Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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The end of the 80s – summing up a 24 month web presence

April 1st, 2011 by Seb Chan

Recently saw the final days of The 80s Are Back exhibition – the end of a run that began back in late 2009.

The website now moves into a ‘post-exhibition’ mode and many of the social media elements of the site will no longer be updated. Given the length of time that these have been running – since well before the exhibition launched – this is perhaps the Powerhouse’s longest running single topic social media experiment.

So how did it go?

I posted an interview in March last year with Renae Mason who was the producer on the site last year which went into detail on all the channels that we used.

The site now contains nearly 97,000 words in its various mini-essays, reviews and interviews, and it has generated 195 approved comments containing a massive 11,000 words. Regular readers would know that the site continued adding mini-essays right through to last month (when final posts on Live Aid, Sampling, Hordern dance parties, compact discs and The Smiths were added).

January 2010 was the busiest month for visitation – driven by the new-ness of the exhibition and all the accompanying media and advertising, but rather than the normal sharp decline in web visitation that follows an exhibition of this length, the site continued to travel well on a slow curve downwards. The months that had tie-in public programmes and events added spikes in traffic and even after the Museum stopped 80s-related programming the site continued to perform comparatively well.

The microsite had 142,000 visits with healthy visitor loyalty showing that the extra effort put into longitudinal content creation was worthwhile. Single visit visitation was 5% below the overall site average – and repeat visitation up. Facebook and Twitter, where we put additional effort into content delivery throughout the run of the exhibition were 5.5 times and 6 times more likely to send traffic than the site average. Of course, consistent with every other project I see, both at the Powerhouse and elsewhere, actual site traffic from social media compared with organic search remained still a distant second.

On the downside, one of the biggest disappointments with the project was the lack on exit signage for the 80s web presence. Although this was planned as a key part of the exit experience for the gallery it took until nearly 9 months after launch to have it designed and finally installed. This was primarily because of a resource crunch but it highlights, despite the huge ground made up over the years in the integration of web and exhibition content, that those simple ‘last mile’ actions are still so important.

I’d wager that for the vast majority of visitors to the museum during that initial period without exit signage, we lost a huge and critical opportunity to build an even stronger community around the diversity and depth of online content. Given repeat visitation was already far stronger than for other similarly sized online exhibition sites, I wish we’d had the opportunity to see, for the entirety of the exhibition’s run, what extra impact in-gallery prompting might have had.

The site stays online now for the next 5-7 years as an online resource for teachers and educators teaching ‘modern history’ (yes, the 80s are now ‘history’). This ‘mode change’ for the site is something that is always quite challenging – and obviously the social media channels will naturally wither and eventually vanish from the web. This poses a number of issues around whether the ‘conversations’ are and should remain ephemeral – leaving only the main site and its essay and AV content the subject of preservation – or whether the social media should also be ‘preserved’ and archived.

(For an overview of the original strategy for the site, please read the earlier post)

Tags: 3 Comments

  • I saw the live show at the PHM, but had not looked at the associated website until considering the issues yoiu raise in this blog post here.

    The microsite is really great. I can see the value that history teachers place upon it. (And writing that sentence and living through the 80s made me feel more like my elderly father than anything else I’ve ever written.)

    “The site stays online now for the next 5-7 years as an online resource for teachers and educators teaching ‘modern history’”

    Seb, I’m surprised that your default position for such useful microsites isn’t to have them archived by NLA’s PANDORA.

    Then it can live on even after the PHM can no longer support it.