Guest post: Museums as content machines – and making it meaningful

After another fascinating and stimulating Digital Transformations symposium, my thoughts focussed on two talks in particular – John Stack on Tate Online, and Claire Ross on  user-centred design.

John Stack’s talk on Tate Online’s activities was very  inspiring – the range and depth of their projects are, in a word, awesome.

I particularly liked how those projects became more than simply ‘digital’ projects, they were integral parts of exhibition interpretation.

I was very intrigued to hear that only 7 per cent of Tate Online’s visitors arrive at the homepage. For our website, the Horniman Museum and Gardens, it is much higher.

At the end of his presentation, John posed some questions – fundamental questions about digital and social engagement – ”how does this impact brand?”, “where does authority sit?”,  ”who undertakes this work?”, “how is this joined up?”.

I was surprised that he did not answer the questions – perhaps the process of doing digital brings the answers forward in a much more meaningful way than debating them in advance in a vacuum.

Claire Ross’ talk on user-centred design was also very inspiring, a rallying call to all of us to never forget our users and visitors.

In theory, I completely agree with Claire’s mantra of constantly testing your digital product with users. In practice, I wonder how much this testing can influence people’s engagement with the product? That’s no bad thing,  but are these users representative of all other users?

The discussion which ended the day about what to do with all this user-generated content is very salient. I see museums as content machines; we could produce content every minute of the day if we were let. But the question is how to do this in a way that’s meaningful for our communities – something Tate seem to be doing very well, and Claire’s advice points us in the right direction.


Photo by Argonne National Laboratory on Flickr. Some rights reserved under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence.

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