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Museums and the Web 2017

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Three members of Acoustiguide's New York team traveled to Cleveland to take part in Museums and the Web 2017. Here is Senior Producer and Digital Media Strategist John Simoniello's brief summary of the biggest take-aways from this year's conference:

The theme of the conference revolved around building inclusivity – this idea and goal applied to expanding accessibility to persons with disabilities/challenges, underserved populations, and myriad other individuals and groups.  But it was beyond simply applying ADA standards, or trying to reach out to and engage specific groups. It was also presented in the context of a “felt” experience, with empathy being one of the key words uttered in the Opening Plenary and repeated in a number of sessions and contexts over the following days.

VR and AR were, as expected, hot topics.  All of the presenters had positive experiences to share, from the delight of young visitors, to deep emotional impact on others. “Immersive” experiences were, by and large, thought to be positive with many saying that they definitely do not distract from the actual objects.

There seemed to be a consensus that VR has some role to play (and worth trying even on a limited scale with “off-the-shelf” or ready-made and freely included content).  However, the ideal scale, frequency, and practicality of VR still has yet to be determined, and will certainly change as new technology like “all-in-one” or “mixed reality” come to fruition.(e.g. https://www.magicleap.com/#/home)

Both VR and AR were also involved in the inclusivity discussion.  They are tools that foster an emotional and empathic experience (e.g. CMHR’s VR experience of visiting a village in Guatemala), especially when paired with real objects (woven textiles from that village) in the gallery.

On the mobile front, the design challenges/evolutions continue.  From how an app should look and feel, to a debate about whether BYOD has failed the museum space, and can ever be THE solution.  The debate did little to sway those in the room (which was about 4-1 in favor of apps/BYOD in the museum before and after the debate). 

I agreed with those that say that perhaps the museum has thus far failed BYOD – lack of high quality pervasive wi-fi, insufficient marketing/awareness of the app, etc. 

However, there are some challenges that cannot be met with a strictly Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) solution – lower income/underserved populations who may not have their own device, language barriers, etc.  On the other hand, mobile solutions (and BYOD) do offer enhanced accessibility features that are not provided by “bespoke” devices.

In the end, cultural institutions recognize they still have a long way to go in eliminating all barriers between themselves (their objects and ideas) and the public.

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