One of the themes that has risen up from the torrent of great thinking that characterizes Museums and the Web has been content and narrative and their importance. This is obivously music to my ears being a content person, but also interesting given the overtly technical nature of a lot of the conference sessions. I take this as a good sign. In past years, the talk was about the platform or the device and I always got the impression that mobile was a solution looking for a problem. Now the sector has matured to the extent that the problems are clear and solutions are out there. Mobile is just another part of the landscape now.
At our mobile untours workshop, Sandy Goldberg shared some interesting data she’d discovered at the Museums and Mobiles web conference. Sandy polled 1,200 museum professionals about what was important in developing effective content, and the results were illustrative. Far and away, the most important quality museum content should posses is emotional resonance. The next two most important qualifiers were content that makes visitors think in a new way and content that provides visitors with a new context to appreciate the content. Clear concise content and depth were at the bottom of the list. At her great plenary talk, Kristen Purcell from the Pew Internet and family life project presented findings from their latest surveys and their implications for museums. Among the tons of great data she presented, which you can get here, were some nuggets that really resonated with me. On the Internet, there’s lots of data, but not a lot of good storytellers, and that’s an opportunity. It’s not enough to make the collections available, it’s necessary to provide some kind of context, a narrative that establishes the relevance of the mountains of data and gives the explorer a path to follow. This isn’t news.
When she walked through how Americans look for information on the Web, Kristen reminded the audience that online visitors still want authority. They want to know that they can trust the accuracy of what they find, and that is an opportunity for museums. The challenge to that is that in the 21st century information is now ambient, and search engines have created the expectation that one should be able to find all the relevant content on a topic, regardless of where it was created or where it’s housed. The old model of just linking to content within the institution’s information space is becoming unacceptable. People want relevance and connections to all relevant resources, not just your own. How to think about doing that is a huge issue, but it’s one that people are starting to talk about. Content sharing and content economies were themes that kept cropping up at sessions, over drinks, in the hallways. Open standards have been proposed and are being used, linked data and federated search are realities in the museum sector. We can see there from here. This is exciting, and daunting. Kristen reminded the audience that If you put information out on the Internet, expect to lose ability to control it.