In the RWW article, Curt Hopkins opens by stating that a digital experience of an art institution's can never replicate a physical visit. He then surveys six online collections, focusing on their comprehensiveness, the image resolution offered, and their usability.
Hopkins ends by observing
The collections of museums are making their way online, if for no other reason than they serve as a kind of advertisement. I have yet, however, to come across an outfit, small or large, whose goal was to make their entire collection, or even a substantial majority of it, available online. The few that tried did not hit the trifecta of navigational ease, resolution and information that would make it the most useful.
It was these points that got people agitated, rather than his commentary on the websites he critiqued. Clairey Ross wrote a self-titled 'rant', stating:
My work revolves around understanding what users think of online museum collections, why museums use them, their purpose their usability and god damn it, not one person I have interviewed, observed, surveyed and stalked ever suggested that an museum online collection was an ‘advertisment’ and there are several museums whose goal is to make their entire collection available online.
Frankie Roberto used the RWW article as a launch pad for thinking about what Hopkins' 'trifecta' could feel like:
When I visit an art museum, my primary experience is of wandering. I never know that much the art works, or what to expect, so I rarely have a specific destination in mind – merely just a desire to see some interesting/provoking stuff.
I think it’s this experience which is so hard to replicate online. We’re good at building web experiences which are optimised at getting users to the thing they’re after (usually information) as quickly as possible, via carefully considered navigation and relevance-optimised search. What we’re less good at is building web experiences where the user sits back and is simply entertained/amazed/enthralled by things they wouldn’t have otherwise come across.
One of the things I admire about Frankie is his ability to look at other models and use them to generate new ideas. He points to Phil Gyford's Today's Paper (an alternative - beautiful - layout of the Guardian's content) and the Guardian's own EyeWitness app for the iPad and asks how you could build on these ways of manipulating content in order to enhance the experience of looking at digital collections.
Mike Ellis is another person I admire, mostly for his willingness to cut to the heart of the matter and ask hard questions. In his post, he asks three questions:
- Is getting your entire collection online really a good goal?
- If you achieve that goal, how do you make it a good user experience?
- Why do it at all?
With other collections though, I wonder if focusing on a great experience with your most useful, most interesting, and most unique collection items might be a better goal?
An interesting comment from Mike Ellis (thanks Mike!) that I thought I'd bring up into the post:
"One thing I didn't manage to get in that post - something I'll maybe do in the future - is how I suspect this could work best. Seems to me that there should be a way of (for instance, making this up as I go along..):
1. Only digitising the 100 (or 1,000) or so "iconic" objects, and providing a huge amount of detail, photography, context, story for these;
2. Spend the rest of the time focussing resource on amending or creating Wikipedia entries
This kind of approach, (or something more thought about..) would probably maximise number of eyeballs as well as hitting the more in-depth stuff asked for by some users"