As we were only a day in Washington, we decided to make the most of it. We visited 3 museums, which was quite a task - especially considering the size of them!
Our first visit was to the National Air and Space Museum, which housed a lot of airplanes that have been built over the ages. As well as that, they had a lot of space exhibits, where you can appreciate the scale of the shuttles from just seeing the nozzle from a rocket! Even though the place was extremely busy, you could find your way through the crowds easily enough due to the scale of the place. Interactives were scattered about the place, though many were ageing computers and screens. Some of them were in need of a refresh.
Next we went to the National Museum of the American Indian. Opened in 2004, this stunning museum seemed to have it all - engaging exhibits, interesting architecture and a very nice cafe! We would have spent more time there if possible. There were some consoles that had a similar labelling system to that I developed in Oriel 1, though I have to admit these were better executed. I'm not sure whether they accessed content dynamically though.
Finally we went to the National American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery, and again we were short on time. But before it closed we managed to see some very impressive works of art, and we could take photos of the permanent collections. Though I didn't see any interactives in the gallery, I know that they're doing some good stuff online.
More in Minneapolis and St Paul
Yesterday we visited a couple of great museums in the metro area. First we went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). We had a very insightful meeting with Willy Lee, the webmaster at MIA. He told us some of the great ideas he has to incorporate social networking into MIA's website. Things like user tagging, which allows the users to tag objects to help with searches. They are ahead of us in getting their collections online, but they don't have as complicated a database structure as we do at National Museum Wales. The MIA is well worth a visit - online for their resources, and physically for the incredible artworks they have in their collections.
We also took the time to cram in a visit to the Science Museum of Minnesota in St Paul, which was a mix of Techniquest and the Science Museum (UK). They had a lot of fun interactives that kept Chris and I occupied for hours, using various technologies from video streams to PCs and microscopes! They also had some very nice high resolution screens, which gave me some digital signage ideas. I hope I can get in touch with one of their staff, as I'd be interested to see what kind of resources they have to support their extensive interactive setup.
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
We had a very successful day today. We met up with Nate and Brent from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. It's good to meet with people similar to us - they have built most of their interactive installations and web projects in house. Many museums and galleries in the USA outsource much of their work, at least that's the impression I got from the Museums and the Web conference.
The Walker Arts team have gained a reputation for blogging, as they were one of the early adopters of the format. It was a learning curve for them - they intended to roll it out across departments, but before they could do that they needed to understand the software better. And what better way than to use it?
It turned out that their New Media Initiatives blog is the second most popular blog on the Walker Arts website. It seems that this is due to peers being extremely interested in what the team were developing. Which is how I found out about their work, and I ended up visiting the center. And I live about 3900 miles away.
We spoke at length about our respective organisations' websites. There were some things that both Chris and I liked about their system. We also got to look behind the scenes at some audio-visual installations, and I ended up taking photos of their racks! Chris or I might post more technical details of how we compared in time.
Nate has sorted a meeting out for us in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts tomorrow, and we'll hopefully visit the Science Museum of Minnesota if we have time.
At MW2007 staff from the Whitney Museum of American Art examined the development and integration of the Collect Art tool into the Learning@Whitney web-site design from a practical, pedagogical and technical perspective.
Chuck Barger from Interactive Knowledge, Inc (USA) who designed the site with the Whitney staff gave us a brief introduction to the technical and navigation side of the site. I was impressed with what I saw and took the time to explore the site myself. The site is divided into Teachers, Kids and Teens. You can pour through their catalogue of works, zooming in to very high resolution. We were told that there were some copyright issues with the site, as I suspected.
As well as quality images the site has content to match - there are guidelines for teachers to follow. Not only does each artwork provide teachers with plenty of curriculum links, but also ideas for projects and llinks to further resources. Of course not all teachers need this guidance, but it does provide the site with mass appeal.
Examples of what teachers put together showed diverse ways of using the website, from printouts and collages to electronic presentations. I'm looking forward to visiting the Whitney and picking their brains a little further.
Usability and Accessibility
The conference is over now, and we're into the next leg of the journey, which is to visit more museums over here and look a bit deeper into what they're doing.
Some of the interesting sessions I should mention (and I'll end up writing about a few more) include an accessibility workshop hosted by Stephen Browne from De Montfort University and Brian Kelly of UKOLN, and a usability lab from Paul Marty at Florida State University and Michael Twidale at the University of Illinois.
In the usability lab, volunteers were asked to navigate a set of museum sites with a purpose in mind - planning a wedding, looking up botanical information, etc - not having visited those sites before. There were little struggles with navigation, wording of links, placement of information and so on which the designers hadn't anticipated.
Our site wasn't one of the sites that was examined, but it does make me think about how we plan our new collections-based area. We're hoping to offer more interactivity and the navigation will be based on categories, time periods, activities and other criteria. It'll be different from the rigid hierarchy of the rest of the site, so there's a lot of new accessibility and usability issues for us to deal with.
Rydyn wedi bod mor brysyr gyda'r gynhadledd mae'n anodd ffeindio amser i ysgrifennu ein blog. Rydyn wedi cymryd llawer o'r gynhadledd, fallai un o'r gwersi gorau oedd i ysgrifennu ein mynediadau ystod diwedd y sesiynnau fel ein ffrind Nate o Walker Art Center.
Ges i'r wers hon tra yn sesiwn Accessibility 2.0 gan Brian Kelly (UKOLN) a Prof. Stephen Brown (Prifysgol De Montfort). Roedden yn edrych ar pa mor effeithiol mae canllawiau yr WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative). Mae e werth edrych ar fel allen cael i addasu gan crewyd y canllawiau yma yn 1999. Ac er bod set newydd o ganllawiau yn cael eu creu, dyw llawer ddim yn credu bod rhain yn ateb rhai o'r problemau sy'n ein gwynebu.
Roedd e'n diddorol eistedd gyda rhai oedd yn gweithio i archifau a llyfrgelloedd Canada. Mae nhw'n gwynebu rhau o'r un problemau a ni gyda dwyieithrwydd. Hyd yn oed yn waeth - mae rhaid gwneud peth stwff yn Métis ac Inuit! Mae'r archifau a'r llyfrgelloedd yn Canada yn cael eu noddi gan y llywodraeth, felly mae ganddynt canllawiau strict iawn.
Mae'n bwysig i ni edrych ar ein safwe mewn ffordd sy'n ateb canllawiau hygyrchu, ond hefyd i weld os mae ein cynnwys yn galluogi pobl i ddysgu mewn ffyrdd gwahanol i'r cyfrifiadur - fel roedd Brian yn sôn am - blended learning. Er bod dal lle am yr WAI, mae'n bwysig edrych ar dynesiad mwy holistaidd.
There are some great projects looking at immersive learning that are finding good ways of appealing to young people. Game scenarios are an effective motivator.
Dick van Dijk from the Waag Society presented Operation Sigismund, which is an adventure game used to create a learning environment. It is based on existing archive material in the basement of the monumental building of the archive. It seems like a good example of playful learning vs. traditional elements.
Moving outside our web-site
It's always interesting at conferences like Museums & The Web how individuals seem to be independently moving the in the same direction. Dafydd mentioned the Brooklyn Museum's Graffiti Mural which is a really nice example of how gallery spaces and online spaces can be combined to provide an experience for everybody.
There's also a distinction developing between a museum's web-site and a museum's online presence. In the past, if you spread your wings outside your own site, it was to pay a tourism or web-links site to promote your museum, and I think it was mostly a fruitless venture. A lot of the teams here have actively participating on a new generation of participatory sites like MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Digg, YouTube and the community of museum bloggers (the 'blog-o-sphere'). The audience for these sites tends to be a little different to the average web-site visitor looking for opening times or driving directions.
Actively participating in online communities - leaving comments, flagging up related links, and linking to others - can be one of the big drivers for people to come to your site. If you can get this community talking to the people standing in the exhibitions, you can build a much stronger community than museums have ever had before, and reach a wider variety of people too.
The web 2.0 workshop yesterday allowed us to see how some of the world's leading institutions are connecting to social networks to gain new audiences.
Jeff Gates from the Smithsonian explained how they had assembled a blog team, and developed an online identity (Eye Level) that has gained popularity. I was quite suprised at the workflow involved with posting a blog - but happy to see that even a heavliy moderated blog can be successful.
Shelley Bernstein and Nicole Caruth from Brooklyn Museum showed some very interesting uses of social networking sites like Flickr. I was particularly impressed with their 'Graffiti Mural' project where people leave tags or comments on the wall, and track the progress of the wall on Flickr - check it out here. You can even upload pictures of exhisting Graffiti. They are really blurring the line between visitors that are physical and virtual - I look forward to visiting them in NYC.
Finally there was an enjoyable presentation by Mike Ellis from the Science Museum (UK). Out of the many valid comments Mike made (ranging from bureaucratic to technical), the point of 'start doing' was the main message that came through.
On the right track?
From our tour of San Francisco both Chris and I were quite relieved that other Museums were using similar technology to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. Web based delivery of in-gallery digital media seems to be quite popular, and our custom built content management system allows us to roll out responsibility for some services to selected editors.
The new gallery at St Fagans, Oriel 1, uses web-based technology for most of its applications. This means that most of the audio-visual content is quite flexible and can be accessed across networks. It's a bit of a testing ground for us!