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The museums of Montreal

Museums & the Web 2008 has been a lively, interesting conference. As I'm still digesting all the knowledge from the many sessions, I'd like to talk how about how it all started: with a tour of the city's museums. This was a great day and I wish all the talks could be delivered from familiar surroundings, as staff talk about their projects in such a relaxed, off-the-cuff way and can actually show you the galleries that they're so proud of. Of course, with museums represented here from all over the world, Powerpoint has to suffice most of the time.

The first stop on the tour was the McCord Museum, which is a museum of Canadian history in downtown Montreal. They started by talking us through the new personalisation features on their web-site, coming under the banner of My McCord. These allow users to choose their favourite works, to tag them, annotate them (including annotating areas of images) and more.

These are features we've been considering for Rhagor, so it was also useful to see another implementation of this critiqued by experts in the Crit Room yesterday. It's a difficult thing to get right from a usability point of view, but the most compelling reason to do it is that it isn't an end in itself. If a user can register on your site and get access to new features, the possibilities extend to exhibitions and events that haven't even been planned yet.

They were also doing some interesting work with tagging. One of the problems of tagging is actually getting users motivated to go in add a bunch of tags to your collection. They achieved this through an interactive game which pitted taggers against other taggers (or the computer), the aim being to enter keywords that matched the other play. I wondered how the competitive nature of the game would affect the type of tags that users submitted, but it seems to work, and the difference in uptake between this and traditional tagging was a huge argument in its favour.

The next stop on the tour was the Science Centre. The highlight was a fantastic interactive lab where children put together short news items on topics such as genetic engineering or drugs in sport. They not only get to engage in a science debate, but they're simultaneously learning the basics of video editing, presenting their own news items and about how the media shows different sides of an argument. Really intuitive software too - impressive.

The final stop was the Canadian Centre for Architecture, where they talked us through their new collections management system and how they've made it work for them. The basic system is The Museum System, or TMS, and this was a piece of software I kept hearing about this week. I'll be mentioning TMS and an open-source solutions called OpenCollection in a later entry.

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