Museums & The Web – Best Of The Web 06 winners

The winners at Museums & The Web 2006 have been announced.

Congratulations to all, especially to our friends at the Australian Museum who picked up an honourable mention in the Best Research Site category for the Birds In Backyards site.

There are MANY lessons to be learnt from the winning sites and I’d encourage everyone in our teams to check them out thoroughly and post your own evaluative comments about each of the winning sites. These sites are relevant for everyone in our area, not just us web folk.

Kevin Sumption’s paper on the ‘ubiquitous museum’ is online too and is a good overview of where he sees museums (including ours) need to move.

Here’s my reactions to the Best of the Web 2006 winners.

Overall there seems to have been a big shift towards ‘users’. The language on every site and project has shifted towards emphasising interaction and the ‘you’. eg. What do YOU want to do?, Tell us YOUR experiences/memories etc.

And it is not only superficial. Some sites are moving towards real multidirectional communication – not just one/two-way between museum and user but also encouraging ‘between user’ communication.

Whilst there is still some superfluous Flash use it is really pleasing to see sites beginning to move away from Flash for the sake of it and looking at responding to user needs rather than simply providing pretty slideshows and unnecesary visual navigation. The LA Conservancy’s Curating The City site is a good example of where Flash makes it very pretty but also makes it unnecessarily complicated to get to what is basically a tracking of historical changes along the Wiltshire Boulevard. The nav is slow to load and processor intensive. Why? Aesthetics over use. The best part is the ability of users to upload their own stories about places but in my mind this feature is too buried and should be the primary focus of the site instead – see the highly popular community memory projects like Mumur in Canada from Habitat (and spinoffs) for comparison.

On the otherhand there are times when I wanted MORE aesthetics. The Canadian educational site on mining cutely called ‘Life Of A Rock Star’ does have great content but it seems so, well, late 90s in design. Maybe that’s what makes it such a good educational site – it targets low end computers and doesn’t frighten low tech teachers. I’m not sure.

Science Buzz – Designwise this site pretty much nails the audience. It is SO 2.0 it is not funny – the font choice, rounded corners, boxes, colour schemes – FontShop would have a field day. But its not just pretty ‘now’ graphics, they’ve deeply integrated a lot of the ideas of social software and it seems to be working – comments, polls, etc all seems to be being used by actual visitors. This is a good site to keep in the back of our minds when we start building our upcoming ‘childrens’ portal/site.

Search-wise the New York Public Libary’s Digital Gallery is fantastic. They’ve implemented the ‘search history’ that we are using for our own OPAC 2.0 and Design Hub, and the interface is so intuitive. Obviously they have some very rich data to mine which helps.

Like the Australian Museum’s Birds In Backyards site – it too has really rich data to draw on. The site design is neat and clean, fast and again, nails the target audience. The survey form checkbox navigation is cute.