It’s been an interesting day so far on the Museums Computer Group email list. The debate on Creative Spaces has been fast-paced with passion, criticism and defence. I won’t reiterate exactly what has been said, as you could catch up on the threads in the list archive, but I have had some more thoughts that I wish to share.
Despite the criticism from some of the more vocal members of the museum technology community, I stand by my previous post in that I can’t help but like the idea of the Creative Spaces project.
Why will people like it?
I think people (i.e. ‘normal’ users, not museums professionals per se) will like it because:
- It encourages users to interact with the museum spaces and objects within
- It fosters a sense of connection with the museum, which, in my unscientific experience, people like
- It is an online space endorsed by the museums and galleries themselves, so it’s ‘safe’
- You are free to do what you like on the site – sign up to groups, create notebooks about things you find interesting, comment on other notebooks and items within, etc.
It will, of course, only ‘work’ if a genuine community builds up around and within the website. Getting people to use it shouldn’t be a problem. I don’t know the exact visitor numbers for the nine museums involved with the pilot, but it’s certainly in the millions. Something as simplistic as a sign reading “Interact with this museum online. Share your experiences on Creative Spaces.”, displayed in prominent physical as well as virtual spaces ought to do the job. Maybe a place to have an experiment with QR codes too.
Much of the criticism (e.g. Mike Ellis, New Curator) about Creative Spaces is that people have, when faced with the homepage for the first time, not known what to do, or how it will benefit them. This is generally true. It’s hard to design the perfect homepage (believe me, I know!), but I can suggest some improvements.
Firstly, we need people to know immediately what the site is all about. Currently we have: “Connecting with your favourite Museums! Creative Spaces connects you with nine UK national museums and galleries allowing you to explore their collections, find like-minded people and create your own content.”
Maybe it could be ““Interact with museums and galleries. Upload your own experiences. Search the collections of 9 museums. Connect with like-minded people. Expand your visit online.” This explains why I might want to create an account and get involved – I don’t want to “create my own content”, I want to upload my stuff to share!
Those big buttons could do with a very short description (click to see a larger version):
(as I write this, Frankie has written echoed some of my ideas, and had some great new ones)
Should Notebooks be called Notebooks? They’re more like your own collection. Whichever way it is done, I do think that it could be a tad clearer.
However, on the sign, you would have to display a URL. It would make sense to make this a single, memorable URL. I confess to being somewhat confused as to why there are so many URLs – one for each participating insitution:
|Imperial War Museum||http://iwm.nmolp.org/creativespaces/|
|National Portrait Gallery||http://npg.nmolp.org/creativespaces/|
|Natural History Museum||http://nhm.nmolp.org/creativespaces/|
|Sir John Soane’s Museum||http://sjs.nmolp.org/creativespaces/|
|The Wallace Collection||http://twc.nmolp.org/creativespaces/|
The only difference I can see when looking at these sites is the “Popular collection items” display. Perhaps a gateway page with a single URL would be an option, say at creativespaces.info (which is available, and easy to remember)? You could select which museum you wanted to see popular items from. There are many ways of doing this – I hope the stakeholders explore some of them.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, I did find the search facility to be somewhat lacking. It’s great for casually browsing objects by keyword, but like many people, once you can see the power of a cross-collection search that previously (to the best of my knowledge) didn’t exist, I want more.
I found it very hard to locate objects that have an Iron Age date, for example. If I was to use this in an educational context I’d like to see a few more options in the search, such as provenance, period, and location.
In the search results, clicking “View larger image” opens a new browser window showing the result from the institution’s own website, which in turn often requires another click to view a larger version. If this could be integrated in a better way, that would be great (but it’s a start). Maybe using a “lightbox” style effect (using jQuery, for example) to float the detail page over Creative Spaces might make it seem slightly better integrated?
I’d like to see personalised RSS feeds for notebooks and groups. This would allow me, as a slightly more tech-savvy user, to display my Creative Spaces content elsewhere, such as here on Past Thinking, or even in Facebook.
Beta & User Help Forums
If the site is going to be in “beta”, it ought to be described somewhere on the site what this means in layman’s terms. Frankie Roberto suggested needs to be some kind of help forum (like GetSatisfaction). This should be separate from the “Groups” (as it wouldn’t be about museum/gallery content, but about the website itself), that is looked after by the Creative Spaces staff. They can listen to suggestions, and inform people of forthcoming changes. Communication needs to work both ways if there is a community involved.
Creative Spaces is in beta. Things will change as more people use the service, and those who designed it learn how it is used, and where its limitations lie. Any amount of user testing is no match for thousands of people trying to actually use it. It’s the approach Flickr took, and some radical changes have occurred there too over the years (for good or for bad – you can’t please everybody). They listened to their users.
With a better homepage, I think this could really work. Once that is improved, and people can see straight away why they would want to use Creative Spaces, it will gain more users, and begin the evolution of the beta site into a strong, vibrant community of, as the BBC put it “Museum lovers”.
Here’s to its success!