Museums and the Web is one of my favorite conferences because it combines three of my passions: art, creative thinking and technology. What makes this conference especially rich is the requirement for all presenters to write a 5000 word research paper prior to the conference. The ability for me to read a paper before the presentation gives me the opportunity to ask meaningful questions and dig deep into the issues.

Here are some highlights of my learning moments this year at Museums and the Web 2006.

Future Trends:

Ten Years On:  Hopes, Fears, Preditions and Gambles for UK Museums On-line – Jemima Rellie, Tate.

Jemima’s presentation took us back through significant web developments in UK Museums over the past ten years.  Achievements made possible through grant funding projects have included the Tate’s digitizing of their entire collection of over 65,000 works (see Tate Online Collection ). 

I was most impressed with the National Gallery’s Create Your Own series of cards, calendars and prints and how it integrated with the online gallery.  Only problem I ran into was finding works of art that I would be allowed to use to make a print/postcard/calendar.  With the small enhancement of teaching the gallery to only show the “make your own” link for images that are approved for this process…this “Create Your Own” feature will be irresistible.  (See National Gallery’s Create Your Own )

Looking towards the future, we should all think digital in everything we do.  "Content created within the organization should be destined for on-line distrubtion as well as put to other intended use.  Museums are now in the business of collecting not just objects, but also digitizing content."

We also need to create intuitive and inspiring discovery tools that help our users find what they are looking for, or discover gems they would have missed.  And the time has come to incorporate Web 2.0 principles in our sites.  The web is no longer a one-way medium.  We must create engaging interactive sites that incorporate RSS (like the 24 Hour Museum ), tagging (like steve.musuem and Cleveland Museum of Art (see ‘help others find me” ) and user provided content (like SFMOMA’s artcast invitational)

Podcasting:

Artcasting at SFMOMA: First Year Lessons, Future Challenges for Museum Podcasters – Peter Samis and Stephanie Pau

This presentation and paper by SFMOMA is what this conference is all about.  It is a chronicle of their experience and lessons learned, and a recipe for any of us to review and adapt to our own needs, as we explore podcasting in our own museums. 

I’m very excited about SFMOMA’s artcast invitational where they encourage the general public to submit their own carefully composed podcasts where “Winning entries will be selected by a jury comprised of SFMOMA staffers and a guest artist. Ingenuity, veracity, and an original point of view are all taken into consideration. Selected podcasts will be featured in monthly SFMOMA Artcast installments beginning summer 2006.”

And if you really want to feel the power of podcasts created by someone outside the museum community…download SFMOMA’s Artcast from Feb 2006 and listen to JT Leroy.  Fast forward to 6 minutes and 25 seconds and listen for at least 3 minutes …and let the power of JT’s storytelling tear down the baracades to the museum and help you find a way in.  Simply amazing!

I was especially grateful for the 5th myths of podcasting:

  1. Myth – Visitors will be able to bring in their iPods and sych them to a docking station.
  2. Myth – Podcasts behave the same way as audio tours and can supplant them at a fraction of the cost.
  3. Myth  – Many museums have launched their podcast programs by repurposing content they already own.
  4. Myth  – Since iPods play MP3 files, they are compatible with each other and all MPS players, regardless of generation.
  5. Myth  – We no longer need to hire an audio tour production company because podcasts lower the bar so we can produce our own.

For the scoop on why these are myths…head to their research paper at Artcasting at SFMOMA: First Year Lessons, Future Challenges for Museum Podcasters – Peter Samis and Stephanie Pau

Blogging

Blogs were big this year at Museums and the Web.  UBC Botanical Garden’s Botany Photo of the Day is an excellent example of  content written in a personal voice (as opposed to an institional voice) with the opportunity for user contribution.  To allow users to submit photos for consideration, a Flickr Group as been established at.   The site is clearly achiveiving its goals of

  1. Promoting UBC Botanical Garden
  2. Creating completing content constantly
  3. Meaningful user contributions
  4. Enriching and Educating the public on Botany

And the big winner of the Best of the Web was the Science Buzz Blog by Bryan Kennedy. His creative use of blogs to engage students in science is really working!

Oooooo….how I want to start an art work of the week blog (as soon as I find a spare minute).

Tagging

Steve.museum:  An ongoing experiment in social tagging, folksonomy, and museums

By far, the most exciting presentation of the conference for me was the steve.museum a collaborative research project by The Cleveland Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, Guggenheim Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Rubin Museum of Art and SFMOMA.

 This project is all about improving findability of museum objects through user contributions.  For anyone who has experienced the amazing phenomenon of flickr tagging, the value of allowing users to tag art they way they see it is an obvious next step.  The trick is designing an experience that is intrinsically motivating to users, creating an appropriate interface, ensuring moderation when needed and building the bridge between folksonomy and taxonomy. 

How do you bridge folksonomy and taxonomy?  Why, a thesaurus, of course!  I was surprised by the simplicity of the answer.  Using tools like wordnet, we can create a semantic web based on a relational thesaurus.  And while I still believe we will always need brilliant human minds reviewing the emerging patterns and connections between folksonomy and taxonomy…wordnet is a fabulous starting point

Check out the steve.museum cataloguing prototype.  The Cleveland Museum of Art has already integrated this concept into their Cleveland Museum Online Gallery (see ‘help others find me”). 

The steve project is just the kind of collaborative brainpower that makes Museums and the Web such a stimulating conference.  Really bright people taking museums to the next level. 

Best of the Web

I just have to share two inspiring examples from the best of Museums and the Web

My Goals:

At the end of a really good conference, I always leave with a list of things to do, so here is my list from MW2006:

  1. Think digital – Remember to preserve the story about the art.
  2. Tagging/User Contribution – Enrich our online image gallery with tagging using the steve.museum model.
  3. Blogging/User Contribution – Create a blogging opportunity that inspires YOU to spend more time looking, thinking, talking and blogging about art!
  4. Read The Art of Innovation and Thoughtless Acts? : Observations on Intuitive Design Thanks for inspiring me to read these Kevin!

Underlying Theme to my MW2006 Goals – Making the museum, my museum!