March 22-25, 2006
Albuquerque, New Mexico

In Search Of The Ubiquitous Museum: Reflections Of Ten Years Of Museums And The Web

Kevin Sumption, The Powerhouse Museum, Australia


When switched-on, the ubiquitous museum of the future should, as Foucault intended, be able to function as a comprehensive archive of material culture with the capability of operating in all places at all times. In the last few years we have borne witness to the gradual realisation of this vision, as a new hybrid museum form striving to re-connect the physical and virtual museum domains has evolved. Since the first Museums and the Web conference in Los Angeles in 1997, numerous papers, presentations and discussions have hinted at the opportunities, as well as significant challenges, that the creation of this new ubiquitous hybrid will undoubtedly entail.

Keywords: ubiquitous museum, material culture, physical and virtual museum domains


The modern museum emerged in the mid-19th century as a general archive, enclosing in one place all times, all epochs, all forms, and all tastes (Foucault, 1986). Established in 1879, my museum, the Powerhouse Museum, gave life to this idea through an interpretive approach that, up until the 1940s, employed evolutionary narratives to move visitors forward through predominantly artefactual environments. However, the pre-eminence of artefacts and their position within the exhibition medium began to change after World War II. An influx of cheap, pulp mass media, and later the arrival of television, significantly altered Australian museum visitors’ media preferences. To keep pace, the Powerhouse Museum quickly assimilated within its exhibits photographs to give objects a sense of time and place, posters to provide ambience and atmosphere, and electro-mechanical interactives to increase visitor participation.

Since the 1940s, the discipline of exhibition design and curatorship has further evolved to provide shape, form and structure to these dissonant analogue media. As curators and designers grew in confidence, their ability to integrate and effectively use analogue media to create entertaining and stimulating exhibits also grew. In the space of 10 short years from the late 1980s, personal computing technologies took hold in many museums, and their digital manifestations began to challenge the pre-eminence of artefacts. What occurred was a paradigm shift for museums, where computer-based interactive multimedia proved they could share “centre-stage” with museums’ collections.

Quickly following the personal computer, the World Wide Web emerged as an electronic outreach medium that was equally beguiling. Throughout the 1990s, museums strove to reach beyond their walls, to infiltrate our homes, classrooms and workplaces. In part, museums’ willingness to embrace the Web was driven by the tantalizing opportunity it held out to expand scholarly outreach. At the same time it promised a truly global audience for knowledge products which as mere exhibitions and publications might have reached only small, specialist, local audiences. For our collections, the Web also promised exciting new possibilities: freed from their physicality and locale, their digital simulacra were theoretically free to travel anywhere at anytime.

First Generation Virtual Museums

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, museums find themselves at the confluence of these two digital revolutions affecting interpretive practice both inside and outside their walls. It is this confluence that has been charted for over ten years at the Museums and the Web conference. For a decade, starting back in Los Angeles in 1997, this unique forum has discussed and debated these transformative forces. At these gatherings, and within the published proceedings, we bore witness to the emergence of the first generation of on-line cultural expressions. These were the electronic brochures, tour sites and early experimental interactive cultural institutional Web sites.

By late 1997 it was estimated that there were as many as 8,000 museums and heritage sites on the Web, and at the time many typically utilised text and imagery, re-purposed and recycled directly from the corporeal museum, its exhibits and its promotional material. Most common from 1995 to early 1998 was the marketing or electronic brochure Web site. Typically between one and three pages, these sites characteristically contained scant detail. The market-orientation of these sites was a derivative of the 'just in case' reasoning espoused by the first wave of e-businesses. 'Just in case' visitors surfing the net might wish to visit your museum, they could find sufficient information to know where to find you, what admission cost, and what programs were showing.

These electronic brochure sites were relatively inexpensive to create and so operated as important entry level products. From here many museums progressed to making a tour site which placed increasing emphasis on graphical and spatial representations of the museum’s galleries and collection. Both types of early virtual museums were typically unidirectional and operated predominantly as digital simulacra of their physical institutions. At the time, many were unable to deliver the interactive, multi-media, and rich database-driven content that went on to characterise the second generation of virtual museums.

The consensual hallucination imagined by William Gibson in his visionary text Neuromancer is now a reality, with over one billion people using the Internet in 2005. As well as being a ubiquitous publishing, communication, design, and research tool, the Internet has emerged as a powerful communication medium. Museums are not alone in exploiting this potential; however, the learning, promotion and scholarly outreach initiatives our sector has created are truly unique. Museums have successfully forged a distinctive partnership with the Internet, and over 100 years of object-based communication has in the last five years melded with second- generation Web-affordance technologies, including OAI, IRC and Flash. In turn these gave rise to the distinctive forms of early twenty-first century virtual museums, many of the very e-service, metacenter, Web-cast and electronic-field trip genres that will be discussed, critiqued and celebrated at MW2006 in Albuquerque.

Ubiquitous Museum Affordances

The term affordance was coined by the psychologist James Gibson to describe the potential for action, the perceived capacity of an object to enable the assertive will of the actor (Gibson, 1979). The term is now commonly used, particularly in new media and industrial design, to refer to an object or system that has been specifically designed to work with the intentions, perceptions, and abilities of users. Working within these parameters, good affordance technologies reduce the probability of confusing or non-productive user behaviour. Thus, they specifically promote productive and creative interventions by users. Importantly, technology and media have affordances to the extent that they promise extended human capabilities of seeing, hearing, and uttering.

Whilst face-to-face interactivity remains an important component of the museum visit, nowadays this is not the pre-eminent interactivity that many, particularly younger visitors, actively seek in museums. Rather, they expect automated or mediated interactive experiences, the touch trail, plasma ball or virtual fish tank. Mediated interactivity in museums has been popular since 1969, when McLuhan, Parker and Barzun first demonstrated how new communications technologies could enhance visitor participation in exhibits (McLuhan, Parker & Barzun, 1969). Their assertion that visitor understanding and interest in linear artefactual story lines was limited marked a turning point in curatorial and exhibition design practice. To increase visitor interest, they advocated bombarding visitors' senses with a variety of media to stimulate them into absorbing more information. In the same way, McLuhan and Parker contended that museum visitors ultimately have limited interest in traditional narrative forms. I believe visitors may have similar reservations about purely automated, interactive multimedia experiences. Experience has taught me that visitors have divergent media appetites; therefore, many of us strive to offer up a rich array of artefactual, automated and face-to-face interactive experiences.

However, at this particular moment in the history of museums and the Web, I fear we have created a divide - a separation of physical and on-line museum domains - which only now are we beginning to bridge. As we shall see, this is not because of any lack of interest or desire to re-unite the virtual and physical museum. Rather, we have been waiting on the maturing of a number of key affordance technologies. As is shown here at Museums and the Web, a range of new technologies and techniques is facilitating a re-integration of these domains. From this is emerging a new hybrid museum experience, a ubiquitous place where face-to-face and automated interactivity sit side by side.

Re-Connecting Physical And Virtual Domains

Network technologies and radio communications were first brought together in 1971, at the University of Hawaii. And while ALOHANET may have been born over thirty-five years ago, the first Internet-enabled mobile 3G devices began to appear in Korea, Japan and Europe in 2001 and have spread elsewhere very slowly. Similarly, museums have been hesitant early adopters of 3G. However, in the last eighteen months this has turned around, and many major museums have begun to make significant investments. Together with these wireless affordance technologies, many have also begun to embrace XML-based RSS (Rich Site Summary) and broadband multimedia casting technologies. As we shall see, together these are ushering in the brave new world of the ubiquitous museum. But this desire to reconnect the physical and virtual realms of museums brings both opportunities and an array of significant challenges.

How many times in the 1990s did we hear colleagues passionately contend that the Web would significantly reduce the number of visitors to “real” museums? At the heart of this contention lay a fundamental contradiction many found difficult to reconcile: that the authority and power of cultural institutions was being undermined from within, by its very own digital progeny. As an epiphenomenon that cannot be physically perceived or meaningfully located in space or time, we can’t be surprised that virtual museums represented such a threat to many working within the sector. After all, the very existence of museums had until quite recently been largely predicated on the primacy of the real. However what I have observed, over the last five years, is a gradual dissipation of these anxieties. This is happening at a time when a new set of Web-based affordance technologies are beginning to emerge to breathe life into the new notion of a ubiquitous museum which as a fulcrum has the physical museum and its knowledge workforce.

Stepping back for a moment from the philosophical roots of the ubiquitous museum, it’s time to focus on the practical, functional and real challenges of attaining such a state. For seven years I have been a speaker, judge and program committee member for Museums and the Web. During this time I have witnessed first hand the iterative processes and emerging technologies that cumulatively have moved many cultural institutions on from virtual to ubiquitous states. Not surprisingly, the process typically begins with artefact digitisation and progresses to public dissemination of knowledge products on-line via open public access catalogues (OPAC), collection focused microsites, and a variety of interactive multimedia. Traditionally this accumulation of digital interpretive media sufficed for the virtual museum. However, critically, the ubiquitous museum seeks to open new channels for face-to-face mediated interaction, as well as automated dialogue. To achieve this it strives to connect digital and analogue media, hard and soft knowledge. Together these establish the possibility of an always-on, user-centred interaction between visitors, museum media and museum staff. Therein the ubiquitous museum makes no distinction between virtual and real visitation: instead, it seeks to provide opportunities and technology to support the continual and cyclical use of the museum’s entire knowledge arsenal.

The consequence of such a holistic approach is the reinstatement of the physical museum as a focal point for visitor activity and knowledge production. That is, users of on-line electronic services are proactively encouraged to attend and make use of the physical museum, its exhibits and its staff. And in turn, visitors to the physical museum are actively encouraged to dip into the museum’s electronic outreach services. In summary, the ubiquitous museum utilises an array of affordance technologies and techniques to nurture a symbiotic relationship between both physical and virtual museum domains.

At this time, the attainment of such a perfect symbiotic state is rare, and few if any museums can lay claim to having deployed successful solutions. But during the last three years of Museums and the Web, we have seen the emergence of a number of exemplars which point the way. Some of these have utilised new and emerging affordance technologies in an effort to reconnect digital and analogue, soft and hard, knowledge domains, whilst others like Art Safari sought out pedagogical solutions that blend both digital and analogue publishing media (Schwartz & Burnette, 2004).

Integrated Publishing

As Schwartz and Burnette observed in their paper Making Websites for Younger Audiences at Museums and the Web 2004, it is a peculiar anomaly that nearly all current on-line museum learning services are targeted at secondary and tertiary students. However, there are a small number of cultural institutions that have made it their mission to meet the needs of young children and their parents on-line. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) is one of these, and over a number of years has regularly produced on-line resources for 5 to 8 years olds. One of my particular favourites is Art Safari (

With Art Safari, MOMA successfully developed a suite of activities for this age group, that as well as promoting learning online, critically for our deliberations, also actively promotes visitation and use of MOMA’s galleries and other printed media. Art Safari uses paintings and sculpture from MOMA’s collection to help children develop their observation skills. The site was specially designed to include creative play activities that encourage students to examine and respond on-line, via a digital palette, to the forms, stories, and characters that populate the artworks of Rousseau, Kahlo, Rivera, and Picasso. Creative play is an important part of young children’s learning and describes those experiences that encourage them to explore and test ideas through the process of making.

Significantly, the Art Safari Web site does not operate in isolation. Like many art gallery Web sites, its primary reference is to MOMA’s galleries and artworks. But unlike many other Web-based projects, Art Safari also has a complementary, printed publication of the same name (Raimondo, 2004). Joyce Raimondo’s book extends the creative play approach of the Web site through a series of activities and, like the Web site, constantly makes reference to eight specific artworks on regular display at MOMA. In educational circles this is what is known as a blended learning technique.

Blended learning facilitates learning by deliberately combining different modes of delivery, models of teaching and styles of learning (Heinze and Proctor, 2004). It is constituted from a series of educational experiences that deliberately integrate e-learning techniques, including on-line delivery of materials through Web pages, discussion boards and/or e-mail with traditional teaching methods and media. The unique blended learning approach developed for Art Safari not only ensured that divergent user media preferences could be accommodated, but also in so doing significantly increased the probability of a parent and child’s visiting the MOMA’s galleries. What’s more, whilst the Web site was perfectly placed to respond to the family’s pre-visit needs, the book operated as the ideal post-visit momento. Thus together the Web site, gallery and book provided a holistic visitor experience which at the same time as it promoted off-line and on-line learning pushed learners to visit the museum.

Both the Art Safari Web site and the book not only make constant reference to one another, but also very consciously promote the primacy and value of visiting “original art”. This desire by developers to encourage parents and young children to seek out the Museum and its artworks is more than good marketing. In reality the developers recognised that learning about art either on-line or in a printed publication has particular limitations. After all, simulations and reproductions are basically analogies, and can only truly be meaningful if there are prior or mediation experiences that allow the analogy to be properly understood by coming face to face with the original artwork. It is this specific ability of allowing visitors to compare and contrast digital models, reproductions and analogies with their physical counterparts that is one of the ubiquitous museum’s intrinsic strengths.

Electronic Field Trips

As we have already seen, the ubiquitous museum makes no distinction between virtual and real visitation. Instead, it constantly seeks to use technology and develop opportunities to support the continual use and re-purposing of a museum’s entire knowledge arsenal. Another of my favourite examples of just this expansive knowledge-asset use is the Liberty Science Center’s (LSC) e-connection, video teleconferencing program. Here video-teleconferencing technologies connect expert museum commentators and exhibits within the LSC to a classroom of students anywhere in the state of New Jersey. For many years the LSC has been a regular contributor to Museums and the Web, and in 2002 it was my pleasure to see a number of their e-connection programs.

LSC is connected to the state-wide ISDN/ATM, New Jersey Department of Education’s Distance Learning Network, which allows schools all across New Jersey to link via video conference to the LSC’s EFT (Electronic Field Trip) lab, located in Union City. As well as being able to access this specially equipped facility, students can also directly access many of the LSC’s permanent exhibits viaa series of e-connection programs, e.g., the Aquatic Ecosystems – Estuaries package. This activity links a class of upper primary students studying river ecosystems to a biologist based in the LSC’s Hudson River aquarium. After a brief introduction, a camera scans tanks of toadfish, eels, and spider crabs. A series of carefully choreographed activities then follows, prompting students to ask questions about the habitat and behaviour of each species.

What the LSC has created is a genuinely unique experience that neither a visit to the aquarium nor a conversation with the Biologist could provide on its own. Instead, the experience emerges from the performance of the museum’s individual exhibits, together with the dialogue facilitation skill and subject knowledge of the attending biologist. Bringing these together is the unique affordance of real time, streaming audio and video technology. Taken to its logical conclusion, this form of ubiquitous museum experience could, if we were able to put aside time differences, theoretically connect museum workers and exhibits to classrooms anywhere in the world. However, such an exciting possibility throws up some equally compelling challenges. If future museums are to successfully embed exhibits within the fabric of the Internet, they will need to create exhibitions with component media that are capable of operating as highly flexible knowledge nodes. From the outset, we will need to design and create exhibits able to simultaneously meet both physical and virtual visitor needs. With many museums now using wireless networks within their exhibits, the potential for this kind of experience is growing. While the allure of streaming audio and video affordances is in part responsible for pushing many of us down this path, there are also some sobering reasons for museums to embrace this kind of experience. This is one of a number of affordances that may ensure ubiquitous museums can stay connected to audiences that are increasingly inclined towards home-based entertainment and classroom-centred activities.

From Syndication To Personalisation

Whilst real time video and audio-facilitated interactions with museum knowledge workers will, for the foreseeable future, be only available as carefully choreographed visits, other affordance technologies offer far more opportunistic interactions. Particularly popular with content aggregation repositories like national cultural portals, RSS (Rich Site Summary) is an affordance technology that facilitates automated content syndication and information personalisation.

The emergence of national cultural portals can be traced back to the late 1990s. Here in the USA, Europe and Australasia, the idea of on-line national heritage collections became a reality after Internet privatisation and the large-scale adoption of computerised collection information systems by major cultural institutions. National governments, particularly those with far flung regional and remote constituents, were some of the first to recognise the potential of aggregating collection databases and distributing these on-line. From this emerged a genuinely virtual institution, less a single museum than a metacenter. These were digital hybrids that made use of Open Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) technology, together with listserv, style sheet and OAI applications. And by the late nineties, these cultural portals had evolved into three distinct metacenter forms: institutional, public and professional metacenters.

The first generation of government sponsored cultural portals tended towards the professional metacenters, and included the likes of the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN, and Australian Museums and Galleries Online (AMOL, While the numbers of these professionally focused projects has remained few, in the last three years other portal types have experienced considerable growth. Culture.mondo estimates currently there are as many as 250 now operating worldwide. In part this growth is a direct response to increasing demand from cultural tourists for quality assured information on museum events. To attend to this demand, newer portals have looked to simplify and streamline their content creation and management approaches. Pre-eminent among the new affordances are many embracing content syndication technologies. These offer the possibility of not only automated content harvesting and distribution, but also highly personalised content production.

A winner of the Best of the Web for E-services in 2003, the 24 Hour Museum is a world leader in RSS adoption. The 24 Hour Museum is the UK’s National Virtual Museum (, a cultural portal that actively promotes publicly funded UK museums, galleries, archives and cultural tourism sites. By definition it’s a virtual project charged with the task of directly encouraging the visiting of museums. Each year the 24 Hour Museum's team of freelance writers routinely composes 100's of stories. As the British cultural sectors major on-line content creator, the team was aware of the untapped syndication potential of this content. The problem was the lack of a cost effective way to customise and distribute content. That was until September 2003, when the 24 Hour Museum quietly switched on its first RSS news feed to The 24 Hour Museum now has 14 RSS news feeds picked up by organisations as diverse as the Wessex Archaeological website, Google News Facility and

The 24 Hour Museum team uses RSS technology to not only re-package and customise content for news and cultural websites, but has plans to develop specific user-centred feeds for school children. It's clear as RSS evolves it will continue to allow cultural institutions to modify knowledge products to better align with the perceived needs, aspirations and desires of virtual visitors. However, this is not a one-way street. Whilst current RSS technology privileges cultural institutions ensuring they maintain authorial control, the advent of user-operated RSS programs will undoubtedly shift the authorial balance away from institutions, towards individual online visitors.

RSS is an XML-based format which is now widely used by major on-line services and is commonly available as a free download on news service sites; it now also appears in some blogs. In the case of the 24 Hour Museum, information syndication and customisation have been strictly governed by a set of editorial rules. However, as RSS spreads, more sophisticated user-centred algorithms are emerging to allow for much greater information customisation. In future it is possible to imagine that our on-line visitors may very easily be able to build their very own, highly personalised ubiquitous museums. From a curatorial perspective this possibility raises a number of concerns. Left unchecked, such personalisation has the potential to undermine information authenticity, accuracy and appropriateness: the hallmarks and USP of the on-line cultural sector. The concern is that left unchecked, RSS affordances could perpetrate misinformation and confusion. And it is the avoidance of this very information anarchy that has driven the development and regulation of data management systems in museums from the time of the first collection inventory. But a solution is in hand.

Research into effective learning in museums has already demonstrated that visitors by necessity rely upon their own conceptual frameworks - their unique knowledge and experience - to interpret and understand all they encounter in museums. Traditionally they tend to read media texts within museums either to reinforce these, or incrementally extend pre-existing ideas to develop new cognitive frameworks. Similarly curators and designers, the principal authors of Web-based exhibits, have their own conceptual frameworks which tend to be educational. So one of the challenges for future RSS developers will be to utilise technological solutions to accommodate not only the cognitive needs of visitors, but also those of museum knowledge workers. To bring about this conceptual synthesis, future systems will ultimately need to customise content using sophisticated algorithms that bring together more erudite visitor, curator and educator models. In essence they will need to bring to life the MoMo model so passionately espoused by Javier Jaen and the team from the Polytechnic University of Valencia at the 2005 Museums and the Web conference in Vancouver (Jaen et al., 2005).

Wireless Ubiquity

In response to the ubiquity of portable MP3 players, many museums have embraced the potential of wireless, PDAs, 3G handsets and tablet PCs. The term wireless refers to telecommunication technology in which radio waves, infrared waves and microwaves, instead of wires, are used to carry a signal between communication devices. The potential of this technology inside and outside museum walls is seemingly boundless. Current video-teleconferencing technology can create a rich interactive experience within the fixed domains of specially equipped classrooms and exhibits. Alternatively, wireless multimedia players are constrained only by the network footprint. The geographical freedom this affords sets up the exciting possibility of connecting the museum to any leisure, education or work domain. All of a sudden a playground, a bedroom, an airport lounge or a bus stop all become potential museum venues. But just why would a museum want to connect their staff and exhibits to such places? As long as wireless networks’ ability to support real time, high quality streaming audio visual is constrained by bandwidth and museum staff by working hours, the possibility of such access beyond museum walls will for many be problematic. Instead, the vast majority will continue to be restricted to variants of the automated-interactive experiences already available on-line. While the growth of the knowledge economy will undoubtedly increase demands for certain museum education and training services, there is currently lacking a cogent argument to justify the human and financial investments necessary to build an “always on” wireless network that facilitates interaction between visitors, staff and a physical museum’s exhibits.

On the contrary, there is a compelling case for continued integration of wireless mobile technology within the fabric of physical exhibits and throughout the museum. The promise here is the facilitation of greater visitor interaction and engagement with exhibitions (McLuhan and Parker). At the same time this should ensure museums maintain a contemporary leisure and learning approach; that is, one cognisant of the types and forms of mediated social interaction that are particularly important for younger visitors. Here the challenge is principally facilitating meaningful dialogue between visitors. But this may be easier said than done and has been the subject of numerous papers dating back over five years at Museums and the Web.

Papers exploring the practical use of wireless devices within museums and art galleries first appeared in 2001. In Seattle, Judith Kirk described the Mather’s Museum’s early work with a wireless computing device called MUSEpad (Kirk, 2001). Five years later, interest in wireless handhelds has grown to account for two sessions in Albuquerque. A common theme in all these papers is the challenge of developing systems that consciously support social interaction between visitors. Whilst many museum system developers have attempted to tackle this problem head on, one of the most ambitious is the Sotto Voce system presented in Boston in 2002. The Woodruff and Aoki paper Eavesdropping on Electronic Guidebooks discusses the challenges of developing the Sotto Voce electronic guide for the Filoli historic house, situated 30 miles south of San Francisco (Woodruff et al., 2002).

Sotto Voce is a wireless, handheld guide designed by a PARC Xerox team to allow visitors to explore Filoli’s many eclectically furnished rooms. To achieve this it set about encouraging visitors to learn about the history of Filoli principally by encouraging real time dialogue, questioning and conversation amongst the human users of other Sotto Voce guides. To do this, Sotto Voce included a feature called eavesdropping that promoted shared visitor activity. This allowed companions to share audio information by eavesdropping on one another’s comments, questions commentary and responses.

Over a number of years the research presented by Woodruff and Aoki clearly demonstrated that significant levels of visitor-to-visitor interaction could indeed be achieved through these wireless guides. Significantly this Xerox PARC project, along with other more recent projects at the Tate Modern (Parry & Arbach, 2005), has demonstrated that machine mediated interaction can also promote educationally meaningful human-to-human interaction. After all, it’s this human to human interface that’s so much a part of what we know makes a visit to a museum so enjoyable, as well as educationally effective. As Hood (1983), Uzzell (1989) and later Falk and Dierking’s (2000) research has demonstrated, in order for museums to continue to operate as attractive education and leisure destinations, they need to actively support this kind of basic social interaction. That is the face-to-face dialogue and questioning between brother and sister, mother and father, student and teacher. Thus the continuing challenge for developers of wireless handheld guides will be to consciously look for solutions that avoid the often socially isolating consequences of so many current electronic guides.

The Future Of Objects In A Ubiquitous Museum

When switched-on, future ubiquitous museums should, as Foucault intended, be able to function as comprehensive archives of material culture, capable of operating in all places at all times. As we have already seen, these hybrid institutions may in future be capable of simultaneously receiving, re-composing and transmitting cultural messages. In all probability these messages will be fleeting and their form determined by and large by our visitor’s needs, likes and dislikes. In essence, tomorrow’s ubiquitous museum will be less a place than a set of transitory ideas, all constantly under construction and re-interpretation. Their presentation will be multifaceted and multidimensional, making use of both fixed and mobile stations, within both the Museum and the personal possession of our visitors. Their multimedia content will be neither prescribed, nor directly authored; instead it will evolve in response to the visitors’ unique psychological, physical and social contexts. The closest analogy I can find is that of a knowledge eco-system: an interconnected community of symbiotic curators, learners and pleasure seekers, all bound together by mediating technologies, intent on delivering face-to-face and machine-to-machine dialogue. However, like any eco-system, the optimal state for the ubiquitous museum is one of harmony between the needs of knowledge enablers and knowledge consumers. Emerging from this system will undoubtedly be new education and leisure paradigms, but I’m convinced that at the centre we will continue to find the museum object.

As we move towards the twenty-first century, the accumulative effects of interactive multimedia, both inside and outside museums, will continue to raise compelling questions as to whether we can continue to function as important object-orientated, education and leisure environments. Indeed, what happens to the object in a ubiquitous world? Do we run the gauntlet of ultimately discarding the physical in favour of the digital? I would argue the contrary. The increasing virtuality of our world seems to demand its own counterpoint in the materiality of those objects that have withstood time. Far from diminishing it, ubiquitous museums will surely intensify the need for emblematic objects that signify the extraordinariness and ever-rarer primary nature of human experiences.


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Cite as:

Sumption, K., In Search Of The Ubiquitous Museum: Reflections Of Ten Years Of Museums And The Web, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2006: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2006 at