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Doctor Dada

Museums, multimedia and the web - with an emphasis on art museums

Updated: 2017-12-29T15:52:40.815+11:00


My new blog, and website


After years of telling myself that I should do it, I have finally dragged my own website, into the 21st century. The old site (still viewable at was all hand-coded, which is why I had to have a separate blog, here. But my new website, running on WordPress, has an integrated blog. Other advantages are:

  • visitor comments
  • support for other languages (which I am using for Esperanto)
  • a much cleaner design

I have copied over a few entries from this blog but there’ll still be useful stuff here that won’t be available there.

Does social media have a place in an art museum?


Dana Allen-Greil posted an article recently, “Everything that’s wrong with society”? Facebook Home in museums. The post was triggered by a TV ad from AT&T in the US, for a mobile phone running Facebook Home (an app that fills the home screen with a steady stream of Facebook posts). In the ad, a woman in an art museum is shown being bored and disengaged. But then she checks Facebook on her phone and suddenly she ‘tunes into’ the art. Grell asks,
“Is it a provocative take on how technology might bring museums to life by honoring the personal interests and experiences of visitors? Or a depressing documentary on how nothing—not even the rare beauty of great art—can earn appreciation and attention in a world obsessed with the immediate?”
Many people are offended by this ad and I know why. Yes, it would be a pity if an art museum visitor failed to engage with the art surrounding them because they were distracted by the ‘chatter’ of social media, and this ad seems to be encouraging exactly that. But, on the other hand, art museums often take their audiences for granted, assuming that all they need to do is put their ‘masterpieces’ on display and get people to come and see them.

Shortly after I started working as an art museum educator in 1982, there was a TV ad in Australia for Kit Kat chocolate bars, featuring a famous painting* from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, where I worked:

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While the ad was current (and for some months afterwards), whenever I took a school group into the room containing that painting, one of the students would suddenly exclaim “The Kit Kat painting!” and the whole group would rush over to see it. At first I was thrown by this, because it upset the flow of my planned talk. But then I discovered that if I went with it, rather than resisting, the students would seem to get much more out of the rest of my talk, and their museum experience generally.

At the time, some of my colleagues expressed their horror that this iconic artwork was being ‘cheapened’ by commercialism. But I maintained that a connection was being made between the world of art (19th century art, in this case) and the students’ world (albeit mediated through mass media), and so it was in fact a positive thing.

I personally have no problem getting visitors (and not just school students) to imagine what a work of art would taste like, what piece of music would go with it, what sport the people in it might play, what it could be used to advertise, or what they could write about it on Facebook. As long as the artwork has a role to play. And, who knows, maybe further down the track some of these people might see this artwork again, feel some connection with it, and decide they want to know more about the artist, the period, the style. But, if not, that’s OK, too.

[* Incidentally, the painting is On the wallaby track, 1896, by Frederick McCubbin.]

Update: Nina Simon has written a blog post about this same ad, on Museum 2.0.

Art and the voodoo paradox


(image) Roy de Maistre, 'Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor' 1919

Someone looks at an abstract painting. What does he or she ask? Probably "What is it?" or "What does it mean?". The answer, "It’s only a picture, only a surface covered with paint," will in no way satisfy.

It is impossible to eliminate the belief, even a hundred years after the birth of abstract art, even if one is an artist or an art expert, that any deliberate arrangement of marks must represent something. Let me demonstrate:

1. Find a picture of a face in an old magazine, preferably a face of someone famous.
2. Take a pencil (or pen).
3. Using the pencil, push in the 'eyes', until you create two holes in the paper.

How did you react? Did you feel that, somehow, you assaulted the ‘person’ in the photo? Did it seem to you that you were being just a little bit... evil? Why? I am sure that you don’t believe in voodoo, that you don’t create dolls of your enemies and push pins into them! But deep inside us all there is an ancient belief in voodoo, a belief that images have some power over the things they represent. You can see this when people get angry after someone destroys a national flag. And, of course, the flag in no way resembles the nation!

So, completely abstract, or non-figurative, art will never be fully accepted. However, this doesn’t have to worry us as, long as we understand the principle.

En Esperanto ≫

La inkopentristo


(A story about art, in Esperanto)REN Xuda (Ĉinio) Orkideo 1809 Donaco de S-ro SydneyCooper 1962Kolekto de Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, AŭstralioRakontisto: Iam en Ĉinio estis lerta inkopentristo, speciale famega por liaj figuroj de floroj, kiuj estis venditaj por tre altaj prezoj. Li havis amikon. Unun tagon la artisto kaj lia amiko paroladis.Pentristo: Vi estas bonega amiko al mi dum multaj jaroj. Mi pentros por vi pentraĵon kaj donos ĝin al vi.Amiko: Ĉu vere?Pentristo: Jes, certe. Pentraĵon pri kiu, vi ŝatus?  Amiko: Pri floroj, kompreneble.Pentristo: Do, pri floroj ĝi estos.Amiko: Dankon. Mi tre ekscitiĝas.Pentristo: Ne dankinde.Rakontisto: Semajno pasis kaj la amiko scivolis kiam la promesita pentraĵo estus preta, sed li diris nenion. Alia semajno pasis kaj ankoraŭ pentraĵo ne aperis. Tiam, post monato, la amiko demandis al la artisto:Amiko: Pardonu min, mi ne riproĉas vin, sed ĉu vi memoras la pentraĵon kiun vi promesis al mi?  Pentristo: Ho, kompreneble. Mi laboradis pri ĝi ekde mi promesis ĝin. Kiom da tempo daŭris? Ĉu tri semajnojn?Amiko: Unu monaton.Pentristo: Unu monaton, ĉu?Amiko: Jes, sed ne gravas. Kompletigu ĝin kiam ĝi kompletos. Ne rapidu.Rakontisto: Sed enkore, la amiko ja malpaciencis. Pasis alia monato – ankoraŭ ne pentraĵo. Pasis du pliaj monatoj. Fine, entute ses monatoj pasis. La amiko ne povis bridi sin. Li vizitis la pentriston ĉe lia domo.Amiko: Saluton. Mi nur scivolas ĉu la pentraĵo estas kompleta.Pentristo: Preskaŭ, preskaŭ. Fakte, mi kredas ke mi povas fini ĝin dum vi atendos. Restu ĉi tie; mi revenos.Rakontisto: La pentristo iris en alian ĉambron kaj revenis post minuto kun papero, peniko, inkbastono, ŝtona bloko kaj akvo. Li instalis sin ĉe malgranda, malalta tablo. Li gutigis akvon sur la ŝtonan blokon kaj frotis ĝin per la inkbastono ĝis nigra inko aperis. Tiam, li mallevis la penikon en la inkon kaj metis ĝin super la papero. Li paŭzis momente... kaj ekpentris. Lia mano, kaj la peniko, moviĝis rapide kaj lerte. Post malpli ol du minutoj figuro de orkideo aperis sur la papero. Ĝi estas majstroverko.Pentristo: Jen via pentraĵo.Amiko (mirege): Sed, sed... vi atendigis min dum ses monatoj por ke mi ricevi la finitan pentraĵon, sed vi faris ĝin dum malpli ol unu minuto! Kial? Mi ne komprenas.Pentristo: Sekvu min.Rakontisto: La pentristo gvidis sian amikon en la alian ĉambron, sian atelieron. Tie, sur la granda labortablo kaj sur ĉiu muro estis pentraĵoj, entute centoj kaj centoj da pentraĵoj, kaj ĉiu estis figuro de orkideo.Pentristo: Ĉiun pentraĵon mi pentris dum du aŭ tri minutojn, sed neniu estis sufiĉe bona por doni al vi. Sed mi sentis ke hodiaŭ mi estus preta, ke mi povus pentri la pentraĵon kiun mi deziris doni al vi.Rakontisto: Do, la demando estas, kiel longe daŭris la kreado de la fina pentraĵo? Ĉu malpli ol du minutojn aŭ ses monatojn? Aŭ eĉ, la tutan vivon de la pentristo ĝis tiam? Vere, artisto ne povas krei sian milan artaĵon sen fini naŭcent naŭdek naŭ artaĵojn antaŭe.[...]

4P visits the Art Gallery: a blast from the past


The other day I was going through some boxes of children's drawings (all my children are adults now) and I came upon one of my daughter's exercise books from grade 4. I'm posting an excerpt here because it describes a school excursion to the Art Gallery of NSW. (It is exactly as written – no corrections.)
4P lerning to Look

tues 29th may  4p visits the art Gallery

The art Gallery is a place were you go to enjoy your self and thats what 4p did when they went to the art Gallery.

4p got the train at Tempe and got off at St James. 4p ate recess at Hyde park in front of a wishing fouwntane. After recess we went on the moving walk way. It was fun. We had to walk on the wet grass all the water skwerted up into our shoes. When we got to the art Gallery we went on a chair that went up and down when a man bangs down a hamer. Then 4p was split into three groups.

My dad took one group and two volintir gids took the two other groups. I was in my dads group of cours. There is lots of interesting thing to see at the art Gallery but your not aloud to touch. If you do touch you will get into BIG trouble. My dad and the two volintir gids talked about what the shapes the people in the painting would like and what colurse too. Dads group went down to the aberigenal exerbision then 4p had to leave. We had lunch on the bottom floor of center point then we went in the Queen Victoria bilding were mum took one group and miss poulos took the other. It was fun there to. Then the two groups met each other agen and we walked down to central station were we got on a train that would take us to Tempe station and we walked back up to the school.

The Henry Ford Museum website - too much of a good thing?


I just had reason to visit the website of “The Henry Ford” (comprising The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village)

This site is an example of what happens when the aim is to give visitors to a site as much control and as many options as possible, in the smallest possible space.

On the home page alone, I found:
  • 2 quick-link drop-downs: “I am” and “How do I” (see below)
  • 2 ticket-purchase drop-downs: “Purchase by venue” and “Purchase by event”
  • A search box
  • A login-in form: user name + password
  • A “Plan your visit” form: 4 fields + 5 buttons
  • A menubar with 13 menu items, each with a roll-over drop-down of up to 12 items
  • 13 buttons (apart from the ones as part of forms)
  • 20 text links (including 4 in a scrolling field and 9 in click-to-expand boxes)
  • 3 image links
  • an auto-start video (with sound) + 5 video links
Many of the features are good ideas by themselves. (I particularly like the “I am” and “How do I” controls; the auto-start video is a mistake, especially on a home page.) But taken together, all these elements would just cause bewilderment.

[More about the “I am” and “How do I” quick-links (shown as “smart site”):

Choices for “I am”:
  • Just Browsing
  • Educator
  • Private Event Planner or Bride
  • A Local Visitor
  • Group or Tour Planner
  • History Enthusiast
  • Tourist/Out of Town Visitor
  • Member
  • With Media
Each choice produces a different menu for “How do I”. Eg, for “With Media” the menu is:
  • Get Member Discounts
  • Buy an Annual Ride Pass
  • Upgrade my Membership level
  • Renew my Membership
  • Buy a Gift Membership
  • Donate to the Annual Fund
MoMA does a similar thing in its navigation footer-bar.]

Collections on websites: Are museums getting less committed?


Recently, there was some discussion on the museum-ed discussion list, that began with this message:Our museum has a mix of information/history and artifacts and we are designing a new website from the ground up. As we explore other’s websites, we get the impression that many museums of all kinds are downplaying their collections on their websites. This represents a change over the past several years when many museums’ websites placed their collections in the spotlight.If this is indeed the trend, we are curious about the thinking behind it. Is it a question of overhead and web maintenance cost? Does this reflect a change in philosophy about the role of a website for a museum / a museum for its culture?We are, as I said, curious. Thanks.Gordon McDonoughScience EvangelistBradbury Science MuseumLos Alamos National LaboratoryThen came the following two responses:We will hopefully be going through this process next year as well. Interesting observation; it does seem like many museum websites focus primarily on upcoming programs and/or temporary feature exhibitions. You often have to dig deep to find the permanent collection data. Are we afraid of “giving it away” or that information on the permanent collection will grow stale because it is, in truth, permanent?Clayton DrescherEducation ManagerPetersen Automotive MuseumLos AngelesandWhile I would agree that museums are putting a greater emphasis on providing information on their sites about programs, events and exhibitions, I would not say that there is a move toward minimizing the collections. Museums in the Web 1.0 era were very focused on recreating their experience online – a virtual museum. A key factor in this was the prominent display of collections, and at that time there was a strong push toward digitizing and presenting collections and associated metadata. I would argue that this effort is still very much alive, and in many cases we have still only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to collections being wholly and accurately displayed online. In the Web 2.0 era, the focus is now on directly engaging the public – through providing timely and accurate information about onsite attractions as well as through social media channels. The rise of online dialog and participation in recent years has definitely led to a shift away from the one-way presentation format typically associated with collections. It has also brought to light the limitations of typical top-down hierarchies in organizing and displaying collections. But the social web provides some great opportunities for museums beyond the obvious marketing channels. For example, right now we are working with a number of museums and organizations on redesigning their websites, including the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Gilder Lehrman Institute and the Monticello. All of these organizations have a strong focus on supporting robust and participatory engagement with their collections and online content. This includes faceted searching and browsing features, tagging, favoriting and commenting features, and greater cross-pollination and integration of collections and content throughout their sites. For many museums, their collections are absolutely central to their mission. Of late, there has been a shift toward engaging the public and driving the gate that has, in some cases, pushed the collections out of the limelight. I believe this is a timely but temporary response to both economic factors and social media trends. Ultimately I think that museums will find that their site visitors can and will engage with collections online through interactive and participatory frameworks that help to build meaningful and lasting connections between visitors and institutions, while enriching the online experience for everyone in the process.Matthew FisherPresidentnight kitchen interactiveFor what it's worth, this was my response:I think it’s unfair to associ[...]

Who is Russell Aridsvalley?


Everyone’s heard of people with names that go with their jobs (eg Rev. Godwin). But the other day I was thinking of some artists whose surnames seem to suit their style of art. Here’s a list of artists where the surnames have been changed into words that have a very similar meaning. Can you work out who they are? (The first two should be pretty easy.)
  • Jeffrey Clever
  • Francis Hogmeat
  • Peter Ascending
  • Philip Oddity
  • Russell Aridsvalley
  • Sydney Yearn
They’re all represented in the collection of the Art Gallery of NSW.
All but one is Australian.
One is a photographer.

Sorry, there are no prizes, just a sense of smug satisfaction. :-)

Can you think of any more?

Prezi: Online zoomable presentations


Ever seen one of those presentations where everything is on one huge canvas and you zoom in each part (or slide) one after the other? (Used on the ABC-TV series "Hungry Beast"). Well, at you can create your own, for free. Here are two I created in just a few minutes:

(object) (embed)

(object) (embed)

Are people drawn to faces on web pages?


Short presentation by Tom Tullis, on an eye-tracking study which looks at use of faces on web pages. Apparently, users tend to be drawn to faces when browsing but the more task-driven they are, the less likely they are to pay attention to anything that resembles advertising, and faces usually mean advertising.

(object) (embed)

Email newsletters: usability


Jakob Nielsen has written an interesting article on the e-newsletters from the 3 major parties in the UK election campaign, from a usability perspective. My summary:


Remove distractions from the sign-up page.

While consistency is usually good, it's actually bad to include a 'Sign up' link on the sign-up page, even if it shows on every other page on the site.

Privacy policy: Users need to see (or get to) the privacy policy where you ask for their info.

Confirmation page: Say exactly what you're confirming right up top.

Send confirmation email ASAP, with a readable 'from' field and an unambiguous 'subject field'.
Good example:
From: Liberal Democrats
Subject: Thank you for signing up for Liberal Democrat email news

Bad example:
Subject: Thank you for signing up


'From' field: either a recognised institutional name or a celebrity in his/her own name.

Subject line: add some actual content to summarise, and enhance the "open-me" attractiveness of the email.

Publication frequency: Be consistent, and consistent with what you promised. And not too often.

Feature prominent links to Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

Write at a year 8 reading level (suitable for a well-schooled 15-year-old.)
More info on catering for visitors with low literacy >

How to engage the high school museum visitor


Recently, there was some interesting discussion on the museum-ed list about how to get through to high school students in a museum, in particular an art museum. Here are the messages, in order: 1. While this art museum successfully attracts thousands of school children for its various “art looking” tours, and teachers report high degrees of satisfaction with their experiences, we find the docents are increasingly uncomfortable touring high school students. The biggest issue – the students won’t say anything! Can anyone recommend strategies for successful experiences for teenagers? Is it realistic to expect overt engagement and discussion? What advice can I give these docents who love the art, know so much, and have had such wonderful success engaging younger visitors? Thanks for any help you can give us. Carol S. Yost Assistant Curator of Education Memorial Art Gallery Rochester, New York2.We have also found that high school students are very quiet. Over the years I have learned that quiet does not always mean disengaged. At this age level peer pressure is heavy and the fear of giving a wrong answer is intense. They also dislike being controlled by adults. Even some of our college students are reluctant to speak in a crowd on tours. Our solution has been to offer a very different type of tour for high school students. After a minimal amount of time touring – an introduction of exhibitions or concepts, depending on the need of the teacher – we give the students time to look on their own. Often we include reflective projects/guidance – again depending on the needs of the teacher. For example, a high school art class might be introduced to aesthetics/DBAE and then given a fun assignment that could be used as part of their writing portfolio. See below for some examples. Disaster at the Beach You are the curator of the Beach Museum of Art. The tornado siren goes off, you are in the galleries, and you have time to save one piece of art. Which one is it? After the tornado is over the Director wants to know why you saved the piece – your job depends on your answer! Some things to consider: The artist’s technical ability, the importance of the artist or the work, the message of the work, the historical value of the work, and the collections mission of the Museum. Or Creating an Ambiance with Art You are a young artists who has just moved to New York City and are living in a one-room loft apartment. You have sold your first painting and have enough money to buy one work from the Kansas Artist Craftsmen Association exhibition. Choose a piece and design your loft apartment around it. Name the piece you will buy. What other furniture will you have in the room – what style, what colors? What colors are the walls and carpet? What other artwork would go with your piece? What book(s) would you have on the coffee table to go with your artwork? What music would you have on the stereo to go with your artwork? You are having friends over for dinner – plan a menu that would go well with your new artwork. For an English Class: Every Picture Tells a Story You are an author; you are writing a book (it can be fiction or non-fiction) about American history between 1920 and 1950. You will need to title your book first and briefly explain what it is about. Then you need to choose a cover illustration for your book from the works on display in America Seen: People and Place. Inside the book jacket you credit the artist and artwork and write a brief essay about why you chose the illustration you did. Your essay should explain to the reader how the artwork relates to your book. You can include factual information about the artwork or you can discuss how the artist creates a mood or feeling that matches your book. Book titl[...]

A Twitterable Twitter policy


Here’s a corporate Twitter policy that has the extra added benefit of being itself twitterable:
Our Twitter policy: Be professional, kind, discreet, authentic. Represent us well. Remember that you can’t control it once you hit “update.”
From Gruntled Employees Blog

Trying to sell a bad interface


(image) In our local newspaper the other day I saw an advertisement for a new website created to support the NSW Central Coast’s waste collection and recycling system. (Click the image to see it.) The main thrust of the ad was that the “fastest way to book your bulk kerbside collection is online”. And to show how “fast” it is, the ad listed an eight-step “Bulk Kerbside Checklist”:
  1. Visit - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  2. Select the ‘Click here to book a bulk kerbside collection button’
  3. Review the collection guidelines & proceed to the booking page
  4. First time visitors will be asked to register their email address to receive a password to access the booking page
  5. Login using your email address and password
  6. Search for your property and follow the on-screen prompts
  7. A confirmation email will mean your booking was successful, and provide you a booking reference number.
But here’s the killer, eighth step:
  1. Alternatively, you can call our Customer Service Centre on 13001COAST for help
Surely, seeing all the steps required to complete one transaction (namely booking a junk pick-up for your home, online) spelt out like that would make the website owners realise that the process is far too complicated.

I don't know much about the web but I know what I like


(image) The Web is a bit like an art museum: an amazingly rich resource which is too easily squandered. I have just posted an article on my website (originally presented as a paper at the Ark Group Information Architecture Forum, and at Oz-IA 2009), which introduces principles and techniques used in art museum education and shows how they can be applied in web construction, writing and design. It offers insights into:
  • transforming information chaos into information order
  • eliminating inessentials
  • making personal connections with visitors (or users) through relevance and participation, while minimising cognitive load
  • structuring content in terms of what visitors want to know and do, rather than “internal, organisational imperatives”
  • the need for unity and consistency, to allow visitors to build up a mental model of the site
  • showing a human face, where appropriate.

Challenging some myths about art


I thought, for a change, instead of writing about museums and multimedia, I’d write about art – specifically, art appreciation. (This is actually how I came into the museum-web world.)Art is a contradiction for many people. On the one hand it surrounds us all the time: most houses have at least one painting hanging on the wall, even if it’s just a reproduction; and one art form in particular – photography – seems to be everywhere around us. On the other hand, art is regarded by many as mysterious and rarefied, something for that special group of people: the “artistic”. Ask someone to say something about art and the most likely response you will get will be, “I like it”, “I don’t like it”, or an indifferent shrug. Why is this? Well, maybe many feel ill-equipped to say something intelligent and don’t want to appear foolish. So, it’s easier to build up a barrier, in the form of myths, between themselves and “Art” (with a capital A). Here are some of my favourite myths:“I don’t know much about art but I know what I like.”Actually, I don’t know what I like and I don’t want to. I want to be surprised. “Liking” means judging, and judging – too easily – gets in the way of enjoying. In fact it’s possible to enjoy a work of art without liking it.“Art should be beautiful.”Some people (e.g. art historians and critics) disagree – citing, for example, much of Goya’s work or Picasso’s Guernica – but I say “All great art is beautiful; it’s just that my concept of ‘beauty’ is broader than most people’s.” Sometimes the best way to appreciate “difficult” art is to keep exposing yourself to it. If it’s got something going for it, some lasting quality, it will probably grow on you.“To properly appreciate art you need to know the historical background.”Actually, background information can sometimes take you away from appreciating an art work. There are two types of information about an artwork: intrinsic and extrinsic. My advice is: get as much of the intrinsic information first. For example, you might read, or hear a tour guide say, “Rembrandt was a miller’s son.” So what? Does that really help you to understand Rembrandt’s art?“I’m not artistic.”This usually means, “I can’t draw; therefore I have no right to understand art.” Sure, if you’re not a painter you probably wouldn’t know whether the artist used rose madder or vermilion, but that’s just the mechanics of painting. I can’t play the violin but I can enjoy and appreciate a violin concerto.Do artists make art for other artists? No (well, mostly not).“Modern art is rubbish; a child could do it.”There are two responses to this one:a. You’d be surprised how hard “easy” art is to make.b. One of the breakthroughs of modern art (basically from the 20th century on) was “unlearning” the sophistication of adulthood.“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Picasso[...]

100 Best Curator and Museum Blogs


This blog has been listed in the “100 Best Curator and Museum Blogs” page on the Online Universities site (#16 under “Resources & Advice”). It’s in good company, although I wonder why Seb Chan’s Fresh+New(er) is missing?

New Australian Museum website


Have you seen the new Australian Museum website?

(New URL, too; and now redirect to it.)

It has an interesting What's on functionality: Tabs for different audience types: "General", "Kids", "Under 5s", "Teachers", "Members", "Tourists", with exhibitions, (permanent) displays, events and tours listed together.

All 'end-pages' (that is, pages with content, as opposed to links to content) have 2 buttons: "Add comment" and "Add tags" right after the page heading (you have to be registered with "My museum" to use them) and many of them have the name of the person who wrote them (eg:, linked to a brief staff profile and a form to contact that person.

That last URL reveals an interesting fact about the site: despite the fact that I got to the page by clicking 'Minerals & fossils' > 'More about Fossils' (reveal) > 'Fossils' > 'More about Fossils in the Australian Museum Collections' (reveal) > 'Australian Museum Palaeontology Collection' (yes, 5 clicks!), the URL shows no hierarchy. The CMS apparently serves every page as though it is in the root directory. The advantage is that URLs are shorter than they otherwise would be but still very readable (a boon for search engines), but a disadvantage is that it obscures the context of the page.

But I have a problem with the "expandable links". Eg: About us:
Try to find out "More about Our Organisation"... It's not a link! You have to click the tiny (image) , to reveal the sub-topics.

Still, overall, it's a very engaging site, full of opportunities to explore, contribute and be involved.

MySource mini


Yesterday (Thursday 30 April 2009), I saw the future of Web content management systems: MySource mini., the company that created MySource Matrix, have essentially released a working subset of what will become the successor to Matrix (or MySource 4). For now, it is designed for "brochure-ware" sites (basically standard pages + forms). The first thing that makes this unique (as far as I'm aware) is that it is a hardware + software bundle. You buy the server, with the CMS (and 11 page designs) pre-installed and then, for a modest annual fee, the server will automatically receive upgrades and patches as they become available. Squiz say the ideal website for this setup is one with up to 1 GB of content receiving up to 100 000 page-views per day.The second thing that makes this CMS so revolutionary is that it looks so simple. It actually feels like you're editing the site (ie: the 'front-end') directly. This is very different to the usual conceptual split between 'front-end' and 'back-end'. But the simplicity is an illusion – in a good sense. The technology is incredibly sophisticated.Noteworthy features include:An inline WYSIWYG editor that, unlike others, doesn't rely on the browser's own code libraries. This means that it is truly cross-platform and cross-browser compatible. Auto-save (and manual save, of course), with 'revert' Image library with generous thumbnails A feature that tells the website manager who's logged in and what they're doing (and have been doing) All designs have thumbnail screenshots System tells you what designs are being used and by what pages System tells you what files attached to a design aren't actually being used by that design (also what files are missing) Complete server cache control, with a day-by-day report on cache performance (and traffic) Alias URLs (useful for marketing campaigns) that are not handled as redirects and are never indexed by Google Workflow that can work serially (approver 1, then approver 2, then approver 3, etc.) or in parallel (approvers can approve in any order, or simultaneously) The ability to choose a workflow (assuming you have sufficient permissions) Versioning, with a timeline (you can't roll back, like in Matrix, but you can view, and export, any previous version of a page as a PDF – much less resource-hungry than full rollback) Context-sensitive helpThere are a number of interface features that are so appropriate and so beautifully realised that they raise the bar for interface design. Such as:Timelines with draggable 'viewports' and changeable scales (day, month, year) Task panes (eg: for finding an image) that are part of their parent windows, but appear to be floating in front Asset browsers with a (Mac-like) column interface A liberal, and appropriate, use of thumbnail snapshots A yes/no slider control The 'help-pointer': a small, bouncing graphic that shows you exactly where a particular interface widget is, so you can follow steps in the contextual help systemSome of these are so innovative and useful that I expect other software companies will try to copy them.Criticisms? Very few, and most (if not all) of these are features that just haven't built into mini yet, but are planning to. Such as:No safe-editing, meaning that you can't use the approval process workflow on live pages – instead, changes happen immediately Only 3 kinds of form inputs: text, pop-up selectors and radio buttons No centralised list of current alias URLs No calendar, e-commerce or bulk emailMatrix is an undeniably powerful system; however its back-end interface feels complex [...]



(image) is one of those rare things on the web: an innovative site that actually works, and is very useful.

Here’s an excerpt from their “About” page: is a free multimedia web-book designed as a dynamic enhancement (or even substitute) for the traditional art history textbook. Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker began smARThistory in 2005 by creating a blog featuring free audio guides in the form of podcasts for use in The Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Soon after, we embedded the audio files in our online survey courses. The response from our students was so positive that we decided to create a multimedia survey of art history web-book. We created audios and videos about works of art found in standard art history survey texts, organized the files stylistically and chronologically, and added text and still images.
Of course it’s not “comprehensive”, but it’s pretty vast nevertheless. It’s all western art and, as far as I can see, mostly from New York collections (which is hardly surprising, considering its origins). But I’m intrigued by the use of video to concentrate on individual works of art. Eg: have a look at the page on Diane Arbus’ Boy with a Toy Hand Grenade - For the first 2 minutes, all you see is the artwork. Then, the photographer’s contact sheet. Then the photograph again but, as the two discuss it, you see their mouse pointer moving around the image. Very simple, basic technology (which produces a slightly annoying trail of tiny, vertical lines) but it does the job.

I also like the way you can explore by time, style, artist and theme.

Also worthy of note is how they have allowed public participation by integrating photos from their own Flickr group.

Is there such a thing as too much navigation?


(image) In Steve Krug's excellent book, Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, he talks about the street signs in LA compared to those in Boston, his home city*. When my wife and I were in the USA last year, I was able to confirm his observations. One street corner in downtown Boston particularly caught my attention:

[* Actually, I believe he lives in Brookline.]

Google Earth meets The Prado


The Sydney Morning Herald published an article today about Google's experiment with The Prado, in Madrid, using the Google Earth application to zoom into 14 of the museum's old master paintings to an amazing degree. Visitors can "crawl across" the surface of the painting and fill their screen with a single brushstroke or fissure. The writer, Richard Jinman talked to me on the phone yesterday to ask for my reaction and some of my responses were quoted (or paraphrased) in the article:
It would be unfeasible for museums to put their entire collections online at such high resolution... zooming in that closely gives you information, but doesn't give you the experience the artist intended... [the artist] wouldn't expect you to look deep inside a brushstroke - it's an almost forensic view of an artwork which would primarily interest scientists and restorers.
What I was getting at is that the extreme closeup that Google Earth offers would be interesting to anyone at first, for a few paintings, but the appeal would probably fade quickly. I think for most purposes and viewers, the level of detail offered by, say, Zoomify, would be more than adequate. Does anyone else have an opinion?

Shameless plug: Marriage celebrant website


(image) Wanda, my nearest and dearest, is a registered civil marriage celebrant. Although I many of her gigs come through word of mouth, having a website seemed like a smart move. So, with a talented designer, Zoë Cooper (who happens to be our daughter), we set about creating one:

It's all standards-compliant of course, so it was a good way to practise – and learn – CSS skills. But its visual elegance is all thanks to Zoë.

Let me know what you think... if you feel like it. :-)

Some future trends for the Internet and museums - the video


I gave (an updated version of) my presentation, "Some future trends for the Internet and museums" - including a discussion of myVirtualGallery - at the Museum & Gallery Services Queensland seminar, Creative Uses of the Collection on 11 Sep 2008.

M&GSQ have posted video and audio of all presentations, including mine, on their site.

Here's mine:

It was based on a talk I'd given earlier at a CAN seminar.

How I got into the museum field


A colleague on the museum-ed list recently asked:I've been asked by my alma mater to participate in a panel discussion sponsored by the Art History club. The topic is "breaking into the museum field." There's the obvious: internships, making contacts, joining professional organizations, etc. I could tell them about my own crooked path into this field, but I'm not sure that would be helpful. I'd rather arm myself with an array of stories from a lot of different people. So, tell me! I'd love to hear your story. How did you get into museum education? What was your first museum job? How did you get it? And how did you move up from there?For what it's worth, here is my response:I trained to be a high school art teacher at Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education (now the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales). In my first year (1975) I had a wonderful lecturer in drawing, Robin Norling. Robin inspired me, not just because he was the first person to ever successfully explain to me just what drawing was, but also because he showed - by example - how to connect with people in an educational context, and how to connect people with art. I was fortunate to have him again later in my course, as a lecturer in art education "method". In my final year, Robin left the College to become Head of Education Services at our state art museum, the Art Gallery of New South Wales.After graduating, and while looking for a full-time teaching position, I became the volunteer coordinator of a local community arts organisation and taught art and craft at a number of school vacation programs, including one organised by Robin at the Art Gallery.I eventually landed a job as a full-time art teacher at a private school and taught there for a few years. During that time, two museum educator positions at the Art Gallery became available, about nine months apart. I applied and was interviewed for both, and was successful with the second (1982).From 1982 to 2001, I...gave slide lectures and gallery talks on the permanent collection and visiting exhibitionsgave talks to students from Kindergarten to grade 12 (and beyond) in regional towns, with the Travelling Art Exhibition (1982-88)planned and mounted four "Onsight" (metropolitan travelling) exhibitions, including the writing of catalogues, worksheets and news releases (1984-89)gave talks to diverse groups (e.g. nursing homes, schools, service clubs, art societies, prisons) with the "Onsight" programplanned and mounted exhibitions in the Gallery's Education Space, each consisting of original art works, supported by diagrams, written material and interactive displaysplanned and mounted "Artexpress" (outstanding works from state matriculation examination in visual arts), including coordination of catalogue, promotional material and related eventscompiled and edited the Gallery's Exhibitions & Events brochures (since 1990), including gathering and compiling of information and images, editing, supervision of Graphic Designer and coordination of its distributionselected, trained and managed a group of contract teacher-lecturersproduced various audio-visual programs, such as videos and audio-toursdesigned and created the Art Gallery's first websiteplanned and co-ordinated programs for visitors with special needs, including in-house staff trainingran in-service and pre-service courses for teachers and teacher trainees on using the Gallery [...]