Through our pursuit of ultimate app-iness, we found some common themes:
First, (even though this seems a little silly to have to say) the app needs to WORK. Visitors have to be able to download it, access its content in a timely manner, and follow through on the advertised features.
Next, we need to know it’s available. It is not necessarily assumed yet that every museum has an app, so the institution needs to make sure they are getting the word out there. Along that same point, it is important that the advertising matches the content of the app. It was no problem that the National Mall app did not create anything new and flashy because it never claimed that it would. However, it was pretty frustrating that Natural History’s did not follow through on creating a Neanderthal image.
Finally, there needs to be a point to the app. Apps are trendy but not always substantive. When our mentors came to our seminar a few weeks ago, Elissa Frankle (Social Media Strategst at USHMM) made a point to say that the Holocaust Museum didn’t want an app for the sake of having an app. It needed to add to the museum experience and it was only after careful consideration and research that they created an app. And as we can see from Madeline’s overall 4 rating, it succeeds!
As a whole, it was definitely interesting to take a close look into these apps from a consumer perspective. While our rating rubric was not grounded in “authoritative” research, we based it on exactly what we, as informed and dedicated museum visitors, look for in an app. We might be slightly more biased than a typical tourist, but hopefully our comprehensive look into these five apps provides a good foundation for what kind of apps are already out there, and what features are truly standing out.
This is my new go-to app for DC tourists. Whether you are from out of town and just visiting the area, or a local who wants to take an afternoon for some cultural enrichment, this app provides practical and interesting information. Don’t get me wrong, this app is not flashy, not particularly interactive, and relatively text heavy. However, I think the centralized information about the history and significance of each memorial on the National Mall, along with the various options for self-guided tours, make this app extremely worth it. Plus, it’s free! So might as well give it a shot.
I think some of the best aspects of this app are the wayfinding instructions and maps. The app provides five unique tours to follow, as well as the option to select your own sites and the app generates your best route. There is also a full list of all the sites, just in case you stumble upon an unexpected site and want to look up some information about it. In general, the app seems geared towards tourists, but options like the “Off the Beaten Path Tour” are great for people familiar with the area as well. The only issue might be learning about the app in the first place. There is a whole page advertising the app on the National Park Service website about the National Mall, but I think it could benefit from some additional advertising around the sites themselves.
The most unexpected feature of the app is the “Park Lens” camera. To use it, you simply hold up your phone to your surroundings and the app superimposes labels of the nearby sites and museums, as well as their relative locations and distances to your location. The lens took awhile to load, but I can see how this could be pretty helpful to a tourist who is trying to get their bearings.
Overall, the in-depth history about the different memorials and monuments add value to a self-guided tour, while the Parking, Transportation, and Hours information provide practical and necessary preparation for your trip. So, while the National Mall and Memorial Parks app is not necessarily on the cutting edge of interactivity and generating unique content, it is undoubtedly useful for tourists who are trying to find their way and learn some of the basics about “DC’s front yard”.