The digital museum has given rise to a new field, a new type of museum specialist who thinks about how to use the internet to improve the the public’s ability to appreciate the priceless works in their collections.
Moskowitz is a member of this cohort. She studies the intersection between museums and what she calls “the expert web.” Loosely-defined, the expert web is a collection of online communities, forums and subreddits that come together to discuss a niche topic, like toys or taxidermy. Her academic focus has made Moskowitz a keen noticer of trends.
“I see tons of things through the eyes of a museum,” she says.
That includes the FCC’s reversal of net neutrality protections in December 2017. According to Moskowitz, as museums and their digital collections might not fare so well without net neutrality protections, with consequences for the institutions, their patrons, and the wider public. As it stands, museum websites are accessible to anyone, but without net neutrality, that level of access could change.
At their most basic function, digital museums are important hubs of logistical information that help bring people to their physical locations.
But in a greater sense, they also serve as massive online galleries that bring museums to people. Museums also use their websites to engage with volunteers, sometimes asking them to transcribe handwritten letters of historical interest in order to add them to the digital archive, among other museum projects. All you to participate in the preservation of a shared history and culture need is an internet connection.
Net neutrality’s repeal could threaten all that. While it’s not yet clear how the internet will change as a result of deregulation, there are a couple ways it could go down.
ISPs could decide to follow the cable television model, and sell internet packages. In this scenario, Moskowitz says, museum websites might end up as part of a culture bundle, or as part of a local package. That means patrons could be required to pay extra if they want to access the digital collections that museums have up until now made available for free.
ISPs might also establish “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” for internet service. Companies that can afford to pay more to service providers could get preferential treatment, and others could receive inferior service.