info @ archimuse.com
published: April, 2002
There's Something Happening Here, What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear
Session: Evaluation Frameworks
What do we really know about museums and the Internet? What can we really say and back up with evidence about the virtual museum and the virtual visitors? As with any fast-growing field, any time this discussion arises we have endlessly more questions than answers. Our battle is made even more difficult by our goals. Virtual museums may measure eyeballs and click-through rate, but the mission is not achieved when the visitor buys something. The virtual museum's mission is to inform, to enlighten, and perhaps to change lives. And museums have risen to this challenge. During this decade, museums have put enormous amount of energy, both in hours and dollars into a virtual presence. In order evaluate what the virtual museums sites achieve and to continue to push the boundaries of what they can achieve, we need to stand back and review the questions we've been asking about virtual museums and the answers we think we know.
In this paper the authors will discuss the facts about the museum online experience: What are the basics of the on-line museum experience: the who, what, with whom, and how sorts of questions? Whom do we know we reach? What do they tend to do? How does this compare with the other virtual experiences people are having? The authors will achieve this through an in-depth review of the literature, drawing on sources both in the virtual museum field and in related fields. We will also take a look at the relationship between the physical and the virtual sites. To examine the dynamics of this relationship, the authors will not only investigate current literature but also report the results of interviews with museum professionals across the breadth of the field on their thoughts and insights about the relationship between their virtual and physical museums. Questions in this domain include: How do physical and virtual museums impact one another? Is there any interaction between the two? Where? In attendance? In audience size and type? In design?
The answers provided by this paper will in turn help our field to build a foundation to someday answer even more critical questions. These next questions to research will be ones that surround the unique context of virtual museums- from how a virtual visitor's prior knowledge of the Internet impact their visit to how the medium of an electronic visit impacts exhibition design. This presentation will also help address how to attack the age-old yet never trivial question about outcomes- what do visitors really learn from a virtual museum?