Thursday, April 30, 2009

Almost-Live Blogging: Museum Technology and Trends

Museum Technology and Trends on the Horizon

For those of you not already familiar with the Horizon Museum Report, part of the New Media Consortium's Horizon Project and co-edited by Leonard Steinbach and Susan Chun, go check it out now!

In a nutshell, the Report looks at six technologies that are likely to be adopted by museums in the near future (1 year or less), mid-range future (2-3 years) or longer-term future (4-5 years) as well as six trends to be aware of and six challenges to adopting these new technologies or participating in these trends. Each of the six lists was compiled by vote.

Technologies on the Horizon:
Current-1 year
Collection Systems: Yes, automated collections management systems have been in place for a long time, but they continue to grow and develop in capabilities and sophistication. Continue to watch for more to come from them! Also, as Susan Chun mentioned, they are the hardest to implement and often the most expensive.

Mobile Devices: Check out the Boston MFA's mobile scavenger hunt: The Quest!

2-3 years
Gelocation: Google Earth + Collections = Mapping Initiatives

Alternative Interaction Devices: DigiWall in Sweden; new interactives on the floor at the California Academy of Sciences

4-5 years
Open Content: This is mostly projected as being so far out because it is often a major policy issue--museums are still very afraid of the loss of control that comes with opening up content--not to mention the intellectual property issues involved.

Multi-Language Capabilities: Though Robert Lancefield pointed out that thanks to Unicode that capability is really already here. And Susan mentioned that this can also be achieved through crowd-sourcing.

Technologies that did not make the list, mostly because they are just considered a "given" at this point:
-- User-generated content
-- Tagging
-- Mashups
-- Syndicated content
-- Digitally-native collection objects
-- Webware
-- Cloud computing (too far-out there for museums still) Robert thought it was a mistake to leave this one off the list. He argued that due to the scalability of cloud computing, even small museums can take advantage of aggregated capacity. Cited IMA and the Jewish Women's Archive as places successfully engaged in cloud computing.

Trends to Watch:
-- Tech-savvy audiences will demand more and richer online content from museums.
-- Open content is inevitable.
-- Increased and improved collections digitization.
-- Technology plans integrated into overall museum strategic plans (the Getty recently changed their mission to include Internet initiatives).
-- Addressing to what extent online engagement complements or enhances physical presence.
-- Increase in use of participatory tools.

Critical Challenges: (Most of these related to infrastructure and policy.)
-- Adequate staffing/adequately trained staff
-- Budgeting for technology
-- Dedicating staff and funding to technology
-- Balancing core mission technology leading edge technologies/experimentation
-- Overcoming fears, esp. regarding open content
-- Copyright, intellectual property laws and other legal obstacles to open content.

And Nik Honeysett added one more challenge, that he states is the biggest one: dissemination. Almost everyone in the room had a fairly advanced knowledge of the subject matter being discussed--everyone already had more than a cursory understanding of web 2.0 technologies. In fact, several of us were trying to live-blog (except that there was no free wifi) and one person was twittering. So essentially, Nik said he was "preaching to the choir." And he was. He urged those of us in the audience to go out and share information about the importance of these technologies with others, but left us with this question: "If we could reach them [all those who aren't already on board with new technologies] all, what would the message be and would anyone listen?"

Eventually, everyone will have to listen or else be left behind by their constituents. And so, in the meantime, I say to all of "them," go check out the Horizon Report!

For a more specific look at one aspect of this report, see my blog over at WestMuse!

Museum Technologies and Trends on the Horizon: A Critical Review

-- Leonard Stenibach, Principal, Cultural Technology Strategies
-- Susan Chun, Founder and Project Lead, Steve.Museum
-- Rob Lancefield, Manager of Museum Information Services/Registrar of Collections, Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University; President, MCN
-- Nik Honeysett, Head of Administration, J. Paul Getty Museum; Chair, SPC Council of AAM; Chair, Media and Technology SPC, AAM


  1. Thanks Allyson. I assume this was announced at AAM yesterday? All of the 1-2 year implementations are pretty safe. I would concur with their predictions.

  2. Yep, these were all officially presented in the "Museum Technologies and Trends on the Horizon" session. The "collection systems" item on the current list of technologies was actually a little contested. One speaker felt that collection systems should just be "part of the furniture" at this point, but another speaker pointed out that they are still evolving by leaps and bounds so that's why it was appropriate to include them.

  3. Thanks for this post Allyson. Have circulated it around the Museum as it was a really good summary.