Breaking the filter bubble for museum websites

June 26, 2012, 10:15 AM eastern by Rob Landry

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Perhaps you've heard of The Filter Bubble, the phrase coined by Eli Pariser?  The idea is that people are cocooned in a bubble composed of their everyday experiences.  Unless you are proactive in seeking to broaden your horizons it will be difficult to grow intellectually.

So how does the filter bubble relate to museum websites?

It has to do with museum management.  For years, I've had a simple rule of thumb: if a website is tired, outdated and lacking in useful interactive features, it almost always means one of two things: the organization is run by people who are yearning for a change (they make good clients) or people who think their website is just fine because they don't perceive a problem (these would be bad clients, if we were foolish enough to take them on, but then, they usually don't think they have a problem worth solving).

The first group has broken through their filter bubble.  The second has not.

Most folks in museum management are busy people who don't spend much time surfing the web, so they generally don't expose themselves to the possibilities for interaction design on their own sites.  This reality is compounded by the fact that many museum executives are from a generation that doesn't spend much time in front of computers (or interacting with personal technology) even if they do have the time.

Therein lies the Filter Bubble of Museum Management.

How do web technologists working at museums pop the bubble?  To be successful, you need to keep at least three things in mind with your approach.

Awareness.  Schedule time with senior management to introduce them to the latest trends (sharing, mobile, Open Source) and design techniques (Responsive Web Design).  Do it gently.

Relevance.  When you make your leaders aware of the possibilities, It doesn't matter if they don't tie in to the mission of your organization.  Make sure that when you introduce new concepts you explain how you can put them to use to advance your museum's goals.

Trust.  Museum technologists need to build trust with executive leadership, to create an atmosphere where your insights about the web are received in a positive light.  Remember, to many in museum leadership, the web is a complicated place they may not fully appreciate.  To move your website forward, they'll have to rely on your judgment.  You have to make sure they are comfortable doing that.

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