Think about the wall plaques and the audio guides that shape your visit to a museum: They are no different for visitors more interested in history than in art, or those who want to dive deeply into a particular artifact and skim past others.
A Boston startup called Spotzer wants to change that by letting you use a smartphone as your guide and deploying Bluetooth “beacon” technology throughout museums so that you can chart your own course. The company got its start just last year but has already done tests at institutions such as the Boston Athenaeum, MIT’s List Visual Arts Center, and New York’s Neue Galerie.
Founder Brendan Ciecko is wrapping up Spotzer’s first funding round. In a recent interview, he pulled out two examples of beacons and talked about how much smaller and cheaper they have been getting. Beacons are small Bluetooth wireless transmitters that can relay location information to a smartphone or trigger specific messages — sort of like an indoor constellation of GPS satellites.
If a Spotzer app is on your phone, beacons positioned around a museum can send information to you based on what is in front of you. If you have been spending time absorbing a Van Gogh, perhaps the app suggests a visit to an exhibit of contemporary Dutch photography in another part of the museum.
The app will also direct you to works that your Facebook friends have “bookmarked” or commented on, Ciecko said.
“The big picture is that we are building the social and engagement layer that ties all of the world’s art and culture together,” he said.
In addition to friends, you might be able to use an art critic as your guide, Ciecko said.
“Imagine being able to go to a museum and quickly pull up [Globe art critic] Sebastian Smee’s highlights and his thoughts about those works,” Ciecko said.
Some museums want to explore charging visitors to use the app, but Ciecko said he advocates keeping it free. The value of bringing in new audiences and cultivating new members, he said, “is much greater than any dollar amount you’d be able to charge.”
Ciecko said that in a few weeks, the startup, which has been conducting pilot tests, will announce the first permanent deployment of its system.
Ciecko has an interesting track record in the cultural sphere: As a teenager in the Holyoke area, he began building websites for musicians like Katy Perry, Mick Jagger, OK Go, and Van Morrison.
That business grew into Ten Minute Media, a digital agency. Ciecko left his role as creative director there at the end of 2013 to focus on Spotzer full time.
The eight-person company operates out of PayPal’s StartTank space in Boston’s Financial District.
Investors in the company’s current funding round include Attic Ventures; PayPal executive David Chang; Nicole Stata of Boston Seed Capital; Paul English of Blade; Joshua Schacter, founder of Delicious; and Smarterer founder David Balter. Ciecko declined to disclose the amount raised.
Ciecko said he did not visit a lot of museums when he was growing up. But he recalls the first time he took a curated tour of a museum, and the insights he gained.
“You think to yourself, how many people didn’t have that opportunity?” he said. “We want to enable that education element, and make that accessible to people from all walks of life.