We review the latest websites and apps
Jonathan Knott
The life of the blue whale Natural History Museum, London 

London’s Natural History Museum (NHM) made waves this summer by replacing its beloved diplodocus cast, Dippy, with a blue whale skeleton as the centrepiece of its main entrance, Hintze Hall. To tie in with this, the museum has also launched a microsite providing context to the specimen.

The homepage has an elegant three-part structure promoting each of the site’s sections. These focus on the blue whale’s life in the ocean, its setting in Hintze Hall and its role in the NHM collections. From here you can click through to the main section pages, which each play background noise such as underwater gurgling, the bustle of the entrance hall or behind the scenes at the museum.

On these pages, a series of icons lead to mini-online exhibitions. These comprise varied content including a video of a blue whale feeding on krill, 1930s plans for a whale hall at the NHM and a 19th-century whaling map.

Some of the richest content relates to the story of how the whale came to join the museum collection. The creature was beached in Wexford, Ireland, in 1891. A newspaper report at the time tells us that it was beaten with metal bars before a fi sherman killed it with an improvised harpoon. A local man then bought the carcass for £111. It was used for whale oil and pet food, and then sold to the NHM for £250.

The site’s vertical scrolling format works well, although there are some usability glitches on older browsers and operating systems. The images are high quality and the amount of text is well judged. The content also relates the NHM specimen to contemporary issues around research and conservation.This is a well-designed site that should stimulate interest in blue whales and the work of the NHM.

Online audio tours
Jewish Museum, New York

The world is not short of apps, but a sobering fact for developers is that most of them are used lightly, if at all. Research has found that people spend 80% of their smartphone app time on just fi ve apps.

This figure is cited in a blogpost by the Jewish Museum’s director of digital, JiaJia Fei, explaining its decision to post five years worth of exhibition audio tours online. “We are living in a post-app digital world,” she writes, adding that apps are often barriers to visitor experience and accessibility.

The tours, which were previously available as apps, have now been made into playlists on SoundCloud, an audio streaming platform, and are also embedded on the museum’s website. They include a 2013-14 exhibition on Mark Chagall and a 2015-16 show on early Soviet photography and fi lm.

When listening on SoundCloud, enlargeable images of the artworks discussed are displayed alongside the tracks. And when you click on individual tracks you can also read a transcript of the audio.

This venture opens up the museum’s content to a wider audience and provides a promising model for extending the life of an exhibition beyond its closing date.

National Maritime Museum Cornwall

This Falmouth museum’s new website is appropriately modelled around the maritime colour of navy blue. And this is by no means the only aspect of the design that has been carefully thought out.

The homepage is pared down and image-heavy. Large eye-catching photographs promote temporary exhibitions, the museum’s new play zone and its offer of an annual ticket. Below this is information on events and family programming.

At the bottom of the site are links to the museum’s YouTube channel and Instagram account, as well as information on hotels in Falmouth and the museum’s own guide to the town, possibly added with search engine optimisation in mind.

A tab in the top right leads to a menu of further information such as details of the museum’s learning programme and research facilities.

The site is easy to use. It makes effective use of video and images and its clear division into mainstream and specialist content helps it cater effectively for a range of audiences.

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