Thinking about the future of museums: fourteen key issues

By Ross Dawson on May 22, 2008 | Permalink

Today I participated in a Future Directions Forum at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, which after 20 years in its current location is looking to the future.
To provide some context, the Powerhouse is specifically branded as a science and design museum, implicitly being about technology and it’s impact on people’s lives. It’s worth looking at the excellent online resources section of the Powerhouse Museum website, which provides value to many people who never visit the museum. I’ve previously written abouut the very interesting Web 2.0-style initiatives of the Museum (and listed them in the Top Australian Web 2.0 applications), which among other features enables user tagging of the museum’s collection. In a number of cases visitors to the website have corrected or provided more detailed information on the museum’s collection, exemplifying how to tap collective wisdom.
The session raised many interesting questions and thoughts for me. I haven’t been significantly involved with museums in the past, and was struck by many of the issues raised. The points below represent my perspectives as well as reflections on issues raised by people at forum. While the issues below were raised in the context of museums in areas like science, technology, and design, I think they apply across most kinds of museum.
Below are fourteen key issues in the future of museums.
What is a museum?
On the face of it, a museum records and makes accessible artefacts the past that have cultural value. The curatorial process is one of showing people things that enrich them. Museums need to have a clear idea of why they exist. In most cases (in addition to any financial imperatives) the objective is to benefit society, by educating and creating culturally richer and more well-rounded members of society.
Entertainment vs. education and onto experience.
Entertainment and education are quite different intents, but they can be integrated to achieve both aims. Certainly the demand from younger people has shifted strongly to only paying attention if content is truly entertaining. Beyond that, museums are fundamentally about providing experiences. People will seek engaging and powerful experiences, and if museums can provide them, their can fulfil their roles.


Announcing the 2008 Top 100 Australian Web 2.0 Applications list – Launch is on 19 June

By Ross Dawson on May 12, 2008 | Permalink

Following the great success of last year’s Top 60 Web 2.0 Apps in Australia list and Web 2.0 in Australia event, this year we will release a list of the Top 100 Australian Web 2.0 Applications.
The list will be launched on 19 June in BRW magazine together with feature stories on the relevance of the leading online applications to business, including on investment, corporate productivity, customer engagement and innovation. It will then be published online on the Future Exploration Network website and my own blog.
A lunch event on the same day at KPMG’s Sydney offices will formally launch the list, including showcases of some of the winners and a panel discussion by leading figures in the Australian scene. Full details of the lunch event, including registration, are coming soon. It will be in a similar format to our full capacity Web 2.0 in Australia last year, though open to everyone instead of invitation-only.
We are again looking for event sponsors. I’ve approached the obvious candidates in the last couple of days but we’re open to interest from any organization. Download the event and sponsorship information here or by clicking on the image below.
We currently have over 125 candidates for the list. Please email me or comment below if there are relevant apps that you think I am not aware of. We have information on all of the apps listed last year and those that applied to Vishal Sharma’s Startup Carnival earlier this year and those featured on his startup blog (a great resource!).

Social networks open out – celebrating the last year’s change but “lots more work to be done”

By Ross Dawson on May 11, 2008 | Permalink

In the last two days MySpace has announced Data Availability and Facebook launched Facebook Connect, while Google is due to announce “Friend Connect” on Monday, according to TechCrunch. MySpace and Facebook are providing ways to open out users’ access to their data on those social networks. TechCrunch says that Google’s initiative may not be quite as open as the other initiatives, in that it will require data to be accessed directly from their servers each time rather than being able to be downloaded and manipulated (under strict terms of service), However Open Social, which Google’s initiative is based on, is being used by most of the major social networks other than Facebook, making Friend Connect potentially broader in scope, as long as the social networks supporting Open Social choose to use the new offering.
I wrote last year about how the dominant platform in technology is shifting to social networks, and the inexorable trend to openness in social networks. It turns out the MySpace and Facebook announcements may not be quite all they seem. Chris Saad of the DataPortability Working Group writes:

Both moves have rightly been attributed as ‘Data Portability’ plays – but neither of them are true ‘DataPortability’ implementations… yet.


MySpace embraces “data availability” – a major step forward to the Wide Open Web

By Ross Dawson on May 9, 2008 | Permalink

MySpace has just announced its Data Availability program, which includes adoption of a range of DataPortability standards, and data sharing with Ebay, Yahoo, and Twitter. Detailed coverage of this at TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb, VentureBeat, and many others (see Techmeme). At the same time, MySpace has joined Google, Facebook, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Digg and others on the DataPortability project. DataPortability notes:

While the participation and endorsement of large vendors such as MySpace in the DataPortability project is a key part of our overall goals of industry wide user-centric data portability, we’d like to re-iterate that the project is an open, grass-roots initiative. This means that individuals, startups and medium scale companies are just as welcome to join the process and have just as much capacity to influence or even lead the discussions and the outcomes.

An important part of the background to this is that Ben Metcalfe is Director of Engineering for the MySpace Platform. Ben has played an important role in getting MySpace to understand the importance of an open approach (see his thoughts on this announcement), drawing on his experience in leading the BBC’s developer platform, and his existing involvement with DataPortability. I caught up with Ben recently in San Francisco and we discussed where data portability is going. Absolutely the leadership of the large players is fundamental to driving this.
This year there will be many announcements of this kind, but this is a particularly important one, both through the visibility of the announcement, and even more importantly the value of what it enables. The millions who are using multiple platforms such as MySpace, Yahoo, Twitter and so on will be able to bring together their activities, and clearly see that we are transcending the closed web. People will begin to understand that the natural format of the web is open, with our activities naturally flowing across applications. Expectations will heighten, and the already rapid pace towards the Wide Open Web will accelerate.

To win in an open world Flash is becoming even more open – the result will be applications that reach every platform

By Ross Dawson on May 1, 2008 | Permalink

Adobe has just announced the Open Screen Project, a broad-based initiative to push Flash’s reach across all digital platforms, including mobile and television. Supporters include BBC, Cisco, Motorola, MTV, Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and a host of other consumer technology, content, and mobile companies.
When Living Networks was launched in 2002, I wrote about how Macromedia (which has since been acquired by Adobe) used an open strategy to make Flash a standard in rich media on the web:

Whenever you go to a website and are presented with a snazzy animated introduction, you are seeing Macromedia Flash at work. The free Flash Player software that enables people to view these animations is now running on around 97% of PCs that are connected to the Internet. At the outset, Macromedia had a clear-cut challenge. Web surfers would only download Flash Player if there were interesting websites using Flash, while website designers would only use Flash if a sufficient proportion of their target audience had installed the software. Macromedia makes its money by selling the software for developers to create Flash files, but to make it a viable market it had to give away the Flash Player software.