MORGAN HOOVER, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
June 20, 2009 7:37 AM
Now you can tour a museum exhibit without actually going there.
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History's summer exhibit Butterflies Alive! can be previewed on the iPhone and iPod Touch using SBnature.app. The Butterflies Alive! application, or app -- available at itunes.apple.com -- can be used to become familiar with the butterflies before attending the exhibit or as a guide while visiting in person.
"Even if someone never visits our museum, if they're sitting in their backyard somewhere and see a butterfly and wonder what kind it is, they can use our app," said Easter Moorman, a spokeswoman for the museum.
The idea for such exhibit interaction stems from the long-cherished "Rattlesnake Button," a draw for museum patrons for more than 70 years, which allows the visitor to push a button to make a rattlesnake's tail rattle.
"I don't know what it is," she said by way of marveling at the attraction, "but it's a big thing."
The app is intended to make this concept digital.
The app provides some reading material and an audio tour to which patrons can listen using the museum's wireless Internet while visiting the exhibit.
The reading includes information on history, coloration, body structure, life cycle, butterfly plants and habitat loss.
It's not exhaustive," said Mrs. Moorman, "but it's fulfilling part of our mission, which is to educate."
The app's development started a year ago when a Digital Communications Committee was focused on a goal of connecting with the community.
Museums have often used written labels that visitors can read to obtain deeper understanding of a self-toured exhibit or phone numbers that patrons can call to hear narration for a fee. This app would eliminate these more cumbersome touring methods.
Michael Williams of iTMP Technology vocalized the concept of an iPhone application, and Mrs. Moorman agreed on the condition that it would be ready to use in time for Butterflies Alive!
She said the museum is not concerned about the possibility that the app could discourage the public from visiting the exhibit.
"It's one thing to see it on your iPhone," she said. "It's another thing to see it in person."
She also said that she has encountered research that indicates that such museum transparency does not stifle attendance and can actually increase it.
According to Dr. Karl Hutterer, the museum's executive director, plans are being made to develop additional app guides for future and current exhibits.
Although program designers are not willing to release specific information about future apps, they are willing to say that "in the next version, there will be a very exciting button."
The museum worked with iTMP Technology and Make it Work on the project.
Butterflies Alive! is open until September 1, but the app will remain available indefinitely.