As a public archaeologist, I have to know what interests the public and try to use that interest to promote archaeology. Since my focus is archaeotourism, I wanted to see how the latest trend could be used to engage the public with archaeology. The trend for the moment is smart phones with its myriad of apps. I am testing out two apps, Foursquare and SCVNGR, to see how they can increase visits to cultural resources in the West Central Region Center (WCRC) and how effectively they can engage the public with archaeology.
If you are not familiar with these applications, Foursquare and SCVNGR are geographically-centered social media. The way it works is that you use your GPS-enhanced smart phone to “check-in” to your current location. This action rewards you points. You can earn more points by taking pictures, or saying something about the place. SCVNGR includes challenges to earn even more points and unlock rewards, while in Foursquare you can become mayor of your favorite places. So, what’s the point to all this?
These apps encourage people to get creative about exploring new places by sharing their activities with their friends. Checking into a new category gets you more points. For example, if you have never visited a museum because you prefer to frequent pizza joints then you get bonus points for that. So the apps also encourage you to diversify your “exploration portfolio” (copyrights to this term are sole property of Zaida Darley). Therefore, I thought I could use these apps to assess people’s wanderlust. Since my focus is site-seeing, I decided to test these apps out on FPAN WCRC events and our archaeotourism projects.
I added our office location and created accounts for FPAN WCRC on Foursquare and SCVNGR. I am proud to brag that I am now the mayor of FPAN WCRC, and with my new leadership role I plan to….um, I guess continue going to work and checking in since I have no power. Wait, I think I can get Super Mayor status or something, maybe then I can cause change. In the meantime, I will see how many people will go through the trouble of coming to our office or finding us at events. The first challenge is finding our office because we are tucked away in the “time-out” corner of USF…and yes, we are still on campus property. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
As for engaging the public with these apps, I have some concerns. For example, I used these apps during the USF Botanical Garden Spring Sale event in April. We had a table tucked away in a quiet corner of the garden, so to drum up business I checked-in to the location and encouraged people to visit the FPAN table. During the process of checking-in to Facebook, SCVNGR, and Foursquare, I found myself becoming disengaged from the actual event. During that time, at least five people came and left the table. Rae and I were both at this event so no one was ignored but I noticed how my attention was taken away. This also happens with Twitter, or just plain texting.
So how much time can someone invest in these apps before it sacrifices interaction with people present? Should a person be dedicated to this form of interaction? Should we treat it as a virtual event and have staff present to take care of the virtual public in a similar fashion as any real-world event? In addition, how engaging are these apps? Moreover, how do you assess that engagement?
No one came to our table even though I could see that about a dozen people had checked-in. I can’t be sure if any of those people stopped by our table. If they did come to our table, then they didn’t acknowledge our virtual presence. This happens at other places as well. For example, a friend that owns a café has his place on Foursquare and offers free drinks by just mentioning that you saw the place on the app. Within the last six months, I was the second person to make this acknowledgement even though my friend could see that people were in fact checking in.
These apps may encourage people to visit new places but not exactly encourage social engagement with new people. Which is ironic if this is social media. Answering challenge questions, like on SCVNGR, may be one way to assess if people are learning something about a site or at an event.
So I begin my social media experiment with excitement and concerns. I will keep people updated on the blog as to the progress of my experiment. And hope that I give up my mayor’s crown because of the popularity and effectiveness of this new trend.