It should be fairly simple to answer the question, 'what's the point of a museum website?' because the answer should surely be some variant on 'to further the mission and goals of the museum'.
But what is it about being online, about being on or of the web that problematises that answer?
Is it that there are so many other sites providing similar content, activities and access to knowledge? Is it that the niche role many museums play in their local communities doesn't translate into online space? Is it that other sites got in earlier and now host better conversations about museum collections?
Or is the answer not really problematic – there have always been other conversations about collections and ways of accessing knowledge, and the question is really about where museums and their various activities fit in the digital landscape?
I don't know, but it's Friday night and I should be on my way out, so I'm going to turn the question over to smarter minds… What are the right questions and why is it difficult for a museum to translate its mission directly to its website?
Update, the next day… This quote from an article, Lost professors: we won’t need academics in 60 years, addresses one of my theories about why translating a museum's mission into the online context is problematic:
…there are probably several hundred academics in Australia who lecture on, say, regression analysis, and very few of us could claim to be in the top 1% – actually only 1% of us.
The web allows 100% of the students to access the best 1%. Where is the market for duplication of mediocre course material by research academics?
I'm not saying any museum content is mediocre, of course, but the point about the challenges of the sudden visibility of duplicated content remains. If the museum up the road or in the next town has produced learning activities or expert commentary about the same regional/national history events or objects, does it further your mission to post similar content? What content or activities can you host that is unique to your museum, either because of your particular niche collections or context or because no-one else has done it yet?
Also, for further context, Report from 'What's the point of a museum website' at MCN2011 and Brochureware, aggregators and the messy middle: what's the point of a museum website? (which is really about 'what forms do museum websites take'), and earlier posts on What would a digital museum be like if there was never a physical museum? and the related Thoughts towards the future of museums for #kulturwebb, What's the point of museum collections online? (Angelina's succinct response: digital content recognises audience experiences, providing opportunities for personal stories to form significant part of the process of interpretation) and finally, thoughts about The rise of the non-museum – museums are possibly the least agile body in the cultural content market right now.