Museums and the Web 2005
Representation of Csikszentmihalyi's model of creativity

Reports and analyses from around the world are presented at MW2005.

Whither the Web: Professionalism and Practices for the Changing Museum

Michael Haley Goldman, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Kathryn Haley Goldman, Institute for Learning Innovation, USA


The building excitement of the information age: new solutions; faster, better, cheaper; possibilities of new audiences; interactive, hands-on, minds-on learning; visions of paradigm shifts: the optimist view. Each new solution as if it were the messiah, but simply repackaged old ideas; a sense of hectic-ness; funded projects but difficulty in sustaining successes; lots of beauty but little learning; frustration: the pessimist view. Whether you are an optimist or pessimist or somewhere along the continuum, there is no debating that the quality and professionalism of museum Web sites has increased dramatically since the foundations of Museums and the Web. We are far from the days where Web site creation was a secondary add-on to a museum staff member's busy schedule; sites are now designed by creative professionals who specialize in marrying content and design to education and entertainment. What will happen from here? What will be the look and feel of Web sites of the future? How do we look down the road to see what's coming? With the distinct lack of summative evaluation there is no way to differentiate sites except by what is judged worthy by the field itself. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes that it is not just the individual excelling in a chosen domain of expertise but also the response of the field that marks creativity and innovation. Using this framework, this paper will address the nature of successful museum Web sites by revisiting the Best of the Best. The authors compile award-winning museum Web sites of past years and conduct in-depth interviews with the designers and developers behind those sites. Their thoughts and reflections will be integrated with past and current trends in the cyclical development of educational technology to provide a road map of what we might see next.

Keywords: Professionalism, evolution of field, museum Web sites, theory, user studies


Our purpose is to examine the professional discipline of museum Web creation – what it is currently and where it is going. This task is divided into three major pieces:

  • To articulate what makes up the profession of museum Web development by exploring the ties between professionals (field) and their practice (domain);
  • To discuss problems that result from these distinctions including the difference between expert and user ideas of success; and
  • To provide additional tools for measuring success criteria that do not rely solely on subject individual criteria

To do this, we draw from informal data and interviews collected in the last few months to explore whether this emerging area is indeed a field, how success is measured and quality is recognized within this field, and how both the field of practitioners and the domains they practice in might evolve over the next few years. This is a paper written about the field for the field.

We have chosen to approach this question through psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's systems model of creativity which we will discuss in more detail below. The reason we've chosen this particular model is because we find Csikszentmihalyi's way of breaking out the elements of domain and field from the actions of the individual practitioner useful in understanding the complex interrelation of actions that underlie the activity of developing Web sites for Museums. We can then clarify the comments of influential members of the profession by organizing them into trends and observations about the domain (practice) vs. trends and observations about the field (profession).

Adapting Csikszentmihalyi's Creativity Model

The model we use grew out of the need to create a scientific understanding of creativity. To study creativity, Csikszentmihalyi had to define it in a way that does not depend solely on an individual's internal criteria. Instead, he created a system model that places creativity in a framework of interaction between three factors: the individual, the field, and the domain. The domain consists of a set of symbolic rules and procedures nested within society and culture and forming the area of expertise within which an individual acts. In other words, the domain includes the practices and expertise required for a particular activity (music, architecture, boxing, etc.). The field includes all of the members of a profession – the practitioners of a domain, the gatekeepers of a domain, and others who pass judgment in some way about the quality and creativity of an individual's actions within the field.

For example, in the domain of art, the field "selects what new works of art deserve to be recognized, preserved and remembered" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997) . Though Csikszentmihalyi distinguishes several forms of creativity, he focuses his model on individuals who create or contribute something of permanent significance to a particular domain. This establishes a more concrete, objective definition of creativity as recognized by the judgment of others. He explains further, "Creativity does not happen inside people's heads, but in interaction between a person's thoughts and a sociocultural context." (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997)

The Csikszentmihalyi model might be represented as shown in Figure 1.

Representation of Csikszentmihalyi's model of creativity

Fig 1: Representation of Csikszentmihalyi's model of creativity.

To illustrate this model, consider an individual who is thought of as a creative musician. To be so, she must become skilled in the domain of music and her work must be judged as creative by the field of fellow musicians and critics. Clearly there is much interaction between the three areas of this model as the individual is part of the field, and the field to some degree defines what is and is not part of the domain. However, the complexity of the relations does not reduce this model's ability to provide a more complex and useful model of where creativity occurs. Although creativity is an important part of the development of museum Web sites, we have adapted this model to look beyond creativity to the overall success of the site. Howard Gardner makes a similar adaptation in his investigation of the extraordinary mind (Gardner, 1997). The model provides several advantages for this investigation. First, the model helps a framework for looking at the profession – the domain (or area of practice), the field (or profession), and the individual. Second it provides a method for defining success that does not lie in the subjective internal criteria of the individual.

As a result of this shift in application of the model, there are some areas of Csikszentmihalyi's model that do not work for this discussion. For instance, Csikszentmihalyi suggests that creativity cannot be separated from recognition. Thus, during the centuries where Bach's work was unpopular and un-acclaimed, the work itself was not creative. In another example he gives, "According to the systems model, it makes perfect sense to say that Raphael was creative in the sixteenth and in the nineteenth centuries, but not in between or afterwards" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). We find this problematic on a number of levels. For our purposes, we would argue that similar changes in measuring success have less to do with the concept of success itself than with important changes to the make-up and values of the field. It is expected that a field will grow and that its values will similarly mature in the process. If a Web site was considered creative and successful in its day, later changes in the field do not reduce or change that, though it might be difficult to understand that judgment later on.

Still, the insight that creativity/success is connected to recognition by the field led us to part of the development of this paper. If one wants to find who is influencing the profession, can one turn to the venues for recognition within museum Web development and by interviewing those who have been recognized, begin to define the nature of creativity/success in museum Web site design? And perhaps from that have a better understanding of the development of both the domain and the field as it stands now and as it evolves in the future? This was our hope.


To start improving our understanding of the profession, we wanted to speak to people who are clearly influencing the work of others. By interviewing these influencing experts we hoped to see trends in how the profession of museum Web development is growing and changing.

One way to look for who is influencing a domain is to look for who has created exemplars that are used by other practitioners. The idea of exemplars comes from Thomas Kuhn's well-known discussion of the development of science. For Kuhn, exemplars are "…the concrete problem-solutions that students encounter from the start of their scientific education…" which serve as models for their own problem solving in the future (Kuhn, 1962). In other words, the exemplars learned by science students eventually serve as models for their own experimentation when they become scientists. Exemplars teach us a method for handling new problems.

Do exemplars exist for the museum Web site and if so where could they be found? Having no clear answer to this question, we went to the best available source – award winning Web sites. By analyzing existing data from Museums and the Web's "Best of the Web" awards and the AAM Committee for Media and Technology's "Muse" awards, we were easily able to identify several museums and museum development companies that consistently win awards for their Web sites. These awards helped us find Web sites that might set an example for best practices and thus identify influential creators in the field.

We completed interviews with 10 individuals associated with award winning Web sites, including developers, designers, award judges and individuals involved with the development of relevant conference. . Developers included both those at external companies and individuals working in-house at a museum (although it was significantly harder to reach and schedule interviews with the in-house practitioners). While this was a very small sample, the conversations were long– over an hour apiece, and very rich. One of the pleasures of this work for us was to hear how deeply thoughtful and reflective our colleagues are. We've synthesized these discussions with some pertinent readings and framed it here by the concepts of domain and field as developed by the creativity model.

The Domain: The Practice of Museum Web Development

Awards: an indicator of quality?

As discussed above, awards are one of the few clear indicators of success within the domain of museum Web sites. Although within any competition, judging what is merit-worthy is made up of a number of different diverse criteria, including creativity, it also includes other factors like production values. Setting those issues aside and viewing awards from an external view, they still play multiple roles such as helping to define the domain (what to aspire to in the practice of museum Web development), defining the field (who is considered to be a part of the profession), and, as we are focused on here, as examples of best practices. By identifying exemplars and their creators, a field demonstrates its shared values and points to a model for future practice.

We asked all of the interviewees about museum Web site awards in terms of function and impact on their work specifically. Most of those interviewed had mixed reactions to the awards given to museum Web sites. Some felt that the awards served as a method of encouraging innovation. As one external developer said, "Awards were there to push boundaries." Others suggested that awards were meant to acknowledge excellence or to demonstrate that things could be good in different ways. While almost all viewed the awards as important, even those involved with developing the awards did not feel that the awards currently had the impact that might be expected or desired. Nonetheless, development firms and in-house developers alike appreciated winning awards for the recognition of their efforts. They agreed that the awards were useful as a sort of accreditation – that winning gave credibility to their work both externally, with clients, and, for in-house developers, internally.

Some issues with the awards included the question as to whether or not the award winners truly represented the best work for the field in any given year. This problem could be related to the impression from many respondents that the criteria for selecting winners were not clearly enough defined by or for judges. One external developer commented, "Excellence and innovation are not always the same thing." Another said that they "tended to have large-scale winners even without top educational values."

For the Best of the Web awards, some interviewees raised a question about the influence of size and budget on making excellent Web sites and the problem of (by some points of view) trying to look beyond their influence or (by other views) ignoring the resulting excellence that additional resources can provide. The Muse awards already have segmented categories for different budgets.

We also queried individuals on the impact the awards had on the domain of museum Web sites. It wasn't clear here either what influence the award winners themselves had on the field, although several possibilities were suggested. One conference producer commented that often nominees would refer to previous award winners in their applications, suggesting an influence on later design. Clearly, awards also drove up attendance figures for winning sites, but the further influence on future design or even future visits to that Web site have not been measured. The awards do, however, stand as important records of development of the field – perhaps the most concrete recorded history available. This in itself is a non-trivial issue. As a young domain, museum Web sites have little written history, making it difficult to document changes to the domain, best practices, and other developments over time.

One significant finding within these interviews is that by and large practitioners did not actively seek out or reflect on each other's work. Mostly they admitted this grudgingly, almost with embarrassment, as if they felt they should spend more time viewing other sites. Nor were representatives from design companies particularly influenced by reflections on other company's works – though they often would reference work from their competitors. There could be multiple reasons for this: it could be partially a product of the sample of those interviewed. Since all of those interviewed come from institutions or companies that have won multiple awards, they might be more confident in their own methodologies and practices and not look as much to outside exemplars as would smaller, non-award winning developers.

Inspirations And Influences: Where Does The Domain Come From?

If practitioners do not refer to each other, where do these developers go for their inspiration and influences? Acknowledging that this field is small, but quite porous, we had hoped to identify common sources of inspiration and influences. It may be due to our sample, but we found no such common sources. One could argue that this is a positive finding which allows for a uniqueness of inspiration and a diversity of approaches. Others could argue that the lack of any common influences demonstrates that this is a medium which has not yet reached its own coming of age.

Practitioners shared several commonalities in their discussion of their work. They felt a desire to be innovative – and felt that in some sense museum Web sites were doing things long before the commercial world. Said one award judge,

In my opinion, I've noticed in terms of theory that we're ahead of the commercial world and what you can do – like building contextual relations and taxonomies. They're talked about here before they are talked about in the commercial world. Like the relationships in ThinkMap was the type of thing Google eventually got into.

Several interviewees spoke of having a difficult time finding anything innovative anymore; as one in-house developer said,

I don't surf around too much anymore because I don't see much that is new. It's usually some kind of new animation technique for some car or fashion company. Eye candy.

As stated above, most of practitioners spoke of not having or not taking the time to look extensively at other museum Web sites. Frequently, all of the developers mentioned sources outside the field of museum Web sites as sources for inspiration, from areas ranging over corporate Web sites, film, exhibit design, architecture, graphic design, and technology conferences. We'll explore the tension in the relationship with television later in this paper.

Trends: Where Is The Domain Going?

We hoped these conversations would allow us to gaze down the road and predict the new directions museum Web sites might take. In looking at important future trends, our respondents tended to cite existing features of museum Web sites that they believe will become more important and influential. In our conservations with members of the field, the following future themes consistently emerged:

  1. Museum Web sites as tools for developing community;
  2. Convergence of data; and
  3. Dynamic information.

1. Museum Web sites as a tools for developing community

The idea that community building will be important for museums was raised during many of our discussions. Interviewees meant different things in their use of the word community. Some meant building bridges between typically separated socio-cultural groups: as an award judge commented:

There is some really interesting stuff being done in Europe at DigiCult– using the Web to build and strengthen communities– to educate and inspire communities, because on the Web different communities can become very close to each other. For instance, immigrant communities and their fit into the society as a whole. There's an art component, a history component, the stories and the people.

Others meant the construction of on-line communities around certain subject matter, from bloggers with distinct political perspectives to eBay which can create communities of specialized collectors. Though museums have worked with the Web to try to establish communities of their visitors, this role does not seem to be fully developed. As one external developer stated:

Fostering [community] is something it is supposed to be pretty good for – but doesn't always suit – the things the museum wants. Museums are not always interested in creating a community about what interests the public.

Another form of community mentioned during our discussions was the museum community itself. The possibility of using the Web as a tool to support museum Web professionals was also mentioned – particularly in relation to the ability of institutions to work collaboratively, sharing information about their holdings as discussed below.

2. Convergence of data

Efforts to bring together data sources for museum collections are not new, and the discussion of information systems and meta-data have occurred for many years. Nonetheless, this trend continues to be an important direction for many of those with whom we spoke. Though more and more institutions have made collections (in part or in total) available via the Web, there is still no confidence that this movement has met critical mass.

Even with so many more materials on-line, there is also a sense of frustration regarding the inability to meaningfully look across collections often within the same institution, let alone across multiple institutions in the field. As one respondent put it: "…people on the Web don't know about all of the separations within an institution, they just want to find a train, let's get it digitized, let's make is so people can find it." Though many institutions seem to recognize the need for such inter-relations and many projects successfully combine data from a limited number of sources, no solution to the larger problem has yet emerged. A conference producer noted this as well:

Connectivity across institutions is a real weakness and opportunity but there is a lack of reward structure for sending people to other sites. We haven't really figured out how to collectively meet the needs of users … [beyond] making certain types of information available. Now the question is, what do we do next?"

With what could possibly be a giant increase in available collections, the next problem comes from supporting meaningful interaction with these materials. During discussions of this issue, one individual mentioned the Digital Voyages project, a project that Kate Haley Goldman played a small collaborative role on with the late, great Jim Blackaby and his team at Mystic Seaport. Like a few other projects, this was an attempt to go beyond the digitization of collections material, to develop and implement a Web-based tool that allowed users to control the narrative focus of their journey. Users were able to see the contextualization of the collections materials (similar to ThinkMap in that way), search and gather materials based on their own concepts of object categorization, and then annotate and share their journeys. This idea leads to our next emergent theme– dynamic information.

3. Dynamic information/user ownership

Many of those interviewed also felt that there was great potential for growth based on dynamically created content that broke away from the more curated aspect of many museum Web sites. Influences ranged from the control scientists exercise over visualizing their own data to the iPod revolution that allows each listener to become a DJ, shuffling and organizing all of the music personally. As with all these trends, dynamic content creation already exists on the Web and on museum Web sites but was not seen as being fully articulated, developed, or diffused.

Ideas about allowing the users to control the content dynamically, to place it into their own context, also spill over into user-created content as well. Over the last several decades, museums have been increasingly interested in allowing visitors to participate, at times even contributing to an exhibition. This "visitor-as-participant" or even "visitor-as-curator" and "visitor-as-creator" aspect can take on an entirely different meaning on-line. The potential for sharing user-created content was discussed by several developers. Two comments from external developers follow:

[I am] excited about publishing them [user created collections] back – the audience is participatory but most museums don't have staff to screen [the content] and post it.

 I see in the future more collaborative experiences, more real-time collaboration, but also [an] untapped market for curators to use the power of the Web to collect stories. – to solicit content from the users, of wanting to get broader range of experiences, to build collaborative virtual collections.

At this point, the issue of dynamically controlled content begins to look very similar to some of the ideas of community building already discussed. The visitor and the museum become a community of people creating content and meaning together in an on-line environment. This trend seems to run parallel with the contradictory movement to create more set experiential pieces for Web sites – Flash™ movies that more closely approximate the experience of television. Some studies have suggested that the activity of watching is what many visitors expect from the Web (Vergo, 1997). One in-house developer stated this tension:

We] need to become much less invested in the broadcast model – be able to add and tell stories themselves [the visitors]… They [particular Website designers] are coming close to television…This is important because TV is what people do in their leisure time, it is the standard being used for Web sites.

The Field: The Profession of Museum Web Development

Who Decides? Measuring Success

Our respondents said a successful site was one that sparked curiosity, that encouraged exploration within a bounded area, that was immersive. In our conversations, we discussed how one would know a site was successful. Although individuals did mention the awards, this was not the primary criteria of success. One external developer stated:

You've got three groups of people. The clients: are they really pleased in the meeting of their educational goals? Second, peers are important. And third, our audiences, our visitors – here is where it's harder to pin down. That's where the feedback is more valuable. Are people really using the site?…I'm interested … if students are sharing with their friends. Taking a topic…. that's daunting and having teenagers that are willing to share that site – that's meaningful.

This introduces a critical point with the model we are using. Csikszentmihalyi seems to define others in terms of the field, rather than in terms of the users. It is a given that in some fields it may be difficult to discern any users; such as in particle physics. But in other fields, such as sculpture, certainly critics and other sculptors make up the field, but there are others – the viewers, the "public", that not only view/use the product of the creativity, but also render judgment. Thus the complaints of modern art – that it is a dialogue within the field, whereas in some other art-based domains the dialogue is both within the field and with the viewers, who often are not considered part of the field. We felt we must depart from Csikszentmihalyi's model, as the practitioners clearly agreed that the user is a central figure in successful museum Web sites.

If a tree falls in the forest…

A critical issue with our use of the Csikszentmihalyi model lies in the model's lack of a role for the public. This issue is not simply just in museums; it can also be seen as an issue in fields such as journalism, entertainment, and even art. The domain of journalism, for instance – would a story be seen as incomplete if it is recognized as good by other journalists but fails to actually inform the public? As museums have evolved from being collection-centered entities towards education-focused institutions, users have gained in importance. Not to include the users in a discussion here would be seriously remiss.

Incorporating the key role of the public (or visitors or users), we would adapt the above model to look like this, and exchange the term 'creator' for the term 'individual.'

Fig 2: Modification of creativity model to account for the visitor.

By acknowledging two types of judges for success– experts and visitors, we face one of the most critical issues in museum Web site design today – the lack of rigorous evidence from the visitors about their opinions. Developers have begun to  get public feedback in limited ways. In both virtual and physical museums, visitors vote with their feet, and therefore many museums look carefully at the quantitative information available to them from Web site logs. This information can provide ideas of popularity and time on task – though there are limitations of these data in truly understanding visitor behavior.

Web site logs can be compared to a similar model within the field of museum evaluation, where several individuals have attempted to develop a user-based set of evaluation criteria that allow easier comparisons across physical exhibitions that very widely in size, complexity and subject matter. One of the most cited efforts (and the most controversial) was the Paying Attention model developed by Beverly Serrell (1997), which looked at quality comparison via a ratio of time spent per square foot (sweep rate index and percentage of diligent visitors). Both of these efforts, Web logs and Paying Attention, are admirable in their attempt to get direct quantifiable information that can be compared across sites, yet they each neglect some of the complexity and subtlety of an individual having a meaningful museum experience.

Towards that richer data, many interviewees also spoke of the more informal feedback they have received from visitors. Such qualitative techniques as talking with relatives, reading Web visitor comments, and other anecdotal feedback on the success or failure of the site are important in giving the developers some outside commentary.

There seems to be some consensus that there is a growing interest in more formal evaluation of Web sites though it is less clear how to do it or how to build in the money to do so. Only one of the institutions we spoke to incorporates regular user evaluation into its site development. Many of those interviewed saw this aspect of the user or visitor as one of the larger challenges for museum Web sites at this time. Since so little is known about the visitor – especially the casual visitor to a Web site – it is difficult to know if the Web site is fully successful, particularly if success is measured by learning outcomes. As one respondent put it "[we need an] understanding of the audience…to design experiences that really engage the audience." And another, "We have been living on an old measure based on quantitative measures, [now we are] trying to pull qualitative measures as well as the quantitative."

What Is The Nature And The Makeup Of Our Field?

And finally, what does this information and the other interview data have to do with our field. Perhaps it is debatable if museum Web site development truly constitutes a field now or will do so in the future. While some indicators of a mature field are present (Museums and the Web is now in its 9th year, and we have an awards system), others exist as part of the larger area of museum media field (including the Muse Awards of the AAM Committee on Media and Technology, and the Museum Computer Network). Some expected elements that distinguish other professional fields are completely absent; such as membership organizations, established educational programs, and peer-reviewed journals. While we are uncertain that these elements are necessary, or even the right direction, for this particular field, nonetheless, the evidence suggests that museum Web development is simply a field in its very early stages, as it exhibits some of the features of a field: recognition through awards, conferences, recognized skill sets, and professional positions.

Supporting indicators of a mature field: practical

Those who look at the Web as simply a technology – a tool for use in different purposes – might consider it difficult to call the area of museum Web development a field. They should consider the idea that many fields develop around the appropriate use of tools, including other communication technologies like television and radio, and even around other software technologies like GIS. These areas all have well developed fields that include practical supporting constructs: membership organizations, long-standing awards, publications, and recognized educational tracks. Fields that are more rooted in academe also have peer-reviewed journals and degrees.

These constructs give us a range of features that museum Web development currently lacks. We have a member-organization within AAM of the Media and Technology Committee, although that focus is much broader than just Web sites. We have no regular peer-reviewed journals, (or even non-peer reviewed), as one award judge mentioned. He went on to further discuss that there was a need there, perhaps not for peer-reviewed journals as such a niche would probably not be supportable, but for some other mechanism as a structure to support the dissemination of different ideas.

As for graduate degrees, there is an inevitable tension created as domains become more formalized within our educational structure. By creating degree-granting programs, we codify the critical skills needed, the process of creation, the theoretical approaches that might be taken. Graduate programs allow us to trace lineage through schools of thought or influential professors and advisors. Even when an individual's work runs against the 'establishment' of the domain, the fact that there is an establishment allows for a framing of this work. Without the established lineages or degree-articulated links between individuals, we wondered if we would instead find evidence of other influential individuals – people who serve at the epicenter of the field, individual like the mavens and connectors that Malcolm Gladwell describes in The Tipping Point (2002). The conference producers we interviewed acknowledged and discussed their roles as gatekeepers and custodians of the field, while at the same time echoing other interviewees in the need for new directions and additional leadership.

The codification of a field into a degree-granting graduate program can also be harmful. For museum Web site development, it is clear that a synthesis of skills is required, rather than one particular set of skills. It was interesting that just as many of our interviewees had their original background in philosophy as had a background in graphic design. These individuals had a love of the content – and of the possibilities of the content. As the technical skills become more standardized, most practitioners felt that their approach to the content, their understanding of the need for narrative, set them apart from those who design non-educational sites. As one external developer said, "When we hire someone new, we have to make it clear that this [is] very different from marketing or [working at] an advertising firm. The skill of interpretation needed [in an employee] is hard to find." One practitioner mentioned the existence of several groups that do both museum Web site design and other types of more commercial design. He felt that as time went by, this would occur less often; that development companies would need to devote themselves to one specialty or the other.

Supporting indicators of a mature field: abstract

Other shared traits can also be considered while looking at the field. According to Kuhn, scientific communities share a cohesiveness that can be seen in the fullness of their communications and the relative unanimity of their judgments. This is because the community shares a 'disciplinary matrix' –-ordered elements shared by practitioners that include (but are not limited to) shared symbolic generalizations, shared values, shared metaphors, as well as the shared exemplars discussed earlier. Clearly this high level of cohesion does not exist for this field, but during our conversations individuals often alluded to these issues even though we did not address these topics directly.


Clearly, common values on how to measure success in the development of a Web site should be important in the development of a field. As seen in the discussion of the user above, practitioners strongly value user reactions and judgments, but find difficulty with the logistical issues of collecting appropriate user evaluation. One designer spoke of having to "train" the museum client each time regarding paying careful attention to who the user for the site would be, what learning goals were involved, how to engage and interest the audience. Our analysis resulted in five factors that stood out as defining success according to those interviewed:

  • Creativity/ Innovation;
  • Appropriateness;
  • Learning value;
  • Open /experiential learning; and
  • Production values.

Symbolic language and vocabulary

The vocabulary that is defined within this domain tends to be language borrowed from the museum or design domains, with occasional contributions from other fields. One external developer mentioned inspiration for their work in terms of what is currently happening in the field of architecture:

There's lots of carry-over between experiences you have telling a story interactively, and learning the principles psychologically. Like for instance why is it important to have orientation experiences.

Clearly, however, what this person means by 'orientation experiences' comes from a very specific source– one that other practitioners are unlikely to share.

For museum Web site design specifically, a codified set of terms is still lacking for both the practical and the more theoretical. As one external developer commented,

It would be great to even be speaking on the same page. We don't have standard language so we can understand each other– even for RFPs [Request for Proposals].

Shared metaphors

As alluded to in our discussion of television before, museum Web sites, and quite probably informal educational sites in general, are still struggling with what they are "supposed" to look like. The television metaphor reemerges frequently in this topic, but as our discussions of dynamic information show, television is not the only or even the dominant metaphor for the future. At the 2002 IMLS WebWise conference, Jim Blackaby gave a talk on how new technologies develop over time, using an apple peeler as an example. His point was that as new technologies evolve, they take the shape of something more familiar, something we already understand. But that shape, that metaphor, is a poor fit for the new technology, so we continue to revise and continue to revise until the technology takes a shape of its own. Jim said then, and we think it is still true, the museum Web has not yet attained its own unique form. The question is, are we even getting close?


In conclusion, we'd like to bring together some of the disparate ideas we've been exploring in this paper. First, in this complex picture, we see both an emerging field and an evolving domain, each growing but in a fairly tentative fashion. There are trends we see as impacting the domain, but no strong momentum to push the domain towards its next iteration.

The field itself is "under construction"– showing signs (such as conferences and shared values) of coming into its own, but still without other possible supports that would push the field forward. Our conversations emphasized that the lack of true connection with the virtual user has handicapped the evolution of both the domain and the field.

We are strong believers in the evolution of the field through discussion. And as we were only able to interview a small number of individuals, we very much welcome hearing from you, as a member of field, so that we can continue to press this conversation forward.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harpers-Collins.

Gardner, H. (1997). Extraordinary Minds: Portraits of 4 Exceptional Individuals and an Examination of Our Own Extraordinariness. New York: Basic Books.

Gladwell, M. (2002). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Boston: Bay Back Books.

Horigan, J.B. (2004) "Pew Internet Project Data Memo: 55% OF ADULT INTERNET USERS HAVE BROADBAND AT HOME OR WORK HOME BROADBAND ADOPTION HAS INCREASED 60% IN PAST YEAR AND USE OF DSL LINES IS SURGING" last updated April 19, 2004, consulted January 15, 2005.

Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Perkins, D. (2000). The Eureka Effect: The Art and Logic of Breakthrough Thinking. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Serrell, B. (1997). Paying attention: The duration and allocation of visitors' time in museum exhibitions. Curator, 40(2), 108-125.

Shettel, H., Z. Doering, A. Pekarik,   B. Serrell (1997). Forum: Time: Responses to Serrell's Paying Attention Article. Curator 40.4, 246-257.

Vergo, John, C.M. Karat, J. Karat, C. Pinhanez, R. Arora, T. Confino, D. Riecken, and M. Podlaseck (2001). "Less Clicking, More Watching": Results from the User-Centered Design of a Multi-Institutional Web Site for Art and Culture. In D. Bearman and J. Trant (eds.). Museums and the Web 2001: Proceedings. Seattle: Archives & Museum Informatics, 2001. last updated March 14, 2001, consulted January 14, 2004.

Cite as:

Haley Goldman, M. and K. Haley Goldman, "Whither the Web: Professionalism and Practices for the Changing Museum , in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2005: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 31, 2005 at