Smithsonian advances the art of the app

When it comes to putting agency data into a form that smart phones can use, the Smithsonian Institution's challenge is more akin to the one facing universities than the typical government agency. Instead of data on procurement contracts, weather or farming, the Smithsonian has paintings, sculptures, dinosaur skeletons and aircraft to share.

“The depth of our content is very challenging to present through the small screen,” said Nancy Proctor, director of mobile strategy and initiatives at the Smithsonian, during a presentation last month. But with more than 1 billion smart phones in use worldwide, the Smithsonian can't ignore that audience, she added.

Indeed, the museum has risen to the challenge by creating apps for the iPad, iPhone and other devices. Sometimes the potential for broad public use doesn't become apparent until the app has been developed for a niche audience, Proctor said. A case in point: The Leafsnap app, which allows users to snap a picture of a tree leaf with a smart-phone camera and compare it to images in a database to help them identify the tree.

The Smithsonian co-developed the app for scientists, in collaboration with Columbia University and the University of Maryland.

The app quickly spread beyond its intended base and became popular with the public, Proctor said.

“When you go for Goal A, sometimes you get Goal B,” she said. “Leafsnap is not just about adding to the database for research or a bar code scanner. It is really getting you to look at trees, at the bark and the berries. It fulfills a learning experience."

Users are enthusiastic. "This is just plain fantastic," writes Devin Coldewey in a review at TechCrunch.com.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group