As a recent convert to smart phones, I am more than amazed at how much I use my phone, from trying to find the cheapest price for a certain product to navigating the DC metro and electronically refilling my metro card. As a graduate student in public history, one of the first apps I downloaded to my iPhone was the Smithsonian app. This app provides information on the Institute’s nineteen different museums (and a zoo). The user can access hours of operation, what exhibits are currently at each museum, and can be linked to maps, contact information, etc. Other SI applications include “SI Main Street,” which is an oral history database that asked people from across the United States, regardless of age, to contribute stories that convey the meaning and importance of their hometown.
I am very intrigued by the concept of smart phone applications and furthermore, how Public Historians can utilize them to connect to the public. The National Museum of the Native American put out an app to go along with their exhibit “Infinity of Nations,” which is currently on display at the NMAI in New York City. I would like to explore the effectiveness of museum exhibit smart phone apps already in existence, as well as exploring future possibilities for the field. How expensive are applications to design? How do you craft an app so that it enhances a visitor’s experience without distracting from it?
Technology is the bandwagon that, whether historical sites like it or not, they are going to have to jump upon sooner or later. Smart phone apps present many advantages. They can be made available to the public for free, and once downloaded are easy to take with the visitor as they navigate around a historic site. Purchasing a book or pamphlet may not be inconvenient when a visitor is touring a museum exhibition, but would a visitor want to lug around extra materials at an outdoor museum, a house museum, or a National Park? The information, which can include far more details than a brochure, would already be in a device the visitor would carry with himself or herself. The interactive capabilities could be quite positive as well.
The positives are there, but that begs the question: What are the barriers and/or pitfalls to utilizing this technology? Are the costs prohibitive such that only larger institutions (a la the Smithsonian) could utilize smart phone apps? What situations would make smart phone apps worth the time and expense?
Very preliminary research would include the above mentioned apps (The Smithsonian App, “Infinity of Nations” app, “SI Main Street” app) as well as checking out their user rating, reviews, etc. Secondary sources would include:
Arita-Kikutani, Hiroyuki, and Kazuhiro Sakamoto. “Using a Mobile Phone Tour to Visit the Ueno Zoological Gardens and the National Science Museum in Tokyo, Japan.” The Journal of Museum Education 32, no. 1 (Spring 2007): 35-45.