April 9-12, 2008
Montréal, Québec, Canada

Just Do It! Web 2.0 As Task, Not Technology

Gail Durbin, Victoria and Albert Museum, UK


The central issues in the development of Web 2.0 activities are about task setting and experiment. Active users of sites bring an understanding of their potential and applications within museums, and so does a risk-taking ‘suck-it-and-see’ attitude. Learning by experiment helps us draw in the users we never see, and some of the best activities are founded on imagination rather than money. The aim of the workshop is to provide a large number of relatively simple workable ideas that people might take away and adapt to their own museums.

Keywords: Web 2.0, Tasks, Participation, Flickr, Activity, YouTube


This is not a conventional conference paper. The session is planned as a workshop so I am hoping that much of the benefit of the session will come from the contributions and interactions of participants. I will come with the results of a survey that we are currently carrying out on our Web site about our users’ level of participation in Web 2.0 type sites and in activities on our site. I expect we will find this low. I will also have an informal survey of Web editors on what they see as the barriers to setting up Web 2.0 activities.

I would be grateful if workshop members bring information about Web 2.0 applications they have on their own sites or that they admire elsewhere. If anyone felt able to send me this information in advance, that would help me plan. My email address is


I left Museums and the Web in 2007 surprised that there is so much talk about Web 2.0 and so little action. Some museums have added blogs which allow visitors to comment, but for many, that is where Web 2.0 ends. There are a miniscule number of public-facing museum wikis, for example, and with some notable exceptions, few museums have seized the opportunity to invite visitors to contribute their ideas and knowledge to their Web sites.

The way we choose to use the Web raises exactly the same issues that we face when thinking about interpretation in our galleries. The crucial question in the galleries is whether we are going to use digital technology simply to tell people more things, in varied ways, about what is on display ,or we are going to be more radical and use the technology to draw things out of the visitor and to call on their expertise. On the Web where there are fewer physical constraints (such as sore feet or lack of seats), a greater range of activity should be possible.

I believe that the success of Web 2.0 for museums depends more on creative task setting than on complex technology. And if this is the case and there does not need to be a high technological overhead, then it should be possible to experiment in all sorts of ways to match task with content, find what works and what doesn’t, and extend the range of visitor participation.

  • What actually are we asking the visitor to do?
  • How important is the wording that is used?
  • How can changing the wording influence the outcome? What else influences outcome?
  • Does seeding the activity with pre-prepared content have an impact?
  • What is the role of moderation in the early stages of an activity?
  • Can the need for moderation be influenced by the way a task is set?
  • What is the impact of setting the museum task on an outside site?

Only through risk-taking experiment can these questions be answered.

In preparation for this workshop, participants may like to look at some of the following sites. I hope we can add examples to this list in the course of the workshop.

Putting The Task Or The Content Elsewhere




  • Examples of V&A content throughout


  • See Brooklyn Museums’s Artshare application

Putting The Task On The Museum’s Website

Opinion or information upload

Image Upload

Google Map Mash-ups

Putting It On Several Museum’s Web sites

  • Creative Journeys - forthcoming

Cite as:

Durbin, G., Just Do It! Web 2.0 As Task, Not Technology, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2008: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2008. Consulted