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Musing Around the Web
March 26, 2010 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Museums build some pretty cool websites. To help people find them, use them, and give them props, the Museums and the Web conference has held an annual Best of the Web contest since 1997. This year's nominees are here. Just a sample: the MOMA on Bauhaus, the Center for New Media's Bracero History Archive, the Textile Museum of Canada's In Touch:Connecting Cloth, Culture, and Art, Perception Deception from The National Science and Technology Center of Australia, The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh from the Van Gogh Museum, the Smithsonian's Prehistoric Climate Change and Why it Matters Today, and more . If that doesn't wash out the remainder of your Friday, you can always dig into the past nominees.
posted by Miko (8 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is really interesting. I was wondering whether any of these would involve mobile apps for interacting with exhibits, and it looks like the Dallas Museum of Art one does. It's very audiotour influenced, though; I'd be interested in seeing text resources as well.

Recently in museums I've found myself taking notes on my ipod Touch about things to look up on Wikipedia etc later, and have found myself wishing that more museums had open wifi so that I could pursue additional info in the moment. I guess that's sort of the opposite of the museum's mission to curate, though.
posted by yarrow at 11:40 AM on March 26, 2010


Miko: thanks for this.

Yarrow: would terminals in the galleries with a browser locked down to Wikipedia (or other whitelisted sites) appeal to you?
posted by COBRA! at 11:47 AM on March 26, 2010


No no, I think it's right in line with what museums want to do. Their task is to collect, preserve, and present objects in ways that are meaningful to museumgoers.

I'm really interested in the potential of mobile devices in museums. I'd say it's not for lack of desire that this is happening sort of slowly. One of the main issues is one of access - even though you can do really cool things with mobiles, they are still only used by a fraction of visitors. Investing a lot of time and money and upkeep into a service that reaches maybe less than 3% of the visiting audience is a hard sell, internally. Some museums have experimented with loaner programs, and you occasionally find loaner iPods for audio tours and some ideas from the Palm Pilot days, but not many museums have found a good way to loan out something like an iPhone - the ideal way for people to use those is for the person using it to own it, so they can use and access and send the data later in ways that make sense for them. Just having one to carry around that you'd then turn in is a little nutty.

One final obstacle is that few museums have staff who are informed and up-to-date on things like mobile tech and innovative applications for it. The reason is that so many people with tech use and IT skills are in such high demand in the private sector that museums' nonprofit salaries are often not attractive enough to woo them, even though you can work with some really cool content. Not only salaries, really, but also the fact that once within a museum environment, techy people are often seen as the computer fixers rather than as program planners and developers. And finally, the hardware environment and sometimes even the bandwidth environment they have to work in is not even up to the quality of what they had in college, let alone the private sector. It's an issue.

I'm really finding it cool to work in a museum now that has developed a New Media department which contributes across the museum - building interactives for exhibits, researching visitors, creating web interactives, shooting and uploading video...but it's pretty rare and requires deep pockets.

But I would love to hear what you do with your mobile, and what people wish they could do in a museum with their mobiles.
posted by Miko at 11:52 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmm, I'm not sure if I'd use a terminal in the gallery. Maybe. Why would it need to be locked down - just to prevent people from using for their email and such? It seems like once the museum is making the decision to whitelist sites that does involve curating - obviously I don't necessarily believe everything I read about Russian formalism on wikipedia, but if a museum is offering me wikipedia to learn more there might be an implicit endorsement.

Miko, all those reasons why it's hard to develop stuff for mobiles make sense. I do think that making wifi available might be a start that could be fairly easy to implement, but I understand that I probably just think that it would be helpful because I happen to be in the tiny set of people who has a mobile device and has a device that only connects via wifi.

That "curated" comment I made was kind of offhand, but I actually think it's an interesting question. I think there's a distinction to be made between enabling people to do their own unguided exploration on a topic - which is what unfettered access to the internet via a mobile device gets you - and creating additional curated artifacts, be they audiotours, web interactives, videos, etc. For me, while I hugely appreciate the intellectual effort that goes into curating a museum exhibit, I often feel like I haven't quite grasped the content of it unless I can go beyond the sort of self-contained world that an exhibit entails. I'm not talking about heavy duty research here; maybe there's a reference mentioned in the exhibit and I want to see if I can get that book in my library; maybe there's a place name mentioned and I want to see where it is on a map; maybe there's a word I don't know and I want to look up the definition... there are all kinds of possibilities, but the important thing is that I'm driving the direction rather than having it all set up for me, and that I've kind of gotten out of the bubble of the museum a little bit. Not sure if any of that makes much sense.
posted by yarrow at 12:20 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmm, I'm not sure if I'd use a terminal in the gallery. Maybe. Why would it need to be locked down - just to prevent people from using for their email and such? It seems like once the museum is making the decision to whitelist sites that does involve curating - obviously I don't necessarily believe everything I read about Russian formalism on wikipedia, but if a museum is offering me wikipedia to learn more there might be an implicit endorsement.

Yeah, for my museum, there's a practical need to lock down terminals when we put them in galleries; we're on a large campus, and any unrestrained browser would be showing Goatse in a matter of minutes.

In technology talks at my museum, the line for information-curation/content moderation is always up for a lot of debate; it's a tough balance between the desire to unite people with information, the desire to make sure the museum is presenting a unified public voice, and the fear/expectation that any given piece of technology is going to be vulnerable to vandalism in ways we probably won't even think of until after the fact.
posted by COBRA! at 12:46 PM on March 26, 2010


Hm - just googled "mobile apps museums" and got
Brooklyn Museum Mobile Collection
Dinosaurs
Canadian Museum of Civilization

and

Web Apps vs. iPhone Apps for Museum Content

I'm sure there's lots more and I'd really like to learn more about the whole thing - where it's working, how, what devices, what do people dream of doing...
posted by Miko at 12:47 PM on March 26, 2010


maybe there's a reference mentioned in the exhibit and I want to see if I can get that book in my library; maybe there's a place name mentioned and I want to see where it is on a map; maybe there's a word I don't know and I want to look up the definition... there are all kinds of possibilities, but the important thing is that I'm driving the direction rather than having it all set up for me, and that I've kind of gotten out of the bubble of the museum a little bit. Not sure if any of that makes much sense.

That makes amazing sense and, actually, I think it's a really great point. We often think (within the museum world) that we have to solve the content problem for people. So for instance, "We want people to use mobiles in our museum! We have to make a special guided experience/platform for them to use that's created by, maintained by, and populated by the museum." When in fact, what you desire is simply to let the exhibit become a jumping-off place for you, and build on that content in ways that suit your own curiosities and purposes.

That's a great point. I tend to think it's awfully cool when people take iPhone pics of our collection (which you can do now) and send them to friends, or text/Tweet to each other from inside the museum. We could definitely enhance this with WiFi, but it'll reach its fullest expression when the damn devices and plans are more affordable. I could imagine that most exhibitions would do well to include a corollary online component that might contain extended video, audio, maps - maybe just a resource page with links to same - in case someone really does want a filtered set of extensions available.

Then, too, I do think there are ways to create museum experiences on mobile devices that are super cool for their own sake - not as ways to say "look, we made an app for you, are you happy now" but as ways to do things you really can't do any other way except with a mobile - I dunno, stuff with mapping, questing, geotagging,..I have a hard time even imagining what's possible because I actually am not using a web-enabled phone myself yet.
posted by Miko at 12:54 PM on March 26, 2010


Thanks SO much. The MoMA Bauhaus site is awesome. This is a nice supplement to "Digital Foundations: Introduction to Media Design with the Adobe Creative Suite" wiki.
posted by nimsey lou at 1:18 PM on March 26, 2010


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