Blog

The Australian Museum website

By: Dr Lynda Kelly, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 13 Jan 2011

Do we need yet another blog about museums and the web? Well, probably not, but this blog will take a weekly look at what’s happening on our website, plus postings of any other items we come across while travelling in the wonderful world of the web. To get us started, here’s some history...

Until June 2009, australianmuseum.net.au, the former website for the Australian Museum, Sydney, achieved around 20 million visits a year at an average of four minutes. That site was established in 1995 and consisted of approximately 40,000 pages; over 113,000 files; 130 sections and 15 websites.

However, the Museum became a victim of its own success, resulting in a legacy of a huge content-rich site with limited capacity to both update content and engage in two-way interaction. The sheer size of the site outgrew the original navigation and architecture, making it increasingly difficult for visitors to find the content they needed as well as for the Museum to maintain the site. The branding was also very inconsistent throughout and visitors coming through search engines were not always aware they were using the Museum’s website. Overall, however, the major issue was the lack of user interaction available on that site, with little to no capacity to add these functions. This meant that the Museum was becoming left behind in the rapid uptake of Web 2.0 both across the sector and by web users everywhere.

In 2006 the decision was made to completely rebuild the current site to meet the needs of the new Web 2.0 world which, given the size and scope of the site, presented an exciting challenge. So how did we go about undertaking this major project? One of the first things was to establish a new vision and set of guiding principles for what we wanted the website to embody. Then, after a stock take of the current content; SWOT and PEST analyses and identifying stakeholder needs we explored new opportunities and technologies and reviewed Information Architecture methodologies before developing overall site concepts and wireframes. At the same time we have constantly been thinking about what the new site will mean organizationally – in terms of how staff will interact with audiences in the future and what their jobs might look like. To increase buy-in several strategic planning sessions were conducted with the Museum’s Executive team and the Board about the implications of Web 2.0 for the sector and where the Museum should fit within those spaces.

In June 2009 the Museum launched its new website (built by Reading Room Australia), with a bespoke CMS and an underlying approach based on assets rather than targeted navigation. The CMS allows staff from anywhere in the Museum to both create and update content, without the bureaucratic processes of approvals and management by the web team. This open-model is highly unusual in the sector and is working really well so far.