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Museums & the Web 2012 Conference Notes

It’s been a couple of years since I attended the annual Museums & the Web conference. A must-stop for professionals working in the field of museums + all things online, this conference celebrated its 16th anniversary under new management with the same great content we’ve come to expect. A few of my conference takeaways: Cultural […]

It’s been a couple of years since I attended the annual Museums & the Web conference. A must-stop for professionals working in the field of museums + all things online, this conference celebrated its 16th anniversary under new management with the same great content we’ve come to expect.

A few of my conference takeaways:

Cultural data sculpting
Sarah Kenderine kicked off the conference, wowing us with her work in immersive environments using panoramic and stereoscopic display systems. I was entranced by recent installations using 3D imagery, high resolution augmented panoramas, and circular screens to recreate cultural heritage sites, performances and narratives (imagine dancers animating images in a cave painting and physical interactions with enormous datasets). From Hampi, India, and the Mogao caves, Dunhuang, China, to adaptions of Beckett narratives, the work of Kenderine’s lab at the City University of Hong Kong demonstrates the amazing possibilities for enhanced exploration, interactive interpretation, and new modalities of human interaction for cultural heritage preservation. Project documentation available here.

Be where the puck is going
In a session on Digital Strategies, Bruce Wyman evoked Wayne Gretsky’s advice to “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Bruce spoke to the permeability of place as the future of interactive media and suggested restrictive digital strategies may run counter to our needs. In a period of fundamental change, we need to evolve the things that we are good at, be nimble, and design not for the device but for the visitor and their engagement. Wyman encouraged us to trust our audiences and serialize the experience by developing content that transcends and crosses platforms.

Like Wyman, Rob Stein is an eloquent technology advocate. In the same session, he advised to make sure your digital strategy reflects the larger museum strategy. And all you technologists who think you have difficulty getting upper management’s ear, work on your communication skills. Learn to write! Despite his claim that writing doesn’t come easy, Stein’s paper is excellent: Blow Up Your Digital Strategy: Changing the Conversation about Museums and Technology.

After Gutenberg
There was much talk in conference sessions and informal meetups about changing publishing models. In the session After Gutenberg, the Whitney’s Sarah Hromack described the evolution of Whitney Stories, a blog wherein the museum is wrestling with questions of authority—what stories do we want to tell, which staff are qualified to speak on behalf of the museum, editorial approval—and issues of sustainability. I haven’t had a chance to read the paper but the presentation was a refreshingly honest assessment of the inherent problems in this work and the reality of making it a part of our daily practice (not in addition to what we do but rethinking how we do our work).

A museum without labels
The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is Australia’s largest private museum, a “secular temple” of 6,000 square meters to worship materialism with nary a label on the walls. Visitors use the ‘O’ mobile device to read about art on display and listen to interviews with the artists. The museum’s unique take on audience engagement—including claims to remove the most popular work as evidenced in ‘O’ stats and restricting online collection access to visitors who have actually experienced the artwork—suggest this is indeed a museum visitors are unlikely to forget. I enjoyed this article on MONA’s founder, David Walsh, describing his vision for this “subversive Disneyland.”

Spreading an analytics culture
There were a number of good sessions addressing the importance of continuous evaluation and building a culture of analytics. The panel on the Culture24 research project focused on the key findings in their recently published report. Among them, be clear what you are trying to do online and who it is for. Revise the whole suite of metrics you care about and the tools used to measure them. Google Analytics is only part of a multi-tool solution that begins with a good problem definition.

One of the participants in the Culture24 project, the Tate went into more detail on its efforts in a subsequent session and paper Making Sense of Numbers: A Journey of Spreading the Analytics Culture at Tate. Using the Tate Liverpool Alice in Wonderland exhibition as a test case, they described the analytics tools used (including Hootsuite, Adwords, Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, ticketing system, and YouTube analytics), matrices, and reports built in response to the exhibitions communication plan and areas of activity, both on and offline. While the exhibition reporting was awe-inspiring in its quality and thoroughness, Tijana Tasich, Tate’s senior digital producer, admitted that more work, training, and resources are required to implement similar evaluations across the organization and its programs.

Epic fail
There’s much to learn from failed projects in our field and #MW2012 used this as a topic for its closing session. Hats off to the project cases studies that took the stage to reveal what didn’t work and why. Each project report included a round of bingo, with categories for failure occupying spaces on the card. Among them: poor organizational fit, must-be-invented-here syndrome, feature creep, tech in search of a problem, no user research, pleasing donors and funders, no local context, no backup plan, and not knowing when to say goodbye. Wifi was off during the session, forcing all of us to listen, learn, and not tweet specifics. Everyone should feel good after their time in the chair with therapist Wyman and his Labrador. We appreciate your honesty and hope we’re brave enough to take the stage at future conferences.

Best of Web Awards
The Walker was lucky enough to walk away with two awards for the redesign of our website (best in the category of Innovation/Experimental and best Overall). We are honored to receive the recognition of our peers and humbled to be in the company of so many excellent projects. The full slate of winners is available here.

#MW2009 Postmortem

Jennifer Trant and David Bearman know how to stage a good conference. Museums and the Web 2009 continued the tradition of inspiring a community of museum professionals to do more, stay connected, and advocate principles of openness, sharing, and participation within and among our institutions. In no particular order, here are some of my takeaways: […]

Museums and th Web 2009Jennifer Trant and David Bearman know how to stage a good conference. Museums and the Web 2009 continued the tradition of inspiring a community of museum professionals to do more, stay connected, and advocate principles of openness, sharing, and participation within and among our institutions. In no particular order, here are some of my takeaways:

Gotta do a game
I’d read about but didn’t understand SAAM’s “Ghosts of a Chance” until now. Can’t say that we’ll do an ARG but Georgina Goodlander’s enthusiasm is infectious and the programming that’s happening as a result of goac is something to emulate. Group activities, family and school programs, sms combined with looking at art = serious time spent at museums, fun, and engagement. “Fancy a cuppa?” Read her paper and play a sample game by sending the text message ‘goac black’ to 95495.

I never liked evaluation until there was WolfQuest
WolfQuest is a 3D wildlife simulation game developed by Eduweb and the Minnesota Zoo. Dave Schaller and Kate Haley Goldman reported on the evaluation, incomplete but three-fourths baked. The great thing about this evaluation is the sheer volume of data, no statistically insignificant results here. This is one of those rare instances where follow-up interviews with surveyed users reveals whether they actually did what they said they would as a result playing the game (e.g., lookup info about wolves on the Internet, make art related to wolves, visit a zoo). An unfortunate truth is we only do evaluation where funding requires it, and we rarely get the information needed to truly inform new versions or future initiatives. This project proves otherwise.

The conference that Twitter made
Twitter was the talk and technology of the conference. MW2009 was among Twitter’s top 10 trending topics, even claiming #1 on Friday.  I will admit to not liking the Twitterfall on screen during the opening plenary—too much of a distraction—BUT the conference vibe and distillation of what people were thinking, feeling, seeing as evidenced on Twitter was amazing. Reading the topic feed provided entry into sessions that I hadn’t been able to attend and helped me select must-read papers for the flight home.

IMA puts Indy on the map
From Max Anderson’s opening keynote “Moving from Virtual to Visceral” and the generous sharing of information about cloud computing and ArtBabble to the Friday night reception and chance to wander the gardens and galleries, the Indianapolis Museum of Art set a high bar for local hosts. IMA is reason enough to come back to Indy (that and the Children’s Museum which I didn’t get to). Also, must say I loved the airport:  small, clean, pretty with all the amenities (ample Starbucks, free WiFi) and I could check-in with an electronic boarding pass on my phone.

Winning is nice
The Walker’s My Yard Our Message won best of the web in the innovation category. For a team that’s been feeling like it lost the “new” in media during the long ArtsConnectEd development effort, this was nice. But the big winner was Brooklyn, who took top honors for exhibition (Click! A-Crowd Curated Exhibition), on-line community or service (Brooklyn Museum Collection, Posse, and Tag! You are It!), and best overall site (brooklynmuseum.org). Sadly, the award coincided with the museum’s announcement of cost-saving measures in response to economic challenges. Among these actions, a moratorium on staff travel, which meant no one from Brooklyn attended the conference. Instead they sent a video acceptance speech thanking their director, team members + dogs, and above all the audience and participants that made it all possible. I was nearly in tears.

[vimeo]http://www.vimeo.com/4180587[/vimeo]

Resolution
Having been referred to as a “seasoned webster” in the conference Twitter stream, I resolve to stop expressing the feeling of being old. I have yet to figure out the reward for colleagues catching me in the act of “old” behavior but there will be one. Really, I’m not that old, I’ve just been in the game for more years than most M&W participants and … okay, I’m exhibiting old/been there behavior.

Nina Simon
Nina’s mantra—translate those digital experiences into the physical space of the museums—is something we’re trying to do at Walker in the upcoming reinstallation of the collection. She started her mini-workshop with the British comedy sketch “Facebook in Reality” (a must watch if you haven’t already http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrlSkU0TFLs) and then showed examples from Harrah’s gift card to the Bibliotheek Haarlem Oost book return/tagging exchange as examples of integrating technology into the visitor experience. Seemingly simple, great examples (read Nina’s paper), but oh so hard to do (as in coming up with the good idea). I’m still wrestling with her closing observations about the disconnect between IMA’s online and physical presence but her ideas are nonetheless aspirational.

Going home
We got great feedback on ArtsConnectEd, just what we needed going into the May 4th public soft launch. We developed the content submission technology—collection records exported in CDWA Lite XML format and harvested with OAI-PMH—to support the future possibility of including other collections but weren’t prepared for the number of people asking how they could get their stuff into the repository. It all holds great promise but there are a few politics to work out on our end.

Hacking the iPod Touch

Shelley Bernstein over at the Brooklyn Museum has posted some details on their recent hack of the iPod Touch to use in the gallery. Shelly hasn’t posted all the details on the blog, but if you contact her, she will be happy to link you up to the juice. If you’re looking to do something […]

Shelley Bernstein over at the Brooklyn Museum has posted some details on their recent hack of the iPod Touch to use in the gallery. Shelly hasn’t posted all the details on the blog, but if you contact her, she will be happy to link you up to the juice. If you’re looking to do something like this in a gallery, it’s a great head-start.

Photo by Shelly Bernstein

Photo by Shelly Bernstein

Using an iPod touch as a video display in a gallery is a really great idea for a number of reasons:

  • iPods are cheap (relatively).
  • The screens are offer a high resolution and an acceptable size.
  • They’re small and unobtrusive, so they have the potential to not irritate curators who dislike too much stuff near the art. 
  • The playback hardware is contained right in the unit, so no need for extra wires to a DVD player or other playback device.
  • They have WiFi, so there is potential for remote administration, updating, and connecting to content on the Net. 
  • If you get a first generation, they’re hackable. The second generation will probably be hackable soon. Thanks to things like Cydia, you can install SSH and all kinds of useful goodies.
  • The interface is simple. Though I’m not sure if my grandma would know how to interact with it. 

The only real downside to the IPod touch is the cord comes out a weird angle, making the mounting and display a little tricky.

“Master” metadata

Some great conversation happening in the comments of my writeup of the Search session at MW2008, and it made me remember something I wanted to bring up at the conference but forgot. Namely, the concept of “master metadata”, or the idea that there’s one authoritative version of the metadata describing an object. This came up […]

Some great conversation happening in the comments of my writeup of the Search session at MW2008, and it made me remember something I wanted to bring up at the conference but forgot. Namely, the concept of “master metadata”, or the idea that there’s one authoritative version of the metadata describing an object.

This came up for me in the session the MFA and MIT did on sharing their data for a new subsite: they mentioned the data was being “augmented” on the final site, and that someday they’d be interested in getting this extra information back into their main repository.

The problem’s immediately obvious: with all of the proposed sharing and opening up of our data, presumably to allow others to weigh in on it and add their voice, there are often situations where institutions would like to have some of this new data. For instance, we’re building a new version of ArtsConnectEd and intend to allow museum educators to variously tag, comment on, and draw relationships between objects. This will almost certainly be “good data”, stuff that would be valuable to integrate in our internal collection database.

The question is, how? Once your data is available for sharing, and someone actually builds something good with it and enhances it, is there a way to get that new data back into the source? Is there / should there be a way to tag metadata as “original source” or “augmented”? Should we be asking anyone harvesting our data to push back their changes for us to audit and possibly include?

Anyone solved this? Seb, are you getting info back from Flickr Commons you can then add to your internal database? Phil / Jenna, any thoughts on how to get that extra data back?

Web 2.0: it still matters

Just when you were starting to think we should be retiring the term “Web 2.0″, Nina Simon of Museum 2.0 comes along to remind us that we’ve largely forgotten what it really means. It is not, for instance, flashy AJAX – or at least, not exclusively. It is not just user comments. Web 2.0, as […]

Just when you were starting to think we should be retiring the term “Web 2.0″, Nina Simon of Museum 2.0 comes along to remind us that we’ve largely forgotten what it really means. It is not, for instance, flashy AJAX – or at least, not exclusively. It is not just user comments. Web 2.0, as originally fleshed out by Tim O’Reilly, remains an incredibly cool idea to strive for.

Her online preview of a presentation she’ll give Monday is a fantastic reminder of what Web 2.0 is and what it means for museums — most importantly, the gentle nudge that it doesn’t have to be online to be Web 2.0. I for one am kind of excited by the idea of an exhibition in “perpetual beta,” growing and evolving on the floor, rather than a static and final “release.” Or even something that mixes both worlds, like Brooklyn’s Click exhibition.

If “Web 2.0″ has lost its luster for you, you owe it to yourself to watch and listen to her presentation. It will remind you why it still matters.

MuseTechCentral launches

The museum technical community got some good news today: MuseTechCentral officially launched. Billing itself as the MCN Project Registry, the site seeks to “provide a place for the MCN community to share information about technology-related museum projects”. After some quick browsing (encouragingly, there are already a good number of entries, including several cell phone tour […]

screenshot-mcn-project-registry-museum-computer-network-musetech-central-mozilla-firefox-1.pngThe museum technical community got some good news today: MuseTechCentral officially launched. Billing itself as the MCN Project Registry, the site seeks to “provide a place for the MCN community to share information about technology-related museum projects”.

After some quick browsing (encouragingly, there are already a good number of entries, including several cell phone tour projects I was interested in) it was easy to see the potential of the site:

  • When starting a new project, it’s smart to see if this problem has been solved before. If so, how? And for how much? Is it worth the investment? Or is there a vendor to avoid? Now you can find out.
  • Vice versa, upon completing a project, you may find yourself being hit up constantly for information requests. Now you can now simply refer people to your project page on MuseTechCentral.

While I was there I created an account and added our Art on Call project to the registry. The site is full of ajaxy goodness that makes form entry and navigation a breeze, although I do wish you could bookmark filtered results.

So far the projects seems to be fairly art-museum-centric, but hopefully that will change as more institutions start to contribute. The registry will be most useful if it truly represents the museum community, so if you’ve got a project to add… go add it!

Overall, this is a great effort by the Museum Computer Network and the Museum Software Foundation. Looking forward to future browsing and adding many more projects!

[via Musematic]

Web Walker 1.9

Teddy Banks, writing for Design Observer, shares some commentary on Olia Lialina’s newest article: Vernacular Web 2. The article is a great read on it’s own, and as Banks tells us, should be a must read for every web designer. Lialina’s work, My boyfriend came back from the war, was featured in the Walker’s online […]

Starry Night Myspace Remixed Al Gore, Three Big Displays The Impact of Large Scale Integrated Displays on Architecture and Urbanism

  • Teddy Banks, writing for Design Observer, shares some commentary on Olia Lialina’s newest article: Vernacular Web 2. The article is a great read on it’s own, and as Banks tells us, should be a must read for every web designer. Lialina’s work, My boyfriend came back from the war, was featured in the Walker’s online exhibit, Beyond Interface: net art and Art on the Net.

    Lialina touches on the similarties of myspace of today and the web of 10 years ago. Instead of being designed by computer geeks, it’s “designed” by teens and ameteurs, and the music is mp3s and not midi.

  • And speaking of MySpace, Danah Boyd has some new thoughts posted on myspace and remix culture. Seb Chan offers some thoughts on what this means for institutions that offer graphics and resources that can be remixed (legitimately or otherwise).
  • Here’s an interesting article on the paradox of large displays, written by Jeff Attwood. He quotes Dan’s Data:

    Users of 30-inch monitors face the terrible, terrible problem of how to effectively use all of that space. You don’t often want to maximise a folder or document window on a screen this big; either you’ll end up with a lot of white space and important program buttons separated by a vast expanse of nothing, or you’ll get lines of text 300 or more characters long, which are difficult to read.

    I use three displays at work, two on my main computer and one on the laptop. While synergy makes this a very useful setup when doing video work, it can also be extrmely distracting at times. I find it necessary to sleep my laptop so I can focus on important tasks on my main displays.

  • Interactive Architecture had been quiet for a while, but they posted a brief blurb on a conference going on next week that will discuss the many implications of signage in public space. Hopefully some of the papers and presentations from the conference will make it to the web.

WebWalker 1.6

Stats galore: Our account of google analytics has finally been updated to the new version and it rocks! It seems very intuitive and a lot more clear than the old adapted from urchin version. And another new stats tool we’re liking a lot is crazyegg. The heatmap tool is especially impressive, since it makes it […]

CrazyEgg heatmap Apple Remote QC Patch Edward Hopper MFA Boston

  • Stats galore: Our account of google analytics has finally been updated to the new version and it rocks! It seems very intuitive and a lot more clear than the old adapted from urchin version.

    And another new stats tool we’re liking a lot is crazyegg. The heatmap tool is especially impressive, since it makes it very easy to visualize what visitors are clicking on.

  • Quartz Composer tidbits: Steve Morkis over at fdiv has been doing some very interesting work writing custom patches, so far providing an xcode template, custom inspector how-to, and an apple remote patch, amongst others. I’m interested in seeing a cli patch that would send commands to the terminal and run external scripts. Very exciting, though the QC community is a little unsure about what this means in the face of Leopard.

    I also found out about another interesting app called Millicent that seems like a mash-up of Quartz composer and photoshop, geared towards creating broadcast graphics on a budget. The app is still in beta, feature incomplete and a bit buggy, but it is interesting to see the diversity of work that QC is being used for.

  • Exhibition Website: The MFA Boston has an Edward Hopper show going on now and the website is rather well done, if a bit slim on exhibition info. The design is very clean and lets the iconic work of Hopper speak for itself. Allowing visitors to download images as wallpaper is also pretty nifty. Coudal noted: The ‘sketchbook’ feature is more than a bit clumsy but it’s well worth fumbling around to get at the goods. Why are big museums so consistently stupid about presenting things online? The sketchbook doesn’t seem too bad to me, and I like that I can zoom in and move around. It is a bit slow and small, but the idea is a good one. It seems google maps has set the new standard for image zooming/panning, and that is a tall technical tree to climb.

WebWalker 1.5

WebWalker’s had a bum leg for a month, but we’re on the mend and here’s the proof. Web 2.0 Overboard: If you haven’t had enough of the wired/tired/expired Web 2.0 craze, here’s two gems that will knock you out (for better or worse). Check out the Web 2.0 Logo Creatr for all your missing-e and […]

Web Walkr 1.5Exhibit FilesDecklink IntensityPhotoshop Scripting

WebWalker’s had a bum leg for a month, but we’re on the mend and here’s the proof.

  • Web 2.0 Overboard: If you haven’t had enough of the wired/tired/expired Web 2.0 craze, here’s two gems that will knock you out (for better or worse). Check out the Web 2.0 Logo Creatr for all your missing-e and reflection needs. And if that logo is just a little too flickr-y for you, check out this grid of Web 2.0’d logos from Jean Claude Attituder. (via Fallon Planning Blog)
  • Seb Chan at Fresh + New beat us to the punch discussing ExhibitFiles, a new social networking site for museum pros. Jim Spadaccini explains the concept:

    As a community, we sometimes redesign the wheel as there is no central place for us to find out about the best (and the worst?) practices in exhibit development. This issue is becoming more urgent as many of the exhibit designers who were active in the 1970s and 1980s are beginning to retire. Over the years, important exhibition development information is lost or stored within a museum where it can’t be easily shared with the larger community.

    ExhibitFiles is more targeted at science and history museums, but there is still a large potential for use by certain types of professionals within art institutions as well.

  • One of my favorite blogs, Create Digital Motion, has a great review of the Blackmagic Intensity, which lets you connect one computer’s DVI video output to another machine as a HDMI input. I don’t see any uses for NMI right now, but it is something that VJs are certainly interested in, because mixing HD can be a very expensive proposition. This thing is only , and shows up as a quicktime compatible source.
  • I’ve recently been playing with scripting Adobe Photoshop, which isn’t as daunting as it sounds. I had some experience with scripting Adobe Illustrator several years ago, but at the time Photoshop didn’t have the fancy javascript abilities that Illustrator did. Overall the scriptability is very powerful; there are few things you can’t manipulate programmatically, and with scripts you have far more control than actions. Two useful resources for me so far have been PS-Scripts.com, a great community for photoshop scripting, and the PS-scripts project, which provides an extended library of utilities.

    If you’ve got photoshop CS2, the Scripting folder in your install has all kinds of goodies to learn from (the pdfs in your install are not copy protected like the web versions). And Adobe’s ExtendScript Toolkit app is actually useful for writing and debugging the scripts. I hope to post more on scripting Photoshop (and After Effects?) in the future.

Libraries ahead of museums in Web 2.0?

This idea came up during the Radical Trust session at MW07 – Seb pointed out that libraries already radically trust their users by essentially giving them their collection and trusting it will be returned. It’s further reinforced by this article in Wired discussing a program started at a North Carolina public library: using the lure […]

137506981_35f7507229.jpgThis idea came up during the Radical Trust session at MW07 – Seb pointed out that libraries already radically trust their users by essentially giving them their collection and trusting it will be returned. It’s further reinforced by this article in Wired discussing a program started at a North Carolina public library: using the lure of a free mp3 player or the chance the win a laptop, they were able to guide their staff through a comprehensive Web 2.0 learning experience. It actually sounds pretty remarkable – if you’ve been flirting at the edge of Web 2.0, this is a great step by step introduction to some of the bigger and better ideas out there.

Should museums be doing more to help their staff embrace Web 2.0 ideas and technology? Or is it enough to have departments like ours blogging and call it good?

[via Museum Journal]

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