Interaction Patterns on Museum Websites

Juliane Stiller, Germany

The role of museums is changing and this process is accompanied by the desire of museums to provide access to their digitized artifacts and to create an engaging environment for users online (Bearman). Through digitization of memory artifacts a digital surrogate with metadata attached is published online. Means to access this material are search and browsing functionalities. Museums are facing the challenge to unlock their content and provide entry points that enable the user to explore the unknown while supporting serendipity. Users want to understand the extent of a given collection and need hints to assess which questions the system might be able to answer.
Purposeful interactions on museum websites need to engage the user with cultural heritage content online while preserving and supporting the museum’s mission to educate and entertain (Icom). This paper explores and analyzes the interactions prevailing in museum websites and how elaborately they were implemented. Based on this, recommendations are given to build more purposeful interaction patterns for museums.
To compare websites and their interactions, a framework was developed which allows to place interactions in cultural heritage digital libraries into a two dimensional grid (Stiller). The first dimension is a classification of interactions prevailing on websites of the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) sector. They can be broadly categorized in one of the following groups: cultural heritage objects, curation, user representation, user reputation, storytelling, user exhibitions, annotations, social tagging and user objects. The second dimension describes the depth and complexity to which the group of interactions is implemented (Stiller).
Based on this framework, the prevailing interactions on museum websites are described giving an overview of the spectrum of developed interactions for museum sites and to what extend they were implemented. Twenty museum websites were analyzed to find characteristic interaction patterns and formulate trends in the cultural domain. One finding was that most museum websites focus their efforts on representing their content and highlight treasures of their holdings in curated exhibitions. At the same time, features for user participation are scarce and only implemented to a minimal degree.
In general, the analysis shows that museums struggle to find purposeful interactions for their websites. The paper will explain in more detail how a strategy for purposeful interactions can be implemented for each of the interaction groups. The only way to develop websites satisfying the needs of users and museums alike is to strive for interaction with the highest complexity: collaboration. For users, new entry points (beyond search) for cultural material are created and, for museums, potential visitors participate online while enriching metadata with user-generated content. Collaboration supports broadened access through contextualization of the material and creates connections between users, their objects and museum objects.
Bearman, D., 2007. Representing Museum Knowledge. P. Marty & K. Jones: Musuem Informatics. People, Information, and Technology in Museums. New York: Routledge.
ICOM: International Counsil of msuems: Defintion of a museum.
Stiller, J. 2012. A Framework for Classifying Interactions in Cultural Heritage Information Systems. International Journal of Heritage in the Digital Era, 1, p.141-146.