Once again, MuseumNext ends and I get this horrible sinking feeling of knowing that I need to wait another year for it to happen again.
In my opinion, MuseumNext is the best conference for anyone who cares about museums. It’s international and in the past four years has been to Edinburgh, Barcelona, Amsterdam and this year it was held in Newcastle. Technically it’s a 2-day conference however it always kicks off the day before with a Welcome event, tour/workshop and evening reception.
I’m going to start with my takeaways just because it’s the things I have to get off my chest the most.
Apps Are Dead! Long live the App!
Let’s get this out of the way: Apps aren’t dead. Museums just, bluntly, are crap at them. We only need to look at iTunes who has had 65 billion apps downloaded as reported on their first quarter report for 2014.
Here is my take. Museums, in their adorable fashion, was a bit late to the game when it came to smartphones and tablets. It essentially took the public bringing them into the venues to make the shift happen. Even then, most apps just took what was on the web or in the family pack (eg trails).
But overall, meh. And I’m not alone with this, ask any museum person how many museum apps they have on their device and watch them shift uncomfortably as they say none.
While I’m at it, I need to repeat that the same exact thing that happened with apps is going to happen with the next big trend: wearable technology. I have heard repeatedly that museums feel it’s an area that isn’t going to take off (mainly referring to Google Glass). Fine, Glass might not be the answer but the fact is £16.4billion will be spent on wearable tech in 2014. From that we can assume wearable tech is not going away. Museums have a chance to be part of the movement rather than chasing their tail 3-4 years down the road like they are with apps.
Getting back to apps – has anyone asked: What is the purpose of an app? Guide? Deliver content? Entertainment? Experience? Both? All? Cake? Cats?
We sort of touched this topic a few times but I’m proposing that we are not being innovative at all. We’re playing it safe – and yes this is probably due to finances, funding and quite frankly, being scared.
I keep hearing and seeing start-ups producing fantastic prototypes but I’m challenging the word innovative. We seem to be recycling analogue things for digital when really we should be looking on how we can facilitate real behaviour shifts.
Content Is King!
Hey guys, can we move on from 1996 and find a new thing to sink our teeth into? I’m personally going with User Experience is King (or Queen or whatever you want to use). User experience is where foot flow, word of mouth, brand awareness and whatever other buzz word you want to throw out there can be achieved.
Museums need to stop being pretentious about their collections. The great thing is curators are getting this. The issue is with senior management and people at the boards of trustees level. This is the same level that I continue to challenge to be front of house once every 2 months to see what it is like to a) be with the public and b) learn from the public. (Actually, I challenge every employee to be Front of House once a month or two months and see what the public wants/needs.)
Getting off Soapbox Now.
MuseumNext was chaired by the fabulous Mike Ellis (who MC’d MuseumCamp for us last year) and the ball of energy that is Emma McLean. I say chaired, but really they were facilitators that help the delegates ask questions to make each session participatory.
Other than Keynote Speakers, most sessions ran alongside each other. These are my notes from the ones I attended but I strongly suggest you have a look at the other links for other opinions and observations.
Opening Keynote: Koven Smith (with a bit of help from his adorable son Miles) provided us with an Opening Keynote challenging the notion that digital shouldn’t be compartmentalised – it should be spread throughout areas in museums. The idea that maybe we’re using the word digital in the wrong contet came up along with the challenge that maybe a digital department isn’t required (in the traditional sense). Going from the questions Koven received, it was very thought-provoking. While on one hand Koven presented a ‘challenge’ to rethinking, I think some took it defensively (rightly or wrongly).
Rui Guerra & Esther Herberts: INTK & Naturalis Masterclass
Rui and Esther shared their findings on a experimental campaign that was based on social media only. While the findings were interesting, many wanted to delve deeper into the data which as it was only run once so far, was hard to do. The good news is there is now a baseline to work with so hopefully comparisons will now be able to be recorded.
From Augmented Reality to Minecraft in Museum
Ferry Piekart: Twnkls Augmented Reality
I originally thought ‘Ok, another app.’ but was proven wrong when Ferry shared their findings on bringing an old market town to life using AR. I think the highlight was they spent a lot of time listening to the people – hearing their stories, reactions, emotions of what was important about the space that is there (with no buildings). They also allowed for no iphone/ipad people to experience the AR with static telescopes which I thought was quite clever. Ferry also delved into some of the pitfalls along the way.
Adam Clarke: The Common People
I’ve known Adam for a while now but it was the first time a) I met him and b) heard him speak at a conference about his projects. If there was an award for best speaker, Adam would win in a heartbeat. The idea is simple really, ‘kids’ (and adults!) like Minecraft so why not use Minecraft to expose/teach about museums, artefacts, archaeology, etc? You can build exhibitions in Minecraft then allow people to ‘jump into’ the paintings.
Colleen Dilenschneirder: IMPACTS
I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was to finally meet the brilliant Colleen. I’ve been stalking her forever. She is one of the few people that talk data, numbers, trends and ‘stuff’ that I normally run to the hills to avoid in a way that I get and actually start to understand.
As I was live tweeting her talk, I noticed that I was doing something I normally detest – agreeing that data isn’t evil (really hoping that Mark McLeod isn’t reading this).
Colleen started with a personal experience that was her wow moment. She went on to breakdown why those moments and experiences are so important to ensure and encourage repeat visitors. We mustn’t dismiss the power of the first experience.
There were lots of acronyms used which I usually avoid but each one was broken down into bite size explanations that really made sense. I was expecting my followers to be confused but most were thanking me for sharing!
Linda Spurdle and I ran this session. The topics included failing, addressing hard to talk about exhibitions, apps, and more. If you’ve never been to an unconference, it’s a space to allow anyone and everyone to discuss topics they want to talk about. We entered the room with no idea of what was going to be brought to the table.
Thinking outside the museum needs and looking at what the public wants threaded through most of the sessions. Using Minecraft either to highlight the collection or just as a way to interact with the public was also a creative point.
Great North Museum Hancock Event – with World Cup in background.
Jessica Taylor and Same Billington Antenna International
Interesting discussion about taking the museum experience outside the walls. Yes it did bring up questions such as do we then need the museum if we do this but their examples were impressive to say the least. I particularly enjoyed seeing the publics reaction to being exposed to ‘art’ without having to walk through doors.
Sing London is their latest project with an ‘ambitious vision to enable museums to collaborate with one another, create digital storytelling ‘corridors’ in city streets and engage with general public.’ They had me at collaborative but kept me at engaging general public!
‘Tech allows creation of experiences’ was said and I agree but I’m not convinced we’re being innovative enough yet.
Reaching out with Social Media: Experiences from Moscow and Doha
Anna Mikhailova: Moscow State Museum
Anna walked us through her journey and progress of getting State Historical Museum in Moscow to use social media to address the international spotlight. Anna has worked on several social media projects including MuseumSalon that uses twitter and hashtags to encourage other Russian museums to share their stories, collections and conversation on an international platform.
Mikolai Napieralski Qatar Museums:
Mikolai provided a very humorous presentation on a case study done at Qatar on encouraging social media users to enter a contest to win 2 free round trip tickets to Qatar.
The key issue is that most people who come to Qatar either live there are are tere for business, in other words, it’s not a tourist site. So museums are not a priority for people there. How could they highlight the fact that there was a museum worthy of visiting?
The response was overwhelming and for them a very successful campaign.
Gretchen Scott MOMA
Jason Minyo Possible
Fascinating case study with Art140 – ‘harnessing the power of Twitter to invite people from all walks of life to express what specific works of art mean to them.’ Although social media was used there was also analog versions in-house available (eg pencil and paper!) with ‘I went to Moma and …’
What was compelling was the idea of them sharing and being very transparent with the reactions to the art. It’s ok to not like it! It’s ok that it reminds you of a monkey wearing a Viking helmet whilst singing Dancing Queen – there was no right or wrong answer.
What Does Art Make You Think? Question is open enough so it’s not intimidating. Allows for open interpretation.
Mobile – From Now to What’s Next
Kathy Fredrickson Peabody Essex Museum
Kathy talked about Access App platform – open source framework that should allow for collaboration with other venues/museums.
Hugh Wallace – National Museums Scotland
Reflection on their experience with apps. Best statements:
-thinking behind Museum Explorer: Keep it Simple!
-Balance internal knowledge and creativity with external expertise. Bring in experts with people on the floor.
Huge mentioned the trend of unbundling apps and how it helps provide a different experience. Facebook has removed messenger from the web app and made it into another app. I’m not convinced this is a good thing. Yes it provides a more customized experience but most people liked having the one-stop-shop aspect.
Reimagining Museums and Crowdfunding for the Future
Carlotta Margarone – Palazzo Madama
Loved hearing this inspiring project which saw Palazzo Madama crowdfund to save a 42-piece Meissen porcelain service that once belonged to an important family in Turin Italy. They wanted €80,000 but raised €96,200 in TWO MONTHS! Palazzo is a small museum (14 staff and 150,000 visitors per year). Carlotta agreed that as a one off, this worked but probably wouldn’t happen if they asked the community to constantly donate to a fund raising event.
Hannah Fox, Derby Museums
What a way to end the conference – remixing, remaking and prototyping Derby Silk Mill. The idea came after they were refused funding to refurbish the building. They bring the community in and work with them to find out what they want. Re:Make the ‘programme of rebuilding the museum from the inside out, co-making, co-building, co-producing everything with people who feel passionately about what makes the museum feel special; the collections, the building, the city and themselves.’
What is not to love?
And to make me love them even more, Derby Museums is hosting MuseomixUK this year! Apply now!
See you at MuseumNext 2015?
A major thank you again to Jim Richardson who has always supported my, and so many others, work. Not sure how many people know but he is raising money to beat children’s cancer. Please support his latest event which is Running the Arctic (yes, seriously). Please please please just take the time to read that link to see what it is so important.