5 questions with Amit Sood and James David from GoogleArt

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If you’re not familiar with the world of museum experts, Communicating the Museum Conference may not ring a bell. However, to those that are busy with branding, communicating, marketing, advertising or even curating museums, this conference is the highlight of the year. It is organised by professionals for professionals and is attended by members of MoMA, Tate, V&A, Louvre, you name it.

Essentially, all the well known and successful brands are there to share best practices and up and coming brands are there to take notes and network. The conference is organized by AGENDA and this year’s edition was hosted by the Museum Kunstpalast in the elegant city of Dusseldorf. AGENDA is an international public relations agency for museums located in the heart of Paris. I was lucky enough to attend and wanted to take a moment to share  an interview I conducted with the person behind the GoogleArt project – Amit Sood and his successor – James David.

GoogleArt: Amit Sood on stage at Communicating the Musuem conference July 2011, Dusseldorf

1. The GoogleArt platform offers an unique on-line visit in 17 world-class museums. The benefits of the GoogleArt platform for the end-user are amazing, but what does the on-line exposure at the GoogleArt platform give to the museums? Have you or the participating museums analysed and linked the on-line user behaviour to that of the physical visitor?

James Davis: I can give you the answer from Tate’s perspective, which was my previous role at Tate. The advantage from the museum’s perspective was absolutely about reaching the audience. People who have never heard of Tate and were not aware of the Tate collection and the great art work involved, could encounter it through the project because Google has a very wide reach. With regard to the connection between the on-line visitor and potentially the physical visitor, Tate is researching that right now to find connections, and totally there are some people that ask in the gallery about the project and references and relationships between the two.
From the museum’s perspective being on GoogleArt is certainly something that helps drive potential visitors to the museum, but that’s not the reason for involvement. However, it’s a very positive side effect of the involvement in the project.

Amit Sood: Quantitatively what we can measure is the traffic to the museums’ website. And it has increased, that’s a fact. Qualitatively the brands of the participating museums have benefited because of the media coverage. But does the online help the offline? This is very difficult to measure because you need to find some assumptions and make some correlations and that we leave to the museum to do because they know how much traffic they have on the website and how much traffic they have in the offline.

2. We already know that online visitors can make their own collection of art on GoogleArt and share it with friends, which is amazing. Have you envisaged any new social features in the future?

We thought of more social features, but it’s too early for us to figure out what they might be. We are seeing that people love spending time telling their friends what they found in a painting or what they think about a painting and we want to try and get these emotions out there in an easy way for the users. Whether that’s through creating a community or through integrating more social media tools, we don’t know, but we are evaluating different options. I think in the next phase you will see a few more social features or I would rather call them interactive experiences for people who love the same thing. So, if you love a painting and I love a painting, how can we talk about it?

3. There are 17 museums currently represented at the GoogleArt platform. And you announced that you are planning to add new museums to this collection? My question is in general what does it take to add “plus one”?

Well, as I mentioned during the presentation, the negotiations and going through all the legal aspects a museum is bound to is quite a lengthy process, but once this is done, what it takes “to add one more” are the three different components of the project – the street view, the giga pixel and the high resolution images, and then there is the meta data. Essentially what it takes on the museum side is, the museum needs to select what they want to show in the project, that’s something we leave to them, we don’t interfere on the curation. Once they are ready, they start working with us and we take care of the different operations – the recording of the selected museum halls with the street view trolley, taking the high resolution and the giga pixel photographs. We also provide them access to upload the meta data… and then we launch! So basically we provide all these resources totally for free and the museum has to arrange the location, the time and the coordination with us. There is a lot of effort that the museum has to put themselves, but Google will provide the different tools for the different steps.

4. Would you call the GoogleArt a stable project, i.e. do you have the resources to support any museum that wants to join, even if it’s not a renown museum. Or do you have any plans to make it an open platform?

Amit Sood: In the next phase we will have some elements that will be more stable and will allow some museums to upload their collections and show it on the platform. But if the question is can we do street view for every museum in the world, it’s very difficult because there is operational work involved and whenever there is an operational element involved scalability is slow. We’ll see as we move along, things might get easier to do. We would like more museums to join in phased manner as we test new tools that allow for greater scale.

5. Are there any new art projects that Google is working on or projects that you would like to see realised in the future?

Amit Sood: Different Google offices always work on different projects. For example YouTube Play, which was done with the Guggenheim museum was done with some friends of ours based in New York. Recently we did a project with the Getty museum and the Google Goggles™ app. So, there are lot’s of different art projects, but some of them are one-off initiatives and some others like the GoogleArt project are rotating initiatives. What is very important in Google is that we don’t approach things as a big project. For example when we started the GoogleArt project we started as something very small, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there is something going on somewhere that will blossom into something big one day.

Elina Zheleva is working for the European Aviation Safety Agency in Cologne. Currently she is located in Paris, where she is finishing her EMBA and is specializing in Marketing and Communications. She is a co-founder of the SocialEast.eu project.  

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