Location-Based Services

What are Location-based services?

Location-based services are a range of services that deliver content to users based on their specific location at the time. Location-based services generally are provided via a smartphone or other GPS-enabled Internet device. The 2010 Horizon Report: Museum Edition anticipates these services becoming commonplace for museums in two to three years. In current applications, the user downloads an application and accepts the application's use of their current location.

Location-based services can deliver information in:

  • a two way exchange of information between a device and a service;
  • one direction, with users receiving information without sending information (other than their location).

What can location-based services do?

Location-based services allow you to:

  • alert users to offers based on the users' location;
  • award members via loyalty programs when visitors check in;
  • provide information relevant to users' location; and
  • alert users to other things of potential interest nearby.

Why use location-based services?

Museums can create their own location-based services to provide relevant information such as access to additional text or audiovisual contextual information that may supplement information where the user is. You could also direct visitors to other related content via a map, although this requires GPS application development experience. Even without application development, there are ways for your museum to explore the use of available free location-based services. Foursquare, for example, is a social application that allows users to participate in a game-like environment by winning points and badges for checking in at various locations. You could offer discounts in your gift shop and other enticements could be offered to visitors who check in frequently. Museums can also take advantage of the 'tip' feature in Foursquare to leave tips about something the museum wants to promote.

Who is using Location-based services?

Some museums have started to experiment with location based services. Examples of such projects include:

  • The Vancouver Police Museum, which offers discounts to the mayor (most frequent visitor) of their museum;
  • the Montreal Museums app includes a feature that uses GPS to identify nearby museums; and
  • the Vancouver Biennale created an artwork tour in Gowalla.

What are the considerations?

There are always issues to take into consideration when using proprietary applications, especially one which relies on users adding comments and tips. You will have no control over related content, or any affiliations that the application creator may create. However, it is likely that your institution is already represented in applications such as Foursquare, and possibly Gowalla, so it is worth monitoring mentions of your location in these applications. Also, applications like Foursquare and Gowalla are simple to work with, so there is not a large investment of time other than developing a plan (what benefit you want to offer visitors and what you hope to achieve), and monitoring the outcome.

Some people are unlikely to use applications of this nature, due to their feelings about privacy considerations regarding providing location information. However, these applications do allow individuals to set their own privacy settings.

When deciding whether or not to take advantage of existing location-based services, museums will have to consider the likelihood of their visitors using such a service, and what the museum might be able to get from it (loyal visitors, perhaps). Location-based services are likely to become more and more popular, as the number of visitors equipped with smartphones increase, and it is worth considering what other types of location-based services might benefit institutions in the coming years.

Contact information for this web page

This resource was published by the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN). For comments or questions regarding this content, please contact CHIN directly. To find other online resources for museum professionals, visit the CHIN homepage or the Museology and conservation topic page on Canada.ca.

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