Key Takeaways from Museums and the Web 2014

Presenter using Google Glass to photograph the audience, then tweet it

(Photo: Neal Stimler from The Metropolitan Museum of Art photographs the audience, displays it on the screen, and tweets it with the conference hashtag, all using Google Glass.)

Earlier this month, cultural nonprofit staff from around the world gathered in Baltimore for the annual Museums and the Web conference. Curators, educators, webmasters, designers, and directors exchanged ideas about strategy and trends in digital engagement. We asked Jill Farley, the Chicago Architecture Foundation's Manager of Digital Initiatives about what she learned during her third year at the conference. Read her thoughts on the importance of early user testing and learn about the standout examples of participatory digital experiences from this year's sessions. Don't worry if you couldn't attend the conference, we've gathered the key resources and learnings from Museums and the Web 2014 for you here.

We asked Jill to share her three favorite sessions, which MW thought-leaders she recommends following on Twitter, and what her biggest takeaways were. 

Standout Sessions

Is it working? Analytics and Evaluation for Digital Tools and Projects
DMA Friends at the Dallas Museum of Art, Gallery One at the Cleveland Museum of Art (A Year Later)
Participatory Digital Experiences, Lessons from Two Years of Practice
Indianapolis Museum of Art, National Maritime Museum
The Third Space: Are Apps Becoming the Virtual Orientation Between Museums and Their Visitors?
The Museums and the Web site is a great resource. Browse the program for topics of interest, as many of them have published papers related to the talks. 

Who to follow on Twitter


Main Takeaways

1) Iteration and user testing prove to be keys to success when creating participatory and digital experiences. Don't try to over-architect things before you know how people are going to use them. 

Example: The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich created an enormous floor map of the world to activate a large open space in their building. They had many assumptions about how people would use it, and how the Museum should compliment it digitally. They created a complex, feature-rich app that ended up bombing. They are now breaking it apart into simpler components targeted at specific types of users, and the pieces have been more successful. People have surprised them in the ways they want to interact with the map, so they are now observing, learning, and letting people's natural way of interacting with it drive the digital components. 

2) Make things simple, easy for people to use, relatable, and targeted to what they actually want to do. A lot of discussion centered around what people are already doing as activities on their smart devices (i.e., taking pictures). This concept was all about meeting people where they are, tapping in to what they are already doing, and tying that into how they interact with you. 

Example: Tim Svenonius, Producer, Interpretive Media at SFMOMA, made the analogy that museums should be like hotels. There are certain personal things people bring with them (like a toothbrush), and there are certain things hotels provide (like towels). It is a given that people will bring their smartphone and take pictures at your museum. You should provide them with strong wifi and a fun reason to take the picture and contribute it to a conversation.
3) Digital departments, or people executing digital projects where the public is interacting in-gallery or online, need to make it a priority to connect closely with your institution's front-line staff. In many of the examples we heard, the success of the digital experiment depended on the ability for front-line staff to guide and educate the visitor about the digital experience - even down to the level of allowing them to see metrics so they understand the program. Front-line staff were most important, but we also heard about the importance of shepherding a culture shift with your organization's WHOLE staff for digital initiatives to truly take hold. Many of the presenters said this was the only way things got around to being engaging for visitors.

Exciting New Technologies

While it may not have obvious applications for CAF right now, it was fascinating to see a speaker use Google Glass to present. Notice in the photo that he had just captured an image of the crowd and projected it using this tool. And while it's pretty out there, the keynote's work with embedding technology in plants is amazing. Check out this video of a plant becoming a sensor!

The Museums and the Web "Best of the Web" awards are also announced annually at the conference, and this year Dallas Museum of Art's "DMA Friends" program took the overall 2014 award. See details on this program and the other award winners here.

Posted by aao on April 30, 2014 - 12:33pm