Navigating the Mall with the National Park Service App

I celebrated Easter Sunday on the National Mall, and I was most definitely not the only one. Thousands meandered their way around the monuments, enjoying the sunshine and sixty degree weather. Unlike (I will speculate) the majority of the masses, I was utilizing the National Park Service app that we downloaded for class. It was a decision made on the whim (and rather nervously too because my battery life has been pitiful of recent), and I was curious to see how effectively it could supplement my experience. My first reaction was to the interface. It is impressive, yet simple. I would certainly not go as far as to label myself an expert when it comes to using mobile app technology, but I wouldn’t regard myself as a novice either. I did not have any problems adjusting to it, and I think even those much less adept than myself with mobile app technology will not have significant issues. 

The app has a variety of user-friendly features, like a postcard generator, and a tour segment that provides data based on time (either a day, or a four-hour period), or by topic (Military Monuments, Presidential History). In addition, you can even elect to create a customized tour. To be fully candid, I did not use any of these features, so I can’t comment on their quality. My favorite aspect of the app was the park lens component, which as the app describes, allows users to “View augmented reality through your device’s camera.” As you direct your camera toward different monuments, labels materialize identifying the different buildings. The only issue I had with this was that I had to keep re-calibrating with my phone, though I think this was more of a personal problem then with the app itself. Furthermore, the “sites” feature provides a sweeping display of information related to sites around the mall, spanning from the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, to Pershing Park. In addition, it also contains information on sites beyond the boundaries of the National Mall, and allows you to see if you are closely located to any based off of your GPS coordinates since the app needs your location to be properly effective. This feature contributes background information, including times the exhibits are open, photo albums, and programs of events or tours that have happened, or will be occurring. 

One of the only issues I have with the app is that some aspects and information are not updated. For example, the American Veterans Disabled for Life identifies an opening date for the memorial as “fall 2012” when in fact, it’s website says that the dedication ceremony will be October 5th, 2014. Furthermore, when it is as packed as it was on Easter Sunday, its sometimes hard to handle your phone, and navigate the hordes of people at the same time. I also question how using the app would be if I was with a group of people. Perhaps it could help facilitate discussion and interaction, but I also think there’s a possibility it could limit it. Either way, I would highly recommend downloading the National Parks Service app based on its usability and informative nature.

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National Park Service Map feature—even details bathroom locations!

3 thoughts on “Navigating the Mall with the National Park Service App

  1. That’s really cool that you went to the Mall and tried out the NPS app for yourself! I think part of explanation for the issues you had with the app, specifically with the out of date information, is that mobile tech (and all digital/new media tools) are relatively new to organizations such as the NPS and they probably don’t have the money or manpower to keep on top of everything. Maybe they can implement some sort of crowdsourcing to keep all of their information up to date?

  2. Yes, definitely the right way to review an app — use the location based aspect of it. Otherwise an app might as well be a web browser that can be viewed from anywhere. Nice work!

  3. Great idea to try out the NPS app, I know I often take for granted the fact that I live in a city filled with the country’s best “new museum” strategies. (And props for navigating the crowds with your phone!) I think you bring up a really good point about how the app might inhibit your traditional social interaction with group members, though I wonder if it would any more than instagrams and Facebook uploads do.

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