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5 Ingredients for a Successful Mobile Standard

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend a few days in London at the 2010 Tate Handheld Conference where a group of really smart folks were gathered to plan and brainstorm ways that museums can take advantage of new advances in mobile technology.

Planning the Future of Museum Mobile Experiences @ Tate

Many of you may know that the IMA has been really active in building mobile content for our main website, our special exhibitions, and 100 Acres.  One of the things I love about working at the IMA is that we always try to give a little love back to our museum buddies when we undertake new projects.  That’s why we’ve made all the software for these mobile experiences available for free to anyone who’d like to play around with them.

While I’m happy that many museums can pick these tools up and use them for their own content, it won’t be the right solution for everyone.  In fact, it only solves just part of the problem.

One of the things we talked a lot about this year at the conference was the need for a common standard for the mobile tours that so many museums are creating.  The danger with such a quickly changing technical playing field is that the choices we make today will certainly be different this time next year.  We risk losing the investment in content we are making today if we don’t anticipate and plan for the changes that we know are coming.

That’s why a group of us (museums, vendors, and other experts) met together after the conference was over to begin to plan and document a potential standard for the mobile content we’re creating.  We had some great conversation and have a good start on some common language that will be really useful as we move forward together.

To keep the fire burning a bit and to hopefully engage all of you – dear reader – in some useful conversation, I’ve put together what I think are:

5 Ingredients Required for a Successful Mobile Standard

  1. Simplicity – Let’s face it, there are a lot of standards proposed in the world that are rarely used to solve real problems.  I’m a firm believer in fact that a standard is only “standard” in as much as people use it.  Keeping it simple is important to ensure that the standard can be easily understood in one sitting, can be easily implemented by museums and vendors, and can easily integrate with museums’ existing tools.
  2. 80% Rule – Not that we’re underachievers, but shooting for a comprehensive standard is the quickest way to ensure failure.  With technology changing so quickly, seeking to cover only 80% of the most common types of content and tours might allow us to actually finish and put this standard to use (see rule #1)
  3. Extensibility – If we are not going to shoot for 100% coverage in our standard, then it will be important that users have some easy way to add their own “secret sauce” to the mix without breaking the rules.  All the successful standards efforts I know of include some way to grow and adapt to changes. Think about the ways we’ve seen the HTML and CSS standards grow and change over time. As we get smarter and smarter about the ways we want to create mobile content, we’ll certainly need to adapt our initial version of a standard to be smarter too.
  4. Smart People – Speaking of smart… team work and contributions from  really smart people will certainly be the make-or-break ingredient that determines whether we can succeed in creating this standard.  Would you please consider being involved with us? Don’t feel that you have to be a standards expert in order to contribute something valuable to the mix.  In fact, very few of us are standards experts, and we could really use your best ideas to make this thing work!  I’ll share some specific ways you can help at the end of this article.
  5. Determination – Success in this area will require some real commitment on the part of museums and vendors to make it all work.  The standard will require some early adopters to take the plunge and use this standard in practice to sort out all the kinks.  The IMA is willing to do this, and I hope that a lot of you will be too. It may take us a little while to see the fruits of our labor, but it would seem silly to keep investing the amount of money and effort we are already pouring in without at least giving it our best attempt.

How can you get involved?

If you’re interested in learning more, you can track our progress on the Museum Mobile Wiki here:  You can also read the notes from our first meeting in London.  We’ll be updating and refining those notes as we go, so stay tuned for more information.  Please add comments or thoughts to those pages with any questions or ideas you might have.  You can also track the current version of the TourML XML Standard here:  Those schema documents will be changing soon to reflect the initial conversations from the London meeting.

Most of All

Come to the next edition of the Museum Mobile Summit to be held on October 27, 2010 in Austin, TX.  This meeting is free and we hope you will attend.  Please let me know if you plan to be there so we can have enough chairs!  The US version of this meeting will continue where the UK summit left off and will align nicely with the MCN Annual Conference that week as well!

Thanks! -Rob

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