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Mobile Technology

Catching up but still miles behind: German museums in 140 characters

German museums have been a bit Luddite when it comes to embracing smartphones and social media. MuseumWeek was meant to change that. Now, slowly, the organizers say technology can compliment art.

Large, expansive rooms. Works of art on the walls. In a corner, two white, waist-high pillars covered in blue stickers.

A visitor approaches one resolutely, bends down, reads a handwritten note and laughs.

"I have to post that on Twitter," he says, photographing the note with his smartphone.

Smartphones, Twitter, posting - they're terms you wouldn't normally associate with museums - not in Germany, anyway. But that could change: Germany's first-ever MuseumWeek has shown how.

For seven days, museums told their own stories on Twitter, showed collections and installations and asked visitors to share museum memories. Each day, the museums highlighted a different aspect of their own stories.

Helge David brought the project to Bonn, honing the concept for the Bundeskunsthalle and Deutsche Museum. Blue Post-It notes were distributed throughout the exhibition rooms. In 140 characters, visitors wrote their thoughts. The stickies left room for creativity, but were limited to the essentials.

Art front and center

David sees gains for museums. The art historian is the founder of www.openmuseum.de, which aims to complement traditional displays with digital curation.

"All museums show only a fraction of the material that's available. Smartphones offer the opportunity to supplement the exhibited material, with pictures from the museum's archive or information on the history of the images," she says.

The work of art is still the centerpiece. And the digital content enrich the exhibit - without seeking to outshine it.

Blue post-it notes

"The exhibition inspires," reads the first "tweet" on the left

Projects like MuseumWeek also serve to help Friederike Siebert, who coordinates the Bundeskunsthalle's education and art history program.

"Within the framework of MuseumWeek, we were able to try a lot of things," says Siebert. "We don't want to just use Twitter over the short term, but also follow the developments over the next few months."

The Bundeskunsthalle now wants to open itself to every possible target group and further integrate smartphones into its exhibitions.

"Our younger audience uses mobile Internet daily," says Siebert. "Friends communicate with one another, knowledge can be accessed anywhere. Location doesn't matter anymore."

Smartphones are everywhere in museums, she adds - meaning that everyone almost has got one - and it's something, Siebert says, to which museums should adapt.

New territory

Visitor response during MuseumWeek was positive. Contributions at the Bonn museum shared on Twitter and there were loads of comments.

In England, says Helge David, the number of visitor interactions tends to be higher, but museums there have been active on Twitter for some time now. So it's hard to compare the two properly.

Blue Post-it notes affixed to a white, rectangular pillar

Will German museums finally dive into proper social media online?

That's why Andrea Niehaus, who heads the Deutsches Museum in Bonn, thinks of MuseumWeek as an experiment.

For the seven days, her museum experimented with Twitter and other social media.

Niehaus considers herself a social media newby: Twitter's new territory, but it's also fun.

By week's end, the two white pillars in the Bundeskunsthalle were covered in blue notes: displaying insights into the art, or words of praise for the museum's architecture. The MuseumWeek visitors are a creative lot.

Siebert is pleased with the feedback. She's taken photos of some of the statements and plans to post them on Twitter.

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