Design Events

Museum experiences and the post web accord | Sebastian Chan on Museums for the Next Generation Part 1

Sebastian Chan on Museums for the Next Generation

The Powerhouse Museum and the in-house digital agency Chan has been heading within it have liberated the collection and extended the museum experience beyond exhibitions and museum walls. Sebastian Chan is head of Digital, Social, and Emerging Technologies at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. I first saw him talk at Web Directions in 2007. Then he case studied social tagging projects and it was great to hear how the initiatives have grown.

Amongst the strategies, tools, and technologies discussed on the night were:

  • Open APIs to enable sharing of collection data
  • Geo coded images enabling data mash-ups of historical photos
  • Social tagging enabling richer descriptions of collection items
  • Keyword search tags enabling ‘frictionless tagging’ and driving improvements in how items are catalogued by examining how people describe them
  • Online exhibitions (such as the Australian Dress Register) encouraging learning and cataloguing amongst smaller collectors
  • Interactive games as part of exhibition displays encouraging learning through experience
  • Mobile apps augmenting museum experiences (check out the Lovelace app in the App Store)
  • Pre-exhibition blogs that help inform shows and even to crowd source artefacts to display

Chan calls this use of technology and the philosophy of an open collection the “post web accord”. He acknowledged the tensions that this raises:

  • the family visitor versus the scholar
  • the exhibit versus the collection
  • the museum site versus new platforms
  • formal education versus inspiration
  • delivering experience versus displaying information

The benefits of embracing the post web accord speak for themselves. The exhibition “The 80s are back” began with a blog and 50% of the objects displayed were crowdsourced. After smaller initiatives, the complete museum collection was digitised and published under a creative commons license with social and search tagging tools in 2006. Now links back to the site account for 50% of all web traffic. But it doesn’t end there. It’s always a curly question to consider where to publish content online, and whether content should be seeded elsewhere. Consider these results — the museum published images onto Flickr under the Flickr commons license. Images that had generated 31,000 total views up to 2007 took 4 weeks to generate 40,000 views. After 2 years the image collection had generated 2.5 million views and now over 1,800 photos have been added.

Key takeaways

  • Push experimentation and pilot projects to grow good ideas.
  • Embrace multiple viewpoints from the audience and from within your organisation (museum exhibitions are blogged from various viewpoints on their site).
  • Encourage sharing by opening data and publishing on multiple sites; not only will it result in new information coming back to you, but communities will form around it.

This event was held on 21 August 2011 and was presented by Australian Infront at the Apple Store Sydney as part of the Insight series of talks. The talk will also be published as a podcast. The next event in the series will be a presentation by designer Vince Frost.

Related links:

A write-up of the event by Justin Fox, Australian Infront founder.

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