Online Exhibit Review of the Smithsonian, Tech, and Penn Museums

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I chose to evaluate the Smithsonian, Tech, and Penn museums.  Each site replicated a physical visit to the specific museum, and I found the diversity of topics between the three to be particularly enticing.  The combination of similarities and differences between the sites allowed for better calculated analysis and comparison.  Each site provided its own specific style of information while sharing in the common format of a virtual museum exhibit.

The website for the Smithsonian museum provides a multitude of information surrounding the various topics related to human evolution.  An incredible number of areas are covered, with large sections being broken up into numerous subsections.  The sheer volume of information available on the site allows for a standalone experience that is informative and insightful.  Although there is a portion that details the typical pathways of an in-person visit, the site is generally geared toward a purely online experience.  The information provided focuses on human evolution and characteristics at various stages of the progression.  There are additional links for multimedia outlets as well as educational tools for teaching the available information.

It is difficult to claim the most important section of the website considering the extensive nature of the facts provided.  Human evolution evidence is given a significant section of the site and contains a number of categories that are broken down to highly specified levels.  The site offers extensive information on stone tools, from ancient options through the various stages of the Stone Age.  Stone tools were discovered in various areas of the world, and the site gives informative mentions of items used in current-day Africa, Europe, and an Asian art collection.  The website is mostly geared toward educated adults, with the possibility for some use by academic anthropologists.  Each section contains vast amounts of information in text form and is likely to overwhelm most youths.  Although the information is accurate and detailed, the site is centered on offering a vast scope rather than the minute details necessary for academic research.  The site is quite effective in its transference of information and uses a combination of text, pictures and multimedia outlets.  Navigation is made easy by the various large category tabs that break down into increasingly detailed subsections.  Overall the site is a catch-all for information on human evolution, offering simple access to whatever level of detail the user desires.  The site is simple while providing incredible depth, and there are few if any flaws to speak of.

The online home of the Penn Museum gives its visitors additional information about the various exhibitions on display at the museum's physical location.  Although there is a vast amount of available information, the site is meant to be an accompaniment to an in-person visit.  All sections of the site are matched with exhibits on display at the museum itself, and the amount of information given for each section varies depending on the magnitude of the physical portion.  The site offers information on ancient artifacts from various regions of the world, with the most sections falling in the history of the Egyptian realm.  An exhibit on Egyptian royal architecture is a pride of the museum, displaying items from the palace of Pharaoh Merenptah.  The palace is dated from 1203 to 1214 BCE and was located at the city of Memphis in Lower Egypt.

Both children and educated adults are encouraged to investigate the various avenues of the website and physical museum.  Although the information is generally provided in standard text form, there are a number of sections and videos specifically tailored to younger audiences.  Pictures accompany all of the exhibition sections to give the viewer an idea of the type of items physically on display at the museum.  Although the site may provide some background information of use to academic scholars, the level of detail is likely not specific enough for significant usage.  

Navigating the website is made simply by the various tabs located on the left side of the homepage.  Although the tabs are straight forward, it is not possible to view the tabs subsections without clicking on the tab and navigating the corresponding page.  Thus it is difficult to decide if the section is appropriate without actually following through to the page.  The format is slightly less convenient than an extended menu, and matches with the sites intended use as an accompaniment to an actual museum tour.  Although the majority of the available information is text-based, there are a number of videos provided to further illustrate the topics in a number of sections.  The site is quite informative on the whole.  At the same time, there seemed to be a lack of interactive features, which again may be based upon the sites intended to use as a supplementary tool.

The Tech Museum of innovations website offers pertinent information about genetics.  The number of interactive sections and the amount of available information suggest that the site is intended to be a standalone partner to the physical museum.  Text sections and multimedia platforms are intended to spark interest in the viewer and to answer questions about what genes actually control.  Physical gene properties are prioritized by the sites structure.  The interactive exhibitions offer fun formats for viewers to learn about the connections between genetics and various physical traits.  Participants in online games are led through innovative formats that entertain the viewer while providing them with important information based on genetic data.  

The site is geared mainly toward younger viewers, with the grouping of educated adults being a secondary category.  Although there are numerous interactive activities, the instructions for said games may be difficult for a lone child and would likely require the assistance of an older person.  The site provides games that entice the interest of both young and college-age students, not yet dedicated to the field of genetics.  Navigation is slightly tricky at times.  Although there are various tabs for each section of the site, some links take the viewer on to a new website that does not have direct links back to the home page.  Despite the issues with navigation, the site does an excellent job of providing enjoyable ways to learn about genetic data and personal traits.  The information may not be the most detailed, but it is presented in a format that grabs the interest of the viewer and incorporates them fully into the learning experience.  Considering the fact that the site is meant to spark an interest in the field of genetics, its format does an excellent job of achieving said goals.

Overall the three sites I selected did an excellent job of fulfilling their intentions and providing the relevant information.  Each site had its own format for displaying its information, and each format was appropriate given the intentions of the site and the scope of the information itself.  Some sites were easier to navigate than others, and budget is a likely cause of the observed differences in raw site quality.  The websites served as serviceable substitutes for in-person visits to their respective museums.  At the same time, there are some factors that cannot be replicated in an online environment.  Pictures and videos will never replace a real-world viewing, and for some exhibits, an in-person observation can be especially moving.  There is also the added condition of fellow observers.  Online exhibits are personal and only involve the subject and the subject matter.  Physical exhibits have fellow patrons that may draw the viewer’s attention to a specific area or item.  On the whole, the three sites were superb sources of information.  At the same time, there are some aspects that remain exclusive to a physical museum visit, and this information is important for researchers and casual viewers alike.