While exploring how museum apps are being used by state historical societies, I came across the Oklahoma History Center’s Explore History application. While it is admittedly one of the least glamorous museum apps available for mobile devices, it intrigued me both as one that appears to be fairly inexpensive in design but that also reflects a good deal of creative effort. As someone who has never visited the Oklahoma History Center, I immediately searched the mobile app for a description of the purpose, location, and holdings of the organization. Luckily, I found this right at the top of the home screen under “General Information & Space Hallway”. It provided not only a description of the Oklahoma Historical Society but also details for its galleries, research center, hours & admission, and a whole page of contact information. One button brings users to a summary of the preservational work of the state historic society and another to an extensive and easily searchable collections webpage.
Going back to the homepage, one can click on any of the six permanent exhibitions. With each the app gives a short summary of the content in each gallery, suggestions of ways to move through the space, and a map of how the collections are organized. Some of these galleries lead to additional buttons that unlock “extra content” when you “visit the zone on the museum grounds”. This locked feature adds an element of excitement to an app that otherwise is totally accessible before one reaches the museum.
One unique feature through the app is the ability to earn badges as you answer questions in different parts of the museum. This allows visitors to track their progress and to feel accomplished as they complete each gallery. I do wonder, however, how often visitors will really use this feature. If the app included other activities to complete in each gallery, I could understand users being more inclined to click on the trivia feature as they leave. But since the app serves better as an orientation to each gallery and would not be used in the space besides maybe the map feature, it would be inconvenient to keep opening up your phone in each room just for a virtual badge. Yet still this could be a good way to engage younger visitors.
Having never previously heard of the Oklahoma Historical Society, I was concerned when first approaching the app that it would not be an actively developing application. To my surprise, after double-checking the content, Explore History does reflect an updated account of the museum’s exhibits and visitor information. Most helpfully, it prominently displays notes about closed sections of the site. Therefore, this app is a useful resource not only as an added resource within the museum but also as preparation for a visit.
The clear visual organization of the app (with each section labeled and each gallery assigned a relevant icon) makes Explore History a convenient resource that provides useful historical content and institutional information. Most importantly it communicates its purpose first-thing on the homepage, so that visitors do not have to waste time asking questions to the staff about using the application or orienting to its functions. Overall, Explore History strikes a good balance between providing enough information to encourage and orient visitation and being simple enough to also use on-site. While it does not offer any activities too novel or exciting, the application is impressive for a small, regional history museum. Its evidently up-to-date information also implies that the organization is continually changing the app and could presumably add more interactive features in the future.