Category Archives: museums

How can museums make memorable apps?

Like many people in the museum community, I was both amused and angered by the recent(ish) article from the Guardian with the bull-to-a-red-flag title “Dear Museums, the Time Is Right To Embrace Mobile.” Amused because the central premise of the article is almost objectively wrong, and angered by the condescending tone the article strikes. Part of my issue with the article was that for all its criticism, it offered precisely no prescriptive instructions for how to deal with this supposed “problem”–it didn’t even bother to knock down the straw man it had set up. And there’s a reason for that–the museum space is an extremely difficult one for mobile. It’s easy for anyone to say “museums should have mobile stuff going on!” It’s much, much harder to articulate exactly what that mobile “stuff” should be.

Look, I’m glad that people outside the museum space are finally recognizing the value of mobile (probably because it’s a kajillion-dollar-a-year industry, I suppose; it used to just be about the music, man). But it was hard for me to not read this article and see a bunch of Johnny-come-latelies mashing up the giant abstractions of “museums” and “mobile” and finding nothing more than a new market to exploit. As Nancy Proctor points out in her thoughtful response to the article, we’ve been working in this space for a loooooong time, and that experience has (hopefully) taught us that introducing mobile devices into museums doesn’t always equal automatic win. What I hope we have come out of the last few years with, though, is a far more nuanced understanding of what success with mobile applications in museums might look like. Continue reading How can museums make memorable apps?

This guy looks pretty authoritative to me. From the Flickr Commons.

The majesty and wonder of “Drinking About Museums”

It’s sorta hard to believe that I’ve somehow never posted about #drinkingaboutmuseums here. I chalk that up to me forgetting that I have a blog for months at a time. At any rate, I was inspired by Ed Rodley’s now-not-so-recent post “On Drinking About Museums,” and thought that it would be a good time to lay out my thinking about the events generally, and the mechanics of our Denver event specifically.

Aaaanyway…

What is it?

At its basest level, #drinkingaboutmuseums is an opportunity for museum people to get together and talk about their profession, over some sort of beverage. That’s pretty much it. Different cities have done it differently–the Denver group, for example, is always extremely loosely structured, while the Boston group often has formal presentations and agendas before the beering happens. Continue reading The majesty and wonder of “Drinking About Museums”

Hold up, everybody–the fashion industry invented curating.

If you think about it, fashion may actually be THE industry that started the curation trend – we just didn’t know it at the time. How could we? “Curation” is a relatively new term, but it’s finding its way into other realms; you hear about content curation, music curation – all meaning that in some way, these industries are personalizing their offer according to your individual wants, needs and likes.

–Carrie Whitehead, Zappos Labs: The Frontier of Online Retail Is Curation 

Um…huh. So I guess that “curation” is a trend now? That the fashion industry started? Interesting. I can think of a few people I know who might have an issue with one or more of those statements.

This article (written by the Product and UX Manager at Zappos) was actually a pretty interesting read, particularly coming on the heels of seeing Suse Cairns and Danny Birchall’s “Curating the Digital World” session at MW2013. In that session (and the subsequent Salon session on the same topic), we appeared to be looking to expand the definition of “curator” and “curating” to include all sorts of possible definitions and use cases, but in this article, the definition is narrowed waaaay down. Continue reading Hold up, everybody–the fashion industry invented curating.

technology

Leave tech in the conversation

Just a quick post, here, because I couldn’t quite get this out in 140 characters. I want to quickly address this idea, which was re-aired during the “digital strategy” session at the recent Museums and the Web conference but which has been floating around the museum technology space for a long time, of “taking technology out of the conversation.” It’s something that I hear a lot at conferences (with variations like, “learn to speak curator” or “think like an educator/scholar/conservator/etc.”). It’s a concept that sounds great in the abstract (“technology people shouldn’t focus on the technology–they should focus on the content!”), but which over the long term creates serious institutional liabilities. Continue reading Leave tech in the conversation

learnding

Online collections, hey! Online collections, what?

Another year, another Museums and the Web conference that has left me completely hoarse and unable to talk. Wooo! I had a lovely bunch of people show up for my “Blow Up Your Online Collection” impromptu unconference session, and I wanted to attempt to get a few of the ideas that came out of that session down here before I start forgetting things again.

The gist of my original proposal for the session was about focusing in on a key area of the “What’s The Point of A Museum Website?” Ignite Smithsonian talk and subsequent MCN panel session: online museum collections. If we’re all having trouble defining what the purpose of museums’ digital presences should be (though the Walker’s bad-ass–and award-winning!–new design is certainly helping to point the way), we’re having particular trouble trying to determine what role museum collections and objects serve in that space. Continue reading Online collections, hey! Online collections, what?

late for work running

The Kinetic Museum

Hey, so apparently I have a blog! Who knew? At any rate, it looks like I’m going to be speaking at this year’s MuseumNext conference (travel budget permitting) in Barcelona, where I’ll be joining Nancy Proctor, Nate Solas, Robin Dowden, Hein Wils, Ferry Piekart, and lots of other museum smartsies for several days of kicking presentations and conversations. I’ll try and fill this out in greater detail later, but for now, here’s what I’m planning on talking about…
———-
How much of museums’ total overall effort is bound up in potential? How much time do museums waste defining “best practices” instead of simply moving ahead with a solution that just works? Because the museum as it exists today is still essentially built on the 19th-century model, changes in practice still tend to evolve over years, if not decades. In a culture that now evolves at web-speed, the pace of museums’ own evolution is fundamentally unsustainable, if not suicidal. Continue reading The Kinetic Museum

Whaam! 1963 by Roy Lichtenstein 1923-1997

What’s the point of a museum website?

One of the best things that came out of this year’s Museums and the Web conference in Philly was an “unconference” session I organized around re-thinking and re-imagining what museum websites could/should be. It was a great conversation, with lots of interesting viewpoints. I hope to do a longer post about this in the next few days, but for now, here’s the video of a talk I gave at Ignite Smithsonian a few days ago that tries to get at the root of the problem I’m trying to identify. Continue reading What’s the point of a museum website?

My take on #CloughMustGo

Usually I refrain from talking about museums on this blog except to discuss how museum policy/tradition/approach affects (or is affected by) technology, and I generally keep my political opinions to myself, so this is sort of a new thing for me. And this is probably just an overreaction to a relatively small issue. So please forgive this digression–I’ll get back to ranting about collections management systems or whatever soon enough.

However…

The recent firestorm surrounding Wayne Clough (secretary of the Smithsonian Institution)’s decision to remove David Wojnarowicz’s work A Fire In My Belly from the “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, and the public response to that decision, has provoked me out of my comfortable treehouse. Continue reading My take on #CloughMustGo

Building a museum from scratch

I posed a quick question on Twitter this morning (or this afternoon, for those of you east of the Rocky Mountains) that I feel needs a bit more clarification than I could squeeze into 140 characters, so I thought I’d log into the ol’ blog (for the first time since July) and do some old fashioned clarifyin’.

Anyway, the question I posed was this:

What things do museums do *exclusively* because of tradition? If you were building a museum from scratch, what would you do differently?
@5easypieces
Koven J. Smith

While it’s easy to think of all kinds of things that museums could do better (and indeed, since asking this question, I’ve received a bunch of excellent replies to this effect), what I’m really trying to get at here are identifying processes that we (perhaps grudgingly) accept as givens, but that we would never enact if we were just starting from scratch today. Continue reading Building a museum from scratch

“A great place to plan your visit!”

Disclaimer: This is something that I’m still trying to figure out, so a lot of what follows is still kinda half-baked and rant-y (just your typical kovenjsmith.com post, I suppose). I welcome better-informed opinions than my own…

I often hear museum staff talk about museum websites being places for visitors to the buildings to “plan their visits” and/or to “follow up after their visits.” For some institutions, it seems that this is the primary purpose of their websites. I’m willing to be convinced if someone can show me hard data that proves otherwise, but my gut tells me that this kind of activity rarely, if ever, actually occurs in the way we so often discuss it. Continue reading “A great place to plan your visit!”