Museums and the Web, a noobies report day 1

Ai Weiwei Zodiac

I went for the first time to the Museums and the Web Conference in San Diego this past week.  This is a new community for me, and I spent my time trying to get oriented, finding points of concordance with our work at NYSCI, and sharing what we have been doing with new colleagues.

I went to a preconference session called something like “social media strategy,” and this revealed one of the thick threads running through the conference.  People are trying to find ways to capture the energy of social media with two principal aims.  First, to build audiences; second, to create and disseminate content.   To me, the people who were talking about the social web to build audience were mostly looking backwards, reviewing what has been done:  what are the existing channels, and how can museums feed those channels?  You know the drill, from facebook to instagram to whatever has just emerged while I am writing these words, museums want to build audiences using these networks.  This is typically managed by the external relations staff within the institutions, and the whole idea of digital medial strategies is fostering a whole ecosystem of consultants, experts, and software infrastructures (is django>druple?  inquiring minds want to know.)

The second group were people who were engaging with social media to build content.  Crowdsourcing, folksonomy, and other ways of engaging audiences in curation and program creation were represented with some lively examples, including the winner of the Best of the Web contest, the Walker Art Center.  The home page of their web site, below the fold is all content harvested from other sources.  I am not sure it is curated, or frankly why it won the best of the web, but it is a model that many were discussing for creating digital content.

From NYSCI’s perspective, we are creating content by engaging staff and project leaders people in what I learned is called “microblogging.”  I am not sure that the term has really come into focus, though I heard it frequently.  From our point of view, we are inviting visitors to become more attached and intimate with NYSCI through the creation of blogs like this one, as well as the new explainers.nysci.org and design-io.nysci.org. Many people expressed interest and admiration for this approach, and I do think it is a strategy that at its best can both attract/retain visitors and provide rich content for our web presence.

In the afternoon, I went to a pre-conference session on alternative interfaces, in which we talked about and played a little bit with arduino and kinect interfaces.  There was a lively discussion about how exhibition developers think about interfaces (developer: kids just go around slamming randomly on buttons, banging on them like whackamole; me: then stop putting buttons on exhibits.)  A cool demonstration of the potential and shortcomings of rfid (radio frequency tags with unique identifiers).  The long and the short of it is that you have the option of knowing where a lot of them are at close range or a few of them are at long range.  Still not ready for prime time for tracking visitors and allowing visitors to automatically personalize their visit (this is id#33, I like picasso, so show me what else I would like.)

An opening reception on the first evening showcased the San Diego Contemporary Art Museum featured a great piece by Ai Weiwei (shown at the top of this post) and a beautiful Doug Wheeler.

Doug Wheeler