I like to visit museums, exhibitions and other attractions and I have noticed that there is nothing in common when it comes to audio guide systems. If the guide system exists at all, it is typically as close to chaotic as it could be: staff is too busy to help visitors, devices are not charged completely and visitor runs out of power, one wrong key press and language changes to something far too exotic, volume level is going up and down without any reason and so on. In short: systems are unstable and they require way too much support from staff.
Why not use mobile phones instead?
Replacing museum audio guides with mobile phones is something that could make sense. There are many possible ways how to technically implement this: people could make a call to museum’s audio guide number and then “press 1 if you are at the first floor” and so on. Another possibility is that people could download audio files to their phones and listen those with built-in audio player. As you might guess, there are lots of obstacles for this scenario (but none of those impossible), not least that people are uncertain about the costs of such a system and hence they might not want to use it. Well, this will change over time.
Where could people then find the downloadable audio guides as there is no default start page for museum visitors? This is a job that someone talented web 2.0 guru could solve by creating a site where museum community could post data and promote their offerings. Consider also that today museums try to get more revenue by selling small souvenirs and memorabilia to visitors; this site could be a new sales channel for museums and hence switch old money consuming audio guide system to a new source of income.
I saved the best part to last: this new portal&audio guide solution would open up the possibility for community created museum related content. No matter which museum you are about to visit, you can be sure that there is a very devoted group of people that knows everything about some special topic presented in museum; whether it is pots, pans, sticks, dresses, paintings or whatever. Their voice can be made heard by solution that would allow “community created museum audio guides accessible from global museum portal”. That would give museums a Long Tail (if you are fed up with long tail -talks, I apologize. I couldn’t resist mentioning it here, because long tail this is).