This month Calum made his first-time visit to Museums & the Web in Florence. It’s a technology conference with a difference, firmly established in the calendar for museum professionals, university academics and technologists.

Day 1 focused on mobile in a pre-conference Mobile Summit at the Auditorium Santa Apollonia. There Nancy Proctor of Museums and the Web and the Baltimore Museum of Art led the start of the day’s talks followed by Rob Stein. Rob began with a discussion on standards for mobile applications and the web specifically made for museum guides and tour applications to offer a robust information architecture. The standard that he’s been working on is called TourML. It’s a substantial piece of online Wiki documentation including an XML schema that includes such entities as stops, titles, descriptions and credits.

Day 2 and 3 of Museums & the Web Florence were held at the extremely grand venue of the Palazzo Vecchio. Presentations were in-depth and varied on the topics of storytelling, visitor tracking through technology, as well as through other methods, and heritage on the web. Smart Cities were a focus of discussion: with representatives from a number of museums throughout Europe and America offering their thoughts and insights on delivering effective technological solutions for museums and their communities.

Of particular interest is the Dallas Museum of Art’s ‘DMA Friends’ scheme which is also now being trialled in a number of other North American museums. The electronic registration system enables visitors to have a digital membership providing easy logging of visitor loyalty and demographics plus rewards for frequent visitors. Activity Codes also offer an opportunity to persuade visitors to participate in activities at the museum via kiosks or their mobile phone which link in to membership rewards upon participation in the activities.

Also discussed was the growing trend for crowdsourcing as an effective solution to gathering and documenting content digitally in museums and other cultural institutions. Examples presented included the Tate’s initiative, ArtMaps, which lets the general public not only browse, search and share artwork globally: but also comment on and submit corrections regarding artwork.

Neil Stimler of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and Museums & the Web attracted a majority of the delegates to his presentation, throughout which he was wearing Google Glass. Although not widely available yet, Google Glass is generating much excitement amongst museums who are curious about how it can be used for self-guided tours and staff engaging with visitors. Examples of its use are limited at this stage but with time it’s likely to complement and work alongside mobile applications for museums.

Rounding off the two-days of presentations were a host of different technology vendors and application makers who each had the opportunity to present their productions consisting of mainly mobile applications developed for iOS and Android. Indoor navigation, electronic ticketing and offline content seem to form the common recipe for appeal and demand in this rapidly growing sector for technological innovation.