Most museums have had a web presence of some kind for over ten years (assuming the museum has been around that long). In this period museum websites have moved from being just brochures encouraging a visit to being destinations in their own right with a wealth of digitised collections (artworks in our case), videos, learning resources, scholarly research material, virtual press offices, online shops and more.

Mobile version of Tate website
Mobile version of Tate website being browsed on an iPhone

In recent years museums have started to integrate social features such as blogs, to adopt more permissive copyright licences enabling reuse of digital content and to see the web as a place to interact with audiences as well as distribute content to them.

Last week we asked you to let us know who got your vote for the best museum and galleries online. This week we’re off to the annual Museums and the Web conference and thought it would be interesting to now ask: what do you want from a museum’s website? Here’s a few ideas from people in the web department:

Alex Pilcher, Web Designer
I would expect an excellent good museum website to pass certain tests:

1. Is there an immediately obvious route to finding the museum’s location, opening hours and admission times?

2. Can I access clear, comprehensive information about the exhibitions and events at the museum without getting tangled in navigational knots – and book online if I choose to? 

3. Is the museum’s collection accessible and well presented online, with searching and browsing tools that are simple to use and good quality colour photography of individual objects?

4. Can I find my way around 1, 2 and 3 with only a sketchy knowledge of the website’s language?  

These may sound like rather basic, old fashioned demands for 2013, but it is astonishing how many museums have websites that still fail to pass all four of these – including some of the most famous art museums in the world. (I won’t name and shame them!)

New Walk Museum ARTIST ROOMS Sandergram
Screenshot of New Walk Museum and ARTIST ROOMS sandergram website

Rosie Cardiff, E-Learning Editor, @RosieCardiff
Part of Tate’s vision until 2015 is to be more open and reflect a greater diversity of voices and perspectives. It’s interesting to think about how this translates to the digital space. Museum websites are already looking to become more participatory with many incorporating blogs or projects seeking user generated content. Through the use of social media, it doesn’t matter if you are a small museum with a tiny budget, you can still invite debate, comment, and discussion around your collection.

For example New Walk Museum, Leicester invited the local community to submit their portrait photography inspired by the ARTIST ROOMS August Sander exhibition via Instagram and received many fantastic submissions. The Imperial War Museum has recently opened up their collection to commenting and revealed interesting personal stories around objects in the museum. SFMoMA invite people to submit artworks to their tumblr every Friday. The Hello Cube project at Tate Modern last year enabled people inside and outside the gallery to tweet instructions to an interactive installation in the turbine hall.

Through social media and participatory platforms, museums are able to build communities around their collections for collaboration, scholarly research, discussion, and participation. It will be interesting to see how this trend develops further.

Rijksstudio by Rijksmuseum
Screenshot of Rijksstudio website feature by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Rich Barrett-Small, Lead Development and Web Architect, @richbs
The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis built an information-rich experience and set itself up as a hub for art and culture in the local community and the web in general. One of the more noticeable features on this site is the space on their home page that they devote to ‘off-site’ content from other organisations. The clear design and information architecture makes displaying a wealth of text and images look effortless. Finally, their success in establishing themselves in the web community is evidenced by their Internet Cat Video Festival last year.

The new Rijksmuseum website places their collection and imagery front and centre. I admire their ability to cut back on navigation and let the art speak for itself. Their collection pages show high-resolution images, which you can zoom, explore and download. You can also build your own collection of Rijksmuseum works and save cropped details from their masterpieces. It’s a bold, decisive design.

Susan Doyon, Producer
I’m always looking for ways to communicate about art through films. We try to provide behind-the-scenes content like visits to an artist’s studio and other interpretive content to interest viewers in the art and help open more discussion through further insight. I’m not so keen on seeing 
films that are clearly only for marketing purposes and are simply advertisements for exhibitions to encourage buying tickets. I prefer interpretive stories which appeal to a global audience (even if they can’t attend an exhibition).

Tate's iTunes U page
Tate's iTunes U page

John Stack, Head of Tate Online
There is a growing trend to see museums move beyond their own websites. Most are active on social media (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) and use these websites to talk about their collections and programme. Many have YouTube and iTunes channels and are distributing video and audio content there. Others are partnering Wikipedia to enhance the entries there using expertise from the museum whilst others are taking their digitised collections beyond institutional boundaries. Here’s a few examples:

Your Paintings is a website that has published the entire UK collection of paintings. (They also have a Tagger project which aims to catagorise the paintings, so please go and help out with that!).

The Google Art Project has lots of artworks from lots of museums. 

Art Babble is a website that brings together arts video from lots of different museums. 

So, let us know, what do you want out of museum websites? What appeals to you when looking at museums online and what would you like to see in the future?

You can follow the conversations of the Museums and the Web conference on Twitter using #MW2013, see you there!



Don't show the pissoir. The pissoir is not a highlight of the Tate collection, it always shall be nothing but a pissoir. Hanns, Paris

I don't like the notion of a complete digital museum (as created by the fashion house Valentino) this to me is almost an oxymoron. A website should enhance a visitor's relationship to the physical building and its collections.

I always want a museum website to let me see behind the scenes; from preservation to installation, there are a lot of things taken into consideration by curators and docents that help the public understand context, the nuance of media, and why exhibits are how they are. I also look to museum websites for access to archived works that are rarely or never on display. Thanks for asking!