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published: March 2004
Disintermediation and the Museum Web Experience: Database or
Documentary? Which Way Should We Go?
Session: Practice Makes Perfect
The Web is a communication medium that caters to an individual's every desire. It empowers audiences to get exactly what they want, when they want, and how they want it. It provides a direct connection between buyers and sellers, between information consumers and providers-without traditional intermediaries like brokers, dealers, or agents. Now we help ourselves.
Why should art and artifact be any different? Some Museum Web sites provide austere library-science-like access to information, while others have documentary film-like storytelling qualities. For some curators, the Web is an opportunity to get out of the way and give visitors free access to all that is hidden in their physical museum; for others, they see the multimedia possibilities as a way to enhance their controlled presentations and add on even more interpretive accessories. Some sites provide unmediated direct access to their entire collection, while others provide carefully curated presentations. What do users want? Is the Web a tool for audiences to go beyond the exhibit walls and explore, sort and search collections themselves, or is it an opportunity for richer, more immersive interpretive presentations?
In this talk we will examine a variety of museum-related sites that explore each extreme and all in between-from database-driven sites to rich-media documentary-like approaches-and evaluate what components worked and what didn't. We will look at the relative costs associated with developing either direction, and by analyzing the traffic reports and user feedback from hybrid sites that incorporate each extreme we will explore which components were ultimately more popular, which proved easier to update or maintain, and which cultivated repeat traffic.