How we think about our users shapes the Web spaces we create and their purpose, design, content and functionality. The ways we think about users are an implicit but often unexplored part of planning and managing museum Web sites. However, perhaps it is time we examined these assumptions more closely and directly.
Recent research presented at this conference identified a number of problem areas in defining and categorising users of digital cultural content (Dawson et al. 2004). The field struggles to find a consistent language for describing its objectives, markets, customers, impacts and outcomes. In the absence of an e-commerce bottom line and with often ambitious social agendas for education and access, museum Web sites suffer from a lack of tangible success measures.
Yet at the heart of these frustrations seems to be our confused and conflicting models of the museum Web site user. How can we effectively design, promote and evaluate on-line content without clear and demonstrable models of user needs, motivations, behaviours and satisfactions? Part of the problem appears to be that concepts and constructs borrowed from museum visitor studies and consumer product marketing may be inappropriate to the on-line information space in which museum Web sites exist. As the Web evolves into a more participative space (Carey, Jeffrey 2006) and user goals and behaviours become more complex, the inadequacy of existing approaches looms as an even greater problem.
This paper addresses these issues by proposing a new, more holistic model for conceptualising museum Web site use. It then discusses the application of the model from the practical perspective of site planning and design, using the example of a site redevelopment project currently underway at Museum Victoria, a major natural and social history museum in Melbourne, Australia.
Keywords: users, audience, visitors, marketing, market segmentation, evaluation, usability