Audio that Moves You: Experiments with Location-aware storytelling in the SFMOMA app

Paper
Stephanie Pau, SFMOMA, USA

Published paper: Audio that moves you: experiments with location-aware storytelling in the SFMOMA app

A pagan, a high-wire walker, and the stars of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” walk into a museum…Whaaaaat? The expanded SFMOMA features a transformed digital program with mobile technology at its forefront. Promoted as a not-to-miss part of the reopened museum, SFMOMA’s new mobile app is designed to be a head-up, phone-in-pocket experience that harnesses the power of location aware technology to deliver surprising, intimate, and human-centered art stories you can only experience in situ. Hear how SFMOMA partnered with a tech start-up, audio storytellers, and voices from beyond the museum world to upend tried-and-true conventions of museum audio. Radio and podcast talent, fiction writers, stand up comedians, sports figures, and magicians are among the creative collaborators tapped to develop surprising, just-in-time moments. The resulting experience combines the production values of Radiolab with the (seeming) awareness of “Her” to create a unique style of audio storytelling that moves you—through space, across time, and most importantly, on a human level.

We’ll give a 360 degree view of the museum’s experimental approach to mobile storytelling—and how it’s landed (or not) with visitors. We’ll reveal the why and the how behind the app’s 20+ hours of new mobile content, and discuss ways in which the resulting stories present new (and hopefully more fun) possibilities for location-aware storytelling. We’ll also share findings from data collection and a recent mobile app evaluation. Along the way, we’ll address questions such as: How do you get institutional buy-in for decidedly unconventional ideas? What can museums learn from the radio and podcast renaissance? What do you gain—and what are the challenges of—creating linear, place-based audio journeys? Of the many content approaches experimented with in the app, which have resonated with visitors? And which have not?

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