Location-based messaging: digital conversations in the real world


Museums have embraced QR codes and AR (augmented reality) in some pretty amazing and engaging ways. You can travel back in time, explore cities through an artist’s artwork and pivotal stories, or engage with beloved museum mascots. We can scaffold and layer content in really fantastic new ways. That said, even those that have wowed me have been largely didactic and one-way.

…you see a QR code on a label, you scan it, you get more or deeper content.

…you use an AR app and see an incredible image of historic London superimposed on your present-day view.

It’s cool; no doubt about it. But the social interaction, dialogue, and conversation happening– if it’s happening at all– occurs as asides (“hey– check out this cool app”) or maybe through linking to social networks to post thoughts and reactions.

Something is missing. The real dialogue. Where are we acknowledging the value of all voices, not just the museum voice? What avenues are there for shared learning? Where is the storytelling, questioning, and creating?

The emerging trend of location-based messaging services may be an answer to what’s missing. One with real applications for museums and culturals is Repudo, which the Dutch company self-defines as “the world’s first platform to handle digital objects in the real world.”

Repudo facilitates a place-based “drop” of digital multimedia (text, photos, videos, audio messages) at locations of your choice. For example, you can drop a video of a paleontologist talking about a mastodon bone at the site where the bone was discovered. You have to go there in person to pick it up. Repudo uses a GPS-linked map with message locations tagged; once a Repudo is picked up it disappears from the map. It’s now on your smartphone and only you can decide what to do with it. Keep it or drop it somewhere new for someone else to find. You can specify a recipient or it can be for anyone who stumbles upon it. Repudo creates the “perception of physical interaction with digital objects in the real world.”

Think about the applications. Sure, sure.. we could use it for scavenger hunts or audio tours (yawn)… or we could do something really different. We could drop a recorded thank you message from the museum Director at a donor’s favorite restaurant (even better if the Director picks up the tab!), or a coupon for free admission left at a bus stop in a part of town typically underrepresented in your visitorship. It can be highly personal. What’s better? Anyone with the free app could do the same in reverse– drop a note about something they’d like to see improved, a question for a curator, a photo of their favorite  local street art, a song they recorded. That’s how it’s different. It changes the nature of the interaction and creates dynamic possibilities, including channels for two-way conversations that grow and build.

Want to give Repudo a try?

Leave a comment on this post and let me know where you want me to drop something. Maybe at your local coffee shop, your museum, or the park by your house. You tell me where and I’ll surprise you. You can download the app for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. And hey– feel free to leave something for me in Denver too.

I’ll relay this final piece– all of the above can be done without Repudo, without mobile tech, and without big budget. It combines previous ExposeYourMuseum themes of random acts of kindness, customization, taking online offline, street teams, and cornershop culturals. How will you put this into practice?


14 Responses to “Location-based messaging: digital conversations in the real world”

  1. sjkistler

    OK. I’m game. Totally fascinated. Two options – maybe you could drop something at Tabor Academy, the campus where my husband teaches. Alternatively, how about at the Science Museum of Minnesota? I’ll be meeting with a couple of wonderful evaluators there on February 1 and we could try it out together! You always inspire me.

    • Kathleen Tinworth

      You are ON, Susan! I will drop at Tabor *and* at SMM. (Say hi to my friends there for me!) The digital objects will be placed by Tuesday and ready for pick up whenever you are. You just need to download the app. Thanks for playing. Can you imagine the cool network analysis I may be able to do with this data? 😉

      • Kirsten Ellenbogen (@kellenbogen)

        I’m game – it looks pretty cool – I’d love to use this with a conference. Not to mention field trips, Experimonth, and many other things…
        Is there a way to let a large (or small) group of people know a Repudo was dropped? I’ll figure it out eventually, I’m sure….. this is a perfect grantwriting distraction!
        I downloaded the app and activated Discovery mode. And on the Repudo website, I can see on the scrolling section of the homepage that you dropped something for Susan & SMM. But there’s no way to see where you dropped that, right? I’ll just have to wait until I am near the location where it is dropped and then it will show up through the discovery mode.
        But based on the comments here, I went to the map in the “Repudo’s Nearby” section and moved the map over to SMM, where I can see there is a Repudo waiting (and I get a chiding message: “Not so fast, you are currently 23.29 kilometer away from this Repudo. Get closer in order to pick it up.”)
        I’m curious to see how much this makes me feel that the digital engagement is two way. I’ll let you know tomorrow. : )

        • Kathleen Tinworth

          I am becoming your #1 distraction while grant writing these days! My pleasure! 😉 Save that Repudo for when Susan arrives if you like… and I will send YOU one (just for you) to pick up tomorrow.

          From what I have learned so far, you can keep a Repudo open/public or you can specify that it is for a particular person (lock it). You can only choose people in your social networks (Twitter or FB) to specify/lock a Repudo. If you keep it open/public, anyone can pick it up. Either method allows you to send a message (to any email, not just those in your social networks) to let someone know you have dropped a Repudo and with some instructions about picking it up. You will see this when I send you one later tonight!

          In terms of the two-way, social interaction and narratives that may play out, my personal feeling is that it would very much depend on the marketing and messaging to potential participants. Like any digital engagement strategy, the promotion and upkeep would be key. Also, alleviating the slope of the steep learning curve seems essential. Repudo is pretty user-friendly, which I like… but it still matters what’s in our messaging. To get someone to drop you a Repudo back, you have to make it worth their while. We’ll see if I do that with the one I leave for you at SMM this evening and how far the dialogue goes…!

          Thanks for experimenting with me! It is pretty cool to have friends and colleagues (and strangers) around the world testing this out with me. Let me know how it goes tomorrow.

  2. Matt Popke (@Polackio)


    Similar project by Microsoft R&D for integration with the Bing equivalent of maps. Basically allows people to upload images and link them to the “street view” as overlays. It goes one step further in that it combines video conferencing with the overlay feature. Using something like this (but better than this demo obviously), you could facilitate direct communication between the people who are at the museum and people who are nowhere near it.

    I love to see the social experiments that are happening now, but I can’t help but think about what we’ll be able to when these sorts of interactions are richer (both in terms of media and metadata) and in real time.

    • Kathleen Tinworth

      Matt– thanks for sharing that link. (I can’t believe ninjas killed that man’s father!) I love the addition of video conferencing. So cool. I am with you… this is only going to get better, fast. Your mention of connecting people at the museum and nowhere near is exciting. What would you do with this– both now and once the realtime applications become a reality?

  3. sjkistler

    I was trying to figure out if there was a way to leave a Repudo that a whole lot of people could pick up – so that picking it up wouldn’t make it go away. I’ve been thinking further on your posts on using RFID tags – it would be like that, except without having to locate a tag, just to be in the area. I think I could do it through google maps, but an ap might make it more fun and structured.

    • Kathleen Tinworth

      Susan– awesome points. I think that’s part of the fun of trendspotting and trying out some of these new tech apps together. I do just what you do (and what Matt wrote about above)– I think about how I’d like to combine a few, mash them up, tweak them a bit. And that’s all part of the fun. Repudo’s thing is sort of the exclusivity of it– the “one time only” aspect. But for some circumstances that may not be what we’re after. Also, I still very much mean what I wrote at the end of my post: it’s the ideas and innovations these trends inspire that matter most, be it in museums or for evaluators (across sector) or for anyone who chooses to take them and run with them. The playing, the experimenting, the inspiring… right? That’s what so cool. Thanks for playing, experimenting, and inspiring too!

  4. Repudo (@repudo)

    Hi Kathleen and others. Great the way you experience and experiment with Repudo! This is what we hoped would happen. People pick up the tool and discover the ways. We would love to show you some cases of the projects we did last year which could inspire you. http://www.repudo.com/upload/cases.pdf Let us know if we can support you with an initiative for the museum. We need ambassadors like you!
    @sjkistler When you drop a Repudo you can choose to Fix it to Location. This means people have to go to the spot to view it. But can’t take it with them. Nice for digital exhibitions in the real world.

    • Kathleen Tinworth

      Hey there Lex! Was about to send you all an email letting you know about the blog post but you found me first. Nicely done! Repudo has a lot of potential applications in museums and culturals and it’s been fun to explore and play. Thanks for your support!

    • Kathleen Tinworth

      It will be there later today, Janet, and I will send you an email to let you know. Thanks for trying it out!

  5. Sarah Rodman

    Kathleen – I sent you an email at your Denver museum last week but have not heard back. I may have used an incorrect email address. I am wondering if you have heard of any museums planning pop-up exhibitions here in the states or abroad. I am considering writing about the topic for my thesis here at Harvard University’s Museum Studies graduate program and would like to do an internship at a museum that is involved with that kind of project. Love to hear your thoughts. THANKS Sarah Rodman

    • Kathleen Tinworth

      Sarah– yes, I can help you. And apologies– I never received an email from you. Perhaps it got whisked away by the spam filter! I will email you directly. Thanks!


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