Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

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Museums and the Web: What do you get from being there?

In a time when money is getting tighter all around, it's becoming harder and harder to justify conference attendance, especially when it requires international travel. But for many, it's just not the full Museums and the Web experience, if you're not there, on-site.

Why is that?

I think it's partly because MW is about the process as well as about the product. The papers aptly describe the outcomes of research, the collaborations, the analysis, but they don't always tell you what it was like to get there – warts and all.

There are many things that you can't learn by reading or watching: you can't learn paper prototyping without holding the scissors and tape in your hands. Cut and paste will never mean the same thing again! Nor can you really appreciate Agile development methods without talking to people who practice them. You can get the dirt, if you're not there to hear it.

So what you gain in the conversations is the real story  + the back story...

Am I right? Why do you come to Museums and the Web

Ryan Donahue's picture

I'm agreeing with almost everyone (as how can this blog post not garner warm we-are-the-world sentiment?), it's all about the people that will be there.  Whether its a grizzled industry veteran, a fresh-faced college grad looking to find some work, a slightly-too-slick vendor with thick rimmed glasses, an expense account, and a heavy desire to change the way -you- think about cataloging, or the lovely and helpful volunteer staff, you can learn something from everyone that's going to Philly this year.

Nothing has furthered the way I view and do my job quite like Museums and the Web.  Sometimes the impact is subtle, and sometimes a Flickr Commons breaks out (or iTunes U!), but every year there's something valuable in almost every aspect of my job that gets enhanced by a trip to this conference.

Also seconded: the food -is- pretty great.

Also, two first time attendee protips: if you won't use your free coffee (and here's hoping there will be coffee cards!) give them to me.  


The second tip is that most bar staff will gladly ring up your bar tab as 'dessert' if you ask them nicely.  Sometimes your per-diem covers 'dessert'. 

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Ryan Donahue (<a href="">@ryand</a>)

Kate Haley Goldman's picture

As a researcher, the MW papers are critical.  There’s a dearth of published information in this field and without those papers, there would be almost no literature whatsoever.   The day-to-day in the field is provided through the great number of voices in the social media stream, tiny bits and links to what excites us, what frustrates and us, and where we find our inspiration.  Or at the least, what momentarily amused us. Together those voices and the papers provide some useful landmarks within our work, scattered across the landscape, but no true sense of direction, only what got us animated over morning coffee or what we were thinking about many months ago.

While I value immensely reading the papers and hearing my colleagues refracted through the social media, their paths through the terrain are generally not reflected.  And that’s the most interesting part.  As always, the best way to really understanding the changing landscape is to find bright people and buy them a drink.  Over those conversations, the ones after the session and the talks in the hall, one can find out what didn’t make it into a paper, what’s not yet fully formed.  

MW, among the crowded conference field, is where some of the richest of those conversations happen.  I’m struck by the willingness of the MW participants, first-timers and old-timers alike, to really engage in what matters to us, to argue, to be wrong and to make something new together.  It’s these types of conversations that inspire my work, push me in new directions, help me write better grants, form new collaborations, and develop more useful and interesting projects.

I’m looking forward to seeing you in Philadelphia, buying you coffee or a drink, and hearing what you’re really thinking about in your work these days.

Kate Haley Goldman

bwyman's picture

I follow many of my colleagues all along the social media spectrum and I pretty consistently imagine them all with squeaky, high-pitched voices... think Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie. Meeting them in person lets me know that some of them are different — not all, but some (Seb, I'm sorry.)

Aside from that, the interaction is good, swift, and laced with supportive overtones. In the span of a few short hours, you'll get better and more honest critical feedback from a group of peers that have been through the same problems. The potential for new insight and inspiration is immense and I pretty consistently return from MW with renewed enthusiasm and excitement to keep pushing ahead. It's a conference of friends, one that is constantly evolving and growing, but perhaps most importantly, a welcoming community. For a loner, that can be difficult, but soldier on we must.

Oh, and the food. Easily some of the best of any museum-related conference. 

But, honestly, one of my favorite parts is that there's always a chance to learn something new. To be challenged and to find new ways of looking at problems and ideas. People that in many circumstances would appear to be distant, out of reach, or too busy, freely make their time and ideas available to old-timers and newcomers, alike. Like I said, it's a conference of friends.

Conxa's picture

I’m a more recent MW attendee than Seb, Dana, Mia and Paul. MW11 will be my fourth. I join them, though, in their enthusiasm about the rewarding experience of attending such an inspiring, alive, professional and innovative conference.

I won’t elaborate on the interest of the content, easily available searching the rich online archive of MW. I’ll stress the innovative format: it’s the most dynamic conference I’ve attended ever. The organisation is much to praise for designing so many diverse opportunities to interact, present and learn about what’s being done in museums in our digital era, but the participants as well are to praise: the contributions, the discussions, the willingness to build network are key to make MW a truly participatory experience. As it happens in 2.0, you give and receive. For a few days you can share same interests, problems, worries, illusions and discoveries with colleagues. True that once back to the daily reality may be like coming down to earth. But you go back with renovated energy, new ideas and a stronger feeling of community belonging. An, at least in my case, you become a sort of MW ambassador, disseminating its content and reach among your museum colleagues of your city and your country.

Twitter should also be given recognition: it facilitates us to stay easily connected to @museweb community all year long. If I'd have to choose a word to define Museums and the Web, it would be “connector”. A connector of Collective 2.0 minds, as I once wrote.

See you soon!



sebchan's picture

For me MW is an opportunity to catch up with my colleagues from all over the world and hear, first hand, their own challenges and their perspectives on my challenges for the year. The first time I went I thought it was all about listening to the papers and diligently taking notes, but really the whole conference is about the social interactions that happen 'around' sessions - the connecting of handles/avatars to real faces, hearing the 'real story of project x' after the sessions, etc. Whilst I can and do read all the papers online, I get a lot more out of meeting the people behind the papers and asking them the tough questions.

Just like a visit to a museum with a bunch of friends is very different to each visiting the same museum online, a good conference is much more than the 'official content' and following the twitter feed.

And the best measure of a conference is how far people will travel to attend it, especially after their first time. Australia sends lots of people to MW each year because it is consistently good and we're happy to endure 24 hour long haul flights each way for 4 days and, importantly, nights, of intense discussion, debate and ideas being thrown around. 

Director of Digital & Emerging Media
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
jklavans's picture

I've never been to MW so stay tuned for after-words after the conference.  Looking forward the the experience.

Judith L. Klavans, Ph.D.


Dana Mitroff Silvers's picture

I'm a proud alumna of every MW conference (except one!) since 2002, and the reason I go every year is exactly what Paul and Mia referred to: the community.

The community of colleagues and friends I have built-up over the years from being face-to-face with my peers is invaluable to me, and it's honestly what keeps me going in a role at my institution that can sometimes be frustrating and isolating.

The opportunity to bond with my peers in sessions, workshops, and--quite honestly!--over beers could never be replaced by reading the papers online in my cubicle.

Because I have been to so many MW conferences and have had the opportunity to collaborate with my peers in so many formats (papers, sessions, workshops, the program committee, local sightseeing excursions--and beers!), I have built up a true network of friends around the world I can call upon for advice at any time, and this is invaluable to what I do.


Dana Mitroff Silvers
Head of Online Services
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103-3159

Mia Ridge's picture

I haven't been going to Museums and the Web for as long as Paul, but otherwise he said exactly what I was going to say.  My friends tell me I come back from MW with fresh energy and enthusiasm about museums and technology, and I think that's because meeting old and new friends who support and challenge me in equal measures is such a big part of the MW experience.  As always, it's the conversations around the sessions as much as the presentations themselves that makes the conference.

jtrant's picture

hi Micah,

yes, there are always choices about where to invest time and money – and we agree, students face them along with the rest of us.

at MW, we make sure that there is plenty of opportunity for students to attend through a program of Scholarships and Volunteers. this year we're giving free full MW2011 registration to 15 students in return for helping us out in Philadelphia. unfortunately, all these positions are full for MW2011, and there's only a waitlist for volunteers.

there is also a program of scholarships that offset some or all of the registration fee [and there are still some scholarship spaces open!] 

we also offer student registration at a heavily discounted fee, which is very close to cost [student registration includes all receptions and the Selected Papers.]

we support student registration, scholarships and volunteers because we believe that one of the best choices you can make in your professional development is to invest in yourself.

if you want to work in the museum web field, you won't do very well in a job interview if you can't identify and describe new and related activities. meetings like Museums and the Web are a great chance to get an overview of the field, and to get to know the issues and the people involved – both those who are well established and those who are just starting out.

you can't become part of a community if you don't venture out to meet it ... you'll find that the MW crowd is a very open and sharing one, but it's up to you to formulate the questions you'd like to ask, and to step up and ask them.

we hope to see you at MW2011,


j. trant co-founder Museums and the Web | partner archives & museum informatics

Paul Marty's picture

As someone who attends lots and lots of academic and professional conferences each year, it's no secret what prompts me to return to any given conference, year after year -- it's the community. 

Since 1997, I've attended all but three MW conferences, and I can attest that this conference is as much about building friendships and collaborative relationships as it is about papers and presentations. 

MW brings together a like-minded community of experts -- willing and eager to share ideas and find new ways to collaborate. Reading conference papers online can help you find out what's going on and who's doing what, but there's no substitute for the opportunities to catch up with old friends and bounce ideas off new ones. 

Conferences like MW help us reaffirm our faith in the strength and abilities of our colleagues. We are part of a truly amazing and supportive community, and anyone who studies or works in the museum IT field owes it to themselves to join in these conversations in person.