Friday, April 17, 2009

Do Twitter and museum conferences belong together?

And it is all go in downtown Indianapolis, home for the next three days to the eager participants of Museums and the Web 2009 600 of us are here busy planning the future of the universe – well at least as far as it relates to museums and the web. There is so much content to write about that I must ration myself in this blog to some overall first impressions:
1) Twitter. Now call me old fashioned, but I have never used Twitter – all I really know about it (from my children, of course) is that Ashton Kutcher is an addict and refers to his good lady Demi Moore as ‘wifey’ on it (hope I got that right). Well today I have really seen it in action and I am not impressed. Imagine, if you will, the plenary speaker, Maxwell Anderson, Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art giving his speech with a large screen of his images to the left of him, whilst to the right of him and on an equally large screen there is a running commentary of comments on Twitter (I kid you not). And further to this, the comments were such profundities as "Here I am at Museums and the Web 2009” and “Just realised I have left my glasses in my room”. Now I can see the value of people twittering to send questions through to the speaker for answering off line. But this was live so that in the course of his speech we probably had about 40 twitters posted. As Anderson said, he found himself watching eyes moving to the side screen all the time, and occasionally sniggering at the comments. Never again please, and that at least seemed to be the majority view of the delegates I talked to.
2) Value of face to face meetings: You would think that this lot would be quite happy using Skype and on line forums to communicate, but it is clear there is nothing like a conference to get to the heart of issues and have an in depth chin wag about them. As one delegate said to me, it means we can get a collective feel as where the trends are emerging, and also get immediate feedback as to what the museum and gallery directors think about them.
3) Open source software: I have learnt today that the in-house word for this is ‘cloud computing’. This is a big topic here. It provides potentially a way round having to buy expensive collection management systems, a significant expense both up front and on going for small museums. The consensus seems to be that there will be an increasing market for such, with added benefits of relational searching across other collections, though it will come with some downsides in the areas of security, speed and access.
4) Indianapolis Museum of Art: Check out this impressive web site, particularly the dashboard. This is a museum being truly transparent about its operations from staff numbers to Inland Revenue tax returns.

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