Collection databases Interactive Media MW2007 Web 2.0

Does your audience want Web 2.0? Lessons from SFMOMA

When ploughing through the M&W2007 papers (more are still going up), pay particular attention to Do You Know Who Your Users Are? The Role Of Research In Redesigning by Dana Mitroff and Katrina Alcorn from SFMOMA looking at the evaluation and redesign process behind their forthcoming new SFMOMA website.

Of particular pertinence to discussions about implementing, encouraging, (and sometimes requiring) user interaction comes this caveat/warning –

Example 3. Web 2.0

The finding: When we talked with our users about potential Web 2.0 features we could offer on our site (blogs, wikis, etc.), they showed surprisingly little interest in them. The users we interviewed were fairly passive about the types of interactive things they would like to do on our site. Instead of asking an artist a question, they would rather read what other people asked. Instead of giving feedback about an exhibition, they would rather read what other people wrote.

The insight: We realized that if we were going to add any of these new types of Web 2.0 features, we should not invest in designing things that our visitors would not use. And if we were to incorporate any of these features in the future, they should extend the interpretation dimension and make the artwork more accessible.

The design: In addition to providing an authoritative museum perspective on an artwork, we must include features that incorporate perspectives from a variety of users, from front-line staff to visitors. On the “On View” main page, for example, we plan to include a feature called something along the lines of “Guest Take” that will present rotating works from SFMOMA’s collection selected by prominent local community members, artists, writers, museum members, etc. These guests will write about what the works mean to them and share their personal reactions, thoughts, and musings. Another feature, called something like “In Focus,” will allow museum staff members at different levels throughout the organization to select works from the collection and share their personal thoughts and reactions. This informal, multi-vocal approach will bring Web 2.0 values to the site and complement what we are already doing with SFMOMA Artcasts, our podcast audio-zine. SFMOMA Artcasts feature “Guest Take” commissions of music, poetry, and prose in response to works on view as well as “Vox Pop” pieces that capture live reflections from visitors in the galleries. We see these as methods of engaging the community in a dialogue of art and ideas; they are excellent ways to bring Web 2.0 values to the interpretative dimension of the museum experience.

Nina Simon picks up on the importance (and dominance) of lurkers in commercial 2.0 applications and reconsiders in the context of museum.

We would concur.

Of the most “2.0” aspects of the Powerhouse Museum’s collection database – the tagging – it is important to note that out of nearly 10 million object views there have been only about 4000 tags. That’s 0.04% of views resulting in a tag – at most. Some views result in multiple tagging of the same object by the same person.

However, because lurkers can gain benefit from other people’s tags (frictionlessly/effortlessly) tags represent up to 40% of search interactions – they add usability and thus access points to content.

5 replies on “Does your audience want Web 2.0? Lessons from SFMOMA”


I enjoyed the SFMOMA article, particularly for its readability. But I’m a little skeptical of their web 2.0 findings given what is offered in this paper.

First, SFMOMA used current site users as the basis for their study. One might argue that they would have had more interest in 2.0 had they interviewed and surveyed people who are not currently part of their user base (i.e. people who are potentially not well-served by a more traditional museum website).

Second, it may not have been clear to those surveyed how 2.0 elements could support some of the things that are most important to them, like planning their visit and understanding the art. While many users may not feel comfortable reviewing an exhibition, when framed in a more “tripadvisor”-style format, they may rate and review and share thoughts on different exhibits. Similarly, being offered the opportunity to tag content may not be appealing, whereas being able to assemble a personal tour of pieces of art that appeal to 8 year-olds might.

I think the 2.0 elements SFMOMA is planning to integrate sound great. I especially love the mix of staff voices and believe that can really bolster the museum personality and brand. But I also think that we need to be as helpful as possible to our users in making the connections of what any museum resources–whether in-museum programs, outreach, or 2.0–can do for their museum experience.


There is often going to be a tension between the desires and especially usability needs of current users versus the perceived desires of future users.

What I like about SFMOMA’s approach is that they are being careful not to alienate exsiting users (known and passionate customers) in pursuit of new users. Their existing users, if kept satisfied, will continue to be important advocates of the organisation and website.


Seb, I am really skeptical about planning and by evaluation of so-valled audience needs. Firstly, I don’t believe much in the reliability of virtually any evaluation and survey tools. Secondly, I think that if cultural institutions only ever delivered what audiences expressed as ‘needs’ or ‘wants’ (keeping in mind the first point about it not being a truly representative expression in any case), it is a bit like driving in the rear view mirror.
We have an obligation to get beyond that, to surprise and excite our audiences with new services and content, and sometiems even to shock them or be provocative about issues. We know our collections better (or at least we are supposed to) and we should be aware of the frustrations of the public who seek to use them, so we also need to get ahead of the game and improve our selivery of user services that the users don’t even know they want until we offer them.
I agree with your point about the value of not alienating existing users in pursuit of new users.

Right on Mal! I couldn’t agree more.

My experience is that museum audiences are by and large not expecting participatory type experiences from us because we’ve never offered them in this realm (digital media/online) before. So why don’t we start showing them something new along with the traditionally authoritative content we have offered.

Another reason to at least give it a try is the low cost of implementation. Because of third party tools that allow many types interactions to be added without custom code or development it is often cheaper to just try something out in the open. By the time you’ve had a meeting and evaluated whether you should try something, you’ve spent the same amount of money as simply developing something and trying it out for a while.

I think these new ideas and types of interaction are best tested out in the open rather than in the realm of market studies.

ps – I am responding more specifically to the comments in this thread and haven’t read the SFMOMA report, but I can’t wait to see their talk in SF in a couple weeks.

I agree with much of what’s been said here. One quick point to make that Bryan knows well since it was in our paper last year at Museums and the Web. When it comes to lurkers –I think we should be careful about how we evaluate their role.

All of this is still quite new, and today’s lurkers very well might be tomorrow’s alpha-users. Another point worth making is that not everyone needs to participate to make make a site a “success.” Their a depth of experience for those who do participate–that is beyond a “Web 1.0” experience-and (as Seb pointed out) those who do participate can add value to sites and collections for those who visit but don’t interact in the same way.

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