ASK, Brooklyn Museum’s new app

ASK, Brooklyn Museum’s new app

June 29, 2015 by We Are Museums

The Brooklyn Museum did it again. They’re one of these institutions that surprises you with cool new ideas when you’re least expecting it - and their latest one doesn’t disappoint. Still in the testing phase, « ASK » is an app that aims at changing the way the institution interacts with its audience.

So far, quite a few museums have dabbled with the whole live-questions idea. #AskACurator has been a big success, and similar operations are often held by museums or GLAMs on their Twitter accounts. Although these live questions sessions are fun, interesting, informative, and have the potential to bring in new audiences, they’re essentially limited in space and time. Often they’re held for event purposes (like the opening of an exhibition), and usually take place with visitors not being in the museum.

Rather than limiting these sessions in space and time, the Brooklyn Museum has decided that visitors should be able to reach them wherever, whenever, and especially when they’re visiting. The project is not the first of its kind (the contemporary art museum Les Abattoirs from Toulouse used Facebook Messenger during opening hours to reply to their online visitors, and more recently the Grand Palais - RMN started some Q/A sessions with curators), but it’s the first to have a dedicated app. Available on iPhone, Android, and on-site iPads, the app allows visitors to ask questions about the artworks they’re seeing to curators and members of the team who answer directly via the instant-messaging service. Although still in the testing phase, the app is encountering a lot of success. Two great things about the app: it makes the museum more human, and it helps visitors relate more easily with the works on display.

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The team behind the project has gone to great lengths to make sure users knew they were talking to a real person. They’ve even designed the app to look like the iMessage function of the iPhone so that users could feel like they were texting andhaving a normal, laid-back conversation. The members of the team who respond are also identified by name, and each have their own tone and way to address the visitors. In institutions the size of the Brooklyn Museum, it’s sometimes good to remind visitors that there are people and teams behind the walls of the museum.

By encouraging visitors to ask questions and giving them a simple, friendly app, the Brooklyn Museum is also letting its audience know that  it’s OK to need to ask. Visitors in museums can sometimes feel a little bit self conscious despite museums’ efforts to make their insttituions more relatable.  It can be hard to admit that no, you can’t remember who that painter was or well, you just can’t figure out what that painting means. The ASK app breaks down that barrier completely. It’s been working so well in fact, that visitors are spending more time observing the painting looking for questions to ask.

And also, think about it, next time your child asks you what the naked lady in the painting is doing, you can gladly refer them to the curators.

If you want to know more about the project, read about it on the Brooklyn museum’s blog or read this interview of the team behind the project