Museums and the Web 2013

April 17-20 Museums and the Web 2013, the annual conference about digital technology and museums, took place. The Crossmedialab was invited to give a talk about the “The Online Footprint of Museums“. Thijs Waardenburg attended the conference and the video of the Pecha Kucha style presentation can be viewed below. He also writes about a selection of the other presentations he attend at MW2013.

Larry Friedlander, a professor emeritus of Stanford University, gave the plenary opening presentation. He pointed out that digital technologies in museums changed from rare into commonplace, or as he says “the stone that was rejected has became the cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22). I [Thijs] like the way he puts it, but on the other hand we already know that digital technology has a prominent position in our society, and museums around the world are constantly looking to use these technologies to attract more and new audience. According to Friedlander museums should for instance create other expectations towards children. They often consider museums as a sort of school. Avoid a pseudo-educational approach. So how can museums provoke (young) people to engage with cultural heritage? Friedlander says that museums “should provide experiences, but without filling in ‘all the dots’.  Ask yourself: what can people bring to an experience?”

After the plenary opening, the conference continued with parallel sessions, divided in several categories like: online exhibitions, on-site evaluations, network effects, crowd-sourcing and digital curation. Next I will shortly describe a selection of the presentations that I attended. The first is from the London Science Museum who, together with Google, has build six physical installations called Web Lab. These installations can be accessed and used by both on-site and online visitors. What impressed me the most is the sheer complexity of the project. Still they were able to design and maintain a relatively stable system.

Another impressive presentation was about “interpretive technology to engage visitors actively in new kinds of experiences with works of art” in the Cleveland Museum of Art, called Gallery One. The technology is used in such a way that it would not disturb the traditional way of exhibiting and consuming the works of art. To my opinion this project shows that digital technology in museums is really getting mature.

Jonathan Munar from Art21 explained his project about crowdsourcing translations of their videos. The primary goal was not to just (cheaply) translate the videos, but to expand the online community, which somewhat surprised me. To do this they used Amara (also use by for instance TED). According to Jonathan, volunteers have several motives to participate: they like to be forced to read over and over again, encourages deeper understanding of the art work, see and learn something new.

I also attended a series of presentations about mobile technology for museums. At the end of each presentation, the presenters were asked to give tips regarding the development of mobile apps. This is a selection of them: “Launch early, and launch often” (Tristan Interactive), “Different objects need different ways to tell the story” (Earprint), “Keep it simple!” (Fabrique), “If you ask to BYOD, offer battery-charging packs (from a person in the audience).