Charlie is essentially in charge of all technology at the museum including general IT maintenance, in addition to spear heading software development initiatives through the IMA Lab. The Lab consists of five developers and two graphic designers which is typically uncommon given the size of the institution. In addition, the team offers consulting services for other cultural institutions whether that be web or mobile based applications, that bring together the specific needs and concerns of the institution to the table.
IMA Dashboard: Established by former IMA director, Max Anderson, an advocate for radical transparency who was seeking a desire to push the institution’s statistics online. The design of the dashboard was created by Charlie and a graphic designer from the software team. The dashboard’s design unintentionally resembled the interface design of the iPhone, although the dashboard was created before the iPhone came out.
TAP Tours: A platform designed to provide tools to easily create and deliver mobile tour applications in a museum setting. Content is created in the web based content management system, Drupal. After the content is created, it can be exported into an intermediate format called TourML, which can then be used as pluggable bundles for mobile applications. Ideally, the IMA open sourced these tools in hopes of creating a rich set of free tools for all museums, putting the institution and the software in a better position to reuse, share and remix content. The IMA was later rewarded with a grant from IMLS to deploy TourML in a variety of ways making it easier for other institutions to build upon that work.
Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative: IMA originally worked with the Art Institute of Chicago to create an online publication for scholarly catalogues. Based upon the success of that project, they in turn received funding from the Getty Foundation to create a toolkit that formed a set of reusable software tools for creating online publications. Within the toolkit exists a set of APIs that allow other developers to create custom web or mobile interfaces.
ArtBabble: An initiative that came out of a fairly large new media team. The IMA was originally putting videos on YouTube but quickly realized that content could easily be lost if the video didn’t have the proper tag associated with it. The software platform is hosted on Amazon which allows users to upload videos straight to the site. The team is currently working on updating the site which will enable users to embed videos in addition to a classification feature, making it more searchable for users.
Challenges: One of the major challenges that face us today in the development of mobile applications is the pace in which technology is changing. Since software and hardware are being reproduced at such a rapid pace, Charlie suggests a strategic approach in producing content so that it is just as valuable ten years from now as it is today.
Listen to the interview
Listen to the streaming audio above or download the mp3 file.
Listening to Charlie’s interview was quite interesting and informative. He reminded me of the challenges of keeping up with the rapid changes in technology. I especially found significant his emphasis on the importance of producing good content and not tying this content to technology. He stressed that when producing content, it should retain its value. As we have seen, new technology rapidly comes and goes. Good content can be used over again in whatever new platform comes along.
I was especially interested in Charlie’s comments about Drupel. This was a platform that my employer was looking at for our Archives Content Management System. I was surprised to hear that a software engineer may need to be hired to use Drupel effectively. I am looking forward to looking into olmeca.net, a platform Charlie suggested may be a more viable solution for our museum.
If you are looking to rebuild a website I think Drupal would be great for that. But as Charlie suggested, Omeka might be best for online collections. I recently created an online exhibition through Omeka.net which allows you one free site without the need for a server or ftp client. I would recommend looking into the full version at Omeka.org as well.
I found it pretty amazing that the IMA has decided not to outsource for technology projects. It is also incredible that they are able to consult on projects for other museums. This reminded me of a similar situation at the Kauffman Museum in Newton, Kansas. To supplement their funding, this museum has recently begun creating exhibits and technology projects for other museums and for traveling exhibitions. Like Charlie said, this can be a great type of program for museums in the current economic climate. Further proof that this can be a great source of income, even for a small museum in central Kansas.
It was great to hear how the The IMA Lab shares it’s expertise and generates revenue by providing consulting services to other museums. One of the Lab’s goals is to produce “evergreen” content, that can be re-purposed across devices and over time. Surely this results in huge savings. Charlie briefly mentioned that he can “speak museum”. An invaluable attribute when developing technology projects given Allegra Burnette’s (2009)emphasis on the need for outside contractors to understand “museum time” and the workings of museums.
I think that more museums should take Charlie and the IMA’s lead when it comes to publishing videos or other pieces of content. I appreciated that they realized that to reach a worldwide audience, posting their videos to just the IMA site would not suffice. Their use of ArtBabble was a great example of combining museum resources to grow a library of strong art videos.
I thought it was amazing how little pushback he seemed to get in developing the dashboard. Placing that kind of information out in the world can often be quite a sore spot for higher up museum administration. That IMA was open to publishing this content and that they structured it as a truly collaborative process is amazing.
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