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Post-web technology

Virtual reality headsets like Oculus Rift offer the opportunity to bring virtual galleries into the home. Photograph: James Looker/Future Publishi/REX

Danny Birchall and Mia Ridge, Post-web technology: what comes next for museums? The Guardian, Culture Professionals Network, 3 October 2014

From virtual reality to wearables, museums are trying to bridge the gap between digital and physical – without breaking the bank

For those working with technology in museums today, the catch-all “digital” has largely replaced “online” and even “web” as a description of what we do. From wearables to virtual reality, a plethora of new technology is emerging that challenges the primacy of the screen at the heart of digital experiences. At this year’s annual Museums Computer Group conference, Museums Beyond the Web, we’re asking: what comes after the web for museums?

Museums are scattered with the remnants of past technologies. Audiences may be unaware of the ethernet ports lurking behind a kiosk, but display screens that don’t respond to their touch often baffle younger visitors. These legacies remind us of the inescapable fact that technologies and audience expectations move fast while museums move slow. While the people walking through the galleries can update their phones on a whim, museums have to live with their decisions for a long time.

Many of us cut our teeth on the web, tentatively carving out a new discipline, with a shorter pedigree than marketing or press but a seemingly infinite potential. Along the way we learned useful lessons: the value of finding out more about our audiences and the perils of locking-in. Working on the web showed us the power of open access data and open source software, user-centred design and conversations over social media. How can we hang on to some of those great principles while staying open to all the possibilities that post-web technology offers? How should we work with our peers outside the sector to help our organisations see past buzzwords and spot lasting changes in audience expectations?

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