The Smithsonian Goes Mobile

By the Editors

Recognizing that mobile devices were becoming the dominant channel for the accessing the Web, the Smithsonian kicked off a mobile strategic planning effort in 2010 to find out what their audiences wanted from the mobile experience. That deep market research effort resulted in a full-blown mobile strategic plan that the venerable institution has already made great strides in implementing.

Mobile phones are already on the cusp of surpassing desktop computers for using the Internet. The Smithsonian is one of the most prestigious public institutions in the world, comprised of 19 museums and galleries as well as the National Zoological Park. As a cutting-edge educational and research institution, the Smithsonian wanted to figure out how mobile technologies could help it fulfill its mission in the digital age.

Its mobile strategy is based on these main points: to integrate mobile technologies into everything it does to link platforms and initiatives, facilitate conversations and community connections, and create dialog and collaboration across disciplines. The aim is to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. If it does this, what it will do is transform itself from a collection of physical museums into a true network of people that spans the entire globe.

This mobile museum network will engage audiences wherever they are, whether that is on-site or on the other side of the planet. It will allow for more open access to its collections and research, creating new opportunities for learning and shared discovery. In short, it will make the Smithsonian relevant to the 21st century.

During the first year of implementation, the Smithsonian launched seven mobile websites and thirteen different mobile applications. Among the apps is goSmithsonian Trek, a mobile phone game that takes users on a journey through no less than nine museums to find clues and solve challenges; MEanderthal, an iPhone and Android app that lets you morph yourself into what you might have looked like in prehistoric times; and Owney: Tales from the Rails, an eBook about the perky dog who is the official mascot of the historic Railway Mail System. Of course, the standard Smithsonian Mobile app allows users to plan their trips to the museums, search collections, access podcasts and add their own tips and photos from their experience.

The Smithsonian also realizes that mobile technologies change rapidly, so it’s planning to revisit the mobile strategic plan each year to make sure it’s on track and in sync with developments. Items on the docket for implementation include free public wifi throughout its public spaces and a funded expansion of its mobile team.