Paddy Johnson has a very amusing post up on the "Worst of the Web" for 2007. It's as opinionated as you'd expect (and want), and nails a number of ripe targets. As I commented there, I think she's a little too tough on Artworld Salon; in design terms, it's a pretty standard sort of blog, and while I understand her objections to the content, nothings going to appeal to everyone. While I agree that their comments policy is too restrictive, that's a topic different people chose to handle differently--some opting for no comments at all, a valid choice but arguably even worse than highly controlled threads. Anyway, I described my real enjoyment of the post in a comment I made there, reproduced here in slightly edited form:
Oh my god, I was reading along thinking you were being a little tough on Artworld Salon, saying to myself, “If she thinks they’re bad, I’m going to have to point her to RISD’s website.” I chortled when I scrolled down.
I remember several years ago talking with someone on the museum’s staff who asked me out of the blue, “What do you think of the website?” I started to stammer, not wanting to say flat out that I thought it stank, when she gave a wicked smile and said, “Not a fan of the duck gallery, huh?” And that’s exactly what that awful front page is like. Evidently there was a lot of anxiety over it having an appropriately impressive design, pressure that ultimately delivered the absolutely wrong result.
The worst parts, however, are the museum collection pages. They took the time to present extensive selections from all departments of the museum–in images so small as to be worthless. Keep in mind that, after the basic information–hours, admission fees, current exhibitions–collection pages are what visitors to the museum’s part of the website most want to see. In person, William Powell Frith’s Salon D’Or, Hamburg is nearly 50 inches tall and over 100 inches wide, with every person depicted engaged in some distinct action charged with narrative; online (it’s number 8 on the Painting and Sculpture page) it’s about 1″ x 2″ and impossible to see. And it was just as much work to create those pages of tiny, crappy images as it would have been to do it right.
I mentioned the Frith because if you're not getting the narrative element, you're not getting anything at all from that painting. The point could just as easily have been made regarding their Rothko, Manet, Sargents, etc. And seriously, all of the images are done through pop-ups: literally just as much work to put up in their absurdly small size as if they had done them larger. I realize museums don't want high-quality images of their collection escaping their (already limited) control, but really, a better balance between online access and security would not have been hard to achieve.