Chatbots and cultural institutions : overview

Chatbots or conversational computer programs exist in numerous areas, particularly in the industrial, bank or business sectors, and they are finding their way more and more across the cultural field. In addition to discussing online with human beings, those bots allow companies and institutions to offer an interactive and diversified approach to their users. Such devices are increasingly adopted by cultural institutions both as a method of information and as a way to better mediate with their audience.

A chatbot is a computer program designed to interact with human users over instant messaging platforms or websites. It is possible to communicate with a chatbot either by voice or text messages. Contrary to an application, chatbots do not require to be downloaded to the phone to be used and as such, they do not take up storage space on the phone.

Chatbots : what uses for cultural institutions ?

A chatbot can be programmed to act as the visitor’s assistant. Thus, it can help visitors to plan their visit, support them throughout the exhibition, and importantly, provide complementary information. In order to assist the cultural institutions’ teams in answering frequent enquiries from their audience, a chatbot can be trained to answer a number of questions. Those multiple interactions between the chatbot and visitors also allow cultural places to gather useful data concerning their programming, their collections or to find out which information is most-requested by visitors. As such, it is possible to know which questions are most frequently asked by visitors or to know the events in which they are the most interested.

More broadly, a chatbot can be complementary to the already existing tools insofar as it can inform the visitor before the visit or actas a mediator during the course of the visit. In connecting users with services related to their request, the chatbot promotes the entire digital ecosystem of the cultural institution. It has huge potential in connecting people with organisations through text messages and the furnishing of information. Thus, the device can be simultaneously a guide, a ticket office, a shop, and more, and all of it is gathered in the same system. In addition to that, the device creates and fosters connections with the visitor, allowing an institution to attract and retain an audience.

Today, several cultural institutions have already launched a chatbot. By comparing the different devices developed by such institutions, we noticed that many chose to focus on informing the visitors before the visit, although innovative mediator chatbots have indeed been designed by certain amongst them.

Some examples of chatbots available prior to the visit

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam is the first museum to have initiated a chatbot. The device provides information regarding tickets, hours, price or accessibility, but also allows the visitor to learn more about the history of Anne Frank and the Second World War. The museum sees the chatbot as a way of extending its presence in the world by providing information in a new and innovative way rather than limiting visitors to the exploration of the website.

The Trente and Rovereto museum in Italia has as well created a chatbot giving practical information to the users. It also offers a mediation between the visitor and the museum, for example by listing by number the pieces of art in the museum.

The Cité de la Céramique in Sèvres has developed with Ask Mona the first french chatbot for museums. Directly available on the Facebook of the Cité de la Céramique, it has been designed to provide visitors with additional facts that are not available on the museum’s website and to answer what questions they may have. Thus, users can receive useful information adapted to their needs and their condition by communicating with the chatbot.

Some examples of chatbots used during the visit

The Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art in Argentina has decided to create, in collaboration with the communication agency BBDO, a chatbot allowing direct discussion with the museum’s collections through Facebook messenger. This device offers a mediation based on questions asked to the chatbot by the visitor about an artwork. The piece of art communicates directly with the visitor via the chatbot by speaking in the first person to answer its questions. The chatbot offers a new form of interaction with cultural places by providing the opportunity to directly address the works of art themselves.

The Museum of the Pinacotheca of Sao Paulo has associated itself with IBM in order to develop « The Voice of Art », a chatbot designed by IBM Watson to answer the visitor’s questions. When entering the Pinacotheca, the visitor is given a smartphone with the « The Voice of Art » application on it, along with a headphone. While visiting the museum, the visitor can receive notifications from an artwork nearby that offers this interactive and personalized form of mediation. In these instances, the visitor is invited to approach the artwork and ask questions about it via the headphone’s microphone.

The National Art Museum of Minsk in Belarus developed a chatbot offering the possibility to scan the artworks by way of their QR Code in order to access additional content. With this innovative device, the chatbot allows the museum to further and vary its mediation rather than relying on a classical paper guide.

NODUCK first facebook chat-bot guide for museum from NODUCK on Vimeo.

Le Centre des Monuments Nationaux (a public institution in charge of the French State monuments) has created a chatbot for the Villa Savoye in collaboration with Ask Mona. The Villa Savoye is a cultural place frequented by lovers of architecture and those enjoying cultural heritage. To please such an audience that comes with various expectations, we decided to promote the Villa Savoye throughout a chatbot allowing visitors to see the Villa at a time when it was still inhabited and furnished. Thanks to archives given by Le Corbusier Foundation and the help of their descendants, we were able to provide the audience with a number of archives (images, videos…) and testimonies from this time. Hence, with the chatbot, visitors are able to explore the Villa Savoye’s history as well as request extra content regarding the room in which they are.

The MAIF Social Club (an extension of the french insurer MAIF using new technologies to promote culture) has also adopted a chatbot developed by AskMona for the « Agoramania » exhibition in order to promote explanatory videos of the artists and their exhibited artworks. The aim was to develop a device easily available to visitors through their phones and with the fewest restrictions possible. The result was an experience of interactive mediation allowing visitors to directly interact with exhibited artists. Further to this, we added to the chatbot a device allowing visitors to send text messages or photos of the exhibited artwork in order to create testimonies in a video form.

First experience feedbacks

For you, we have searched for experience feedback developed by cultural institutions around the use of chatbots. In addition, we also added our own data registered during impact assessments of certain of the devices we have initiated in various cultural places. On the international scale, we have found a detailed study realized by The House Museums of Milan and Invisible Studio, who wished to measure the reach of their chatbot. The chatbot was developed in order to ease the experience of visiting the four museums concerned, by gathering information on the same numerical guide. The study targeted a young audience, and it called upon 80 students from 16 to 18 years old to perform said impact assessment. The study reveals that if 90% finished the game, 30% still had connecting problems. 66% found that it was a useful learning tool, notably to discover art. Another important point was that students appreciated the possibility of being one of many to use the device.

We gathered data going in the same direction with the impact assessment of our chatbot developed for the Agoramania exhibition. Global data shows that 10% of the visitors use the chatbot and 80% of them use it on every artworks available. We went further with a closer analysis of a group of ten visitors who unanimously declared that the chatbot was easy to use; 90% of them were ready to use it elsewhere. This experience permitted us to see how we could improve the device : if some users sometimes wish for more indications and instructions while using the chatbot, others expect better supervision during their first use.

In conclusion, we can safely declare that chatbots provide a significant additional value to museums. They are an interactive tool turning the visitor into an actor in control of his own visit with a playful and personalized means of learning. Consequently, chatbots and more globally artificial intelligences, are mediation tools with a strong potential that consider the visitor in light of their individuality.

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