Google Cultural Institute and The Natural History Museum

Last week, the Natural History Museum London was the latest institute to engage with the mega brand x mega brand love in that is Google Cultural Institute partnerships. Presumably, they’ve partnered with most of the major art museums so the attention has finally turned to natural history* (at the time of writing, Google Cultural Institute still haven’t announced the project on Google+, evidence perhaps that even Google doesn’t use Google+). Although these projects, where the Google Cultural Institute partners with a museum to present their collections through the Google Arts and Culture platform, aren’t exactly new, the addition of one of the UK’s big natural history museums is a chance to examine whether these are any good yet.

The tl:dr version of this blog post is no. No they aren’t. Continue reading

Digital, huh, what is it good for?

I maintain what I hope is a healthy scepticism towards the use of ‘digital’ when it comes to museums and heritage which mostly involves being a snarky bastard on the Internet and probing platitudes about digitisation in museums. This has led some to believe that I’m some sort of Luddite or just anti technology because it takes us away from the 300 year old unique selling point of museums which is people come to look at and experience things and only use the Internet for shopping and boobies.

Which couldn’t be further from the truth (ish)! I’ve been a keen gamer my whole life and a denizen of the Internet for a little less than that, cutting my digital teeth trolling the witchcraft forums, surviving the great LiveJournal wars of the early 2000s and arguing the finer points of the Colony Wars lore. I’ve written book chapters and lectured on the virtual museum, colour laser scanning, museum websites and the use of technology in museum spaces.

I’m not against ‘the digital’ in general, I’m more for a holistic view and use of digital technologies in resource poor museums and as a user as well as a creator, against implementing  costly projects because of the ‘machine that goes bing factor‘ or without evidence of need, use or longevity that continues to plague many museum digital projects. Continue reading

Gamifying Museums- The Logical Extreme

Last week my Twitter feed was all #MWXX which I presume had something to do with Museums and the Web, probably the 20th conference, it may also still be happening such is the opaque nature of the events conference hashtags refer to.

In any case whatever #MWXX was, it seemed to be filled with some of the best and brightest of those working with museums ‘and the web’ but more broadly digital. Ever since my Museum Studies training, I’ve had an interest in museums and the digital as a digital native urghhh, I mean ‘millennial’ but more importantly the incredibly slow pace in which museums are really getting to grips with the interesting stuff that is happening on the Internet and in video games, digital art etc. Last year, there were some very silly suggestions that museums are now ‘post-digital’ and we should stop banging on about the digital as some magical future thing.

Digital is everywhere. It’s just another tool in the toolkit. I’d very strongly argue that with rare, normally uncelebrated good examples, most museums are very much analog and that Digital still equates to a not very good website, crappy gallery interactives, an unreliable app developed circa 2009 and not very good online databases. Which might actually be fine because I suspect that us urghhh ‘millenials’ are actually quite bored of digital. Give us bespoke, handmade, tangible, esoteric and analog. I’m a slave to digital platforms at work and play and I want to spend my downtime away from them. There’s a seed of a thought there that I’ll expand on in another post, maybe. But, as a keen gamer I’m quite sad to see that gamification of museum spaces just hasn’t happened in a very real way. Sure, if you read Reality is Broken in 2012 you’d have believed that by 2016 even our toasters would be recording our high scores and spamming our friends with toasted bread updates but turns out that gamification flourished in the Silicon Valley Petri dishes but didn’t squirm much further.

When you do see museums engaging in games and gamification, it’s often in a very earnest, shallow and eduware kind of way. More Fun School 3 than Never Alone and 100% less interesting, engaging and inspiring than Minesweeper. Museums should skip steadily progressing 20 years behind digital culture and jump right up to date borrowing the scummiest and unethical but addictive and sometimes lucrative practices from current social media platforms and the ballooning free-to-play models that even giants of gaming seem to be pursuing. Introducing the MyMuseum app (working title). Continue reading