7.3 Museums on the Social Web

The Social Web or Web 2.0 differs from its predecessor in its empowerment of the user. While Web 1.0 offered content created by professional developers and distributed with the help of (mostly) commercial agencies, Web 2.0 invites all its users to participate in the creation and dissemination of content. The Museu Picasso Barcelona has a virtual museum and a variety of social web applications integrated with it. Here, visitors can post comments about exhibitions and programmes, offer their support for campaigns and volunteer to help run events. The site also invites users to contribute images, stories and accounts of experiences related to displays. Discussion forums are opened to see how far visitors agree with the messages of certain installations. The portal reaches far beyond the walls of the museum presenting the works of the most reform-oriented master of the 20th century, and activates a large community of friends of the arts all around the city.

Museum blogs

Blogs differ from ordinary museum home page entries in their personal voice and current nature of the information shared. The most frequent type is the curator blog, offering insider information about the conception, development and realisation of an exhibition. Other museum-related blogs are written by professional and amateur critics. Here are some good examples:

–        Museum 2.0, international blog on museum informatics

–        British Museum blog, London, UK

–        Kunsthistorisches Museum blog, Vienna, Austria

–        Computer History Museum blog, Mountain View, Silicon Valley, California

–        Cultureshutdown, subtitled “Solidarity with Cultural Institutions Under Threat”, a blog about organising campaigns to save cultural institutions threatened by closure.  

Museum tweets

Twitter is a messaging facility that enables you to send short messages of maximum 140 characters to mobile phones or PCs of friends (or strangers, who, for one reason or another, have decided to follow you.) The tweeting facility is available in 20 languages and enables you to attach photos and include web links in your message. Museums use it to quickly reach their core audience and inform them about events, publications, new acquisitions or displays. If you start following a museum, you will never miss an event – provided the institution has enough personnel to cater for its Social Web applications. Here is a list of information that museums should definitely tweet about;

–        Date, time and venue of an opening, or other important event, with the link to the website of the exhibition;

–        New acquisitions: exciting news about the scientific importance, market value, insurance figures and viewing options in relation to a newly acquired object;

–        Cultural programmes and special tours organised on the day of the tweet or the next day (because tweets have a very short shelf life, they can be overcome by new messages);

–        Events related to the exhibition and organised by another institution or the community where the museum is located;

–        Special events and workshops for young visitors (evidently, Twitter and Facebook are the best messaging options for them);

–        Publications: title and link to their contents or downloadable version (newsletters, catalogues and books related to exhibitions may all be advertised through tweets);

–        Urgent messages such as sudden closure because of repair, irregular opening times during holidays or an unexpected break;

–        Opening of a new facility (a new unit, a workshop space for children or a new restaurant interior are all good reasons to tweet an invitation to try and test);

–        Exciting souvenirs in the museum shop (a welcome tweet before Christmas or Valentine’s Day!).

Museums on Facebook

Managing a home page requires monthly maintenance. Maintaining a blog, sending tweets or being present on Facebook, is, however, a daily activity. Smaller museums with no PR personnel should delegate this responsibility to staff members who use these sites in their private lives anyway and are sensitive to audience requirements regarding up-to-date, interesting and relevant information. Curators and researchers should also be involved in producing „Facebook compatible”, concise, illustrated entries that contain information that the visitor group regularly using Facebook (those under 30) will find worthwhile to read. The menus of Facebook offer the following options for sharing museum-related news:[35]

–        Followers who decide to „like” us on Facebook are a good indication o the popularity of the museum among the users of the page. They will see our entries on their page and there is a high probability that they will actually read them, too;

–        Groups may be organised to target followers with special interests and create communities around the museum that have the potential for self-organised activities;

–        Events can be organised quickly and with no cost. Prospective participants may join and thus inform us about the visitor group interested in the event from among our Facebook followers. If they return to our event entry (because we send a tweet with a link to the relevant Facebook page as it is approaching), they can see who from their friends is planning to participate and may decide to use the event for socialising and join, too;

–        Entries may include news items, similar to those we share through Twitter, but with more details and links;

–        Images can be used as teasers: organised into a timeline, they can provide prospective visitors with appealing information about a collection in a second.

QR and AR codes

QR (Quick Response) codes are signs that contain a link to a web site and can be scanned by most mobile phones, not just smartphones. Their visual form can indicate the theme they will lead us to, or be just a decorative pattern. Museums mostly use these codes at the entrance of their exhibitions to guide us to the home page of the exhibition or – a much better idea – to a downloadable museum guide application that we can use during our visit. Some museums share images and flyers through QR codes placed near an installation. Others provide longer labels, containing documentary photographs about the place of origin, the restoration of an object or related pieces in the collection through a QR code-embedded link.

Hand holding a phone in front of an object in a museum.

7.58. picture: A visitor uses his phone to read a QR code at the Museum für Römische Geschichte (Museum of Roman History) in Hamburg, Germany.

AR (Augmented Reality) codes contain three-dimensional images. An example: through an AR code, the 3D image of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France, can be seen on the screen of our phone.[36] We can also produce AR codes of reconstructions of buildings or works of plastic art and place them near showcases where remnants of a building or sculpture are presented. In this way, visitors can see works in virtual space as they once looked in reality. They can virtually turn them around, view them from above and at the same time appreciate the fragments in front of them that are remaining parts of an impressive work of art. Many visitors find it difficult to enjoy such a reconstruction if it is presented as a linear drawing only. In this case, virtual reality enhances the real-life experience through supporting our imagination.

Female portrait and QR code with text in Italian about the image.

7.59. picture: QR code of the Mona Lisa QR – a work of digital art. Source: Blog entry about the necessity of QR codes in museums

[35] An example of an active and well-designed Facebook page: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

[36] Review about the utilisation of the QR code in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.