Wednesday, March 28, 2007

My Unrequited (and Unsubstantiated) Love for Museums and the Web

I won’t be at the Museums and the Web conference next month; my exhibit at the Spy Museum is opening soon and we're in crunch time. But I’m developing a serious crush. MW does something that AAM, ASTC, and a whole slew of other acronym-rich conferences don’t: it gives non-participants substantive content from the meeting.

I’m still wading through the papers, all available for free, being presented in sessions at the conference. I’ve never been to MW, and have heard mixed things about its value anecdotally. But this simple act—requiring session presenters to write papers and then posting those papers freely online—is getting me interested.


It’s better for the attendees…

  • Presenters are forced to think about their presentations in advance and develop substantive content to discuss. No strolling in blind and winging it.
  • Attendees can more fully preview the content that will be presented to help them make better choices about what sessions to attend. No more showing up at “Interactive Theater” expecting improv and getting a sales pitch on IMAX domes instead.
  • Attendees can find people of interest and set up meetings in advance based on content in common, not just on social contacts.

It’s better for the presenters…

  • Presenters can develop more complex arguments that don’t play well as powerpoint bullets. They can expect more from their audience in terms of insightful questions and familiarity with the content.
  • Presenters can get a fuller idea of what other presenters in the same session/content stream are discussing and can tailor their questions and connections to that knowledge.
  • Presenters can send in their papers 10 weeks before the conference. That means things can stay relatively current to the conference, while still depending on solid research.

It’s better for folks at home…

  • I can download papers ranging back to 1997. I can view information about their authors (although, strangely, contact information is not forthcoming).

It’s better for the conference…

  • Buzz is generated around the papers before the conference even happens. People are blogging the papers; it extends the “event” of the conference in time.
  • The papers serve as advertisement for the conference. People like me get a chance to “see what we’re missing” by not attending.
  • People like me feel positively about an organization that makes content available digitally.

But every crush has its downside. Here are my idle concerns:

  • Why are the papers and sessions only browsable by speaker name, not by title, country of origin, year of submittal, or whether there is a corresponding paper?
  • Does the paper-paper-paper session format diminish the potential for interactivity among panelists? Do speakers expand beyond their papers, or mostly explain them? How much more value would I get at the actual conference, content-wise?

I look forward to hearing how the actual conference goes. Until then, I’ll keep sifting through papers all starry-eyed.

3 comments, add yours!:

Pilar Gonzalo said...

Hello Nina,

I totally agree with your remarks on the value of Museums and the Web initiative of posting the papers online, for free, and in advance to the conference. I consider this should be an example for all professional organizations. Moreover, I would say that I feel absolutely thankful to the organization because of that.

I also share your idle concerns, especially about the role of papers on the on-site speakers' performances and I want to add another to your list. I wonder why blog articles are not typically cited in this sort of meetings. As far as I could notice, there is no blog citation in mw2007 papers and just a couple of brave citations of wikipedia and some SL addresses. But I would say that this happens in most "academic" papers.

I wonder if this is because blogs are not still considered "serious" and meaningful resources, but it worries me that even in this specific meeting papers are still very traditional in terms of citing Web 2.0 tools and communities as reliable, serious, documented and academic sources of information. I typically find more engaging, updated and insightful some articles published on some blogs that on books. Moreover, user generated content is something very precious that hardly can be better offered out of Web 2.0

Pilar Gonzalo

Anonymous said...


i'm glad that you're finding the MW2007 papers useful. You can find a full bibliography of all of the Museums and the Web Papers, from 1997 - 2007 at comments are turned on for each paper, so if you find something particularly useful, say so.

if all goes will with conference prep, i'll be adding the papers from ICHIM - the international cultural heritage informatics meetings -- this weekend.

i hope you drop by on-line even if you can't join us on-site.


Anonymous said...

oh -- and if you come to MW you'll find that it's not at all 'paper, paper, paper'. Session chairs on Thursday and Saturday actively encourage discussion, and make sure there is time for it. And Friday is a free for all of exhibits, mini-workshops, forums, a Crit Room and a Usability lab, all venues designed to encourage interaction amongst delegates. And there are Demonstration sessions on Saturday morning, for people who don't want to write a paper, or who are more interested in one-on-one interaction.

you are right that there's a tension between the conference site as scaffolding for the evvent (which is how it's designed) and long-term access to the papers. that's the reason for the bibliogrpahy (and for some future work on its indexing...)