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What’s the Point of a Museum Website?

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Ignite Smithsonian.

Many of you have probably already heard that on April 11 the auditorium of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian was packed from 10 a.m.– 12:30 p.m. with people talking about museums, technology and how to best combine them.

The Concept (shamelessly stolen from the SI Web and New Media Strategy site)

  • A series of Ignite talks. Each speaker speaks for 5 minutes. The speaker uses 20 slides which advance automatically every 15 seconds. Talks are lively, entertaining, provocative. There’s a performance art aspect to Ignite events, and it’s an easy/fun way to share a lot of ideas in a short period of time. Learn more about Ignite talks on the official Ignite website.
  • Museums and the Web is in Philadelphia the week before and a number of speakers will be in Washington the week of the 11th, so let’s take advantage of that and share their smarts for all the local D.C. people who can’t afford to get up to Philly.
  • Hear from some non-museum people and some museum people who did not speak at Museums and the Web, to a) take advantage of smart people who will be around and also introduce some outside ideas in the mix
  • Inject a big can of whoop-ass ideas into ole’ SI
  • Have fun, meet new people

This goal was certainly accomplished. Talks ranged from the humorously thoughtful (Elissa Frankle comparing how museums teach history to making a souffle) to the more serious (Brett Bobley, chief information officer, NEA about the Data Challenge).

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One of the talks that I personally found most interesting was by Koven Smith, director of technology at the Denver Art Museum. “What’s the Point of a Museum Website?” he asked.

It got me thinking, what do I use a museum’s website for? Typically, it’s to find the address, hours of operation and a point of contact for when I have a question. Smith suggests that rather than museums continually focusing upon content and how websites need more, instead museums should be about enabling access to content, “whether that content is produced by us or others.”

After listening to the responses to the Pinky Show’s question on the digitization of art collections as well as the the criticisms of Google’s Art Project, it makes me begin to wonder how this all fits together. Is this digitization helping enable access to content or is it simply providing more and more content for you wade through and find the answers that you’re looking for? And let me tell you, sometimes on a museum website it’s incredibly hard to find points of contact or location.

So I put the question to you smart folk, what do you think is the purpose of a museum website?

– Guzel duChateau, AAM New Media Specialist and CFM Program Coordinator

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1 Comment

  1. I actually love Koven's idea about curating anyone's content on our museum Web sites, but had to also answer his question about what online collections are for. They are for teaching. Whose using them? Teachers. Many many teachers at every level cannot bring students to the museum but still want to use the primary museum resource: its collection.

    – Kris Wetterlund

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