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Although my motivation for doing this thesis on the potential for digital and social media in museums, online and onsite, was a belief in the relevance and topicality of the issue; I have been slightly overwhelmed by the mass of online blogs and debates on the matter – just check out the blogroll for a quick overview. On the one hand, this is of course a great source of inspiration and information, and a reaffirmation of my choice of focus. On the other, it also causes a certain confusion.

The sheer volume of blogpost backlogs, debates and online papers that I feel compelled to at least get an overview over, is a challenge in itself, but at least now I am starting to be able to identify some of the central voices and institutions. But only some of them. I realize that since my starting point has been the MW2009 conference that I will be joining in a couple of weeks, my research so far has been dominated by the viewpoints and experiences of the American, Canadian and Australian museums professionals. Now, America has had a head start when it comes to developing digital media for museums, which means a chance to tap into 15 years of experience.

But – when these American experts state that visitors love to get involved in social media interactions with their sites and institutions, can I trust that the same would be the case for Danish visitors? Not necessarily. But how to judge which experience to build on an which to label culture-specific? Hopefully identifying more European, Scandinavian and Danish forums than I already have will help to balance and widen the cultural perspective. Which ofcourse will add to the already awe-inspiring mass of utterances, but so be it.

But another potential problem is that this lively debate takes place between museum practitioners, not (practicing) academics. Which doesn’t mean that their experiences are not valid, far from it – but are they valid as part of an academic argument when they provide no empirical evidence to back up their claims?

Still, for the part of my project that concerns concept development, I guess I can take my inspiration from where I find it. And hopefully, when it comes to arguing for my choices and for my academic findings, I will find a way of sorting the wheat from the chaff, and keeping my focus and argument clear by remembering these distinctions between my sources.

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Use of digital and social media in museum communication

Digital and social media have become a major area in the representation of cultural heritage. Cultural institutions – here specifically museums and others involved with exhibition activities – have become aware of the potential in new media, but often lack an insight into the specifics of this potential and experience with how best to realise it, onsite and online.

Also, cultural consumers, due to their use of digital and social media, have new expectations of and new skills for taking an active part in the cultural experience. This includes expectations of on-demand information, possibilities for interaction and perhaps produsage as well as a demand for unique experiences.

Whilst digital media is already being used by most museums as information channels and knowledge portals, the experience aspect of exhibitions is rarely represented in a satisfactory manner online. The challenge, therefore, is to utilize the media in a better way in order to create more engaging and rewarding experiences for the users, including actual online exhibitions.

In my project, I wish to examine the ‘web-exhibition’ through a process of concept development of an exhibition framework which, in combination with theory, analysis and reflection, will adress the above problem area, with a view to concrete and specific design solutions as well as extracting general guidelines. My research will seek to answer the following:

What characterizes the role of museums as (re)presenters of both knowledge and experiences? Which demands and expectations from stakeholders must they meet, with consideration to museological tradition and practice as well as the experience economy? And how does this affect the role of /need for online representation of the museum?

How can social and digital media be utilised in relation to exhibitions online and/or onsite? How can synergy between the onsite and online representation of an exhibition be created? Wherein lies the potential of digital media, and how can they support both the knowledge and experience aspect? How may digital and social media be used to engage the users?

What is a web-exhibition? What means of presentation (i.e. storytelling, cross-media, interaction etc.) could be applied in order to enhance the experience and outcome of digital / online museum representation? And how may the inclusion of social media add value to this?

The concept will be developed for and in collaboration with the cultural department of Den Sorte Diamant/ The Royal Library. The conceptual framework developed in this project will be related to a concrete upcoming exhibition (as yet not named). The project aims to develop a conceptual framework for an online exhibition that may be experienced in its own right, but which also creates synergy with the exhibition onsite.

Better get this blogging thing up to speed as everyone knows that the key to blogging is regular updates. Fortunately now, at last, I’m ready to go, after months of part time planning. My project-description is now awaiting approval from the university, but this should be a formality. So far, everything else has fallen into place beautifully, getting me all excited about the project’s ‘good karma’ (and not just the Facebook kind).
First up, professor Susana Tosca, head of Digital Design and Communication at IT University, agreed to be my tutor, and she has turned out to be every bit as inspiring and pleasant as I had hoped. Secondly, Isabel Froes, interaction designer with sound experience in museum design, has agreed to be my part time tutor, meaning that I will receive top guidance on both the academic and the concept development aspects of my thesis, which is great. And today I had confirmation that Den Sorte Diamant, the cross-cultural exhibition space of the Royal Library in Copenhagen, agree to be part of my project, as case study and sparring partners. Hurrah!
And now to work.