The Smithsonian Mobile and Social Media teams invited #DCWEEK participants to the #SImobile meeting last week for a look at how the world’s largest museum collection is adding mobile to the museum experience.

It was fun to get an inside look at what Smithsonian is doing with mobile. Here, we take a look at the challenges faced by Smithsonian in implementing mobile technology, what they’re doing today, and offer a few suggestions to improve their social mobile experience for the future.

Nancy Proctor, Director of Smithsonian Mobile, says the Smithsonian Mobile team’s goal is to “put the Smithsonian in your hands”.

All of the Smithsonian websites, social media profiles, mobile sites, and apps are independently managed by each institution (like the Portrait Gallery, Air & Space Museum, and the National Zoo). Today, there are over 70 separate websites and 300 social media profiles for all of the museums.

So, building a mobile app to combine them all is tough. The challenge is to integrate hundreds of websites, mobile sites, apps, and social media profiles into a cohesive, helpful, and easy to use experience for museum visitors.

Smithsonian Mobile App By Smithsonian Institution

Today, the product of Smithsonian’s mobile work is a series of basic web and mobile apps that combine all of Smithsonian’s mobile content into a single user experience.

The Smithsonian Mobile app, in Beta (for iPhone, other devices soon) and the Smithsonian Mobile site, m.si.edu (built in Drupal), do a great job executing on the basics – which is often hard to do, and the most important part of any digital experience.

The apps combine the information that visitors on the National Mall will want most on their visit to the museums: hours, locations, exhibits, and events (Live Tarantula Feedings at the Natural History Museum were popular on the day of the panel) – and more detailed information for a deeper dive into each museum.

People can also add comments and photos with a log-in through Facebook and Twitter connect, which is cool, but the user experience doesn’t work the way you might want it to, yet. When we tried to use it, the app got stuck at the social connect log-in, and when we tried to add a comment or photo, it wasn’t clear if it would also get posted to Facebook or Twitter (it didn’t).

It would be great to see the Smithsonian create a more seamless social experience that lets visitors more easily interact and contribute through our regular social media habits. Easy ways to share photos, add comments, and check-in to museums – and share them directly on Facebook and Twitter through the app at the same time. With more opportunity now to leverage social APIs, the Smithsonian can create an immersive mobile social experience that allows visitors to easily share their museum experience with friends around the world.

The Smithsonian is in a great place to stay ahead of the curve in integrating mobile and geosocial engagement into the museum experience. Today, the Smithsonian’s mobile experience provides a great solution for what visitors need most. Soon, the move to a more social, mobile web experience will offer a chance for Smithsonian to continue innovating how people engage and share their museum visit in the future.

SI Mobile for DCWeek 2011

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