Overall, The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum website has a nice layout. I found it very easy to navigate and find critical information. I enjoyed being able to explore what the museum has to offer, from the collections to educational outlets. From the main page the you can easily find information such as hours and admission, directions, visiting tips, suggestions on what you can do and see at the museum, a floor plan, as well as a search box to find out what objects are on display in either the Washington D.C. or Chantilly VA, museums. The main tabs include Collections, Exhibitions, Restoration and Research. There are also tabs that catch the audience’s interest such as Spotlight Event, How Do Things Fly and On the Blog. One thing I found initially confusing was that you could click on the images under each of the tabs, but they didn’t bring you to the tab’s main site. Instead it brought the visitor to the featured category under the tab.
Collections and Exhibitions
The collections page highlights the museums popular artifacts, such as the Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module. I found that you can browse through the displayed artifacts, but not every item has a link and the page itself is slow to load. Their exhibition page features many online exhibitions. For example, the exhibit on the main page is focused on the renovation of the main exhibit the Boeing Milestone of Flight Hall. The renovation seems to embody several of the changes we have been discussing. For example, they are trying to tie their objects together using a narrative, which includes cultural and political background and information. Instead of just presenting the audience with the artifact and the facts, the exhibit designers are trying to give some historical context to the objects, which I think is a step in the right direction as far as reinventing museums.
Trends in Social Media
The exhibit page also has a link to the milestone twitter page, where followers can receive up to date progress on the renovation. I find it funny that the biggest news on their twitter is the fact that the museum took the Starship Enterprise studio model off display. Of all the artifacts the museum has, the most popular is a science fiction set. The museums blog is also focused on the Star Trek set where they detail that their goal is conservation over preservation. I find this kind of odd, I’ve always felt that preservation was more important but maybe it depends on what kind of artifacts there are. For example, it makes more sense to conserve pieces of a spacecraft but to preserve unique paintings.
Research and Artifacts
The museum researches many areas such as Aeronautics, Space History, and Earth and Planetary Studies. You can search and learn about different projects, but the information on the main page is focused on Mars and the Mars rover Curiosity. The museum has over 60,000 artifacts and over 20,000 of them are searchable on their online data base. Of the museum’s 60,000 artifacts only 20% of them are on display, and most of the 20% are the large air and space crafts. While most of the unseen objects are in storage a number of them are on loan to other institutions.
Engaging the Audience
The Spotlight Event page features events that the museum puts on. For example, this Saturday they are sponsoring a stargazing event with astronomers which includes a program for children and access to telescopes. The How Things Fly tab focuses on educating children through interactive activities and also features “Explainers” who are high school and college students who can answer questions about flight. The idea of the “Explainers” is cool; I think it is a great idea to encourage young adults to be a part of the scientific community.
Overall, I liked the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Website. I found their organization easy to follow and the information interesting. It made me want to go back to the museum and find the specific artifacts that were featured on the website. I think the main goal of the museum’s website is to bring visitors to the museum. They do this by providing information on interesting subjects that leave you wanting to learn more. The major flaw for me was the collections page, it wouldn’t always load correctly, and you couldn’t use the search boxes to narrow down your search without the page freezing. Something else that bothered me was that they liked to showcase exhibits that the general public knows about. For example, they focus on the Mars Rover and Apollo 11. Most people who are going to attend the museum already know a little about these subjects, while I find them both very interesting I would maybe like to learn more about less known artifacts and current research.