From March through July 2018, the Brooklyn Museum was the home of the multimedia exhibition David Bowie is. It was the twelfth and final stop for this show, which originated at the Victoria & Albert in London five years earlier, and our curator Matthew Yokobosky expanded and reshaped it for its grand finale here.
Two specific things made this exhibition different for ASK. First, all visitors had to turn off their phones when they entered in order to eliminate signal interference with the immersive audio they’d be experiencing through headphones. (Furthermore, photography was not allowed.) Second, this exhibition had ticketed and timed entry.
Working around that first limitation—no app chats within the show itself —we figured that we’d make the most of the “captive audience” in the entry waiting area. We’d turn things around and ask visitors the questions by offering a Bowie trivia quiz.
This offering would be promoted through stanchion signs near the show entrance and by a prompt on the wall of the waiting space, where people would queue until their entry times. We limited it to our SMS/texting option to keep things simple.
Meanwhile, the ASK team compiled a trivia quiz with two levels, one for beginners and one for super-fans. (The initial two questions were the same, and acted as a “filter” to help us steer the user into one of those categories.) The questions ranged from mainstream (“Bowie acted throughout his career. Can you name a movie he appeared in?”) through more obscure (“Bowie performed in several bands before striking out on his own as a solo act. Can you name one?”). For each question, the team also prepared an extra fun fact or bit of “edutainment” to share after the correct answer.
As the exhibition began to sell out day after day, the waits to enter the galleries increased, and lines lengthened, we found that the number of chats was becoming too large for our team to handle. They received anywhere from 50 to 150 chats per day, and usually only two people were running the dashboard. Moreover, we’d guessed that most visitors would drop out after a few questions, but that wasn’t the case. Many of them were following the quiz to the end, through all nineteen questions. (Some of them would stop and then attempt to finish the quiz later, from home! However, we didn’t reply to those after-hours chats.)
Now that we were victims of our own success, we tried to scale back somehow. We created a stanchion sign without any mention of the trivia quiz to use during peak hours, in order to minimize promotion, but visitors still noticed the wall prompt. Since the use rate showed no sign of dropping, we decided that the quiz process needed to be retooled behind the scenes. Our developer Jacki sat down with the ASK team and took a close look at our situation. She came up with a new feature to streamline the process of asking and answering questions (the same ones, over and over!) and, we hoped, make the process smoother and quicker.
Although ASK normally avoids cutting-and-pasting text into our chats, in order to keep things feeling personal and fresh, we’d been making an exception for Bowie trivia—after all, it it was a straightforward quiz. The team members had been cutting-and-pasting questions, answers, and extra facts from their trivia spreadsheet. Now, instead of working from a separate document, they were able to stay within the ASK dashboard and conduct the quiz from an in-dashboard panel of buttons or “tiles.” These tiles could be clicked to populate the chat automatically with their text. Jacki even created an extra set of tiles with phrases like “Great answer!” and “That’s not quite right, would you like to try again?” to use as transitions.
With this feature, the pressure of handling such a large volume of quiz chats at such a high speed was eased a bit. Visitors expressed their enjoyment of the quiz and were often witty as well as knowledgeable in their answers. It was still a very busy time, but we’re glad we made those changes when we did, and we’ll be able to utilize the tiles feature for any future games or contests we might plan. And since an estimated 4,700 people participated in the Bowie trivia quiz (not counting the ones who attempted to play from home!), there’s a good chance we’ll do something similar in the future if a good opportunity presents itself!
Jessica Murphy, Manager of Visitor Engagement, joined the Brooklyn Museum in 2015 as a member of the ASK team. In her current position she leads the team in their interactions with the Museum’s visitors through the ASK app and coordinates their ongoing training and development. Jessica received her B.A. from Fordham University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Art History (with a concentration in American Art) from the University of Delaware. She previously worked as Research Associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (contributing to exhibitions and publication such as “Alfred Stieglitz and His Artists: Matisse to O’Keeffe” and “The American West in Bronze”), as Contractual Educator at the Met, and as Curatorial Assistant at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She has also worked as a freelance writer on cultural topics. She welcomes any opportunity, in any medium, to connect people and art.