The rapid increase in the adoption of mobile platforms is changing the way we access and interact with information.  Museums have started to leverage the power of mobile as a critical tool for engaging visitors. One of the leaders in this space is the Smithsonian museum located in Washington, DC.  The Smithsonian has a collection of mobile applications utilizing a range of facilities, including crowdsourcing, image recognition, GPS location, augmented reality and mobile ‘collecting’ of visitors’ favorites.

The Artists in Dialogue 2, created by the Smithsonian Institution for the National Museum of African Art, provides a guided tour in both English and Portuguese. Users can listen to the artist describe their work, as well as the collaborative process behind the exhibition. This app takes engagement a step further by inviting users to join the discussion via Twitter or virtually experiment with the artists’ technique in an art-making game.

Mobile devices present the opportunity to expand access to collections, research, and conversations with communities all over the world. With the release of their crowdsourcing app LeafSnap, the Smithsonian encourages users along the eastern seaboard to take pictures of leaves with their smartphone, identify the trees from a database and then upload this information to a central location. Each upload is tagged with GPS coordinates, helping researches gain a better understanding of the allocation of leaf species in this region.

More than just giving tours of exhibits, the Smithsonian uses the mobile device as a way to facilitate an interactive experience for visitors, as well as for those who aren’t actually there. More than reacting to technological changes happening around them, the Smithsonian has put a mobile strategy in place that actively focuses on the impact of mobile. Museums should assess their audience and figure out how to create new opportunities for creative and shared discovery, both on-site and off.