Museums and the Web – day one

Oooh. So, here I am in San Francisco. 11 hours sitting in the same seat. A taxi ride. A hotel. Bumped into Ross on the plane which was cool, and did about an hour and a half of museum/e-stuff talking en route. That killed some time (and probably a few of the passengers near us..).  

The hotel is cool, if a little corporate and, well, a bit like The Shining but my threshold for hotels is pretty low. Anything with a towel and hot water does it for me.

Anyway. An afternoon of wandering the streets of SF and marvelling at the enormous (I mean, enormous) quantity of nail bars, then dinner with a bunch of museum types, followed by a typically crap jet-lagged nights sleep, I staggered down to see what Museums and the Web 2007 was all about.

Stuff kicked off with an opening plenary from Brewster Kale from the Internet Archive. His talk – “Universal Access to Human Knowledge” set a fantastically dynamic tone for the day. Great to have a kick up the aris so early on. I’m also a fairly simplistic kind of guy so it ticked boxes with me – “just do it”, “public or perish”, etc etc. A few people were shuffling around worrying about IP and that kind of stuff but I’m with Mr Kale – if you don’t try this stuff you’ll never get there. If you do, it usually won’t piss people off – and if it does, you remove the offending item before getting sued.. I suppose it’s not my neck on the line (and I’m also not a published, “living off it” musician or artist), but the whole DRM issue just needs a good kicking as far as I’m concerned. Surely more access to your stuff is a good thing, even if it means losing control a bit?

Next up was our session on Web 2.0. Great to see the room so full. The Smithsonian went first and talked about their blog, Eye Level. Jeff Gates talked about the necessary workflows, sign-off from a committee and moderated comments – all to keep the museum happy. I’d probably take issue with this actually being a blog if I’d had a few drinks, but I bit my lip – the great thing when you look at it is that they’ve actually done something, which is waaaaaay more than most people. And the end result is actually pretty good. It also set a nice contrast with the next talk which was from the Brooklyn Museum and some of the incredibly funky stuff they’ve been doing. These guys actually walk the walk. Fabulous, edgy content, unmoderated comments, using Flickr, getting real people involved. Wonderful stuff.   

Then us – me and Brian Kelly from UKOLN. We presented on our paper (called Web 2.0: Stop thinking, start doing) which is basically about the low takeup of Web 2.0 stuff in museums. Why, how to change it, how to challenge it. Seemed to go well.

Next up, a session on Alternate Realities – some really interesting stuff on PDAs from Dick van Dijk at the Waag Society. They’d identified one of the things which always worries us about the whole PDA experience – that you can easily get seoparated not only from the “real” museum experience but also from the people you’re there with. Their solution was to build a collaborative experience where users work together with their PDAs. Very cool. Then some people talking about a trading game on a PDA – again, a collaborative approach. Finally, Paul Marty and Richard Urban from the University of Illinois talked about Second Life. I’ve been in contact with these guys via the Museums in Second Life Google group so good to put a face to a name.

Finally I went to the beginning of a session on redesign. The SFMoma lot talked about using researchers in redesigning their site. I’d poached one of their quotes (and challenged it) for our talk earlier in the day, so I obviously had to get in a question: I’m a huge fan of visitor research – we did loads of it for the new Science Museum website – but it troubles me when we ask existing audiences things like “do you want some web 2.0 tools?”, they answer no, and we therefore don’t do it…My point about the whole “Web 2.0 thing” is that we should be looking at new audiences rather than asking the same old ones. If we don’t, we’re surely likely to get into a cycle of researching with the same audiences, building for the same audiences, appealing to the same audiences? Note to self – must ask our VR team this sometime soon…

So that was it – day 1. Or at least the end of the formal bit…  

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