Once again, I tried to get my boss to wrap her brain around the series of tubes. And again, I got nowhere with it. Disgusted by our website, I suggested that we could start with rebranding our museum exhibits in the least expensive medium available — our website.
To me, traditional and online exhibits are equally necessary. In today’s world, you cannot have a static, crappy museum website. At museum association meetings, museums continually raise the issue that potential audiences are increasingly fractured and it’s going to get harder and harder to attract and retain audiences. People have a lot of options when it comes to their free time — movies, sports, video games, recreational drug use — and folks often choose something other than museums. Well, y’know, if we spent a quarter of the time developing rich and engaging websites, and just playing with the many technologies and ideas available to us — we wouldn’t be 40 years behind the times, we’ll only be 15 and closing the gap. It is unrealistic to think that people will use a museum website only to figure out your hours and phone number. Yes, people want to know your hours and location. But they also want to get a sense for your brand, what you’re all about to make an informed decision about whether or not to spend their time (and money) in your museum.
The web is a 24-hour environment. People could want to know about your collections, the local history, your current exhibits, and your special events at any moment. And every time someone clicks on our website only to find a 1995-designed site (think geocities) with craptastic content is an opportunity lost. I have tried fruitlessly to convince my boss of the importance of this. I came into this position with far more experience in web exhibit development than “regular” exhibit development, but she just doesn’t seem to get it. The fact that our website is a portal back to the days of Gopher and Telnet both implicitly and explicitly reinforces our backasswards interpretation and indicates to potential visitors that if they want current, cutting-edge, and modern, we are not the place. She just does NOT get this. She thinks that we should stick to “being historians.” I may be a historian, but I’m also aware that the web is for content-delivery, not just bells and whistles of cool special effects and flash. And as a content creator, I am willing to put any delivery method to use, and the web is the easiest and most effective way to reach the greatest audiences.
One thing was clear from our conversation. I know far more about technology than anyone else with whom I work. Which is scary because I know only enough to be dangerous. I think sometimes people confuse my understanding of these words and concepts with having the skills to make it happen. I know exhibit development, and I have a good eye for what makes good design. But that doesn’t mean I know web design. It doesn’t mean I know CSS & HTML backwards and forwards. If I did, I assure you, I’d be making a helluva lot more money and working many fewer hours.