Museums and The Web 2013

Via canadianveggie Flickr CC

Via canadianveggie Flickr CC

A few of my key takeaways from Museums and The Web

1. All hail the PDF  – I went to the User Testing Workshop  expecting to talk about user journeys, and developing bespoke approaches to user testing for museums (which we did) but my main takeaway from this session was the need for digital content to work both online and offline. Whilst exploring the Guggenheim’s website from the perspective of a tourist my group got into a really interesting conversation about how annoying it is to have to print screen multiple sections of a museum website, from opening hours to maps so that you could use them while out and about. Why print screen? Because as a tourist you don’t have access to mobile data. All of us in the group had experience of print screening websites while on Holiday.

Our user journey in the context of this workshop lead to a really simple suggestion – provide PDF downloads of visitor information. PDF’s are like soooooo 10 years ago! But hey if you can open it in iBooks and it alleviates all the stress of print screens, then creating and offering PDF’s of visitor information makes sense. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than creating a bespoke app, and a heck of a lot more convenient for most visitors.

I would love museums to offer downloadable visitor info that I can open offline on my iPhone or iPad.

2. Games and Badges – What happened to playing games because they are fun? Or going to the museum simply because you want to? It seems that everything needs points and badges from playing games to attending the museum these days. There was much heated debate about the difference between good game mechanics, and ‘gamification’ at MW this year. The ‘Let the Game’s Begin’ professional forum provided some polar opposite opinions on the place for ‘gamification’ and games in museums – and the panel strongly argued that these are not always complimentary ideas. Gamification through the awarding of points for the completion of tasks was also evident during a paper on ‘Nurturing Engagement: How technology and business model alignment can transform visitor participation in the museum’ which looked at the revolutionary new ‘friends’ programme introduced by Dallas Art Museum earlier this year.

The conversation around games raised more questions than it answered for me. Fun and Play seemed to be topics dwarfed by business aligned gamification. As Sharna Jackson reminded everyone – games provide an entry point, they are not the be all an end all. Games have to be good or you’ve lost visitors before you’ve even got them through the door of the museum, or on to the next level of your game. (I’m paraphrasing) In other words gamification can ruin a game, and a bad game leads to a bad visitor experience.

3. Serendipity – the Buzzword of 2013 First we had ‘apps’ then we had ‘agile’ now we have ‘serendipitous’. I’m not really sure where it came from, and only time will tell if it is here to stay.

4. What Can Museums Learn from Immersive Theater?  This was the title of the closing plenary  which focused primarily on what museums could learn from ‘Sleep No More’ a large scale immersive theater experience, produced by the UK company Punch Drunk and currently on show in New York.  Having been to Sleep No More I was able to relate to many of the points raised by the panel. The idea that adults can be trusted to handle objects (without breaking them), that having a one to one personal experience with an actor can create a strong memory, and helps the visitor to develop a unique rapport with performer. Sleep No More has developed a unique ‘super fan’ following, who despite the price (around $70) have attended multiple times.

It is difficult to examine what museums can learn from Immersive Theater by discussing only one example and I would argue that museums could learn a lot from children’s theater – which focuses on scaffolding discovery rather than delivering narrative. I really hope this session sparks a bigger conversation on Immersive Theater, interactive design, and museums.

5. Facebook – is dead? Facebook. What happened to Facebook? I didn’t hear Facebook mentioned in any of the sessions I attended. What that says I don’t know. I’m intrigued to see if this trend is replicated at Museum Next in a couple of weeks.

Thanks! This was my first time at Museums and The Web and it was brilliant, thanks to everyone for being great. The digital museum community is simply brilliant, open, friendly, provocative and challenging. I really enjoyed all the conversations I had, the feedback I got on my work and the insights you gave me to yours.

(For a more coherent and representative summary check out Danny Birchall’s blog post  it’s really good!)

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