Ideas for Smithsonian 2.0 from Bruce Wyman, Director of Technology, Denver Art Museum

1. Turn the Museum inside-out

  • reveal the inner workings of the museum
  • show the creative process and solicit feedback — it's not a case of relying on crowdsourcing and pandering to the lowest common denominator, but it's part of making the museum accessible and relevant to a much broader audience.

2. Use social media to connect with people

  • remember that new technologies and social media in general are about people, not the actual technology
  • reinforce making the museum accessible
  • it's a two-way conversation
  • the museum needs to go to where the conversation is taking place, not wait for the conversation to come to it
  • create conversations, don't just slap up content

3. Separate content from distribution

  • museums are fundamentally about sharing stories and ideas, creating content
  • don't create content solely for an intended distribution, create an ongoing resource & library of information
  • content should be a constant steady drumbeat of low-level effort as opposed to infrequent monolithic efforts
  • all of this lets you take advantage of new tech & opportunities as they arise rather than having to ramp up.
  • when you make content not specific, it lets useful repurposing happen and you can enter into the long tail of content pretty quickly over time

4. Embrace multiple voices

  • the museum should offer different voices of the institution in different contexts and settings
  • the 'authoritive' voice of the museum isn't compromised in any way. People are judging you based on what you say not nearly so much how you say it.
  • the museum potentially becomes more transparent, especially as the multiple voices talk more often about more things.
  • it's important to add signal vs noise, but trust staff to deliver

5. Use the museum as a stage for engagement

  • create frameworks that let people engage and create beyond whatever the museum may imagine (Simcity was incredibly successful in this way)
  • you can't be sure when the tipping point of engagement will happen for someone — it's different for everyone, but you need to be ready to capitalize on it
  • technology in galleries should be part of the firmament of the experience, not an extra, standalone kiosky thing, but simplify those as much as possible. 
  • alternative interfaces.

6. Present the Smithsonian as a whole, customize extensively

  • The museums should be more interconnected — things / events / content at one venue should drive things / events / content at another
  • Digital efforts are very loosely spread across all of the individual museums without learning from their partners nor pooling resources to be effective
  • create a high level position that drives every museum out of their comfort zone and encourages new efforts
  • treat as an internal foundation if need be, submitting ideas and granting
  • drive towards individualized experiences based on user's path (figuratively) through all of the museum's assets
  • remember visitors and build upon their previous experiences

7. Create a culture of experimentation, failure, and iteration

  • museums spend far too long trying to make things perfect before they deploy.
  • some experimentation is fine in public, but you absolutely have to be prepared to iterate
  • build failure into any effort and how to learn effectively to deliver end-results
  • distribute experimentation but do it so the partner museum can effectively learn or adapt to their own situation
  • build a skunkworks that has wide authority to try new things and develop new technologies, always with a mind towards widespread adoption and possible revenue streams
  • Smithsonian 2.0 should be a byproduct of aiming for Smithsonian 3.0: aim farther

8. Allow content to emerge quickly and from all levels

  • allow visitors voices to be part of the experience

9. Embrace open source, create a 'museum API'

  • lead and contribute to open-source projects rather than narrowly defined proprietary solutions
  • for any system, expose the data and content
  • this doesn't need to be just software / data but can also be behavior / people / content
  • expose all of the content of the organization
  • concentrate not just on the points of data themselves, but rather what exists between them
  • when possible, use existing technologies rather than rolling your own (youtube for video content)
  • work closely with the startup / vc community and as a source of ideas

10. Creative Commons Licensing

  • use it for everything, change the museum world

4 thoughts on “Ideas for Smithsonian 2.0 from Bruce Wyman, Director of Technology, Denver Art Museum

  1. I think Bruce’s suggestions summarize quite a lot of the common purpose and understanding that emerged from the SI 2.0 event. To give this latest interpretation of the SI mission a bit of historical perspective, it was useful – and humbling – to receive this link from Betsy Broun, with her, Bran Ferren, and Richard Kurrin’s talks on “Museums for the New Millennium” from a 1996 Center for Museum Studies conference: http://museumstudies.si.edu/millennium/proceed8.htm

  2. Wow… so many amazing opportunities to do really cool and interesting things in the museum space with Web 2.0 technologies.
    This makes me think of the New information booth in NYC, with its companion website nycgo.com: perhaps its not quite as personalized as it could be, nor is it a leader in Web 2.0 use, but it is interactive and foreward thinking a lot fo different ways.
    Here is an experience that I imagine for the Smithsonian:
    1. a mobile website designed specifically for patron engagement.
    2. The ability to sign in using Facebook Connect: this way all the users engagement on the site is also broadcast through their facebook newsfeed to their friends… think viral marketing.
    2a. Additionally, Facebook connect is convenient because it allows people to authenticate their identity without having to verify an email account, which they might not want to do from their phone. (however, it is recognized that not all visitors will have facebook, so email authentication will be required… in which case, the users input can be saved until they get home to their computer, then once they authenticate, all of their UGC from their time in the museum will be ‘posted.’)
    3. Commenting on specific pieces / exhibitions using this mobile device.
    4. The users comments will be transmitted to two places: a monitor near the display, and the Smithsonian website where the collection pictures are hosted, and where people can also comment on the pieces / exhibitions.
    5. Little monitors next to each exhibit allowing the user to see / search for comments about the museum pieces they are looking at.
    Just some thoughts. In lieu of cell phones, people could be issued little PDA’s to carry around, which would have access to the internet and UI built specifically for commenting on pieces, viewing other’s comments, and gathering additional information beyond what is written on the little descriptions next to each piece.

  3. Follow-up… think: audio tours updated for the 21st century that allow two way communication and a broader audience beyond the walled gardens of the museum. So, instead of little earpieces, you get little PDA’s with full QWERTY keyboards.
    Don’t worry, there can be audio tours too!

  4. Some great suggestions here- especially about the idea of rapid prototyping and an entrepreneurial mindset regarding growth and change. When will museums realize the opportunities that exist in considering the totality of the user experience beyond the limiting moniker of “technology” and “new media?” This new era calls for a new kind of design–the right solution for the user need–not just throwing technology at the wall and seeing what sticks.

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