UK Museums on the Web Conference 2012

Digital Media
November 30, 2012

UK Museums on the Web is a great opportunity for people in the museum sector to network and bring ideas together about the web and related digital. This year it was at the Wellcome Collection, London.

Here are some brief highlights of sessions, but there were of course lots more great ideas buzzing about.

Some themes emerging during the day included:

  • a common acceptance that digital is ubiquitous in people’s lives and that all staff need to be digitally aware to be able to provide services that can adapt quickly to rapid change and remain relevant
  • that the rapid recent acceleration in the use of mobile devices as the first choice way of accessing the web is changing how services are accessed and used
  • advocacy for museum digital development to adopt the faster iterative models of makerspaces and open-source communities
  • the need for continuous review of readily available user data and rapid response to it

Mia Ridge (above left), Chair of the Museums Computer Group welcomed attendees in the opening session.

Andy Dobson (below left) gave a thought-provoking keynote on the concept of ‘creative technology’. He used this term  to describe the open community model of development that has arisen with makerspaces, open-source coding, and similar ground-up movements. He argued that people no longer need to wait for official standards to be agreed or platforms to be developed before starting. He suggested instead that instant and ubiquitous communication allows people to form their own creative problem-solving communites to build things without waiting.

He also noted that digital is an inherently multi-disciplinary medium and that creativity is needed in development of digital services in many overlapping areas of work, and that boundaries of disciplines are blurring.

Following on, Paul Rowe advocated for data publishing to become the standard method of collections and highlighted various incarnations from around the world.

From the V&A Digital Media team, Rich and I described the changes made so far at the V&A following our digital review. I reviewed the establishment of new governance of digital at an organisational level and the challenges of implementing change at a departmental level. Rich reflected upon how the agile methodologies of technical development might fit within longer-term museum timescales.

Our slides are available here.

Our session also included John Stack, Head of Online at Tate describing how Tate are ensuring digital is embedded in all of their activity, starting by interviewing stakeholders across all departments of the organisation. Like many speakers, John noted the need to be able to respond ever more quickly to change.

Museums on the Web is organised by Museums Computer Group. Committee members offer their own time to make this happen. For my sins,  I have volunteered my time to help, and was accepted to the committee in the lunctime AGM. Exciting.

In a lively session, Tom Grinsted, Product Manager at the Guardian made some simple but piercing points about how essential it is to be mobile-responsive. For example, he discussed the fact that Google’s mobile search ranking will promote mobile-optimised sites. Given that people are increasingly using mobile devices as their primary way of accessing the web, this is clearly significant.

In a telling piece of audience participation, he demonstrated how attendees may be using digital like our audiences, but that our websites may not be responding to this trend. He asked people to raise their hand if they had a smart phone. Almost everyone did. This showed most are mobile users. He then asked the audience to raise their hand if they worked for an organisation that has a mobile-optimised website. Far fewer did. The inescapable conclusion? Many museum website are not matching audience demand.

Tom also made a case for continuously looking at, and acting upon, the user-behaviour data which is readily available from analytics. As one example, he described how at the Guardian, he was looking at levels of activity on the web by time of day, for different technology and different content. The data showed that on tablets activity tends to peak in the evening. This was leading them to adapt their offers to meet a user-need they currently may not be addressing.

Simon Tanner from King’s College discussed impact, and probed the real meaning of some commonly claimed ‘measures’ of success such as high levels of access. He made the point that access does not indicate impact. He pointed out that in terms of impact, success crucially depends on what is defined as important, and to whom. He used a partially-facetious anecdote about high numbers of people viewing a display, which while being claimed by some as a success could be seen as having a negative impact on domestic economy, as less people were out shopping.

Tanner made the point that impact as a measure of return on investment is not necessarily about money, but should be seen in much wider terms such as engagement, education or environmental sustainability.

This review really does not do the day justice. Other sessions included an open-mic, chaired by Danny Birchill, Nick Poole of Collections Trust discussing when and how to share collections data, Claire Ross and Jane Audus discussing digital R&D, Charlotte Holmes of the Museums Association, Stuart Dempster of the Strategic Content Alliance and Katy Beale of Caper.

If I have misrepresented anything here, feel free to let me know via the comment option below

For more information see the Museums Computer Group website:

UKMW12 programme

UKMW12 round-up

Slides from the day are available on the MCG slideshare page

#UKMW12 tweets from the day 

About the author

Digital Media
November 30, 2012

Digital Content Delivery Manager at the V&A. Information scientist at work and hacky maker of strange things out of it.

More from Andrew Lewis
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