Friday, April 15, 2011

Museums and the Web 2011 – the web site picture

One of the highlights of the annual Museums and the Web conference is the Best of the Web awards. Museum web sites are submitted from all over the world and vetted by a panel of web developers, museum professionals and general tech heads. It is peers critically judging the work of their peers, and the awards are highly valued within the museum community.

So it was great to see Australia doing well with Museum Victoria taking out the award in the Audio Visual/ podcast category, and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) getting not only the award in the education category but also the best web site overall – quite an accolade.

More broadly what I came away with from the papers I heard on web site issues is the depth of thinking now going on in the museum world about how web sites are used and the opportunities they provide for creating a quite different experience from the museum visit. I would particularly highlight:
  1. The work of the National Museum of Denmark in bringing art stories alive (including an innovative and embedded use of what conservators do and what they can contribute to art stories). Read the paper here.
  2. What the Tate are up to in rethinking their web site as a result of a massive four year rebuild. The Tate has always been at the forefront of web site development being one of the first major art museums to place their entire collection of 60,000 artworks on line. They realised that the budgetary and cultural restrictions imposed on museum websites was holding them back from competing in terms of leveraging the power of relational databases in a way their commercial rivals do, and that their website displays artworks on line in the same paradigm as print publishing – namely as reproductions. No real surprises there but the conclusions they come to are worth reading.
  3. And finally the Smithsonian. They are engaged on a collaborative project across the whole Institution to review their web strategy, which involves a series of staff workshops open to all staff . Each of the workshops includes a real-time transcription of the proceedings posted to a wiki, where it can be openly evaluated, sifted, weighed, and considered by all. The project has very clear goals namely to define the optimum role for the Smithsonian in the next 100 years by:
    • Embracing new models of knowledge creation and dissemination
    • Providing better access to knowledge for geographically and demographically diverse audiences
    • Providing richer, more engaging means (storytelling) for different types of audiences to engage with our knowledge assets
    • Creating opportunities for inter-disciplinary collaboration and learning
    • Identifying new revenue sources to support the ever-growing programs
It is a great model for where the museum web site is going. Check it out here.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director

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