A blackboard with a drawing of a cloud burst and idea bubble. 20 Editors select top papers from 20 years of MW proceedings for an #MWXX anniversary e-book

Hindsight is 20/20, so they say – and the illumination of the backwards glance is even more evident when we review the evolution of technology and museum practice. In the 20th year of Museum and the Web conferences, 20 guest editors volunteered to select the papers from past proceedings that stand out to them in terms of impact in the year they were first published, and resonance today. As they worked through the MW Bibliography, our editorial group shared their picks and thoughts in the comments section of this page.


Authors and others from the MW community are also invited to chime in. What would you select as the most important papers from Museums and the Web for you? You’ll need an MW profile to contribute (free; if you’ve ever registered to attend and MW conference or contribute to the MW community forum, you can use those login credentials). We look forward to hearing from you!

1997: Rob Lancefield, Manager of Museum Information Services, Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University

Building Integrated Museum Information Retrieval Systems: Practical Approaches to Data Organization and Access.
Jim Blackaby, Senior Systems Developer Office of Technology Initiatives United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Beth Sandore, Coordinator for Imaging Projects Digital Library Research Program University of Illinois

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Ever wish you could put your fingers on all of the information about a specific topic in a museum, regardless of whether it was drawn from the objects collection, exhibit catalogues, the library’s holdings, or the prints and slides collection? Or your interest might even extend beyond a single department. With computerization and public access projects, museums are increasingly called upon to provide information drawn from a great deal of heterogeneous material. This paper investigates fundamental approaches to constructing integrated museum information systems. A key element in the process of building these systems is the development of a thorough understanding of the data structures and formats within your organization. Also critical is the need to determine how data ought to be stored and shaped, and how a museum would like the data to be displayed, once it is retrieved. Practical examples are drawn from projects in which the authors have participated, including the Oregon Historical Society’s Collections Access Project, sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Education, and the Museum Educational Site Licensing Project, sponsored by the Getty Information Institute, and The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. An overview is provided of current Web and database technology that supports integrated systems development, and consideration is given to the ways in which these technologies match existing information access systems.

Notes from the editor:

This paper offers a deeply grounded and foresightful account of a topic that was and is central to our field: the integration of museum data in heterogeneous formats, from different systems, for retrieval and display to diverse users. This long has been, and long will remain, a critical aspect of museum work that uses digital technologies behind the scenes to support core institutional needs. Over the two decades since Jim Blackaby and Beth Sandore wrote the paper, this has increasingly become an area of knowledge and effort that enables the creation of all manner of newer, shinier, more public-facing resources, whether built and offered by an individual museum or based on the integration of content contributed by collaborating organizations.




1998: Bruce Wyman,  Principal, USD Design | MACH Consulting

Understanding the Museum Experience: A Review of Visitor Research and Its Applicability to Museum Web Sites.
Dierking, Lynn and John Falk.

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Researchers have been investigating how people behave and learn with relation to museums for three-quarters of century. The result is a growing body of literature which documents why people go to museums and what they do when they get there. In recent years, research has also begun to reveal the long-term impact of a museum experience. This presentation will review this research literature, focusing on studies which provide insights into the similarities and differences between “real” and “virtual” museum experiences.

Notes from the editor:
On the balance, 1998 was an interesting year to review. Personally, it had been three years since I’d launched my first museum website and it was a point where theory was starting to turn to practicality. There were a number of papers that dove into specific projects, discussing process and laying the groundwork for future iterations of online collections and information sharing. There were a handful that discussed the role of the web and this new frontier in relation to museum practice, and a handful that were already appropriately critical of our nascent efforts in the field. Eerily, there were a surprising number of papers that echoed the conversations that we still have today, despite the dated terminology and techniques (“…most new computers have modems to connect to the Internet.”).
But, pleasantly, Lynn Dierking and John Falk’s paper, “Understanding the Museum Experience: A Review of Visitor Research and Its Applicability to Museum Web Sites” stands out amongst the rest. The careful effort and appreciation that digital users in museums might be a new breed and further trying to provide insight into motivation was and still is important. As we increasingly discuss “user-centered design” and “user experience” and a slew of other efforts that try to get at the motivations of our users and visitors, this early work presents distinct and solid evidence based on their work. And the authors readily admit that they’re not sure of their impact, “we do not know how much of this research is directly relevant–it is unclear at this stage how much of an overlap exists between the museum visitor and the potential museum web user. Our sense is that there is some overlap, particularly when it comes to the psychographic profiles and expectations of these individuals, but quite honestly we don’t know.” But this work spurred future effort and understanding. And led to additional research into motivation and even still is a catalyst for understanding who our visitors are.
As part of the review of 1998, two additional papers merit careful consideration. The first is Steven Smith’s “Digitising Collections: The Redefining of Museums” which, while it narrowly focuses on an Australian digitization project, lays out the needs for future projects as it impacts the work practice of the museum, considerations for management in providing resource, and especially as it focuses on the user experience and their perspective in engaging with digital collections. The other paper is Lynne Teather’s “A Museum Is a Museum Is a Museum…or Is It? A Discussion of Museology on the Web.” It serves well at capturing some of the early philosophical arguments of museum practice in relation to the digital realm and ends up being an interesting comparison point to see what predictions and thoughts have actually come true over the ensuing years.

2nd Choice:
A Museum Is a Museum Is a Museum…or Is It? A Discussion of Museology on the Web.
Teather, Lynne

Digitising Collections: The Redefining of Museums.
Smith, Steven.




1999Leonard Steinbach, Leonard Steinbach with affiliation Johns Hopkins University Grad Program in Museum Studies, Susan Hazan, Curator of New Media and Head of the Internet Office, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

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Museum of the Person: A Brazilian Experience of Virtual Museum
Henriques, RosaliKaren Worcman and José Santos Matos.


The Museum of the Person is a private institution founded in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1992. Its object consists in registering, preserving and transforming life stories into organized information. Currently, we count on about 700 stories, 2,000 photos and digitalized documents. The Museum of the Person is essentially a virtual Museum. Before the popularization of Internet, the Museum of the Person had been organizing information in multimedia databanks, and transforming the projects results in CD-ROM, publications and videos. The Museum of the Person is supported by projects that are developed to various companies and institutions in Brazil. The popularization of Internet in Brazil enabled the Museum of the Person to fulfill its vocation, that is, to allow all persons (even if currently only those with access to the Web) to register their life stories and/or the stories of relatives (this includes photobiographies, depositions, homages, etc.). At the same time, the Museum of the Person makes available – through the site – its assets for reference and school, academic and professional researches. Currently, we are unifying all our assets in a databank in the MS SQL Server, with reference through the Index Server. It is important to point out that the assets reference, as well as the sending of stories, is an institutional service of the Museum of the Person, absolutely free of charge. Our presentation intends to report the development and the current work status of the Museum of the Person in the Web. We will emphasize how the Web solidified the existence of the Museum of the Person as an essentially virtual institution. We will also describe the uses made by the public of the possibilities offered by our site.

Notes from the editor:

This is the story of the online “The Museum of the Person,” privately founded in São Paulo, Brazil in 1992 with the aim of collecting, organizing and publishing life stories. In the voice of one contributor, “We decided to write our history for ourselves, and because we believe in family and want to leave to our descendants something to be remembered.” And this would be done in a political environment which was hardly sympathetic.

Long before collecting, archiving, and providing access to personal stories raised no museum eyebrows, before  “memory projects,” in parallel to the emergence of holocaust and other cause and personally connective museums, before the notion of “participatory” and dialogic museums became commonplace, we have a “virtual” museum of everyday people’s lives. They achieved a museums/community entwinement, in the absence of objects, that we strive for today.

From a more technical perspective, the idea of The Museum of the Person preempted Web 2.0 and stood out as remarkably pioneering in contrast to what was going on in 1999 in the field.  When most museums were aiming for attractive, web-distributed educational brochure-ware – or taking their first steps toward pushing their collections out through institutional collaboration —  here we have a focus on real people voicing and sharing their own ideas. It is interesting how this evolved from old media to new. The author notes, “the only possible way to carry our purposes through was the creation of the multimedia data bank that could eventually be available in networks, thus creating a virtual network of life stories”. In 1992 this was very new. In 1999 it was important to share how the authors tackled fundamental questions of purpose, process, and realization we can still relate to.

But clinching its rightful place in Web history is the Museum’s evolution through to the present, with an author still at the helm. Sixteen years later it has spawned an international network of Museums of Persons, linking individuals in Portugal, the USA, and Canada earning its renewed recognition. Brazil’s Museum of the Person is now a well-sponsored, vibrant, rich-media web site representing more than 10,000 voices. As Worcman wrote for ICOM in 2004, “We have thus come to understand that nothing is more representative of humanity and more important to the furthering of social knowledge and the promotion of peace in our society than the understanding of the history of each one of us.” A credo that any museum could abide, but in this case, only with the web.

Special mentions




2000 – Bill Weinstein, The John H. McFadden and Lisa D. Kabnick Director of Information and Interpretive Technologies, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Building the Next Generation Collaborative Museum Shopping Site:  Merging e-commerce, e-museums & entrepreneurs
Moore, R. R., & Tellis C.

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In March of 1999, MuseumShop.com and Antenna Audio formed a new strategic partnership. The objective was to leverage the product awareness of brick and mortar museum shops throughout the world into an innovative partnership between museums, the leading museum e-retailer, and the leading audio tour provider. On its first year anniversary together, the site has experienced dramatic growth and achieved recognition by Gomez.com as a leading online gift-shopping site. But this is just the tip of the iceberg… This paper examines the successes and failures of the initiative and its impact on museums using the Web. How has the consumer market and museum industry responded? How has the financial and interactive community responded? The paper describes what synergies emerged from the partnership and how interactive and public media is used to maximize museums’ e-commerce initiatives. The authors will describe the overall state of museum e-commerce in North America and Europe, what products have been successful, which museums have benefited and for what reasons.

Notes from the editor:
Reading over the 2000 proceedings was enjoyable and a bit nostalgic. It was great to see that the struggles of low bandwidth Internet and the lack of high quality images and content is largely a thing of the past. Many of the papers showed signs of things to come. Papers discussed how to create, display and share larger images more broadly.  AMICO was just recently born, testing how institutions could share images for educational use. Papers on how to protect images via watermarking are interesting because they show how far we have come on the path of open data.
Defining a broader audience and tracking their behavior was also a theme of several papers. Many projects that began targeting a scholarly or education audience acknowledged that the reach of the Internet opened the information to a wider audience. These papers discussed ideas on how to craft information for that audience that was to become the core of the current thinking on interpretive content.
However, in my opinion “Building the Next Generation Collaborative Museum” resonates most today. The paper outlines a project that combines museum content with an online shopping experience. The technology used isn’t memorable but the idea of breaking down the internal silos between mission and commerce are key ideas. Combining commerce with content was nothing short of heresy in 2000. The paper characterizes the perception of museum staff involved in commerce as “money changers on the steps of the temple of knowledge”. The authors outline the benefit of breaking down these internal divisions and the importance of internal cooperation in furthering the museum mission, expanding its reach, and increasing visitation and revenue. Building collaborative teams is common today and it is hard to conceive of successful projects that don’t include visitor services, marketing, and store staff along with curatorial, education and interpretive staff. This important concept had its roots in papers like this that dared to break down internal divisions and demonstrate the benefit of collaboration.




2001: Norbert Kanter,  Managing Director, zetcom

A New Way of Making Cultural Information Resources Visible on the Web: Museums and the Open Archives Initiative
John Perkins

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Museums hold enormous amounts of information in collections management systems and publish academic and scholarly research in print journals, exhibition catalogues, virtual museum presentations, and community publications. Much of this rich content is unavailable to web search engines or otherwise gets lost in the vastness of the World Wide Web. The Open Archives Initiative (OAI) has developed an easily implemented protocol to enable data providers to expose their information and service providers to access and use it. The CIMI Consortium is working with the OAI to make it possible for museums to enhance the availability of their research resources, allowing them to be discovered in Web-space by the specialist audiences for which they are intended or by service providers who collect, distribute or in other ways provide access. By building on the OAI protocol, Dublin Core, and museum community XML developments, significant advancements can be made in exposing museum information resources. This paper introduces the OAI and its protocol, explores its potential relevance to museums, presents CIMI’s work as an alpha tester of OAI, and looks ahead to future developments.

Notes from the editor:

In the end my shortlist was four papers – all very good for very different reasons. Even today I would recommend all these papers to our young colleagues or students as “recommended readings”: – Slavko Milekic, because he describes timeless rules and recommendations for re-use and user centered design. Many of his remarks are valid still today. – Susan Hazan, because she embeds her examples beautifully into research and intellectual references. Important – could easily be the introductory paper of a nice book about the history of MW – is the last paper in the 2001 proceedings, should have been the first. – Of course I recommend Len Steinbachs’s paper just because his “literary skills” are a huge reading pleasure 🙂 But my winner for 2001 is John Perkins with his paper about “Museums and the Open Archive Initiative”. What he described had already a past (CIMI) and still has an ongoing high relevance to many museums today. If 2001 marked the take-off of the OAI, 15 years later the tools and rules developed around this initiative are a major cornerstone for many museums all over the world in order to maintain visible and discoverable on the web using the OAI-PMH to publish their collections online and on portals. So I regard this project described in the 2001 proceedings as the one with the highest impact on the museum IT landscape for the coming years.




2002 –  Dave Patten, Head of New Media at the Science Museum, London

The Electronic Guidebook: Using Portable Devices and a Wireless Web-based Network to Extend the Museum Experience.
Spasojevic, Mirjana and Robert Semper.

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Recent advances in wireless network technologies create the potential to significantly enhance the experience of a visit to a museum. On the exhibit floor, visitors carrying wirelessly connected portable devices can be given opportunities for exploration, sharing, explanations, context, background, analytical tools, and suggestions for related experiences. When these devices are part of a Web-based network, they can help extend the museum visit: in advance, through activities that orient visitors, and afterward, through opportunities to reflect and explore related ideas. The Electronic Guidebook project is a study of users equipped with such technologies, conducted by the Exploratorium in partnership with researchers at Hewlett-Packard Labs. The project has investigated how a Web-based computing infrastructure can provide museum visitors with an augmented museum experience, so that they can better plan their visit, get the most out of it while they are in the museum, and be able to refer back to their visit once they have returned to their home or classroom. The goal is to understand what technological infrastructure supports this extended museum experience, and to obtain preliminary data on how different aspects of the technologies, and the content delivered through them, affects engagement with the exhibits and pre- or post-visit learning activities. The project deployed and tested a network using a variety of handheld computers and radio-frequency identification tags to link visitors with exhibit-related content delivered by a Web-based server. Users in the study were able to access Web-based content, including text, images, video, and audio, during a visit. In addition, they were able to construct a record of their visit by bookmarking exhibit content, creating images, notations, and other artifacts and to access it on a personal Web page in the museum or following their visit. In this paper, presenters will provide results of the study and discuss promising avenues of future research on Web-based networks.

Notes from the editor:
It has been really interesting to read back through the papers from the 2002 Museums and the Web conference. The breadth of topics covered is a reflection of a great conference and the contributors show the global nature of Museums and the Web with contributors from Australia, Europe and the USA amongst others.  Picking the best paper has been challenging but ultimately for me their is one stand out paper although I would like to give an honourable mention to Darren Peacock’s paper ‘Statistics, Structures & Satisfied Customers: Using We Log Data to Improve site Performance’
For me the best paper of 2002 was  ’The Electronic Guidebook: Using Portable Devices and a Wireless Web-based Network to Extend the Museum Experience’ by Rob Semper of the Exploratorium and Mirjan Spasojevic of Hewlett-Packard labs, USA. – I was worried that this was the first paper in the proceedings but perhaps the editors of the 2002 papers realised the significance of this paper even then.

The paper explores  how the Exploratorium (and partners) used hand held, Internet connected devices to augment the visitor experience at a time when the technologies to do this were only really beginning to emerge. Remember this is 5 years before the first iPhone  and 6 years before the launch of the app store. Their were some portable multimedia devices around before the iPhone but they were expensive and certainly not in the hands of many ordinary visitors.

The paper outlines the research undertaken by the project partners and is noteworthy by it’s breadth covering technology, content, user experience, interface design and educational potential. It touches on issues that are still being explored today for example does the use of the electronic guidebooks change the way visitors interact with the exhibits and with each other. One desired outcome of the project was to stimulate discussion within the museum community something that this paper certainly achieved.




2003 –  Ranti Junus,  Systems/Electronic Resources Librarian, Library Science & Museum Studies Liaison, Michigan State University Libraries

Re-Assessing Practice: Visual Art, Visually Impaired People, and the Web., Howell, Caro and Dan Porter.

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Interpretation for visually impaired people in art museums is dominated by an emphasis on the tactile and the physically immediate. In practice, this seemingly logical approach often keeps blind and partially sighted people at an intellectual distance from art works and their artistic context. For over-reliance on a tactile approach has the effect of making sculpture the primary vehicle for accessing art, despite the fact that \”touchable\” sculpture represents only a tiny fraction of Western art as represented in museums and galleries. Moreover, in this display context \”touchable\”, by definition, means robust, indicating traditional materials such as bronze and stone. Yet like traditional narrative and figurative subject matter, bronze and stone cease to hold sway in twentieth century art. How then can someone who is congenitally blind be given intellectual access to non-tactile artworks that are not artefacts, that do not have clear descriptive relationships to objects and experiences from the lived world and that refer to and are of an about themselves only? This was the starting point for research that began four years ago at Tate Modern, London\’s new national museum of modern art. The latest development to come out of this on-going research is i-Map art resources for blind and partially sighted people that are delivered online. Currently i-Map explores the work of Matisse and Picasso, their innovations, influences and personal motivations, as well as key concepts in modern art. Aimed at partially sighted and blind people with a general interest in art as well as art teachers and their visually impaired pupils, i-Map incorporates text, image enhancement and deconstruction, animation and raised images. Importantly, i-Map transformed a gallery-based practice that involved intensive 1:1 delivery, into an entirely new way of deconstructing art online and one where the user has the necessary tools to work independently. Moreover, i-Map goes beyond straight description, attempts to simulate purely visual experiences and the usual focus on \”what?\” in favour of exploring the \”why?\” of art so that visually impaired users can make their own critical judgments. Visually impaired people use the Web in conjunction with screen reader software to obtain information, visually impaired people often find travel complicated and stressful, visually impaired children are usually in mainstream education and all schools in the UK are online. The process of reassessing the parameters and definitions of art education for visually impaired people revealed the Web to be an ideal vehicle for increasing intellectual access and delivering effective interpretation in a format that offers autonomy of exploration. However, in order for a project such as i-Map to confidently defy received Web design wisdom and develop tailor made solutions, it\’s content needs to be the product of successful methodology and focussed research. It is possible to provide blind and partially sighed people with intellectual access to any artwork and the Web offers enormous potential to do assist in this process. In attempting to achieve this, i-Map can provide useful practical and pedagogical pointers.

Notes from the editor:
It was quite tough to choose one because all projects presented for this year were superb and showed great things these dedicated people were involved in. I decided to choose this paper because the project that they worked on impacted more than just typical web visitors. This project was created specifically to cater those with visual impairment to have an opportunity to enjoy the arts on the web and get a more in-depth understanding about them. This is quite an outstanding achievement, in my opinion. Moreover, the work they had done could also benefit anybody who would like to learn more about the collection regardless their visual condition (I visited the project site as well as accessed it using my screen reader; it was quite an experience.) To me, this kind of inclusiveness is a win-win for their web visitors. Last but not the least, this project can be replicated by any museum who puts their collections online.




2004 –  Shelley Mannion,  Senior Product Manager: Collection, The British Museum

Searching for Meaning, not Just Records

Doolan, John, Darren Peacock and Derek Ellis

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The goal of universal on-line access to museum collections has been one of the most alluring and elusive promises of internet and digital technology. Collections information in the form of text-based records, quantitative data and digital images is available on most museum Web Sites, either dynamically generated in response to user queries or in static presentation formats. Typically, this information is provided through a Web interface to a collections information management system. At the National Museum of Australia, we approached the implementation of a new collections information management system as an opportunity to create an engaging Web interface that not only presented the collection, but use contextualized the objects within a broader knowledge base of Australian history using a range of primary and secondary source material. Working with the vendor of our collections system (KE EMu) and a Web development company (Massive Interactive) with expertise in interface design, we developed a browsing tool to make the most of the museum\’s digital knowledge assets. The interface is designed to build information relationships based on user queries and click pathways and to present the information in a way which encourages further searching. The interface is highly visual and intuitive, supporting a model of serendipitous searching that offers multiple pathways through the relationships of people, places, objects and events that make up the complex weave of social history.

Notes from the editor:

I scored papers against three criteria: Quality of writing, Timeliness and Timelessness. This paper hit the mark in all three categories. Collections are at the heart of our museums and the question of how we publish collection records online in a way that creates meaning for visitors is as important today as it was in 2004. Peacock and his colleagues cover much ground: a theoretical discussion is followed by the results of a large-scale benchmarking of 100 museum collection websites. They conclude with an explanation of their own project, its challenges and solutions. Several other papers from this conference addressed how object-based databases could function as engines for narrative experiences, so in that respect the paper illustrates a recurring theme. It is also enduring: More than a decade on, I found it provided an ideal frame in which to consider how our approach to online collections has evolved. Recent projects like the Rijksstudio (https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio), which took a courageous step forward in opening up its collection images, and the inventive Two Way Street (http://twoway.st), confirm we are moving forward. In other ways, it feels like we are still a long way from the world the authors describe – one in which the rich web of related and contextual information around objects is stored in systems that are easy to maintain and presented to users in a way that helps them extract genuine meaning.

Honourable mention:

To Flash or Not to Flash? Usability and User Engagement of HTML vs. Flash Schaller, Allison-Bunnell, Chow, Marty, Heo


Of the many challenges facing developers of museum Web sites, usability and engagement rank high. Many developers have adopted Macromedia Flash as a useful tool that allows greater interactivity and multimedia compared to HTML pages. This paper reports on a comparative evaluation of Flash and HTML versions of a single site, focusing on user information-seeking goals, behavior, and responses to each version of the site. We then compare the two versions based on holding power, time on task, user satisfaction, and qualitative interviews.

Testing found notable differences between the two versions of the site, and between youth and adult tester groups. The results provide valuable insights into the relative strengths and weaknesses of Flash and HTML. While we cannot draw broad conclusions from a single case study, these data can help us begin the discussion around developing preliminary standards and basic frameworks for suggesting rationales for choosing Flash or HTML in a number of typical situations facing museum Web developers.

Notes from the editor:

This paper is a delightful read for those of us who rode the Flash wave in the noughties. It summarises the debate between usability experts and web developers about the merits of Flash. Many projects at this year’s conference were built in Flash and even as late as 2011, more than 50% of the world’s websites used Flash (https://www.statista.com/chart/3796/websites-using-flash). These authors attempted to understand the big picture and to quantify its benefits for specific uses and users. Flash may not have survived, but this paper, and the user research behind it, still offer helpful insights into two pervasive and distinct user motivations: information retrieval and the enjoyable browsing experience, and how to build sites to suit them.




2005 –  Susan Chun, Chief Content Officer at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Storymaker: User-generated Content – Worthy Or Worthwhile?
Graham Howard, SSL Ltd, Jon Pratty, 24 Hour Museum and Mike Stapleton, SSL Ltd., United Kingdom
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Some Web initiatives in the UK such as Moving Here and the BBC’s WW2 People’s War site solicit content and memories from members of the public. In a museological as well as a publishing context, material like this can be difficult to classify (and often hard to read.) Is it historically relevant if it has not been checked or corroborated? How should this material be placed in an editorial context? For these (and other) reasons, some in the museum sector find it hard to give user-generated content a significant place in the museum, archive or institutional Web site.

The 24 Hour Museum (http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk) and System Simulation have built an open authoring tool which channels user-generated content called Storymaker. Storymaker attempts to defuse or work around the apparent pitfalls mentioned above about this type of content. This mini-workshop demonstrates, in live Web sessions with the tool, how the 24 HM system offers two differing routes through the tool for different types of user.
First, we have an easy-access instant participation route, requiring careful editorial contextualisation to ensure appropriate responses from the public; second, we have a supervised, password-protected group use situation, where all sorts of interactions from history and community groups can be encouraged.

We’ll look at how material generated like this can be presented in a worthwhile and engaging way to a general Web audience, and how Web sites need to be sensitive to the multiple needs of groups when the content being solicited might be historically or emotionally sensitive. The workshop also examines how the content sits in local community sections on our new City Heritage Guide sites. Content is now flowing in and the sites are live on the Web.



2006 – Brian Dawson, Chief Digital Officer at Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation

Community Sites and Emerging Sociable Technologies.
Von Appen, Kevin, Bryan Kennedy and Jim Spadaccini.
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A generation of new, easy-to-use ‘sociable technologies’ is creating opportunities for museums to pioneer the creation of on-line communities. These communities can deepen and extend relationships with and among visitors, while moving museums beyond their traditional role as arbiters of knowledge. Blogs, podcasts, RSS feeds, wikis, open-source content management tools and more, collectively offer the promise of greater interaction and collaboration, both at the museum and on-line. Not since the invention of the Web and its subsequent development as a multimedia platform have we seen such an exciting array of emerging technologies, yet few museums to date have taken up the tools and strategic advantages offered by what’s been dubbed Web 2.0. These advantages include the educational potential of constructivist learning models fostered by on-line collaboration and dialogue and ‘first mover’ advantage with funders and partners. Meanwhile, not to participate is to risk being left behind by a significant and growing segment of our visitors, and to have our mission and offerings defined by others in our absence, potentially to everyone’s detriment. In this paper, we argue that the strengths of museums such as authenticity, emotional engagement and repeat visitation, make them ideal catalysts for on-line communities; we examine some early experiments; we explore issues of quality and accuracy in visitor-created content; and we suggest models for the management and maintenance of on-line communities.

Notes from the editor:
It is 2006 and the Internet buzz is back.” Jemima Rellie summed up the excitement of “Web 2.0” that was exploding across our collective consciousness at MW2006, in her paper “Ten Years On: Hopes, Fears, Predictions and Gambles for UK Museums Online.” And what a buzz: podcasts, folksonomies, social network sites, blogs, RSS…. The Museums and the Web 2006 conference reflected the renewed excitement of the World Wide Web, and the groundbreaking shift was at play.

Many papers touched on this theme. Peter Samis and and Stephanie Pau explored first year lessons and future challenges in podcasting at SFMOMA. Susan Chun, Rich Cherry, Doug Hiwiller, Jennifer Trant and Bruce Wyman mapped out an ambitious, innovative experiment in folksonomies and social tagging, Steve.Museum. Daniel Mosquin explored how participating in communities made the British Columbia Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research’s photo blog a success.  Jon Pratty explored the successes of RSS content aggregation by the 24 Hour Museum (now Culture 24), and the challenges in maintaining context of networked content. Jemima Rellie traced ten years of developments in UK museums to envision a digital future for museums in 2016. And Kevin Sumption explored the arch of developments during ten years of Museums and the Web, exploring the relationships between the digital and the physical.
The chosen paper, “Community Sites & Emerging Sociable Technologies,” by Kevin von Appen, Bryan Kennedy, and Jim Spadaccini, reflects this overall excitement and opportunity in 2006 at both conceptual and visceral levels.

The authors make an impassioned case for why museums need to be present and engaged, and lay out challenges in nurturing communities, co-creation, and shared authority that are still relevant today. Not incidentally, Science Buzz also won the Best of the Web for 2006, reflecting the pivotal shift that was taking place at the time of MW2006, and is still engaging communities to this day.




2007 –  Paul Marty,  Paul F. Marty, Ph.D., Professor, School of Information at Florida State University

Bookmarking in Museums: Extending the Museum Experience beyond the Visit?
Jonathan Bowen and Silvia Filippini Fantoni

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Over the past few years, some museums have launched multimedia projects (on PDAs, kiosks, and Web sites) that allow visitors to bookmark information of interest for later use at home or in the classroom, in at attempt to prolong the museum experience, build a stronger relationship with the visitor, and facilitate the learning process. Despite its great potential, however, there is still very little evidence that bookmarking actually works in the terms envisaged by its promoters. To consider this question, we will analyze examples of different on-line and on-site applications, accompanied by a detailed investigation of usage statistics and evaluation results carried out in part by the authors and in part by museums. We will consider case studies from Tate Modern, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Museum of Science in Boston, and The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, among others.

Notes from the editor:
The paper it’s a nice, well-written, and well-researched. This shows the value of a strong collaboration between a museum professional and an academic researcher.

I remember being at that conference, and this was the one paper that EVERYONE seemed to be talking about, specifically because the authors used solid research data to answer a question that many people were asking at the time — does online bookmarking REALLY work? — and in doing so, upended a lot of assumptions about how museum visitors were interacting with those (very popular at the time!) systems.

As a paper, it still holds up very well today as an excellent example of how we cannot rely solely on our assumptions about what works when developing online tools for our users, but we need to gather and analyze actual usage data that will help us become more realistic in our expectations about the systems we build, the features they offer, and how they will be used.




2008 – Conxa Roda
,  Head of Strategy, Innovation and Digital Transformation, Co-director of the Postgraduate on Museum Management, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

Semantic Dissonance: Do We Need (and Do We Understand) the Semantic Web? Ross Parry, Jonathan Pratty and Nick Poole.

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How would you piece together the culture web of the future? In the perfectly interoperable, automatically-joined world of \’Web 3.0\’, some think we need our content connected more closely, more intelligently, with more meaning. But, faced with the initial challenges of Web 2.0, is the UK museum and gallery sector now heading in the right direction strategically, technically and in terms of sustainability? Is the negligible engagement of UK museums with the new wave Web an indicator of more fundamental blockages to come? Can we cope with even bigger steps towards a more unified digital world, an Internet of things? Many people working deep in the digital cultural sector feel there\’s a growing gap between what\’s going on out there in the fertile land of Facebook, and what\’s going on in our arid world of collection descriptions, copyright conundrums and so on.

A wish for more decisive, open-minded developmental connections recently led to the 2006/2007 Semantic Web Think Tank (SWTT) project, a UK research partnership between the Museums Computer Group, MDA, the V&A, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, the 24 Hour Museum and collaborators in the academic world, such as Cambridge University, Leicester University and software sector groups like Box UK. The SWTT project pulled together experts from all sides, talking in six directed sessions which were recorded and published as papers on a blog and in a planned report. The big \’take home\’ from the SWTT project has not, in the end, been a demonstrator, mash-up or a software widget of some kind. It\’s the emergence of a suggested roadmap for the development of a joined-up digital cultural sector, to be revealed in more detail in a report published spring/summer 2008.

Notes from the editor
I loved the clear view about the Semantic web, subject that was not so deeply discussed 8 years ago. The authors offer a most valuable analytical approach. Innovative concepts such as the Aspirational Semantic Web and the Disruptive Semantic Web are presented. Still today, a holistic semantic treatment of our collections and related content is a far away goal to achieve for many museums.




2009 –  Courtney Johnston,  Courtney Johnston, Director, The Dowse Art Museum, Aotearoa New Zealand

Going Analog: Translating Virtual Learnings into Real Institutional Change. Nina Simon.

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Museum technology professionals have spent the last several years advocating for, experimenting with, and expanding the Web presence of museums. We’ve created museum spaces on-line that offer free access to visitors all over the world and increasingly invite visitors to talk with each other, take content away with them, access and remix parts of the collection that aren’t on public display – in short, to do things that aren’t possible in the real museum.

But now we should be going in the other direction and applying the methods and lessons of the Web and Web 2.0 to the museum itself. How can museums be more like the Web? How can they be open 24/7? How can visitors customize their experiences? How can museums become places to talk with other visitors and sneak into the most interesting drawers and move things around?

This paper advocates for museum Web technology professionals to take a broader view of their roles within their institutions and focus energy on translating their knowledge to the onsite experience. It presents models and case studies for how to do this kind of translation from virtual-to-real space, both strategically (so that curators, directors, and boards can sign on to the vision) and practically.

Notes from the editor:
Seven years on, it still summarises a lot of the things I have researched recently, predicts a few of the projects (esp. DMA Friends) that have garnered heat in years since it was given, and has useful advice for implementation that’s still relevant.




2010 –  Ely Wallis,  Elycia Wallis PhD, Manager, Online Collections, Museum Victoria, Australia

Tales of the Unexpected: A Pragmatic and Candid View of Life Post-Launch

Allegra Burnette, The Museum of Modern Art, USA; Dana Mitroff Silvers, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, USA; and Charlotte Sexton, The National Gallery, United Kingdom

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Our paper continues the discussions and analysis begun at Museums and the Web 2009 in the paper, “Redesigning Your Museum’s Web Site: A Survivors’ Guide” (Burnette, 2009). Using real-life stories and examples from the post-launch lives of The Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA), the National Gallery, London (NG), and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), we will reflect upon the often overlooked and under-considered period in most on-line projects: post-launch.

While our previous paper explored the shared joys and challenges we faced in planning, developing, and deploying new and improved institutional Web sites, this paper and subsequent presentation will offer pragmatic and candid insights into our lives after the launch. We’ll reflect upon what we did right and what could have been done differently, discuss results that we expected to find and those that were a surprise, and recount some practical lessons learned. Some of the issues covered include the unexpected impact of a redesign on an organization’s strategic planning, the sobering limitations of what a content management system (CMS) can and can’t do, and the ongoing difficulties of measuring success. By continuing the discussions we began in our first paper, we hope to offer the wider museum community an opportunity to tap into the first-hand knowledge and experience we gained from our three respective projects.

Notes from the editor
In revisiting papers from 2010, I worked with two criteria; did the paper have impact when it was written and does it still resonate today? A number of the papers met both criteria, and discuss issues that remain thorny and unsolved. My favourites included Seb Chan’s paper on how to attract audiences to collections online sites, particularly audiences from the education sector. Six years on, and after the release of many more, some massive, open datasets, collections online sites remain underutilised by those who could potentially gain so much from all that content! There was also a paper by Urban, Twidale and Adamczyk, on the theme of how to evaluate museum sites at a glance. They explore the use of dashboards and other ways to visualise data. Or Nancy Proctor’s paper on what’s next after audiotours? Definitely worth revisiting if you’re planning an audiotour for an upcoming exhibition. 
I could go on… but we were only allowed to pick one paper.My choice is by Allegra Burnette, Dana Mitroff Silvers and Charlotte Sexton reflecting on website redesign projects a year after launch.

To me, this paper could have been written last week. The issues raised, from the impact of a web redesign on strategic planning, to the challenges of a content management system and methods of measuring success, are all too familiar. It would be too much to expect that the authors could provide any magic solutions to the problems they encountered but their honest appraisal of the common themes across organisations remain relevant and highly recommended reading.




2011 – Julia Forbes,  Shannon Landing Amos Head of Museum Interpretation & Digital Engagement, High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Getting on (not under) the Mobile 2.0 Bus: Emerging Issues in the Mobile Business Model. Proctor, Nancy, Peter Samis, Allegra Burnette and Rich Cherry.

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The use of visitors’ own devices for mobile programs in museums, which began with podcasts and cellphone tours some years ago, has enjoyed a renewed popularity in the age of the smartphone. Growing numbers of powerful personal computers in the hands of museum visitors hold out the promise of reduced overheads for mobile interpretation and information services. Obviating the costs of stocking and staffing device distribution on-site, the BYOD (bring your own device) movement has also fueled hopes that the Internet-connected phone will open up new possibilities to reach off-site as well as on-site audiences, beyond the traditional audio tour business models or even the cellphone tour and podcast. Sharing this optimism, new and more specialized vendors have made it easier for museums to buy the elements of their mobile programs à la carte, mixing in-house development of both content and technology with outsourcing. In the past few years, museums have also learned that they can create their own content, as well as enlist the help of script-writers and sound designers, and publish their content to multiple platforms.

So far, however, even as equipment and staffing overheads have been removed or reduced by reliance on visitors’ using their own mobile devices in the museum, new cost centers and challenges have been introduced: proprietary museum-built audio players have often been replaced by equally proprietary app platforms, and the museum that wants to reach the other 70% of its on-site audience is still faced with the question of how to provide devices to visitors who don’t come with – or want to use – their own phones during their museum visits. The museum that can manage a small stock of players on-site for the low take-up rates of permanent collection tours may be overwhelmed by the sudden spike in demand caused by the blockbuster exhibition. Are museums ready to take on responsibility for the mobile hardware/distribution model as well as content and software?

Notes from the editor
I have read it many times now as part of this process and I also remember how valuable and meaningful it was to me at the time in 2011. Reading it now I still find the advice and counsel incredibly relevant. Many of the questions it wrestles with, we are still wrestling with today, maybe in some new ways, but the ideas and thought starters provided in this paper still hold water. It has really stood the test of time.




2012 – Vince Dziekan,  Director of Programme, Graduate Research in Design, Monash Art Design and Architecture (MADA), Monash University, and Curator, MWX – the exhibition initiative of Museums and the Web

Virtual Repatriation and the Application Programming Interface: From the Smithsonian Institution’s MacFarlane Collection to ‘Inuvialuit Living History’.
Kate Hennessy, Nicholas Jakobsen, Ryan Wallace and Charles Arnold.

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Digitization is providing heritage institutions with a range of possibilities for sharing curatorial and ethnographic authority with originating communities. More than creating access to collections, institutional practices of making digital collections public have opened spaces for virtual repatriation and the production of alternative representations of tangible and intangible cultural knowledge. In 2009, a delegation of Inuvialuit elders, youth, cultural workers, and media producers traveled with anthropologists to the Smithsonian Institution\’s National Museum of Natural History to view and document the MacFarlane Collection, the most significant collection of Inuvialuit material culture. In the months after the visit, the group worked with Smithsonian curators and developers of the Reciprocal Research Network (RRN) (http://www.rrnpilot.org) to make the MacFarlane Collection\’s digital records available for the Inuvialuit production of a virtual exhibit. The exhibit producers leveraged the RRN\’s API (Application Programming Interface) to remediate publicly available institutional data as a virtual repatriation of the collection. \”Inuvialuit Living History\” demonstrates ongoing connections between the MacFarlane Collection and contemporary Inuvialuit knowledge and cultural practice. In the process, new questions are raised about histories of ownership, the possibility of repatriation, and opportunities and challenges associated with the virtual repatriation of cultural heritage.




2013 – Lynda Kelly,  Head of Learning, Australian National Maritime Museum

Digital Humanities and Crowdsourcing: An Exploration.
Laura Carletti, Gabriella Giannachi, Dominic Price, Derek McAuley.

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‘Crowdsourcing’ is a recent and evolving phenomenon, and the term has been broadly adopted to define different shades of public participation and contribution. Cultural institutions are progressively exploring crowdsourcing, and projects’ related research is increasing. Nonetheless, few studies in the digital humanities have investigated crowdsourcing as a whole. The aim of this paper is to shed light on crowdsourcing practices in the digital humanities, thus providing insights to design new paths of collaboration between cultural organisations and their audiences. A Web survey was carried out on thirty-six crowdsourcing projects promoted by galleries, libraries, archives, museums, and education institutions. A variety of practices emerged from the research. Even though it seems that there is no ‘onesolution-fits-all’ for crowdsourcing in the cultural domain, a few reflections are presented to support the development of crowdsourcing initiatives.

Notes from the Editor:

When I heard the call about contributing to a best of the best I couldn’t put my hand up quickly enough – how hard could it be? Having been assigned the 2013 proceedings which, in Web terms, is still pretty recent, reviewing this set of papers proved challenging, mostly because many of these projects are still very much top-of-mind and probably their longevity is still to be evaluated.
I did find the strong theme across all these papers was participation, meaningful two-way conversations with visitors, based on their needs and interests, rather than just the institution’s. These are truly visitor-centred experiences.

My honourable mentions go to Stein and Wyman’s paper outlining the development of the DMA friends – an interesting and ground-breaking project by two of our industry’s leading thinkers. Alexander, et al’s paper reporting on Gallery One is another example of moving the field forward, and their strong underlying use of audience research is admirable. Where would we be without the innovation led by the folks at the Riijksmuseum? In geographical terms a bit of an outlier for Museums and the Web that often has a North American bias, yet the folks there generate fascinating projects that are always a bit left-of-centre.

However, I chose the Carletti, et al paper as I believe crowdsourcing, despite being around for a long time, has a solid future for museums in their digital engagement and citizen science initiatives. The paper gives a good potted history and overview of the area, with a range of interesting and varied case examples. It provides much food for thought and opportunities, especially for those working in small regional / community museums where there are great opportunities to harness the ‘wisdom of the crowd’. Nonetheless, as the authors note, there is still a divide between what constitutes “official and unofficial knowledge” which is one area that museums will need to confront in the near future as shrinking resources coupled with an increasingly well-educated public will make crowdsourcing a no-brainer.




2014Christina de Paolo, Communications Specialist at 4Culture
Co-editor: Michael Parry, Director of Communications Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Sydney

Touch Van Gogh and Be Touched—How New Media Are Transforming the Way We Present Complex Research.
de Vet, Marthe and Jolein van Kregten

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This paper will show how our curation and interpretation of new research findings on Van Gogh have been influenced by new media, such as multitouch tablets, and the new modes of communication they foster, and how this leads to new workflows between researchers and educational interpretators. We will explain how we take advantage of new technological ‘habits’ to promote immersion and engagement among visitors and non-visitors alike, and how this has affected our range of educational tools on site and online. We will reflect on the choices we have made—with regard to storytelling, modes of presentation, interfaces, tone of voice, look and feel, languages, and technical issues—to make technical information widely accessible and appealing to various groups.

Note from the editors:
The paper was selected from the MW2014 papers as it presents a truly integrated approach to using digital media in an exhibition. Consistent research through user studies and engaging staff expertise through collaboration informed and refined the development of the tools every step of the way. We appreciated how the use of digital cut across many parts of museum practice. One of the key trends we noted in the papers from MW2014 was the shift to user-centric, iterative, whole-of-organisation approaches to digital work in the museum. We believe this work at the Van Gogh museum is an exemplary model of this practice.




2015 –  Jane Alexander, Chief Information Officer, Cleveland Museum of Art
Co-editor Herminia Din, Professor of Art Education, University of Alaska Anchorage

Strategies against Architecture: Interactive Media and Transformative Technology at Cooper Hewitt.
Chan, Sebastian and Aaron Cope.

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Cooper Hewitt reopened at the end of 2014 with a transformed museum in a renovated heritage building, Andrew Carnegie\’s home on the Upper East Side of New York City. New galleries, a collection that was being rapidly digitized, a new brand, and a desire for new audiences drove the museum to rethink and reposition its role as a design museum. At the core of the new museum is a digital platform, built in-house, that connects collection and patron management systems to in-gallery and online experiences. These have allowed the museum to redesign everything from object labels and showcases to the fundamentals of a \’visit experience\’.

This paper explores in detail the process, the decisions made – and resulting tradeoffs – during each stage of the process. In so doing it reveals the challenges of collaborating with internal and external capacities; operating internationally with online collaboration tools; rapid prototyping; and the distinct differences between software and hardware design and production.

Notes from the editors:
We selected “Strategies against Architecture: Interactive Media and Transformative Technology at Cooper Hewitt.” because it looked at the big picture. We also both knew this was a good paper because neither of us believe that “The Pen” will be sustaniable but the entire project, by embracing innovative and holistic digital activities and promoting digital skills across the institution, the CH will further its stated goals of artistic excellence, scholarship, and community engagement. The development and coordination of digital activity and skills will also build new audiences, increase efficiency and maximize potential for revenue.

We have a few other favorites that we thought were important to the future and were important to continuing growth and sustainability. It includes providing public access to provenance records, ongoing challenges dealing with collection digitization, measuring success of social media usage, and respecting a multitude of voices when interpreting cultural objects. All these are pressing issue that the museum field faces today.

For example (honorable mention),

  • An evaluation framework for success: Capture and measure your social-media strategy using the Balanced Scorecard by Elena Villaespesa (Tate, UK)
  • Community makers, major museums, and the Keet S’aaxw: Learning about the role of museums in interpreting cultural objects by Charles Zange (The George Washington University, USA)
  • Art Tracks: Visualizing the stories and lifespan of an artwork by Tracey Berg-Fulton, David Newbury, and Travis Snyder (Carnegie Museum of Art, USA)
  • What the Fonds?! The ups and downs of digitising Tate’s Archive by Emily Fildes (Tate, UK) and Allison Foster (Tate Britain, UK)




2016 –  Nancy Proctor, Co-chair, Museums and the Web; Deputy Director for Digital Experience and Communications, Baltimore Museum of Art

Inclusive design: From approach to execution
Bruce Wyman, USD Design | MACH Consulting, USA, Corey Timpson, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Canada, Scott Gillam, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Canada, Sina Bahram, Prime Access Consulting, Inc., USA

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At the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, there was an early mandate for inclusive design to be implemented throughout the museum experience. This mandate resulted in a variety of designs and intentions that ultimately required development and implementation strategies to provide access to content through a universal keypad (for screen and audio controls); a mobile application using low-energy Bluetooth beacons; and content available in two languages, two forms of sign language, two descriptive audio tracks, and two sets of captioning. This complex set of variables was difficult to balance, and the authors discuss the implementation strategy and production and development scenarios encountered by trying to execute the greatest of ambitions.

Notes from the editor:

Making our collections, programs, and scholarship accessible to the broadest possible audience is core to achieving museums’ missions, and yet is an area in which we consistently fail to reach our potential. This is not for lack of will, responsibility, or empathy, but “boiling the ocean” of museum accessibility requires enormous courage as well as good maps and direction. This comprehensive guide, based on the real world examples of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights as implemented by leading practitioners in the field, sets the critical project of making museums inclusive off on the right course. The best practices it documents range from mobile to in-gallery interactives, and includes process, protocols, and project management as well as core principles of accessible interface and web design. Perhaps most importantly, the CMHR models how institutions can move beyond the “poverty mentality” that has been used to excuse inaccessible design for far too long, to a culture of inclusivity that embraces the principle that “the [best] work isn’t—nor should it ever be—done.”


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