I went to the UK Museums on the Web conference on Friday as it looked good, but it far outshone my expectations. What really blew me away was the level of discussion and the range of exciting and people-positive things UK museums, gallerys and smaller projects in the related digital heritage ecosystem are doing.
I’d not been before but it felt to me like they (or at least some of the projects in question) had leapfrogged the commercial world and were building out flexible new services with a durable and far-sighted backbone. Well, as far-sighted as you can be with digital development…
Another takeaway for me was while the necessity-driven aspects of innovation are widely touted, what unfolded at #ukmw11 was just as much despite necessity as because of it. Whilst the spectre of unnovation was sulking in the corner somewhere, fostering truer collaboration took centre stage. This was clearest in the open-minded approaches to learning and feedback in ongoing development, and the emphasis on meaning over metrics (although measurement and impact were usefully addressed by Jane Finnis of Culture24).
So alongside hi-res re-usable art digitisation from the National Gallery, mega crowdsouring that humanises structured data about World War One fatalities from the Imperial War Museum and the development of an objects-based collections system for Museum of London’s Picture Bank and Pocket Histories, we also got a peek at the British Museum’s trials of tablet-based augmented reality in elearning, a user-powered accessibilty widget GoGenie (in beta), and the user-centred design process of Pallant House Gallery’s online platform OutsideIn for socially excluded artists to manage and exhibit their work.
In contrast to all the other presentations, the Belgian-based FreeYourMetadata trio chose instead to do some live “cleaning” of messy museum metadata using GoogleRefine on stage. Given how largely impenetrable the details of linked data and the semantic web are to most people, including most people in the digital industries, the relative simplicity and power of this tool sent ripples of excitement round the hall.
I haven’t covered every project that was mentioned but further links to the above initiatives, plus others and some photos from the day are collected in the Storify below.
The day was organised by the UK Museums Computer Group (@ukmcg) and an idea floated on Twitter during the day that they could re-run the ‘hacking and mashups for beginners‘ workshop recently run at Museum Computer Network conference in the USA was something I’d be very interested in attending.
In terms of other coverage, two blog posts by newly elected UKMCG committee member Oonagh Murphy look at the day in more detail and another from David Little on the Digital Humanities staff blog at Kings College London gives a flavour of the design, UX and participatory themes. In turn, Mar Dixon peppers her round-up of the day with a choice selection of tweets, and Claire Ross of UCL gives her slant on the awesome. We’ll add other links to blog coverage here as they emerge, or feel free to add them yourself in the comments.
All in all, lots of food for thought and a few synchronicities with the Open Plaques project. A mention must also go to @RichardOfSussex who I met there. Turns out he’s an Open Plaques contributor and knows a thing or two about the linked data world.