Hello World

There’s an API method hiding in plain site on the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum called whatWouldMicahSay. It returns a random “saying” made up of quotes I may or may not have actually said during my time at the museum. It started off as a way for Aaron to harass me while I was delivering a talk at the Museum Computer Network conference in Montreal in 2013. As I was talking, and people were tweeting what I was saying, Aaron live teased me by adding his version of the quotes to an API method, driving me completely insane.

The whatWouldMicahSay API Method

The joke grew from there and is now a small repository of things I supposedly said during our time at the museum. The fact that the method still exists and works is testament to the work we did there, and Aaron’s gag was proof that the system we built was nimble enough to be easily adjusted with a few turns of a screw.

I’m secretly kinda proud of “wwms” (there is even a python based command line program you can download to try it out). I’ve used it many times to help explain what an API is and how to use one. I’ve used it in demonstrations at conferences, and it’s come up more than a few times in workshops I’ve facilitated around the world. For me it’s a very tangible Hello World for anyone curious about using an API at a museum. We all need a Hello World.

Hello World

“Hello, world” program by Brian Kernighan (1978)

About a year ago I left my job at Cooper Hewitt to pursue new things. I didn’t have much of a plan. I thought I’d look around for a bit, take some freelance gigs, and eventually find a new home at another cultural organization. If you’ve been following my story, you know it didn’t work out quite like that.

Since September, I’ve been operating out of the New Inc offices in New York’s Bowery neighborhood. I figured if I put myself in a room full of creative people on a daily basis, magic might start to happen. Since then I’ve been on a fact finding mission, trying to figure out why places like museums are having a hard time engaging with technology.

I’ve visited museums all over the world, and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve visited some of the largest museums — complex organizations made up of sometimes thousands of staff members, dozens of departments, and serving millions of annual visitors. I’ve visited some of the smallest museums as well — those quirky, bespoke institutions that their directors sometimes refer to as “passion projects” and everything in between, like the medium sized organization in a smaller city, trying to figure out how to remain relevant as the city it serves grows up around it.

The one thing I’ve noticed on all of these visits is that regardless of the size and scale of the institution, no matter how large their annual visitation, operating budget, or staff resources, they are all in one way or another at a unique point along a timeline of a digital transformation. It’s happening whether they like it or not, and the pace at which it’s happening is increasing daily.

Micah Walter Studio

Our new brand by Justine Braisted

So, I’m pleased to announce Micah Walter Studio, a new studio focused on helping cultural organizations hold hands with technology. We’re a team of museum specialists, engineers, designers, product managers, and data scientists who help museums redefine themselves through the sensible application of technology.

Our studio was formed to help cultural organizations position themselves to take part in the world around them. We look at each organization, try to uncover its assets and find focus in a sometimes chaotic mix of resources, programs, initiatives and capabilities. We help these organizations organize themselves, find the signal in the noise and then we build the tools they need to surface their institutional knowledge, open up access to their collections, and allow them to easily connect with their technology partners in a thoughtful and sustainable way.

Keep In Touch

For the next few months we will be experimenting with several platforms that we think might be a useful way for you to connect with us. We’ve already launched our social media channels ( instagram, twitter, facebook, linkedin ) where we will be highlighting our work, sharing our ideas, and exploring art and design around the world.

Today we are launching our blog, which will be the home for all the work we are doing. It will be authored by all of the amazing folks working in the studio and will highlight all of the ways we are coming together to contribute to this sector. We will try and process our work and document here in the spirit of a “labs” blog, evaluating ourselves by sharing with you our processes, successes and failures. We will get philosophical at times, and talk nuts and bolts other times. It will be messy, but that’s how it’s supposed to be.

And, there’s more to come. I won’t tell you all the ideas we have right now, but stay tuned — it’s gonna be fun! In the meantime, please do get in touch. If you are a museum looking for a technology partner that can help you build digital into your organization’s DNA, reach out. If you are a creative technologist wondering about how places like museums might be a platform for your work, follow us. If you’ve got opinions on Sparql endpoints, or collections management software, we’re here for you.

— Micah