Mobile Public History App Review: Clio

I’ve been exploring history and museum apps recently to see how place-based technologies are being used to deliver content and connect with audiences in new ways. I was particularly excited to try out Clio, which promised to be a wide-ranging platform enabling the cataloging and sharing of historical sites, museums, and tours. My experience, however, was very disappointing though I remain inspired by its promise.

I first tried the Clio website in my computer browser, and after giving it permission to access my location, the site quickly displayed a map and list of historical sites nearby (see below). The ability to discover nearby sites was great, and after exploring a few museums, I wanted to see else was nearby. Unfortunately, the page only listed 10 items and there was no way to page down or see more results. I tried the “Search Here” button, thinking it would do a more in-depth search and was again frustrated when the map Zoomed to mid-town Manhattan and displayed sites in that area. Checking for potential bad location data on my side, I then clicked “Your Location” which correctly moved the map to my location but without updating the search results.

Clio webpage showing historical sites in my area.

Frustrated with looking for more historical sites, I switched to looking at what historical tours were nearby. There didn’t appear to be a way to filter the results I already had (which didn’t appear to include tours anyway), so I clicked the “1547 walking tours” link. The walking tours page I landed on (see below) displayed featured tours, while what I really wanted was local ones. I had assumed that since I had come from a local search, I would be taken to a list of local tours. Instead, I had to click the “Find Closest to Your Location” button to get a list of area tours. The overall clutteredness of the website also made it easy to glance past the button at first.

Clio’s walking tours landing page.

I then moved to trying the Clio app, which I downloaded from the (Android) Google Play store. After giving it permission to access my location and to alert me when I passed locations it knew about, I could see sites near where I was on a map. I clicked on one and then tried to go back to the list with the Android back button. That resulted in the app minimizing/closing. Going back into the app, I saw a back arrow in the app itself at the top. It took me back to the site list. While this would be how an iPhone app would be designed, it did not match Android use patterns. Shortly afterward the app crashed and then continued to crash every time I tried reopening it, even after trying a number of “advanced” techniques such as force stopping it and purging the cache. This prevented me from seeing how the notifications would have worked.

Despite all this difficulty, I’m still very intrigued by the promise of a website and an app that can suggest local history sites. I particularly appreciate that museums, students, and others can add new sites and create tours between them. However, the site needs to be visually simplified and the usability of both the site and the app need significant work.