November 17, 2005
Which of these sites has a design and interface that most effectively communicates its message and serves its audience?
In “Telling Stories: Procedural Authorship and Extracting Meaning from Museum Databases,” Steve Dietz argues that "museums, at least in their databased, public outreach efforts, need to kick the object-centered habit." One website that is well on its way through the 12-Step Program is Raid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704.
In Dietz's article, he quotes Kevin Donovan complaint that "simply providing the public with access to data is insufficient to satisfy the goal of public education." The majority of the other sites examined for this week's assignment were, while "fun" and "interactive," were still object-centered. The Devices of Wonder site did little to place the objects in their larger context, especially because they made the interactivity function of the object more prominent than the "about me" function (I actually thought that the non-Flash version of the site was more useful... and better looking). A few of my favorite things on the HistoryWired site were the object entries that actually gave you more information, particularly FDR's microphone, which gave you related images, articles, and audio. Unfortunately, those objects were few and far between. Very unfortunately and one of my least favorite things was the unfriendly interface--whoever came up with the idea for that map should be shot. It looks almost as bad as the Hyperhistory Online site I chose as the ugliest history site.
My eyes, my eyes!
Raid on Deerfield is a cut above these sites, serving not only to give information about the objects in its store, but also placing the object within the larger story of the raid on Deerfield and showing the appearances they made and the roles that they played. Aimed at a "general audience," the site was created by the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (PVMA), who was concerned that the younger generation knew little of the region's history.
The goals of this website are threefold: 1) Engage the audience in plausible and compelling stories; 2) Accurately and fairly represent competing perspectives surrounding a controversial event; and 3) Insure an equitable and sophisticated interpretation of the material.
One of Steve Dietz's concerns with online museum exhibits is "how far one can actually explore with just a pre-determined narrative, which remains largely textual and which the visitor reads more than she participates in. Perhaps more significantly, it presents, basically, a single point of view." The main focus of Deerfield's online exhibition is allow the viewer to explore the narrative of the raid--through video and images in addition to text--and to hear all sides of the story before making their own decision on the motivations behind the raid:
Even in the best museum exhibits that do an excellent job of educating audiences about different cultural views, the medium of a physical museum exhibit limits the degree to which diverse perspectives can be presented and easily compared by the viewer. Comparisons among perspectives are best understood when a viewer can rapidly and effortlessly move from one to the other, appreciating the points of similarity and difference, without being required to remember one before learning the next.
This opportunity to compare the multiple perspectives is one of the best features of the Deerfield site--simply clicking on a different tab will allow you to explore the views of each of the 5 cultures represented in the website: Kanienkehaka, Wôbanakiak, Wendat, English, and the French. The reader gets so involved in the narrative of the site that you forget that this is a museum exhibition. But the ability to explore the site like a traditional museum site is available: you can choose to study the artifiacts, people, maps, songs, and timelines on their own by going to the corresponding category, clicking the thumbnail and getting the pop-up information video with the standard museum object information.
Your standard museum option.
But going through the storyline of the Raid also includes the object/people/map/etc. information and allows you to explore them in context: the story is told through images that are actually image maps. Clicking on almost any section of the image will give you its background information (honestly, you can click on a cow and learn that "native warriors targeted cattle which symbolized to them English invasion and destruction of their homeland").
Learning about the objects the fun way.
I could go on and on about the easy and helpful interface, the multiple navigation routes, and the contextual placing of the exhibit objects. But I won't. I will say, however, that this site not only "has a design and interface that most effectively communicates its message and serves its audience" but also "makes the most effective use of new media"--it's got the technology without being overly flashy for no reason (like the Getty site), it's not hideously ugly (like the HistoryWired site), and although I really dig the Julia Child site's design, I really think this one is much more user friendly. Raid on Deerfield definitely meets its three goals of engagement, fairly representing competing perspectives and ensuring a complete grasp of the material... and it does it in a way that is easy and fun to navigate through. Oh and P.S., they actually care if the visitor enjoys their visit to the site and finds it helpful--there's a very thorough survey you can fill out to help them improve...
Posted by mhess3 at November 17, 2005 01:08 PM