What happens when you test drive a location-based storytelling app at a major conference featuring digital media and interactive technologies? We at Artifact Technologies wanted to find out how conference attendees would respond to our mixby mobile app, and last month, Seattle Interactive Conference (SIC) 2014 provided the ideal chance for a road test.
How We Used Mixby at SIC 2014
Mixby is built around networks of physical places, and it uses location-aware technologies such as beacons and GPS to help enhance users’ experiences in these places. To provide an optimal experience for our users at SIC 2014, we first needed to determine how to organize locations that would be important to them in a logical way within mixby. We started by building a network at the Conference Center at the Washington State Convention Center. Within this site, we mapped out the individual rooms, the conference floors and other important locations.
After we organized our network for SIC 2014, we placed beacons in key conference areas. These devices use Bluetooth Smart (Low Energy) battery-powered transmitters to broadcast radio signals. Mobile devices such as smartphones receive the signals when they are within a specified proximity to beacons, which enables these devices to determine their location relative to the beacons.
When SIC attendees who had devices with mixby installed approached conference rooms or other areas where beacons were placed, mixby displayed local notifications to let them know that new content was available to access.
Our primary goals at SIC 2014 were exploratory. We wanted to understand how attendees used mixby, including whether they downloaded the app itself and whether they viewed and engaged with the content in the app. Understanding user behavior with respect to our content is critical from a business perspective, because it is time-consuming to research, develop and produce all of the relevant content that is associated with a beacon. If users are viewing and spending time with our content, we can continue investing in our content strategy. If not, then we’ll rethink our strategy.
Our secondary goals were more specific and technical: We wanted to test and confirm that a network of beacons, all configured with different proximity settings, would work when hundreds of people used mixby at the same time.
What We Learned About Attendees’ Use of Mixby
Out of 2,000 conference attendees, we had a 25% download rate, or 500 downloads. Those who downloaded mixby averaged 3.5 minutes in the app. Not only did people remain in the app once they downloaded it, but the 500 users who downloaded the app generated 11,000 page views. That is, on average, 22 views of a different page or item in our app.
Measuring whether people received beacon notifications is a bit trickier. Because beacons themselves do not track users or store any information, we have to measure local notifications on a per-user basis to determine whether beacons were triggered. This is a larger technical challenge that we are currently addressing.
The overall conference data is encouraging. Particularly significant is the length of time that SIC 2014 users spent in-app (3.5 minutes on average). This level of engagement supports our theory around building a location-based storytelling app. We believe that when people are interested in what is going on around them and they are invested in a place, they will spend time reading, absorbing and viewing content about that place, so long as the content is authentic and relevant.
What We Learned About Beacon Setup
The act of physically setting up a beacon network is trickier than you might think. For the conference, we obtained floor plans for the four floors on which the conference was held. Based on which speakers we wanted to feature, and any general or special-interest beacons that we wanted to set up, we had to map out where all the beacons were to be placed. Keep in mind that a beacon’s signal is circular. For this reason, we had to note the radius of a beacon notification and ensure that the circular notification did not extend into the next rectangular room.
Beacons also work best if they are high up above people. Humans are mostly made of water, and a Bluetooth signal has a hard time traveling through masses of water. We had to weigh different options on where to place beacons. For example, do we place a beacon at the front of a room where a speaker is scheduled for a conference session? In the middle? And we had to trust that the beacon would trigger no matter how many people were there. In the end, the beacons were placed perfectly: Up high and sufficiently far away from each other, and they triggered consistently at the same location.
In sum, based on our data, we believe that SIC 2014 was a great way to demonstrate how location-based storytelling apps such as mixby can enhance attendees’ conference experiences. Our hypothesis that people will spend time viewing and engaging with content about a place, if they are interested in the place and the content is authentic and relevant, holds up. On the flip side, we also learned that beacon placement took longer than we originally would have thought. Is that a problem? We see it simply as another opportunity, one of many in the brave new world of location-based storytelling.
The mixby mobile app is available now and can be downloaded on devices that run compatible versions of the iOS and Android operating systems.