A Museum is most of the time a place where exhibits are shown out of their original environment, and context is brought by labels, scenography, introductory texts.
It is especially the case for historical and archaeological artefacts, that had a specific use beyond their esthetics. But the Archeologie Gemeente Den Haag chose to take a different approach to giving visitors context about their work and collection.
As the institution in charge of the archaeological and cultural heritable of The Hague in the Netherlands, Archeologie Gemeente Den Haag does not have a physical exhibition space of their own but is in charge of the excavation and conservation of various objects from all eras, from Antiquity to the Middle Ages.
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Archeologie Den Haag started using 3D scanning to make the archaeologists’ work easier: It allowed a 360° manipulation of fragile objects as well as a reconstitution of full excavation sites that is more precise than drawing and photographs.

Sharing those 3D models of objects and sites was a later step. Indeed, Archeologie Den Haag started by making the models available to download on Sketchfab. To give those models their context back, Archeologie Den Haag then built a virtual museum around them. This virtual reality venue has 3 levels, each one allowing to learn about archeology and history in a way: the first level shows a classical museum with photographs and 3D objects, the second level shows a reconstruction of a prehistoric house, and the third level is a mini game in which players can excavate an archaeological pit.

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While Archeologie Den Haag also organizes workshops and conferences for kids and adults in various cultural venues around The Hague, including their own headquarters, but this virtual museum is a very unique way to go beyond explaining the audience what archaeologists do and to bring them to experience it thanks to 3D reconstitutions that were initially meant to help the archaeologists.
It does on some level remind one of the digital extension of the Staedelmuseum, in which visitors can explore the museum at different times thanks to the museum scientists’ work.
Taking a similar but reversed approach, Project Mosul lets Sketchfab users create and upload 3D models of destroyed artefacts and buildings of cultural heritage in northern Iraq  thanks to pictures taken by experts and tourists.

Tech and especially virtual reality reconstitutions prove as a great way to make scientific research more accessible and we cannot wait to see more projects that allow to popularize work that is usually hidden and available for experts only… or to have the public help scientists on a wider scale.

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Last 13 September in the evening, strange and beautiful creatures could be sighted at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin … The most spectacular was the 360° Giraffatitan, the Jurassic superstar of the museum, usually all bones and now brought back to life. It can be beheld with a VR device or simply on YouTube.

The Giraffatitan, as well as another VR story about a wall filled to the ceiling with amazing examples of biodiversity, 2 gigapixel images, 245 images of objects, 14 exhibits, and one MuseumView are the result of a partnership between Google and the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin. The context for this is a larger effort, including 62 natural history organisations, including the Natural History Museum in London, the AMNH New York, entitled “Natural History. The beautiful, the dangerous, the endangered. Up close”. It is a big scale project that has been in the works since 2015. We asked Gregor Hagedorn, Coordinator at the General Directorate at the museum, to reflect on the project and here are our 3 takeaways for all of you out there willing to dive into a partnership with Google.

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1.Google does things you can’t as a museum, so … use it to your best advantage

The Google Arts & Culture platform brings VR, exclusive online exhibition and gigapixels to the table. Most notably, 360° videos as well as high-res images and huge gigapixel images really make a difference in terms of impact.

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Some museums are still reluctant to relinquish control of some features to a third party and to disown their physical experience. However when said features are manageable and bring content that set you apart from your competition they can truly make a difference. In Gregor’s words:

In our view, the goal of the Google Arts & Culture platform is not to replace the physical exhibits. In a physical exhibition you have a specific and authentic atmosphere and you can meet with friends or family and share the experience with them. However, traveling is a luxury for some and impossible for others, including most pupils and students.

On the Google Arts & Culture platform, museums can reach a broader, global audience. At the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin we are certain that, should these visitors have a chance to come to visit Berlin, they will also physically want to reconnect with their previously digital-only experience.

Furthermore, we have to face the fact that museums have difficulties to break out of their traditional demographics and reach new audiences. Substantial digital offerings are not the cure-it-all – but they can substantially contribute in reaching new audiences.

  1. YouTube is where your appeal gets multiplied

As you collaborate with Google, get ready to see your biggest number on YouTube! As for the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin within the first 6 weeks, “37 500 unique users visited the Museum für Naturkunde content on Google Arts & Culture resulting in 78300 page views”. However, “these numbers are access to the VR content on Youtube, totaling 557 200 views for the two Museum für Naturkunde presentations, with the English version of Giraffatitan alone at half a million views”. Thus 88% of the total views generated by the project come are the Arts and Culture platform itself.

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Even though the partner-specific analytics provided by Google doesn’t cover contented on YouTube, this is a telling number in many respects and it points towards investing in producing VR, which happens to be both extremely appealing content and location-wise. This is so despite the relatively small number of likely users who can view content in VR for now which should slowly change in the future.

 

  1. Google Arts and Culture is a learning curve, but it is worth it

Google Arts and Culture is, as a matter of facts not perfect yet. There are a few glitches that need to be solved: MuseumView needs some color and image adjustments and agile linking to items, collaboration between partners on the platform is not yet easy or agile and layout and responsiveness are not perfect.

Google Arts and Culture remains after all a tool and it is not all that seamless, but “after getting the hang” of the tool, Gregor reckons, “it can be fun”.

As it is, the museum will continue on with VR. Mathias Paul from the Museums PR department states: “Besides the general accessibility, the VR experience with Google Cardboard will be available to closed visitor groups in the museum”. We will also continue to use it for visitor engagement, together with content from other exhibition and project partners, like the digitization technology “Zoosphere” displayed in the Leibniz Association’s special exhibition “8 Museen 8 Objekte”. We are planning to include Google Arts & Culture as an accompanying, global accessible promotional tool to our exhibition activities as well as a platform providing insights into the research activities of the Museum für Naturkunde.”

Last weekend, a new museum was officially added to the Smithsonian. The National Museum of African American History and Culture documents African American has a collection of more than 36,000 artifacts that document the life, history, culture and stories of African Americans. It also has gotten Google’s help to become the most technologically advanced museum in the world – and a $1 million grant as part of Google’s work on racial and social justice issues.

Thanks to a team of Google engineers working on various products from Maps to YouTube and members of the Google Cultural Institute, the NMAAHC offers an experience that focuses on user interaction and showcases much more objects than what actually fits within the galleries.
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When asked to work on the museum, Google engineers started looking for a way to enrich the museum experience for the years to come through devices and systems that could be easily managed by the museum staff themselves by swapping out content according to exhibitions.

Visitors will be able to explore the collections through 360 video, multiple screens and touchscreens that can be controlled via mobile devices, to rotate an object and see it from all angles thanks to 3D scans. So they can really be part of the museum and share their story, the NMAAHC even includes video recording booths which content is later curated and shown in the galleries. The exhibition is also completed by an online experience, with trails that are important for African American History being included into Google Expeditions.
The NMAAHC probably is the very first museum that has been codesigned by museum experts and a major tech company, but Google has been working with museums for years on projects like History Gallery of the Palace of Versailles, thanks to which 11 new rooms were open to visitors in 2012.

As we saw at the first edition of Museum Rocket, there are more and more amazing startups with great ideas and products directed at museums. Museum Rocket allowed them to meet, discuss their challenges and share their tips.

Here are some learnings that Don Undeen, founder of the Met Media Lab, Carsten Schmitt-Höppner from Fresh Museum, Camille Caubriere and Alizée Doumerc from Guestviews gave us during out first Museum Rocket panel about startups working with museums.
From their experience, you can learn how to face your challenges and make your path easier as a startup, and how you can help startups develop and work with you as a museum.
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1. Be reassuring

Some people in cultural institutions are really open to innovation, other are a bit wary, especially if innovation is brought by external people. They often fear that their jobs will disappear, easier replaced by tech or by startup folks. One of the first things you will have to do is reassure people by telling them that you are not here to take their place, but to give them tools that make their job easier. Show that you’ve done your homework by researching a bit to understand their issues, their specificity as a museum or cultural institution, and who your customers are – both museums and end customers.
Museums may not be the biggest risk takers and may still need to change their mindset to be more open to work with startups, but they definitely want to figure things out. This is where you can help. Show that you can help them embrace innovation and find what fits them best. Be their patient guide and answer their fears.

2. Find your sponsor within the institution

There are people who understand tech and work in museums. You need to find them, because they will support your project, or give you advice to reorient your product so it better fits their needs. It is essential for you to talk with and listen to them, they are your best sponsors.
Then, museums in the US (let’s hope this trend spreads to the world!) are creating third spaces : incubators, coworking spaces to be able to learn about innovation. What Don Undeen created, the Met Media Lab, was a place where people could create and innovate without needing approval. Those spaces are another way to have a foot in the door and start meeting people in the museum.
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3. Know your challenges

As a startup, you have to take up several challenges: the lack of money, time or a strong network can quickly become a big problem for a small company.
Money and time are challenges when you are still at an early stage, when you quickly need more than your own initial investment and need to sign new clients. To do so, mingle! Meet people at museum events, network, find the right Facebook or LinkedIn groups, chat with them on Twitter. According to Don Undeen, if you can’t name three people in the field you want to work in, you are not in yet. Also, don’t forget that startup ecosystems grow fast, you can also discuss your challenges with other startups (not necessarily in the cultural field), create your own events to invite museums to meet you and other startups… or attend the next Museum Rocket edition!

4. Show what you can bring

Museums are full of content, they started analyzing visitors data, they experiment with VR… They can be at the edge of innovation, and a form of competition between museums pushes them to be. This is where you, as a startup, bring a lot to the table. Indeed, it is hard for museums to innovate alone. They need you to find better ways to manage their content, know they audience, create meaningful one-of-a-kind experiences to be more attractive. Don’t miss that opportunity.

5. Remember why you’re there

Why did you start your startup? Alizée and Camille started Guestviews because they love guestbooks and wanted a way to exploit visitors’ entries. Don created the MetMediaLab because he wanted to create a safe space where different actors could come and use the museum as a resource to feed their creativity. Even though your project may change, even though you may in the end solve a different problem than the one you used to, even though it may sometimes seem hard – even discouraging –, never lose sight of your purpose. It may be bringing content to the public in a different way, creating innovative experiences in museums or helping museums to make the most of their data. Your purpose is where your motivation and your drive start, so it is essentiel for you to carry on and be successful.

When talking about Parisian museums, most people first think about the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, which host State collections. But did you know that Paris Musées boasts a network of 14 museums that are operated by the City itself?
These museums are of various size and are dedicated to topics as rich as the history of Paris, modern art and fashion or very famous figures like Victor Hugo.
They keep collections that amount to very high numbers in between them and which cover a large time span, several geographical areas and all possible media and techniques.
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Earlier this month, Paris Musées, the administration in charge of these museums, launched a platform with just shy of 200.000 objects and labels, digitised and available for users to explore, save and annotate. The platform also suggests objects based on what users have already saved – a smart way to attract them to objects and museums they do not know yet.
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To create bridges between the different collections, Paris Musées offers 4 thematic journeys through the collections, gathering objects from 2 to 4 museums.
Of course, digitising all the Paris Musées collections is still a work in progress and in the coming months, even more objects, journeys and information will be made available.
In the meantime, you can discover the platform and register for We Are Museums next June, where you’ll be able to ask any question you want to Philippe Rivière, Head of Web and Multimedia at Paris Musées.

After announcing their website redesign, the V&A received a lot of questions from people in the museum field about how their did it. After our takeaways from the MNK and the CMN website redesigns, here is what we learned from the detailed V&A blog post.

Put the objects at the heart of your site

The V&A team worked to inject data from their collections management system into the website. That means that wherever an object appears on the website, the information attached to it comes from the same source and is put together. The data was also enhanced with richer content, like articles and video, helping connect objects with ideas and vice versa.
There are parts that are still a work in progress for the V&A. For example, objects on the collections grids are not clickable… yet, as the digital team is still working on the best way to reveal the content about those object.

Keep your visitors and your staff in mind

Of course, you build your website for your visitors. It is important to know your audience, to segment it and to address all their needs. The V&A identified four behaviours – the general visitor, the enthusiast, the researcher and the inspiration seeker – and aims to create an experience for each of them. Still, as most people visit the website to later visit the museum, it was important to grow this audience and increase the website’s conversion rate, so the V&A digital team focused on them first.
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On the staff side, not only were they involved in the building process, but they can also be involved in content creation. The key is to create a CMS simple and flexible enough to ‘give anyone in the museum with a good story to tell the ability to create and manage their own content’. Don’t forget that everyone in your museum probably has something website-worthy, but not everyone is good with online publishing (yet). Make content creation easier for them and you will make content gathering easier for yourself.

Rethink your working methodology

The V&A team built their site in no time: they started in November, finished in March and spent a month or so fixing bugs and adding content. Two factors contributed to that.
First of all, they chose the most important pages and content that really needed to be featured on the new site. Their priority was to offer a minimum viable product with everything visitors they needed to come to the museum: a homepage, exhibition pages, article pages and a page to plan their visit.
Then, the team used Agile methodology to conceive the site, and anyone who wanted to come and see their progress could do so every two weeks in the V&A lecture theatre. Thanks to those meetings, the V&A staff got a chance to be a part of the new website and really shape it.
Prioritizing and involving people outside of the digital team are key to a smooth process.
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Enjoy the V&A website, navigate it, get inspired and think about how you can use their experience to enrich yours and your visitors’!

In July 2015, the MoMA released the metadata associated with their collection on Github. People used it to classify artworks by artist gender, by acquisition dates and even created a Twitter bot that creates fake art descriptions.
To see how far users could go with the data, the MoMA organised a datathon with the help of NYU. For two days in February, multidisciplinary teams made of technical people and people with an art history background explored data from the MoMA, the Cooper Hewitt, the Tate, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the SFMOMA and the Frick Collection.
The datathon started with presentations of what can be done with data by Adriana Crespo-Tenori, Lead Researcher at Facebook, and Lev Manovich, who worked with MoMA’s dataset and gained fame thanks to his project Selfie City. After this introduction that allowed participants to have a baseline knowledge of the subject, they had just under 24 hours to find a interesting way to use the museums’ data an then present it to the judges.
The two winning projects were a solution examining curatorial approaches through language analysis of exhibition titles and a study of the artists who were the most exhibited at MoMA over time. Thanks to the latter, the MoMA confirmed its love for Pablo Picasso, who came first, and by far!
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Other projects were also about the relationship between colours in paintings and the geographical background of the artists, comparisons between the gender of artists in MoMA and SFMoMA’s collections or semantic analysis of works in the MoMA’s collection.
The datathon was a way for the MoMA to approach its collection in a new way, see what people are excited about and upload new datasets on GitHub based on their experience.
The MoMA datathon reminds us of the API{dot}ART event that took place last May in Paris with Images d’Art, with data and maker devices, like 3D printers and Raspberry Pis – a year after their datathon, they will tell you everything about their findings during a workshop at We Are Museums. Don’t miss it!

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How to promote an exhibition, bring a piece of it to people who cannot make it to the museum and create an experience for on-site visitors at the same time? For the Dali museum in Florida, virtual reality is the answer with Dreams of Dali.

Disney and Dali had a lot in common and both of them are know as creators of imaginary universes all around the world. So much in common that Dali and Disney created a short movie together. They are now reunited at the Disney and Dali: architects of the imagination at the Dali museum in Florida. While you are probably used to see Disney’s universe as an animated universe, it may not be the case for Dali. By enjoying the experience offered by the Dali museum, you will spend 5 minutes immersed in Dali’s paintingArcheological Reminiscence of Millet’s “Angelus”.

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The camera moves around to make sure that you can see what is hiding in and behind the eerie ruins depicted in the painting, but the museum has created a 360-degree Youtube video so you can still control what you see.
And the great thing is, depending on the device you choose to view Dreams on Dali on, you will be able to interact with it at a different level: on desktop, you can control the video by clicking on arrows in top-right corner of the video, but on smartphone, you can turn around and move your head up and down to see what is going on all around you in a more intuitive way (using the Youtube app). Even better: If you own a Google Cardboard, the video become a 3D virtual reality experience and you really get the feeling of brushing against imaginary creatures and objects. And in the exhibition, a Oculus Rift will allow you enjoying Dreams of Dali in the very best way.

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Using video and VR makes perfect sense to complete an exhibition about two groundbreaking artists, one of them producing feature movies, or as Dali Museum Executive Director, Hank Hine puts it: “Visitors can expect a multi-sensory environment of moving image, soundscapes, and the transformative aura of exquisite individual paintings. Disney and Dali broke new ground as artists—the Walt Disney Family Museum and The Dali will deliver a brave new world of experience.”

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Of course, the experience layers different artworks to create a rich otherworldly immersion. You will come across long-legged elephants, a lobster telephone and crows flying around the ruins. With a little of low-key science-fiction music and a bit of Alice Cooper, it really seems like a dream Dali would have had and recreated in virtual reality. And actually, why not? Didn’t he love expressing his art in innovative ways?

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To celebrate the museum’s 200th anniversary in 2015, the Städel Museum (Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany) has launched several digital platforms making clever use of data to offer the audience entirely new forms of online access to works and exhibitions when browsing the Städel collection.

BROWSING THE COLLECTION

By artist, by movement, by country… Digitized collections on museum websites are always pretty much organized the same, and navigation never feels really organic and natural, let alone fun. But it can be, as proven by the Städel Museum.
Of course, you can still browse in a classical way, by century, artist or medium, but you can also roam the collection thanks to the extensive use of data, semantic searches and thematic relationships.

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This innovative, cloud-based media data platform allows you to skip from one artwork to another by choosing what they should have in common: the effect it has (scary, irritating…), elements like color or objects, the atmosphere (secret, trust, tension…), the main subject, the part of the collection it belongs to, etc. Along the way, users can save their favorite artwork to a personal space, from which they can choose any two artworks and compare them to see what they share.

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Of course, users can also learn about the exhibits, especially through videos they appear in, like exhibition trailers.
The exhibits platform, launched in the spring of 2015, works on desktop and tablets, is still in beta test phase and users are invited to participate in its development by offering feedback. It is only in German for now, but check it out and click around, the intuitive interface should quickly give you a good idea of how serendipity and a simple interface make browsing through the rich collections of the Städel Museum both fun and creative.

MASTERWORKS IN DIALOGUE

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For its anniversary, the Städel Museum invited other museums like Tate, the National Gallery in Dublin, the Musée d’Orsay or the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza to lend artworks that can create a dialogue with works from the Städel collection.
The digital platform shows what those artworks have in common and how their differ, juxtaposing them also with quotes from artists or the Bible about the artworks to put them in context.

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The Digitorial allows a new type of exploration of the collection thanks to the creation of new bridges with other collections. Visitors can discover artwork in a way they did not expect, but that is still seamless, fun and intuitive.

This type of Grimme Online Award winning Digitorial was also used for the Monet exhibition in Spring 2015. Users could discover details and the story behind masterworks thanks to the platform.

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The Städel Museum’s Digitorials create strong storytelling experiences, keeping users interested thanks to several formats, alternating pictures, text, video and sound. They prove to be great resource for all types of audience, whether you like getting lost in an intuitive experience or you are looking for great quality research material. Talking about which, the Städelmuseum is now creating an Art History Online Course with the Leuphana University (Lüneburg)! We love how data is being put to good use to project the museum’s wealth of knowledge outside of its walls.

Learn everything about how the Städel Museum imagines and sets in life those experiences by grabbing your ticket for We Are Museums 2016 to listen to Axel Braun!

You should not judge a book by its cover, but visitors may judge a museum by its website.

The National Museum in Kraków (MNK) has very well understood it and launched a branch new website last year right before Christmas. As written by Joanna Zawierucha-Gomułka on the MNK’s blog (in Polish), replacing the 8 eight-year-old website was crucial for the MNK to stay among top museums in Poland and Europe: what image does it gives if the online experience does not match the on-site experience?

But as the blog post explains, the new website could not have been achieved without some thorough thinking and planning. Here are 6 thing we can learn from their experience.

 

  1. Use your own visitor experience

As a digital and museum professional and a cultural institution aficionado, you probably visit a lot of websites, and there are things that you love and things that are kind of a drag (those are usually the easiest to spot). Use your own experience to figure out what works, what does not and what features are missing. It will help you define the functional characteristics of your website and find the right balance between graphic design and technical options to fit people’s needs.
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  1. Don’t build from scratch

If you already have a website, you already have content, visitors, a Google ranking. They should not be lost in the launch of a new website. If you’re changing your URL, think about redirecting visitors that still use the old one, find a way to keep your SEO, reuse all the content that can be reused. Also, use your analytics to figure out what is the most important for your visitors, how they arrive on your website and what they can’t find, it will tell you what should be placed in shortcuts and what content and page you need to keep.

 

  1. Create meaningful tools

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The feature that the MNK is the most proud of is the Visit Planner, that plans routes within the museum according to what a visitor wants to see. You can choose artists, topics and famous exhibits that you don’t want to miss during your visit and the Planner will find the best route to see it all, tell you how much time you will need and in which buildings the exhibits are located. The MNK teams has understood that planning a visit goes way beyond opening hours and ticket prices, but can be a way to bring real added value to future visitors. What will be your cool tool?

  1. Go mobile

You certainly know that smartphones are a visitor’s best friends. But how does it translate in your digital strategy? Is your website responsive? Is your content easy to use on mobile? Do you use your website on mobile yourself to check what works well and what doesn’t? Your content should be always simple to use, whatever the visitor’s device is.
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  1. Create content

Keep your audience excited with content about your collections and exhibitions. Stay relevant by creating content that matches what users want to see and discover. Video is very big right now, why don’t you create interesting series about your exhibits? Why don’t curators create small exhibition tours especially for the web? Why don’t you allow users to see how your teams work with behind the scenes videos? The MNK has for example created a video series on the conservators’ work for one of their major exhibitions on Olga Boznańska.

  1. Always keep those lessons in mind

So you launched your website? Do you think you can now rest? Well, you can’t. Don’t forget that your visitors’ habits and needs keep changing and that your website should follow those evolutions. Of course, you won’t be redoing the whole structure every month, but your website is a constant work in progress and small changes will help you staying on point.