I didn’t participate in last week’s Museums and the Web conference in Los Angeles, but I followed the twitter conversation from home most nights (that’s what happens when there’s a 9 hour time difference).

There were some MWXX sessions on open source – both software and hardware – but not much appeared on Twitter during those unfortunately. One related discussion was about museums active on GitHub (one of the larger platforms for sharing open source code). I had earlier stumbled over “musetech-central”, a list of museums sharing their open source codebases, but it hadn’t been updated in about a year. I forked the list and updated it, and it now lists approximately 60 different institutions and their github accounts.

Twenty years ago, it might have made sense to have a list of museums with websites. Ten years ago (well, perhaps eight or seven years ago) museums with Facebook or Twitter accounts. On a Swedish level, such lists are actually still assembled. A list like this should and could only be a starting point, though. The more important and interesting discussion is how museums are approaching open source.

I’m one of those musetech generalists with one foot in the humanities and one in technology, so don’t read this as an authorative voice, rather as an invititation to discussion. Here’s an “open source ladder” with four (increasingly complex) ways museums approach open source applications and projects. Feel free to challenge this model!

1) using open source

These museums use open source projects (probably WordPress or Drupal, maybe some Javascript frameworks as well), but treat them as a regular vendor-supplied application – except that they’re for free.

2) using & writing open source

These museums use open source applications and projects, and also have in-house technologists that actually write their own code to solve some problems. They share their work even though the code is tailored to their own specific setting. Why not put it on Github though?

3) using & writing & contributing to open source

These museums not only put their own stuff on Github, but are involved in other open source projects too. They contribute with plugins for their open source CMS and help solve general problems, not only those that are specific to the institution’s needs.

4) using & writing & contributing to & collaborating on open source

These museums combine forces with other museums on open source projects that fulfill overlapping needs. Working together, they can solve more complicated problems not only for the participating institutions but for other institutions as well.

Do you agree with this blunt classification? How would you characterize your museum’s open source efforts? How do we move from solving problems in a specific way to solving them in a general way applicable to other museums as well?