The Pursuit of APPiness: National Zoo


   The National Zoo’s app is by far the most comprehensive museum app I’ve ever encountered. It has EVERYTHING I ever thought I wanted in a museum app, and several things I didn’t know I wanted until I saw them! There are far too many features for me to go through them all, but I’ll provide some of the highlights here. I highly encourage anyone interested in visiting the zoo – virtually or in-person – to download this amazing app!

The app is beautifully designed with large, easy-to-read text, colorful backgrounds, and intuitive navigation features. Since the majority of zoo exhibits are outdoors, internet speed does not tend to be an issue. Some of the app’s features, such as live-stream animal cams and “Zooify Yourself” (discussed later) could potentially use a lot of data and/or battery power, so I would encourage users (and parents of little users) to bear this in mind. The app did crash twice while I was using it, but it re-opened quickly and this didn’t pose too much of a problem for me.

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The app includes all important zoo information, including daily schedules, parking information, public transportation information and an interactive zoo map. The “Today at the Zoo” section includes the schedule for feedings, viewings, and zookeeper chats, and links each event to its location on the map.

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The interactive zoo map and the tour routes are perhaps the most useful in-zoo features. The map itself leaves something to be desired (not all animals are pictured and none are named in the main view of the map), however it is very helpful in finding amenities such as food, restrooms, and gift shops. There are four tours provided with the app: a highlights tour, upper and lower zoo tours, and “new to the zoo.” Each tour has a short description with an approximate length- they range from 1-2.5 hours. The best feature on the tours menu in “Create a Tour,” in which visitors can view a list of all zoo animals and select those they’d like to see. The app then uses these inputs to create a customized tour for the visitor! I absolutely love this feature, as it can help each individual visitor get the most out of his or her visit. It’s also great for families to plan their route through the zoo in order to hit everyone’s favorite animals!

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The app is also extremely useful for distance users as it has many features that do not require users to actually visit the zoo. It definitely takes advantage of all the hype over Bao Bao, the newest addition to their Panda family. Bao Bao has an entire menu to herself, with items such as press, photo gallery, and a live-stream of the extremely popular panda cam!

All animals at the zoo have their own page featuring a description of the species as well as information about conservation efforts. Many of these pages also include audio of animal sounds. Although these descriptions do not include a high level of detail, they are a good starting place for all levels of learners. However, I think the app could be improved by providing links to websites where users who want to know more about a particular kind of animal could find more detailed information. Perhaps the app could even point users in the direction of books sold in the zoo’s gift shops!
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Perhaps my favorite feature of this app is “Zooify Yourself.” This feature is purely for fun and doesn’t include any educational content, but what I love about it is the personalized, memory-making activity it provides. With “Zooify Yourself,” users can take a photo of themselves using their device’s built-in camera and add features of different zoo animals over the photo (see my example below). Although the user isn’t necessarily learning anything about zoo animals or conservation from this feature, it really is quite fun and provides a unique virtual artifact for zoo local visitors and distance learners alike!IMG_0571

All in all, the National Zoo app is an excellent example of what museums can and, in my opinion, should be doing with mobile digital technology. This app runs the gamut of functions- it has everything from important planning and travel information to a silly, boredom-busting game to play on the way home, during a lunch break at the zoo, or at home!

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The Pursuit of APPiness

Welcome to The Pursuit of APPiness, our blog’s spot for reviewing and assessing museums’ mobile apps.

In today’s tech-reliant society, people, including museum visitors, have become accustomed to having information at their fingertips. So, how are museums keeping up? We want to explore this question by delving into the new frontier of museum apps.

In order to analyze the apps in a uniform way, we created an evaluation tool that we will use for each app. This tool looks at four main categories for each app: General, Content/Interactivity, Accessibility, and Design.

In the General category, we identified four main purposes that museum apps can aim to achieve:

  • Bring content to audiences not visiting the museum (distance learning)
  • Link visitors to more in-depth information and/or interpretation on objects of interest
  • Mobile information desk (provide general information also available in other locations)
  • Provide enrichment activities related to museum/exhibit content

For each app, we will examine which purposes the museum intended for the app and how well the app serves these purposes.

In the Content/Interactivity category, we seek to answer the following questions:

  • Is the app intended for use within or outside of the museum?
  • Is the app designed for use with a particular exhibit or the entire museum?
  • Does the app give users access to content beyond what is available/on view at the museum?
  • Does the app enhance the user’s (visitor or distance learner) museum experience? In what ways?
  • Is the app interactive? Does it generate new content unique to its user?

The Accessibility category examines how easy it is for users to discover, download, and use the mobile app.

The Design category includes the aesthetic appeal and ease of use of the app’s user interface, as well as how well any other forms of media (including audio, video, photos, etc..) are integrated into the app.

Here’s a copy of the evaluation tool we’ll be using: museum apps eval-page-001

In the coming weeks, we will be reviewing 5 apps at different DC museums and parks using this evaluation tool, along with narrative assessments and commentary in relation of these four categories. Join us as we explore and analyze the new and exciting world of museum apps!