Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is Google Ruining Your Exhibit Development Process?

First off, let me state that I really like Google --- I've even been to the Googleplex.

But Google has a real tendency to erode exhibit research and let some museum folks think that a Web-infused short cut is a substitute for the tricky work of actually understanding and connecting ideas together.

The Web is a great purveyor of information, but bits and bursts of information do not necessarily equal knowledge --- the type of deep understanding of a subject that leads to compelling stories and exhibitions. (This is also why many "digital panaceas" like QR codes applied in exhibitions are often so trivial, but that's for a future posting ...) 

Recently I've been bumping up against three types of Google abusers during the exhibit development process that are perfect examples of the axiom that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

The Google "Expert" This first googly-eyed abuser is really someone who should know better, because they are often an expert in their respective field.  I've worked on several science-related exhibits recently where content experts on the exhibition team just send links or URLS (or just cut-and-paste sections of web pages) as responses to specific questions about scientific content.

Ummm ... I could do that Google search myself! (In cases like this, I've been sorely tempted to send back a link from this website) If you're an advisor or exhibit team expert, how about actually providing some nuanced advice or expertise --- otherwise why bother having exhibition advisors in the first place?

But Google says ...  The second miscreant always does a quick Google search of a particular exhibit content topic or material, and if the first (or first few) Google "hits" somehow differ from the direction the exhibition is heading, they'll pipe up with, "But Google says .." whether they actually have the foggiest notion of what's actually being considered.

Recently, I had a museum administrator claim we couldn't use a particular item in an exhibit demonstration because "Google says it's dangerous."  Despite the fact that I produced the correct references and even material safety data sheets, that particular idea was dropped from the exhibit programming.

Here's a news flash --- the top results in a Google search (or Wikipedia entry) can often be misleading, if not completely incorrect. Web searches are a place to start, but to set Google as the ultimate arbiter of exhibition content or design or activities is just plain silly.

The Google "Quick Draw Artist"  This last item is as much an etiquette issue as an exhibit development one.  Namely, people whipping out their screen-based devices to poke and search on even in the middle of a conversation.  Checking email and taking "Google potshots" during exhibit team meetings or discussions, is just plain rude.  If we're taking the time to schedule an in-person meeting, can't we just turn off the screens for a bit?

What do you think?  Is Google gumming up your exhibit development process, or can it "do no evil"?

Let us know in the Comments section below.

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  1. I must admit that I was desperately awaiting your big reveal- that this was some kind of a joke. I cannot believe you have encountered any of the above "Google-habits." As the Director of an exhibit department, managing both development and design, I find even the idea of this practice appalling! If this is really an issue in the field, I sure hope many pay attention and change their habits. One other fact to keep in mind- google hits can be bought! You can purchase positioning for marketing purposes and who knows who is buying what and why and when. Why oh why would anyone use Google as an interpretive planner?!?

  2. Provocative questions-
    The search engines on the internet are mere tools that some lazy or uninformed exhibit developers misuse. Do not blame the tool. If visitors want to spend the extra time at an exhibit- the use of QR codes, hyper links and other media links permit visitors to dig a little deeper. The same thing goes for staff using media devices during meetings. It is acceptable only if it is civil and constructive.
    Exhibit developers need to be held accountable and be able to substantiate their research little own behave in a civil manner towards one another. If the project team skips this step during the development process of designing an exhibit the visitors experience will suffer and so will the chance for the institution to have repeat visitors. The standards for exhibit development must be maintained otherwise visitors will stop trusting the institution in whole. The other unfortunate outcome would be that staff begin to mistrust one another.

    Regarding your statement:
    "Recently, I had a museum administrator claim we couldn't use a particular item in an exhibit demonstration because "Google says it's dangerous." Despite the fact that I produced the correct references and even material safety data sheets, that particular idea was dropped from the exhibit programming."
    The experience you described may very well be the mistrust that can happen between in-house staff and contractors because of the lack of accountability. I witnessed a person on a project team reference a safety issue just to kill a concept during a brainstorming session.

    Richard Osborn

  3. @Richard

    Is it really "digging deeper" or is it merely taking away or distracting both visitors and staff from the core programs/artifacts/stories?

  4. Paul,

    I see what you mean, however if the exhibit objectives are understood by the exhibit development team and communicated to the exhibit designer the QR code element or hyper link can be a layered experience. One first gets the attention of the visitor with a hook, which could be an intuitive interface; that is the visitors initial contact with the content or as you say the program or story. The tertiary element is the digging deeper. If it is done right then it would not be distracting.

    If a developer relies on a tertiary experience as the only experience then the visitor will more than likely walk away-