Friday, May 8, 2009


I finally sat down to watch the much talked about short, "Spark," that was highlighted at AAM last week. I did love it, as the film spoke very directly to what I love about museums: the exalting, cathedral-like spaces; the sense of wonder, awe and curiosity that they inspire. But what I found very interesting about the film was that there was a marked disconnect between the message of the film and all the discussions happening at the conference--formally and informally--about the future of museums.

No one makes any mention whatsoever about how museums engage audiences outside of the museum walls. And considering many museum professionals believe that in the future, museums will have no walls (for example, this noted western museum professional), I wonder how effective this film could really be as a marketing piece for persuading people that museums do indeed matter as the tag line at the end suggests. Is it, in effect, preaching to the choir?

I absolutely agree with the film that museums are places to have enriching experiences, but I strongly feel that by only focusing on the experiences obtained within the walls of the museums, the filmmakers were really only looking at part of the picture.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe all the museum futurists out there who are predicting and working towards greater social media engagement are wrong. Maybe when all is said and done, museums are about physical spaces and the experiences contained within those walls. Heck, I've already sort of expressed that sentiment myself here on this blog.

Regardless, check out the film on YouTube or embedded below. It is copyright the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and produced in association with the American Association of Museums.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

AAM and Twitter Follow-Up

It was too easy to miss comments/tweets while actually at AAM, so I have just gone through all of the tweets tagged #aam09 and #aam2009. Yeah. Here's what I learned:

-- There were roughly 1350 tweets on #aam09.
-- There were roughly 90 tweets on #aam2009, most of which were cross-posted on #aam09.
-- There were roughly 220 tweeters, most of whom only tweeted 3 times or less.
-- There were probably only about 20 or so people who really made use of Twitter during the conference and populated the conversation.

-- Twitter could easily replace blogging as the preferred method for sharing ideas about sessions at conferences. Why? Because it is not reliant on the availability of free wifi! No free wifi in the conference session rooms means an increased incentive to text and tweet instead, despite the fact that the 140 character limit makes sharing in a substantive manner difficult and that the Twitter interface can make it difficult to follow ideas in a coherent fashion and increases the likelihood of losing information. Also, it is quicker and easier to connect with others through Twitter than through blogs--read a tweet you like, follow that person!

Trends from the AAM Conference:
-- Relatively few sessions were actually documented in a thorough or coherent manner via Twitter.
-- A few people were vocally following from home. It is unclear how many people were "lurking."
-- The number one top topic of conversation was the Muse Awards winners.
-- A lot of the tweets were about the host city, food or random facts/trivia from sessions or hallway conversations.
-- Vendors and session presenters used Twitter a fair amount to drum up business.
-- People promoted museums, exhibits and other fun places around the host city.
-- People made book recommendations.
-- Often sessions weren't tweeted, but instead links to notes and slides from sessions were tweeted.
-- I don't think any of the collections/registration sessions were documented through Twitter.

Hot Ideas Being Tweeted:
-- Using technology to engage/reach audiences
-- Content creation
-- Curating conversations
-- Responsiveness to communities
-- Collaborations and community building
-- Predictions for the future

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Voices of the Future Interview

Last week at the AAM conference in Philadelphia, our host, the American Association of Museums, offered all sorts of new and experimental ways to engage. One was to record a Voices of the Future interview. Anyone who was interested was welcome to speak for a couple of minutes on their visions of the future for museums. All of the interviews are now available up on YouTube. Mine is embedded here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

AAM and Twitter

As promised, below are my results from my impromptu and highly unscientific survey on who was tweeting #aam09.

First, a little background.

This is the first conference I have ever tweeted about. In fact, I think that tweeting at and about conferences is still relatively new. And, quite frankly, I am still in shock that Twitter has suddenly exploded in the way that it has--I left my account dormant for over a year because it just seemed, well, silly. So I was very curious to see how useful Twitter could be as a tool to share thoughts about a conference with colleagues both at the conference and those back at home.

I quickly heard complaints, or at least less-than-positive commentary, from various sources: 1) that the quality of the tweets was relatively low, with little content on sessions or lessons learned and more about where people were eating 2) that mostly vendors were tweeting.

The first comment, while disappointing, can be excused. Most people think of Twitter as a personal social space and so are more accustomed to tweeting about meals out and social activity than about the future of museums. Also, the 140 character limit that makes Twitter the micro-blogging site that it is creates an inherent barrier to real sharing of ideas.

But the second comment really peaked my interest: was it true that mostly vendors were tweeting #aam09? Who were all these tweeters who were all a-twitter about the conference, food or otherwise?

So I decided to try to find out!

The results were less than stellar. Now, granted, as @Lidja pointed out to me, there were some big flaws with my survey. I had intended it to be quick and dirty, like a tweet, but she argued that it was too quick and dirty, so as to lack the ability to create meaningful responses. But I was really looking for just an easy way to see if it was mostly emerging museum professionals (EMPs) and/or vendors who were tweeting.

Here are my results. 12 people responded. Then again, I only announced the survey on Twitter and it's easy enough to miss tweets unless you are online right when they happen.

Question 1.
Are you...
10 an EMP (that answers that question, I guess, except that most of the people I was retweeting and replying to are definitely not EMPs...)
2 other (consultant; non-attendee)
1 a mid-career museum professional
1 a vendor
0 a senior/executive level museum professional
0 a volunteer
0 a board member

Question 2.
Do you work in...
4 technology
3 collections
3 education
3 marketing
2 admin
2 visitor services
1 development
1 exhibits
1 programming
1 volunteer/docent management
1 I told you I was a vendor
1 Other (would if)
0 Finance
0 HR
0 Membership
0 Operations

Question 3.
Do you currently work in a museum?
8 Yes!
2 No, but I wish I did.
2 No, and how many times do I have to tell you--I'm a vendor!

Question 4.
Does your museum use Twitter?
5 Yes!
4 I don't work for a museum, but my company/organization uses Twitter.
2 No, but I sure do--tweet! tweet!
1 No, but it wants to.
0 What's Twitter?

I don't have enough respondents for the results to be statistically significant--they could all be spurious and meaningless. But that doesn't mean that this exercise was a waste of time. For one thing, these results have posed all sorts of follow-up questions that I am now mulling over: How big are these museums? What disciplines do the museums represent--art? history? science? Why are they Twittering? Do they find Twitter useful? Would they recommend other museums and organizations sign up and start tweeting?

So really, rather than having results for you, I only have more questions!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

How DO Audiences Want to Use Museums?

Perhaps I am a bit of a hypocrite. Over on the WestMuse blog, I opined earlier that I didn't feel as connected as I would have liked to through the FutureQuest game here at AAM. But at this evening's event at the amazing University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology I felt almost exactly the opposite.

The evening was structured by a group activity--everyone was divided into teams for a scavenger hunt. I opted out, preferring instead to be able to explore on my own and at my leisure, not wanting all that much group involvement with my experience. I think what I really want is to connect with others about museums, but when I am in a museum, I really only want to connect with the objects.

So now the question is, am I a relic in terms of how I want to use museums, or am I not alone in my sentiments? If the answer is the latter rather than the former, then I am quite wrong about how audiences want to interact with museums...