Web 2.0 and Museums, from Museums and the Web

Just catching up on my Museums & the Web notes. . . Please forgive the bullets. My comments are in italics.

This session was a study in vast contrasts. I completely understand each institution’s approach to Web 2.0 technologies, but I must say the Smithsonian approach, while it may produce quality content, does not strike me as really being in the spirit of true blogging, as it lacks spontaneity and a clear personality driving it, and all comments are moderated. I’m all for team blogging, but blogging by committee disconcerts me. So while the quality of Eye Level is quite high, after seeing how it’s published, I’m not entirely convinced it’s a true blog. What defines blogging, after all–the process, the form, or both?

“New World Blogging within a Traditional Museum Setting”
Jeff Gates, Smithsonian American Art Museum

  • desired accelerated production of content
  • Q: how much time would the project take from offices outside of information services?

Goal: Engage new audiences in a dialogue about the museum’s art. Wanted to connect the museum’s Web offerings with about-to-be-reopened galleries.

The blog has continuous and searchable content aimed at multiple audiences. A long tail approach. Aimed especially at young people. Desire to cultivate new audiences pre-reopening of the museum, highlight assets of the museum with high impact at a low cost. Would highlight other programs and promote community involvement.

Chief curator Eleanor Harvey involved with blog topics.

All departments very busy pre-reopening. Blog needed to be sustained with very little help from elsewhere in the museum.

They published Eye Level internally until everyone on staff was comfortable with format and concept. This helped to overcome early skepticism.


  • propose blog post
  • writeboard
  • discussion by blog team
  • rewrite if necessary
  • editing by publications
  • final approval
  • publication

Timely posts get priority.

Roles and responsibilities clearly defined for each team member. Gates is managing editor.

Initial goal: 2 posts/wk. Exceeded this goal in the first year.

Early concern: prepare for controvery

Comments are moderateed. They have developed a comments policy and are fine-tuning it.

Long term goal: Develop new story ideas.
Long term concern: Balance PR needs with good content. Eye Level is not perceived by audiences as merely a PR tool. Audiences would lose interest if that were the case.

Museum wanted to join in blogging networks, not just reach general public. 127,000 visitors to Eye Level in the first year.

Advice: Move slowly, adjust continually to monitor progress and ensure success.

Eye Level: a case study for being “both a disrupter and a diplomat” (quoting Bill Taylor, editor of Fast Company magazine)

Building an On-line Community at the Brooklyn Museum
Nicole J. Caruth and Shelley Bernstein

A very inspiring presentation!

Visitor-created content:

  • portrait photos of visitors in Sargent exhibition
  • visual/prose fragments in “brooklyn poem”
  • graffiti walls for visitors to tag in an exhibit about graffiti art—with an accompanying Flickr page and online “tagging wall” (whiteboard) for web visitors to contribute

The museum used Flickr to collect existing images of graffiti in Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Brooklyn Museum website has a community page with links to MySpace, Flickr, RSS, videos, podcasts, blogs, comment pages linked from exhibitions pages.

The Brooklyn museum doesn’t distinguish between/prioritize physical, web, or web 2.0 visitors. Wants to provide equal access for all.

Flickr pool: Brooklyn Bridge photos and art

Visitors in a web 2.0 space expect you to be there as often as they are. So:

  • respond to comments
  • post interesting content—marketing should be secondary
  • web visitors tend to moderate themselves
  • no comment moderation except for spam filter
  • invite current Flickr users to join new museum Flickr pools/groups

Flickr lets users leave testimonials. Some great (and positive!) feedback left there.

Q: Does using Flickr and MySpace cause brand confusion?
A: Most traditional visitors to website are not going to Flickr pool. It’s mostly for Flickr users who understand what the museum is doing.

Flickr is now one of the museum’s top referrers back to the museum website.

When using Flickr, be sure to provide a link back to the exhibition page.

Stop thinking, start doing: addressing barriers to web 2.0
Mike Ellis, The Science Museum, London
Brian Kelly, UKOLN, University of Bath


  • have good content and willingness to get it out there
  • are holders of lots of niche stuff: the long tail is ours!
  • have a long history of wanting users to really engage. “We’re the custodians of the long tail.”

Barriers to participation:

  • museum treacle
  • We’re quite bad at change and this is a big one.
  • We feel a need to “protect” our audiences.

Barrier #1: Why bother? Our users don’t care.
Reply: These are new audiences, new environments. Surveying current users of the museum about web 2.0 won’t work–because the point is to draw new audiences.

Barrier #2: Cultural and political stuff. Brand? Dumbing down? Reputation? “We’ve never done it like that before.”
Reply: But users understand. Effective design distinguishes “our” from “theirs.” Our repuation is at stake it we don’t participate in web 2.0.

Barrier #3: Technical. No expertise, untested. What if Yahoo! servers go down?
Reply: Identify enthusiasts and early adopters in the organization. Your servers are probably less reliable than major web portal’s. Make your tools small scale and free to minimize resource costs. The API approach to development is the future: insist on it! Manage risks, learn from mistakes (they may not happen). Build prototypes quickly, have plan for migration.

Barrier #4: Resources and cost. “We’ll need to moderate, and it’ll take an entire team working full time.” “This kit looks expensive.”
Reply: It doesn’t require as many resources as you think. We’ll-designed systems save huge amounts of time. Raising barriers to entry is extremely effective (e.g. low barrier, such as requiring an e-mail address to comment, works well). Users are (usually) pretty sensible. Plus a lot of this stuff is free—and hosted!

Barrier #5: Content, legality, context. “You just want to give it away?”
Reply: Deal early with funders and other stakeholders. People are already using your content in strange and unusual ways. If you want traffic, encourage people to “borrow” your content.

Intellectual property rights landscape is constantly changing.

Start doing: We must continue to pioneer. Funding follows “significant social movement.” If we don’t fill this space, someone else will. We need to get better at sharing our experiences.


  1. Fantastic information. Thanks, Leslie.

  2. themusediffuse says:

    Thanks for the notes, Leslie.

    I totally agree with your comments on the session: the same concerns about Smithsonian kind of blogging and the same fascination about Brooklyn Museum activities.

    I also liked very much the Science Museum of London presentation. I found very helpful the approach difficulties/solutions to avoid certain reluctances inside museums.

    It was also a pleasure to meet you in person at the museum bloggers meet up 😉

    Pilar Gonzalo

  3. CAO1/APPACDM - Setúbal says:

    We are waiting for you !

    Link US …

    Saudações de Portugal

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