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Best of the Web
March 30, 2006

One of our "big" ones: Campfire Stories with George Catlin.

The Museums and the Web conference announced the winners of its Best of the Web competition Friday in Albuquerque, New Mexico. All the winners are listed below, but the one that has me really thinking is the winner in the Best Small Site category, the Waterford County Image Archive by the Waterford County Museum in Dungarvan, Ireland.

As one of the judges noted:

I was very taken by the fact that this site was developed with no budget at all, just volunteers and donated expertise and support. Nevertheless it provides an excellent archival resource and a timely reminder that we don't all have the human and financial resources of the big organisations, yet it is still possible to produce useful, good quality resources.

Amen to that. Here at SAAM we've done 'em big, and we've done 'em small, and I'm not sure that from the public's point of view bigger (more effort, broader scope, more features, more cutting edge) is necessarily better. Or at least I'm gradually coming to believe that the road to the best in museum Web sites doesn't have to be a progression of increasingly ambitious initiatives. Rather, it can be about leading the visitor through a series of smaller offerings that provide access to manageable nuggets of primary materials, interpretation, opinion, and fun. Taken separately, these sites are relatively straightforward to construct and consume, but when they are unified by  common themes and parallel structures and navigation, and are accessible through a clear and easy to use search, they become greater than the sum of their parts, which is what the Web is all about, eh?

The other thing that interests me about the Waterford County site, and also the Science Buzz site that won Best Innovative and Best Overall site, is that they are both made by--or made whole by--their communities. Waterford County is not only about its community but was made by volunteers from that community, and Science Buzz is most notable for its engaging put-a-human-face-on-science point of view and its vigorous use of forums and queries. The Web's about the people, people: a fundamental truth that we re-learn here almost every day, and a huge part of the motivation for putting this blog in motion in the first place.

So, from makers big and small to you, the people, here are the 2006 Museums and the Web Best of the Web winners:

Posted by Michael Edson on March 30, 2006 in Museums & Technology


The Waterford County Image Achieve is very well known among those of us Irish descendant photographers who are also deeply involved in genealogical research. It is a beautifully designed and wonderfully functional site.

I'd like to add that The USGENWEB Project is also completely volunteer-driven and supported. Every county in every state (parishes for my adopted Louisiana sisters and brothers!) has a volunteer coordinator who's responsible for creating, updating and maintaining archival materials related to that county's history. Many of the county sites have large searchable photo archives.

Essentially, each county site connected to The USGENWEB Project is a small stand-alone site supported by volunteers. The volunteers who coordinate these county projects are to be commended for providing access to treasured genealogical records and digitized versions of historic photographs that relate to the county's history. Those of us who use the Web to research family history are deeply appreciative of their efforts.

For many years now I've been photographing historic cemeteries in my home state of Mississippi and sharing these images with the appropriate county sites that are part of The USGENWEB Project. I'd also like to point out how important it is to photo-document vanishing historic sites in this country (cemeteries, buildings, structures, etc.) and to share those images with the appropriate USGENWEB county site.

All you have to do is click on the state site link from the USGENWEB’s homepage. Each state site will provide individual county coordinator links. Select the county that may have a historic subject you would be interested in photographing and simply email the county coordinator and let them know what you're possibly interested in contributing to their site.

One of the prime areas of interest is photo-documenting abandoned cemeteries that are in danger of being destroyed and lost. There are also many historic cemeteries that are in danger of being lost to development. The Washington Post recently discussed this subject in the article More Family Cemeteries Dying Away in the South.

I'm sure the terrific volunteers of The USGENWEB Project will be happy to hear from you if you're interested in contributing to this effort to preserve history.

Thanks for your comments regarding the Waterford County Image Archive.

Because of cost when we do a book we are limited in the number of photos we can publish. Faded or badly damaged photos may not be good enough for print. However, when these images are available online cost and space is not an issue. Enlarging a digital photo, even if damaged, can provide a lot of useful information.

When publishing a book we must concentrate on popular topics and photos. This means that many areas of history may not get due attention. The Internet allows us to publish family photos (for their clothing style for example) and less popular topics.

Also publishing architectural photos in a book may not be useful unless readers can see changes and compare and contrast. Publishing online allows us to show a collection of images. As our image archivist stated, "I thought these individual photos were fairly boring" but when we saw them as a collection they made much more sense.

We currently publish a book of the illustrated history of Dungarvan (our county town) and as a general overview it will help to generate interest in our history. The Internet, however, allows us to go into greater detail where space and cost are not issues.

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