Custom Collections Content and Generous Interfaces

Julia Falkowski, Balboa Park Online Collaborative, USA

Published paper: Custom collections content and generous interfaces

Visitors to museum collections websites are often greeted by the search bar, the standard of Web content exploration. Most search bars work best when users know exactly what they’re looking for and how to find it; many do not. Most Web visitors have little idea about the amount and variety of content that underlies the average search bar. Luckily, options for content exploration can go beyond this basic tool. From music to shopping to travel, websites from an array of industries increasingly allow easy content discovery. These websites take into account user preferences and patterns to help determine what they see.

This paper looks at problems with current modes of content presentation on museum websites and examines useful models in and outside the arts and culture community that show possible ways forward. Outside the field, social media sites, advertisers, and especially music streaming services provide intriguing examples of content exploration. Within the field, institutions including the Rijksmuseum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art can serve as case studies for expanding and challenging traditional interfaces. The paper looks at the success of these models and traces Balboa Park Online Collaborative’s early efforts to design and implement custom content and a generous interface for the collections of Balboa Park’s twenty-seven cultural institutions, representing a mixture of museums, historical societies, and performing arts centers. The digital world has conditioned audiences to expect exploration and discovery. The technology is here. The expectation is here. Museums’ relevance and sustainability is based on their ability to satisfy this expectation.

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