Managing Expectations in Museums

Following on the Museums and the Web conference last week, Nina Simon made an excellent observation in a great blog post Avoiding the Participatory Ghetto: Are Museums Evolving with their Innovative Web Strategies?:

“Are participatory activities happening on the web because that is the best place for them? Or is the web the dumping ground for activities too messy or uncomfortable to do onsite?”

She goes on to describe the disconnect she felt when visiting the Indianapolis Museum of Art, after visiting their super-Web 2.0 Web site. It was just a normal museum, not what she’d expected from a museum with such a participatory Web site, famous for its transparency that lays bare the inner workings of the institution. There’s a great conversation in the comments to her post among Museum technologists and staff about the nature of participation in museums (it’s a good read!). I feel like we really need to ask ourselves, What do we expect visitors will do on our virtual and real world sites? Do they have to do the same types of activities in both spaces? On one level, Nina’s right. There is a disconnect. But is it fair to compare? I also have a similar disconnect between my real-world home and my FaceBook home. The real one is decidedly quiet. It’s where I study, and eat, and sleep, and play with the dog . While the FB home is really loud with tons of people streaming through, taking quizzes, and posting photos *all the time* because I have friends all over the world. I am not saying that museums don’t have anything to learn from online social media. I just ask about what we expect from these different spaces. As the comments on Nina’s post show, it is very instructiveto think this through , but is it fair to compare?


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