Final thoughts from the Museums and the Web 2008 conference

I've already posted a few entries about the Museums and the Web 2008 conference that I attended last month. There was a post about the session I presented in, a post with links to all the papers, slides and notes taken (which I'm still updating), and a post with some of my feedback about the conference.

What I haven't written about yet is the overall ideas, thoughts and mental 'to-dos' that I came away with. So, whilst the conference is more or less still fresh in my mind, I thought I'd do that now, in a quick, succinct, list form.

All lists need a swanky name, so this one is called 'Frankie's top 10 take-home messages from the MW2008 conference'.

1. Participate in Flickr Commons. George Oates (from Flickr) gave a great presentation about the benefits of the project, which are many, and the Q&A discussion at the end expressed the negatives, which are very few. Amongst the delegates, there was a great deal of positive buzz about the project, helped by the well-timed announcement that the Powerhouse Museum had already become the first museum to take part. So, all museums with a historic photographic collection should jump onboard. I'm doing my bit by persuading the National Media Museum to sign up.

2. Investigate faceted navigation. Faceted browsing isn't hugely new, but it came up several times in the conference in several different sessions. Put simply, it allows you to navigate content (or data) along lots of different 'facets'. For instance, on an e-commerce site these might be cost, colour, size, category, brand, style and so on. Usually, the more facets the better. Faceted navigation also applies to search, where the facets act as a filter that can be applied after receiving too many results (compare this with 'advanced search', where you have to select the facets in advance). Definitely something for museums to investigate and explore more, particularly for object websites.

3. Implement OpenSearch. This is a relatively simple framework for allowing third-party services to search your site and interpret the results. Terry Makewell from the V&A explored this a bit in his talk, and the National Maritime Museum announced that they'd implemented it whilst the conference was still taking place.

4. Lightweight and simple beats complex and hard. And I think that's all that needs to be said about this one.

5. Blogs are still a pretty powerful engagement format. Okay, so they're no longer new or innovative, but the form has settled, and they can build an ongoing relationship with readers in a way that's hard to beat. Museums might still be worried about 'barriers to blogging', but these are getting easier to overcome, and it's now becoming more about 'how' than 'if'.

6. There's a community of museum website people out there who care about openness and interoperability and standards and doing stuff. This realisation is one of those intangible benefits that a conference can have, coming not from the formal sessions, but the discussions and networking and debates that happen in the breaks and the lunchtimes and the evenings. There was a definite sense of frustration but yet optimism and action from a subset of the delegates, who I suspect will start to form a stronger community, and perhaps events and meetings of our own.

7. Successful web departments require a team of dedicated developers (or 'geeks'). This came out in Aaron Cope's talk, and also from the work of Seb Chan's work at the Powerhouse Museum, and numerous other examples. They all suggested that technical development should be done mostly in-house, with a team who work together on the same code base, building experience, with control over their websites, and the freedom to try things out. Geeks drive things forward.

8. Publish exhibition data. This didn't come directly from the conference, but was an idea I had whilst I was there. Museum people have talked for ages about opening up object data (including me, who gave a presentation on the very subject), but we've overlooked exhibition information. Exhibitions have a lot more social currency than objects (think how many exhibitions you can remember going to, versus how many museum objects you can remember). We tend to promote them whilst they're on, then forget about them when they're over, possibly even deleting all trace of them from our websites. I think there's a definite role for an exhibitions information aggregator (basic things like opening and closing dates, title and location), and possibly even a social service. I'm going to investigate this by seeing whether the Science Museum even has a list of every exhibition ever put on. I invite other museums to do the same.

9. The OAI-PMH protocol (I'm not going to bother trying to explain it) is still yet to prove itself. It was rejected by the NMOL project and has been retired by Google as a sitemap-style tool. Maybe it's not dead yet, and it still has some defenders, but it's yet to prove itself as a must-have for every museum.

10. Air Canada food sucks, but food in Montreal is good, although some of it is best eaten drunk. (Okay, so there had to be at least one facetious comment).