I arrived back in the UK yesterday from Canada, after attending the Museums and the Web 2008 conference. After a day of sleeping off the jet-lag and generally being a bit confused, I realised this morning that I forgot to fill in my feedback form (despite several pleas from the conference organisers in the closing session). In the spirit of openness which came out from the conference, I thought I'd offer some constructive feedback here.
(Photo by me, licensed under CC-BY)
Generally, I really enjoyed the conference, and had a great time, so I'm not going to bother going over everything that I liked about it. However a there are some notable elements that are worth mentioning, for the sake of other conference organisers if nothing else:
The 'Crit Room' and 'Usability Lab' sessions. These are pretty unique, as they give selected website owners some immediate on-the-spot feedback as to how they can improve their site. The first has a panel, who look at the websites in advance and prepare a short response (as well as inviting comments from the floor). The second uses a live guinea-pig, picked from the audience, who is asked to complete a 'task' on the website (eg find out some information), watched over by a usability consultant. Both pretty useful, and concrete, even if you don't own the particular website.
The organised museum tours. I went on the day trip of museums in Montreal. Not only do you get to see a bunch of museums, but you get to see them with other museum folk too, and with someone from each of the museums present to explain their thinking. This was pretty fun, and it was interesting to see how museum people visit museums - unlike the regular visitors, we were taking photos of the interfaces, the signage, and were trying to figure out how it all worked.
The evening dos (receptions). These were awesome - ever-flowing wine, tons of good food, and a relaxed atmosphere where it was easy to mingle and meet new people.
Okay, so time for some negative feedback (and these are mostly more specific to the particular conference):
The wi-fi went down a few times. Okay, so this happens at nearly every conference and it seems churlish to complain, but hey, it was annoying at the time.
The 'Exhibit Hall' (where commercial sponsors promote their products) didn't seem to fit in well with the rest of the conference. Sure, the companies are helping to fund the conference, but there could have been a more interesting way of incorporating this (we discussed some ideas for a Dragon's Den style pitching session, with voting from the audience).
The workshop I went to (Everything RSS) seemed a little heavy on the presentation and light on the 'work' (which was just reviewing some web services). It might have been more engaging to have led people through some real-life activities.
The closing plenary, by Clifford Lynch, was pretty hard-going, dragging on for ages, with no slides, and not much relationship to what had happened at the conference (he couldn't actually attend most of it). It would have been better to have someone draw out some general themes and conclusions (and there were plenty of those, which I'll save for a later post), with reference to some of the presentations, discussions, papers and so on. Even a slideshow of photos taken from the conference Flickr pool would have livened things up.
The 'roll-your-own' session space was a good idea, but didn't quite work on the day (it was difficult to publicise the sessions). It might have been better to have a dedicated time in the schedule when nothing else was on where people could propose last-minute (on the day, or perhaps in the week before) sessions, chalked up in a prominent place or quickly printed out and photocopied.
I hope these points are useful, and I invite other participants to leave a comment if they agree or disagree (or have any other bits of feedback they want to make public).
The only other minor quibble I have is that the style guidelines for the written papers should be updated so that "Web site" can be spelled "website" and "on-line" can be spelled "online". :-)
Update: Mia has blogged her feedback too.