#MCN2013 – Unicorns, Open EVERYTHING and #selfies

I know it’s been a little while since the Museum Computer Network conference in Montreal but I’ve finally gotten over the conference cold and am ready to talk about what has stuck with me.

Digital Humanities Unicorn

Let’s address the unicorn in the room first. It’s all thanks to Don Undeen’s opening Ignite Talk that had us all in serious stitches. Maybe it’s best to watch his talk in order to understand. It’s kinda hard to describe…

Don’s talk is from 20:28 to 26:48

For the rest of the conference the Digital Humanities Unicorn gained celebrity status with its own twitter handle (@DHUnicorn) and celebrity sightings.

Design Theory

One of the most inspiring presentations came from the Digital Strategy workshop By the People For the People run by Annelisa Stephan (@Meowius) and Emily Lytle-Painter (@MuseumofEmily) from the Getty along with Dana Allen-Greil (@DanaMuses) from NGA. I didn’t get to go but when reading the slides of the presentation that were posted afterwards I kept thinking YES! This makes so much sense! And it’s exactly the framework I needed to feel like I can tackle things like creating a digital engagement strategy and rapid prototyping.

One thing that really stood out in the presentation was Design Thinking.

Design Thinking is a mindset and methodology for reframing problems. It is centered around empathy with a user, collaborative ideation with your team and rapid iteration.

The whole presentation is filled with gems of knowledge and actual methods of tackling things. If you read one thing from MCN please let it be this.

Rapid Prototyping

Micah Walter from Cooper Hewitt did a session on Rapid Protoyping in Museum Office Culture. It’s really logical but then again sometimes it helps to have someone tell you how they create their amazing stuff by breaking it down into those logical steps.

I think the most important part of Micha’s talk is that it is inspiring. Read his description of how to take an idea and make it something great. Then tell me you don’t want to do some rapid prototyping of your own.

Come up with even a notion of an idea, talk about it with your peers, your friends, even your dog… whatever, just talk about it, and then come up with a short term plan to build the thing with whatever tools and materials you have at your disposal. Once it even comes close to being a working model, put it out there for all to see. Put up the source code if you can, put the project up on the simplest free webserver you know how to work with, and then write

Managed to fit in a delicious Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich

Managed to sneak out for a delicious Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich

about it. Tweet about it, share it with your friends, send it to your parents and see if they have any clue what you are talking about. Nine times out of ten, if they do, you’re on to something big.

Open Everything

There were a lot of sessions about Open Access – such as these which explicitly had Open in their titles: Minimal Friction, Maximal Use: Optimizing Open Access Image Delivery; Museums & the Digital Public Library of America: The Role of Museums in Building the DPLA and the Power of Open LAM Data;  To Open or Not to Open?  A Technical, Legal or Philosophical Question; and Defining Open Authority in the Museum. But pretty much every session had an aspect that talked about openness.

One session about openness that really stood out was After You’ve Opened Pandora’s Box about experiments with Wikipedia at the ROM (Ryan Dodge @wrdodger), the many outcomes of trying to be more open at PEM (Ed Rodley @erodley), image releases at LACMA (Heidi Quicksilver @MissHQ.), and after opening up at SMK (Merete Sanderhoff @MSanderhoff).

What Ed said about the social media being too PR focused really struck home. On those lines I attended a really wonderful session about social media facilitation –  Facilitation Matters: How we Used Facebook, Mobile Phones, and Sketchpads to Measure Learning in Online Communities with Tory Livingston, Beck Tech and Jeff Brabill. The three explored if learning can happen online and if facilitation makes a difference to whether or not learning occurs. The answer was yes and yes!  The Facilitation Toolkit was generously shared so we can all use our social media channels to facilitate learning.

The importance of #Selfies

One of my favourite sessions was Beyond the #selfie: Connecting Teens and Art through Social Media. Dana uses existing visitor behaviour to get teens to interact with the collection at the National Gallery of Art. Teens are already taking photos of themselves (selfies) and sharing on social media. Dana uses a printed gallery guide, highlight objects in the collection, and prompts on how to interact with the art to share on social media. A hashtag is used to follow what’s being shared. What a great idea! It’s also appropriate for young adults which brings me to the next selfie related presentation….


Rich conversations about the conference can be found on twitter with #MCN2013

Rich conversations about the conference can be found on twitter with #MCN2013

Onsite Social Media Activation, in Real Time with Ryan Dodge from the ROM about how to activate social media at museum events. Ryan talked about the ROM’s Friday Night Late series which is exactly what the title implies – a series of Friday nights where the museum is open late. During these events the museum opens up bars, dance floors, live music and activities. It’s aimed at young adults and is very successful in getting them into the museum. At these events there is a photo wall set up and anyone who uses #FNLROM will get their images up on the wall for all to see. There are a lot of selfies and the popularity of the wall is largely due to the thrill young people get when they see themselves up on there – a brief moment of fame. I can attest to this as fact as I’ve been to FNL at the ROM and have been psyched to see my tweets and instagrams projected on the photo wall. And I’m also guilty of doing the meta selfie – taking a photo of a photo of myself up on the wall. Sharypic is how the wall is made possible. It grabs images with a specified hashtag from a number of social media platforms and then puts them in sequence. You can use a moderate feature that allows you to approve the images before they go up. It’s a great way to get us self-obsessed young adults to engage with the museum. Ryan has tried running contests to get people to engage on deeper level without much success. Something to contemplate and keep experimenting with.


Rolin Moe presented on MOOCs and Museums (MOOC = Massive Open Online Courses – see Erin’s post on them). Rolin explained what MOOCs are, different types of MOOCs and why he thought they would be a good fit for Museums. MoMA is currently running one so it will be interesting to find out how it goes once its completed. Rolin promised to create a DIY guide on MOOCseums for us to use. Something I’m eagerly anticipating.

My MCN Heroes

Dana Allen-Griel – for her work as an education technologist, providing a useable framework for creating a digital engagement strategy, and showing how you can integrate visitor behaviour into education programming.

Ryan Dodge – for his reinvigoration of the ROM through his innovative social media initiatives. Super inspiring.

Ed Rodley – for his deep thinking that makes me an avid reader of Thinking About Museums


You can find the conference sessions that were live streamed on MCN’s YouTube Channel. There are also sessions from the video booth, MuseoPunks and slides from presentations with audio overlayed. Enjoy!

There were some great tweets using #MCN2013 Kajsa Hartig has put them together in a helpful Storify that’s worth scrolling through.

Lots of amazing people have already written posts about MCN. Here are a few:

If you know of anyone else’s’ reflections on MCN please post them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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