Almost-Live Blogging: Museum Technologies and Trends Session

Curious to know what the future holds for museums and technology? Well, the Horizon Museum Report can help you see the future! I attended a great session that explained about the New Media Consortium's Horizon Project and reported on its latest findings regarding technology and trends. The session purported to be a critique of the report, but really it was more of a discussion of its findings with some additional comments from the panelists.

For a complete (and possibly unintelligible) laundry list of the six technologies on the horizon, six trends to watch and six critical challenges presented in the Horizon Museum Report, you can see my post on my blog.

But here I want to actually process some of what was said, rather than just regurgitating a list.

The most contested (and therefore the most discussed) technology on the horizon was "open content." What is open content? It is the free sharing of content that in the past was considered to be off-limits in terms of sharing--content such as software code, educational or creative content or other content that might fall under intellectual property laws and limitations. I think you can already see why this might be a contested technology. The creative commons license on Flickr is an example of open content. The operating system, Linux, is another example of open content.

Understandably, open content makes museums hugely nervous. Even those people who are in favor of the concept of open content initiatives and aren't afraid of the necessary loss of control that comes with giving people free access to images and other content have difficulty in figuring out how to handle those projects in terms of legalities.

But all four of the session panelists (and the Chair) assured us that, whether or not we are prepared, whether or not we like it, open content is coming. Why? Because (to use their words), "the overall rewards of broad-based sharing far exceed the parochial benefits of restricted or licensed use."

Another session I attended, "Places and Stories," inadvertently served as an advertisement for open source software; two fantastic online community-based projects have been built using open source software. PlaceMatters was built with drupal while PhilaPlace is being built with CollectiveAccess.

Want to know more about the open content movement? The annual WMA meeting to be held this fall in San Diego will have a session dedicated to the topic of open content, "How Can Free, Shared Online Tools Contribute to the Sustainability of Museums?" (Full disclosure: I will be the session chair.)

Briefly, here are a few other great points that arose from the Museum Technology and Trends session that I will now treat as one-liners for you to ponder:

  • It is outdated to measure attendance simply by how many people come through your museum's doors. (Leonard Steinbach)
  • Organizations such as theme parks have always had technology at the core of their missions and have tied technological advances to audience development and revenue generation. (Leonard Steinbach)
  • We will miss hitting our audiences if we don't engage them in significant and sophisticated ways. (Nik Honeysett)


Museum Technologies and Trends on the Horizon: A Critical Review

  • Leonard Stenibach, Principal, Cultural Technology Strategies
  • Susan Chun, Founder and Project Lead, Steve.Museum
  • Rob Lancefield, Manager of Museum Information Services/Registrar of Collections, Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University; President, MCN
  • Nik Honeysett, Head of Administration, J. Paul Getty Museum; Chair, SPC Council of AAM; Chair, Media and Technology SPC, AAM




Hi Allyson, Thanks for coming to the session and for stopping by to chat afterward. It's gratifying to see museums from the WMA pondering the merits--as well as the complications--of open content initiatives of all sorts. The Advisory Board members for the Report put the adoption/acceptance of Open Content on a 4-5 year horizon: certainly, I hope that the museum community embraces these initiatives far sooner than that!

Hi Allyson. Interested in the comment It is outdated to measure attendance simply by how many people come through your museum’s doors. In my experience it is really hard to shift people (staff, management and, in particular, funders) out of the 'bums on seats' paradigm.

We should also keep in mind the idea that it is not the number of visitors but the value of their visits - both in our online and physical environments. How were they changed by their experiences?

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