 

But then comes another benchmark case study

QR code implementation in the Love Lace Exhibition, Powerhouse Museum

Data below is from a 4 weeks period. (data taken from here)

What’s nice here is that the Powerhouse built a bespoke app, with a QR code scanner built in, just as we are doing with IWM.  So it was really interesting to see the number of app downloads.

iOS Androids
Downloads 572 165
Sessions 3,126 502

When it comes to actual scans – has had 844 scans including 45 failed scans and 17 non-exhibition codes. Despite many objects not being scanned at all, 844 scans in a 4 week period is massive!

During the course of the Social Interp project we’ve had a few mental fisty cuffs about the use of QR codes.  In an post on the Social Interp Blog  I asked several questions: Are the useful? Are they just a transient technology? Are they even a technology? How do they help visitor experience? Where do they lead the visitor once they have scanned it? And ultimately who actually scans QR codes? Is it just us?

We haven’t really reached any conclusion on this, but in reality whether you love them or hate them (yes QR codes are the marmite of the digital tech museum world) the fact remains that QR codes are an incredibly cheap, easy and compelling way to provide information, get visitors interacting, and illicit responses from them.

Now I have a couple more questions to add to the QR conundrum list:

  • Should all QR code content take the QRpedia approach, and utilising an already existing, well used platform?
  • Will a bespoke Museum specific application solve the barriers to access when using QR codes?

Any answers or other benchmarks for QR code usage in museums would be gratefully received!

So this hasn’t really given us some clear cut success measurements, other than number of scans and number of app downloads.  You can break that down into time spent on page, shares etc.   But if we can get anywhere near the QRpedia case studies, I’ll be more than happy.

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Cultural QR codes in the Wild

image from: http://blogs.ukoln.ac.uk/cultural-heritage/2011/01/10/decoding-art/

Prompted by a comment by Mable from Aqueducks on an earlier blog post about QR codes I thought the use of QR codes in outside spaces deserved more of a dedicated post.  Mike Ellis’ recent post about QR codes discussed how they are becoming more apparent in the real world; they are in supermarkets, on public transport, in magazines and in museums.  But I haven’t really considered the use of QR codes in the wild, wet and windy real world of outside spaces. Below are three great examples of utilisng QR codes in outside spaces. I’m sure there are many many more.

Mable shared with me work she has been doing at Llangollen Canal in Chirk Bank  with using QR codes and blue tooth transmission direct to phones.  I particularly liked that they have been using Laminated QR codes as tea coasters for the ladies who do teas in the chapel hall for visitors, a brilliant idea to encourage visitors whilst they are enjoying a cup of tea to find out more information.

Mable also discussed the issues using the technology in Outdoor environments.  There is a tendency to have patchy mobile signal coverage to start with, which is the main reason why Aqueducks tried using bluetooth transmissions.

Both are affected by trees in leaf, and particularly wet trees in leaf, so that for example a blue tooth transmitter with a given range of 2 km, will not in practice give more than 100m or so, under damp summer conditions. The positives are that small laminated prints of the QR code are unobstrusive and do not need expensive panels and posts, and can be managed by our small community group with no facilities or much funding!  This sort of interpretation is relatively cheap so available for small groups.  The blue tooth transmitters allow one to target and change for specific events too.

I think Mable highlights very well the positive and negatives to using QR codes outdoors.  To be honest I hadn’t really considered the challenges to utilising QR codes in outdoor environments before.

Manchester Art Gallery have dabbled with a pilot project in 2010 using QR codes outdoors with their Decoding Art walking tour.   20 of the city’s public monuments where the artworks have had QR codes embedded into them.  The pilot project looked to provide information about the artworks instantly to mobile devices as “It’s very easy to walk past many of Manchester’s public monuments without ever spending time thinking about who or what they’re about and why they’re there.”

Once scanned the QR code links to both audio and written information about the monuments. Martin Grimes has written an excellent post about Manchester Art Galleries experiences or using QR codes outside over on the Ukoln blog. One of the issues Martin highlighted was the ongoing concerns around the fixing of the QR labels to the public monuments. Particularly listed monuments, lead to the use of temporary vinyl labels, which may not be as aesthetically pleasing but they convey the message well enough.

Spot the QR code & speech bubble

Another use of QR codes in the wild is how the Comics Grid uses them, in almost a guerrilla style. The Comic Grid wanted people to find their blog (which has a mobile version) through curiosity.  Ernesto Priego stated that he wanted to take the blog outside its comfort zone and viceversa, tagging public spaces, events, and academic conferences with the Comics Grid.  I really like the idea of guerrilla style QR codes, there is a sense of adventure to it.  The concept of taking the Comics Grid’s blog out of its comfort zone is a nice one; a QR code certainly does that by pulling the blog into the real world.

All three examples are utilising an interesting means of conveying virtual information in outside public places.  I particularly like that small community groups like Aqueducks are experimenting with QR codes as a cheap and relatively easy way of communicating information to visitors.

Cultural QR codes in the wild are really great idea in principle, but there does seem to be a lot of problems to overcome particularly with the practical constraints of affixing QR codes outside, as well as dealing with flaky mobile signals.  More experimenting to be done methinks.