Some time ago Virtueel Platform organized a workshop called Take Away Museum to discuss new emerging ways to engage people in conversations with exhibited artwork and artifacts. The central question was: what is Web 2.0 for museums?
In general there seem to be four basic ways for organizing the relationship between an exhibited artifact and a museum visitor.
The simplest one is the basic visit to a museum: we buy the ticket at the entrance, go in, take a tour, perhaps an audio guide, follow the arrows, read the texts beside the works, and that's about it. Let's call this reactive consumption.
When we make an effort to search information about the exhibition or the artists beforehand, we are moving towards some sort of proactive consumption. We might study art books, conduct an online search, go and see a documentary about the artist we like, etc. In this case, we know what we are interested about and we actively choose how we want to know about we want to know.
At the point where we start to materialize our experience of an artwork in the form of a talk, text, or images, we start producing. We produce for private use when we take photos of our museum visit to the family album, when we dive into a discussion about interpretations of an artwork, or when we write notes to our personal diary. All these are private re-productions of our experience that we use to reflect the things that we have seen.
When we begin to share our experiences of exhibited artifacts with other people on the Internet, we are producing for public use. For instance, we may write about an exhibition on our weblog; post photos about The Last Supper on Flickr; or add to a Wikipedia article. The technologies make this type of public sharing possible, are often referred to as Web 2.0.
The transformation of museum visits from reactive consumption to public production is dramatic, and many museums still seem to consider how far they could and should go without risking museums as professional institutions of cultural and material history. Also questions of copyrights arise. Those museums who commit to the cutting edge, still face the challenge of linking objects and the tremendously hererogenous online information about them such as documentaries, personal blog posts and reviews, or public domain photography.
Also, the current documentation of artifacts in museums as such is often too technical and uninteresting for museum visitors, because it is made to serve storage and transportation between museums. In extreme cases, the documentation might even be missing or destroyed, and in others, there is very little information available on the historical and social use contexts of the artifact. Where there is no user-friendly documentation of the exhibited objects, it requires a lot of effort to build an interesting web presence for museums. Perhaps museums should start collaborating with game developers?