Marc Spiegler over at Artworld Salon hooks me back in with more museum geekery in a post about online virtual tours. I don't have any examples of best practices myself, though perhaps some of these excellent nerds could come up with some. I'll agree with Marc about the "untapped potential" of web tours--they seem like a great idea which hasn't quite panned out yet. Perhaps that's because the technology (or at any rate, the technology + the money/expertise most museums have to implement such projects) isn't quite there yet; perhaps they really aren't that great an idea.
Or rather, it may be that they're an idea caught between two modes of online presentation. Marc mentions them, but it doesn't seem to me he draws out all the implications: one is the bandwidth-intensive, high design (if generally a bit "low" in content) world of "animated movies, console videogames, virtual worlds/MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), etc." while the other is the quick and dirty world of YouTube. Technological competence varies from institution to institution, but I can't think of many that are at a point where the investment in and knowledge of high quality and dynamic graphics in web design and presentation can match the first model; it's never before recent years been an important area of concern, at least not at the level for gamers for whom graphics are, if not everything, then a whole lot. Anyone can slap up some jpegs and have an online gallery, but rivaling the gaming/animation world on its own turf is another matter (a fact which says something in itself.)
Which makes simpler modes of presentation, a la YouTube, more attractive, at least in some ways. And certainly many institutions are experimenting with things like podcasts, Quicktime videos, etc. But the low-tech aspect can rankle as well. Did you ever think you'd be delighted to watch fuzzy, low-grade video clips about 4" x 6", that doing so would become a sensation? Me, neither, but here we are. I've been critical of complaints of low fidelity in new media formats in the past, and I still am. In the case of .mp3s, I've tended to think of the as idealizations of a prelapsarian Age of Great Sound that didn't have much to do with how most people listened to recorded music most of the time. In this case, however, I think there is a legitimate concern. The rough quality of presentation runs the risk of diminishing the artwork, while the increased acceptance of the online medium (especially among younger viewers) can normalize it as an equivalent to the actual experience of the artwork. Certainly it's hard to come to any other conclusion regarding the curator Marc tells of, who hurried filmed an exhibit only to "view" it later during a boring conference session, that he or she either had no actual interest in the show or was committing professional negligence.