The White House has an app (other than Twitter)

The White House History Association has created an app for iPhone and Android which provides tours and historic context for the grounds; not just for people in D.C. either, but for anyone interested  in learning more about the historic site.

There are three tours offered through the app: one of the White House itself, One of the Neighborhood surrounding the White House, and another to be used while on an in-person tour of the estate. These resources are incredibly extensive and easy to access. On top of providing the visitor with good interpretive material on the location pulled up on screen, it also provides “Points of Interest” including high resolution photographs of portraits, statues, etc. that can be found in that location (along with more information about its maker and significance). It paints a vivid picture (thought I think more, larger photos of the areas in question would benefit the app) of the area itself and communicates its importance, even for audiences who are not physically in the capital. As for the third tour, its resources are similar to the first but engineered for someone who is present, so I do not feel I should pass judgement on it unless given the opportunity to use the app in person.

The “Events” page is noticeably bare, meaning the White House History Association either holds events very rarely (the last listed event on the calendar was January 8th, 2018) or no longer updates the app.

The “Maps” tab is a mixed bag. The outdoor map is really smooth and helpful for exploring the area around the White House, especially where there is a corresponding “White House Neighborhood Walking Tour.” The map of the White House, however, is only useful when used alongside the White House tour, and you cannot have both open at once. An indoor map of the White House is rendered useless without historical context or an explanation of what events, historical or contemporary, happen in which wings/rooms, which is provided through a separate tab in the app instead of being integrated more effectively.

For a bit of fun, there is also a function (in collaboration with Amazon for the use of their recognition software) which allows you to find out which President and/or First Lady you most look like. My results after a few pictures gave me a match of 18% for George Washington and John Adams, and 22-26% for Rachel Jackson. For all of the extensive information the app provides, having a nice, quick diversion is a good way to get people into the app and experience despite the lack of longevity inherent its design (and the low match percentages which seem to be prevalent).

Hidden in the menus are external links to the White House History Shop and WHHA Digital Library. The shop is fairly self-explanatory and while it would be nice to include in-app not necessary, and the Digital Library is extensive enough where including it in-app is unrealistic, though in my opinion there should be a “highlights” feature or select collections posted in the app more visibly to encourage users to explore.

Overall this app is not just a great diversion but an interesting, effective tool for better understanding White House history which the WHHA has put out.

6 thoughts on “The White House has an app (other than Twitter)”

  1. First of all I love the title of this blog post! I also enjoy the app. I can definitely imagine using this app if I have the change to go to D.C., especially the walking tour of the city. I think it’s really cool that the app has pop ups of the directions from stop to stop. The look alike function is very fun.

    1. Oh I second the love the title! I spent a good bit of time laughing at the absurdity of an “official” app … not Twitter (sigh). I really wish I had this app when I took my parents to Washington, D.C. last summer because they were lost and the simple maps feature on this app would have helped them figure out which road to go down to see the front of the House up-close.
      I’m not sure if humor is what you were going for but I laughed quite a bit (depressingly so) at the empty Events page.

      I, too, agree with Tristan and Renee’s apprehension about the facial recognition feature. Yikes.

  2. Excellent review. As gimmicky as the “match with presidents/first ladies” feature is, I find it a little unsettling that they’re collaborating with a tech giant to use facial recognition technology, especially since it’s already being used elsewhere in a military/police capacity…

  3. I had the same thought as Tristan when I read that they partnered with Amazon for this facial recognition game. Jacob Snow of the ACLU published a blog post on July 26, 2018, stating his concerns about the racist nature of the software, and that “Amazon employees, shareholders, a coalition of nearly 70 civil rights groups, over 400 members of the academic community, and more than 150,000 members of the public have already spoken up to demand that Amazon stop providing face surveillance to the government.” (https://www.aclu.org/blog/privacy-technology/surveillance-technologies/amazons-face-recognition-falsely-matched-28)
    As for the rest of the app, it’s a shame the walking tour and the map cannot be called up at the same time. The combination of the two features really impressed me in the Versailles app, and now it seems like a no-brainer.

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