My Take Aways from #UKMW11

First of all: This years UK Museums on the Web Conference was amazing.  It was such a vibrant energetic day. I met lots of new people as well as lots of my old favourites, and new favourites and well just my favourites. I really love the sector I work in. I really enjoyed the day and will be focusing on some of the elements discussed for a good while yet.  Having said that, the whole day was a bit of a blur, from the 4.15am start to the whole having to present, and having to present with a chap who likes to talk (eloquently) lots, blowing all time allotments out the window (I am mentioning no names…), I may have set a new record for speed talking and starved my brain of oxygen. It was a brilliant blur nevertheless.  Well done to everyone involved.

Starting off the day was Ross Parry.  It is always a pleasure to listen to Ross, he oozes calm intelligence, and takes the listener on a journey of quiet enthusiasm.  Quiet enthusiasm is always the most captivating.  I bet his lectures are amazing. Anyway.  Ross explained that the day was about innovation, resetting and overall a brighter future.

So here are my take aways:

  • What’s the difference between museums and Ikea? (meatballs) From Mark O’Neill, Head of Innovation and Delivery, at the Government Digital Service.  I quite liked Mark’s key principles for transforming public services to digital because well the digital user experience of mandatory public services is pretty crummy.  Principles:
    • Digital by Default
    • Putting users first
    • Learning from the journey
    • Building a network of trust
    • Moving barriers aside
    • Creating an environment for technology to flourish
    • Don’t do everything yourself.

Some principles that are worthy of any digital project, whatever the sector.  It is always interesting bringing in a keynote from left field from outside the sector, just to shake us up.  But If I’m honest, I think he was already preaching to the converted.  Oonagh Murphy has a more comprehensive synopsis of Mark’s presentation over on her blog. I don’t know if his comparison to online searching on Ikea vs the Getty Museum was intended to provoke or inspire, so I’ll just leave it at that.

  • Pallant house has a really nice website. Peter Pavement, Surface Impression and Marc Steene, Pallant House Gallery were up first in the Getting it right from the start section.  I was up next, so unfortunately missed most of this talk from sheer panic.  But they have a very nice website, and the idea about intensive collaboration between all partners sounds ace.

(Tom and I were next; I’ll blog about that separately.)

  • Action research is awesome.  Even if it is about Metrics. Jane Finnis, Chief Executive of Culture24 spoke about ‘Let’s Get Real: How to Evaluate Online Success’ and that to succeed in the future Jane advocated that museums have to embrace both agile working, and failure.
  • If the answer is an app……What was the question? Nuff said.
  • Building solid foundations for inter departmental digital projects from Alex Bromley, Rhiannon Loosley and Matthew Rose, Museum of London.  I really like both of case study applications they discussed in their presentation (the picture bank and pocket histories) because they are lovely. But more than that I really like that MoL were working with sustainability and future proofing in mind, whether it was from getting support from senior management early on or integrating data management cross departmentally, future proof thinking was key.  Then there is the awesomeness of the ability to re-purposing and re-using the same content in different departments.  A magic box indeed is the CIIM (did I get the acronym right Rhi?)
  • IWM is basically awesome. Carolyn and her New Media team are doing some spiffing stuff when it comes to digital projects (both present tense and forthcoming). Luke Smith and Giv Parveneh, IWM, spoke about the insanely good ‘Lives of the Great War.  Despite working on a project with IWM, I’m actually terrified of War Museums, mostly the content, rather than the people who work there; but projects like this one are making me suppress my deep rooted fears.  Lives of the Great War aims to piece together the life stories behind thousands of names on war memorials in Britain.  Luke and Giv explained the rich stories that have come from crowdsourcing across digital platforms and across archives.  Its amazing the information you can find, when you ask for help.
  • Become a meta data liberator. Genius. I’ve never really got metadata. I’m a mucky pup, and an impatient one of that, the idea of categorisation and data cleaning, and lots and lots of meta data, will normally bore me, and then irritate me.  Its ten times worse, because its really important, which makes me more irritated that I can’t do it properly.  However. Seth van Hooland, Max De Wilde, and Ruben Verborgh from Free your Meta Data  are awesome. They made meta data interesting!  Watch the video! Watch the video!
  • Create beautiful things to view beautiful things.  Joesph Padfield from the National Gallery talked about using IIPImage to manage high resolution images.

all in all a pretty excellent day.

Key questions and take always from Hacking the Museum: Museum Computer Network Conference 2011

I have been trying to get some time to muddle through some of the issues from the of inspiring and interesting sessions at MCN11.
I really got a lot out of attending MCN. Its a nicely contained conference, a bit more US centric than I was expecting, but still great. Much of the focus of the sessions I participated in dealt with some really interesting conceptual issues, broader frameworks, and raised questions about the nature of online museum content and engaging and evaluating visitors using digital in galley and mobile tech.

Here’s a brief summary of some of the key questions and take aways I came away with:

What’s the point of Museum Websites?

One of the most interesting sessions at MCN focused on one question. What’s the point of museum websites? Instead of throwing answers at the question the panel instead broke that question down into its component parts, and debated those. Producing more questions than answers in my book is always a good thing. Starting off with contending the museum user divide. How does what museums want compare with what the users want from museum websites? What’s the difference between the two? Issues of trust and authority on the Web was a strong strand. Which produced even more questions:

  •  Does the Audience still want the museum authority?
  •  Should Museums bring ‘expertise’ rather than ‘authority’ in the digital conversation?
  • What is the nature of digital authority?

The question of authority comes up again and again, it’s a debate I have continuously in most meetings I go to. I know it is a contentious issue, and a very important one at that. I do kind of like the ever present idea that museums have to be authoritarian, because “wes noes stuff about stuff”. This Panel took an interesting perspective to the authority question, asking how we should be building museum websites to gain and maintain authority online, something they argued that museums haven’t really earned in the online space yet, rather relying on the automatic ingrained authority physical museums have built up. But really can physical museum authority transmit in a digital space? And more importantly should it? That’s something I really came away with. Surely participation, dialogue and engagement with visitors breaks down the authority barrier to enable museums and visitors to work together to create an engaging online experience? Rather than a transmission of authority? So should museum websites be authoritarian at all? Right enough of a rant on that. The session Ended with the most thought provoking question of all: What if museum websites aren’t the right model at all? Plenty to ponder there.

[Update: Suse Cairns who was part of the What’s the point of museum website panel has just written an excellent post on Museum Authority over on her Museum Geek blog]

What type of visitor are you?

It was also really nice to see such a strong visitor focus to the sessions, rather than a ‘”Oooh look what the technology can do” vibe. I particularly liked a session led by the Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Policy and Analysis, which has been researching the differences in the expectations and responses of museum visitors. The they have identified three major experience preferences– Ideas,People, and Objects. IPO for short. Through survey research and visitor interviews the research team has developed some insight into how these preferences are applied in a museum context. Visitors who have a preference for ideas crave information, perspective, significance, chronology and statistics. Ideas people can be on two scales; either narrow (love of factoids) or broad (love a big umbrella concept). If you are a people preference visitor then it’s all about the social engagement with other visitors, explainers and the personal story behind objects; a love of narrative streams and faces. Then there is the object lovers who like details on Aesthetics, Comparisons, manufacture, Origin/use, Styles. The devil is in the detail and above all else like to take in the object’s beauty. To be honest depending what mood I’m in, I think I’m all three. What type of Visitor are you?

Key take aways

  1. Become/get an information radiator: This was presented during Ron Stein’s and Tim Svenonius paper on Transparency. It was really nice to hear them talk about the importance of transparency not only with public audiences, but all with internal audiences, the people you work with on a day to day basis, and everyone else in the institution. The idea behind an information radiator is that it is a display posted in a place where people can see it as they work or walk by. It shows readers important information without it having to be explained. Quiet sampling creating more communication with fewer interruptions. Genius. So that got me thinking can you become an information radiator yourself? So yes, information radiator boards work in an office, but what about when you are out and about? Can you make it obvious in a quick, succinct even visual way the most important information you want to convey about your work? Maybe I need to get myself a badge… Information radiators also combine with a more general take away of communicating our work better. It seems to be that the museum webby field are unintentionally becoming a naval gazing group. There is so much awesome work happening in our sector, and we’re good at telling each other about it; but we seem to be pretty bad at telling other people of its value and impact, whether that be colleagues inside our own institutions, or visitors. Perhaps action research like that of the Keeping it Real Culture 24 report is a compelling framework to take forward.
  2. Blurring the worlds between DH and museums tech. It’s all research after all!  Neal Stimler gave a really interesting crowdsourced presentation, which provided the really mesmerizing video by Michael Edson at the Smithsonian, and some really interesting questions.
  3. Use traditional marketing tools in new ways to encourage engagement: Treat objects like stars in their own advert. Simple, engaging and effective. Just one of the many beautiful things coming out of the National Palace Museum in Taipei.