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I kind of hope I just write the same email to you every year...

Last year, following the MCN 2015 conference I sent an email to the Cooper Hewitt telling the story of what I'd said to people when asked what it meant that both Seb Chan and I had both left the museum so soon after launching the Pen.

Earlier this year, following the launch of the London Biennale, during which the Cooper Hewitt traveled not just the museum's wallpaper room but also the Pen and all its related visit technology, I sent another email to the museum. It was titled I kind of hope I just write the same email to you every year...

This is an annotated version of what I said:

I wanted to take a moment to send a note and say congratulations on the London Biennale launch!

It goes without saying that I am not so far away from the Pen (and its relations) that I don't have something like a vested interest in all of this stuff and remain eager to see it succeed.

On the other hand aside from answering questions and the occasional technology-therapy session it is completely out of my hands now, which makes it that much more exciting to see the work grow and evolve.

This is how it should be.

I don't expect that the London Biennale will garner the attention or the praise that it should, though.

Unfortunately I think that's just part of a larger dynamic in the museum sector – a perverse mix of tall-poppy syndrome and a bad habit of compensating for the future with shiny things meaning that some people will only see "last year's project" – and not reflective of the work that the CH did.

You're not supposed to say things like that out loud, are you?

But I think it is work that is a big deal, and the museum shouldn't be shy in telling people about it.

I think it's a big deal because the museum was able to, in no particular order:

* Adapt and modify third-party work (the Local Projects application code for the wallpaper room).

Even just as a thought experiment, it would be good to keep an inventory of times this has actually ever happened in the museum sector. Who are the institutions, and what are the projects, where the warranty label on a third-party deliverable has been ripped off (or even just removed after its expiry date) in order to look inside the box and make it sing another tune?

I would gladly be proven wrong on this but I think that list, in 2016, would be pretty short.

* Adapt and modify and distill its own work and essentially figure out what parts of the collection website and visit infrastucture could be re-purposed.

There is this weird idea that in order for a project to succeed it must do everything out of the gate and in one coherent package. This is not just implausible it's also bad engineering practice to have something so tightly integrated that it can't be disassembled and reconfigured in to something new.

The alternative, in real terms, is a whole lot of files and even more blocks of code being cloned from one project to another. That's okay. There is time to refactor everything in to shared libraries, assuming it even works.

What's important in the work the museum did for London is that when we launched the Pen, in 2015, there was absolutely no attention paid to making something that could be repackaged in a white-box Pen system for another institution. None. It was too soon and we needed to make sure that things worked in our museum before trying to understand what it meant to work in someone else's museum.

In 2016, the Cooper Hewitt is probably about 70 to 75% of the way to having something that could be used with minimal fuss by another museum. That's a big deal on the face of it and an even bigger deal because it's all work that grew organically out of efforts that were done, in-house, for the re-opening.

* Not make any substantial changes to the Pen itself. No one else will appreciate what that means but those of us that do...

* Integrate a brand new third-party contractor (Dan Catt) and have them work successfully with all of the scaffolding that was originally developed not just for Local Projects but for everyone who came after them.

* Demonstrate that the technology is not so tightly integrated to the museum itself that it is essentially a glorified installation piece.

I am not going to comment on every bullet point so just take a moment to re-read those last three items. If you doubt my comments about the Pen, then read this.

I think it's clear that my bias has always been about getting the Pen on to the Mall (no one can say it's not possible now, only that it would be hard) but even if that didn't happen you know enough to send out modified versions of the (84") collections app tables to other museums, SI or not, now.

I am going to repeat this one because it's important to me: No one can say that it is impossible to deploy the Pen to all the Smithsonian museums on the Mall in Washington, now.

It would be challenging but most of those challenges are at the visitor services layer and to an equal or lesser degree about changing internal cultural practices. Both of those are problems in the museum sector long overdue for some attention, anyway. The really hard problems are not technology-related nor are they, if you imagine operating at the scale of the entire Smithsonian, financial. The hard problems are elsewhere and they are worth doing.

In the meantime, can you imagine how mind-bendingly awesome it would be to go to the Mall and be able to come away with a permanent record of all the things you collected at each of the Smithsonian museums you visited?

Seriously amazing, even.

We are probably still a few years away from Seb's dream of screens integrated in to display cases (this is where Seb would start pounding the table saying there is already some museum in Holland doing it today, which doesn't make him right) but ability to travel the collection tables and all they make possible get the sector a whole lot closer in the meantime.

* Portable immersion room!!!!!

It is no longer crazy talk to imagine setting up a clone of the immersion room with, say, all the textiles during an event like Fashion Week.

I was unaware at the time I wrote this that it was, in fact, Fashion Week in New York City.

The museum has not traveled the 84-inch Collections App tables anywhere yet. The point is that having now reconfigured and traveled the smaller 55-inch Wallpaper App tables they can and more importantly they know they can.

And like the email I sent last year, I think the best part is that all of this was done by staff all while they were doing all the other things they do at the museum.

It is even more impressive given the unfortunate timing of [redacted]. Micah and his team should be applauded for what they did, given the time and the constraints. Hugged, even.

This is also important. None of this stuff works because there was something called a successul v1 launch. They work and they happen because there are people making them happen.

There is no way to do the kinds of things that the Cooper Hewitt has done, and continues to be capable of, without staff. It doesn't have to be big staff. It simply needs to be a group of people who work well together and who have sufficient freedom and autonomy (and the corresponding responsibility) to imagine and prove their ideas to the rest of the museum.

That is true of almost any department in any organization so the salient point is not that the people working on digital are special, only that they are not programmable toasters.

(Also Matt O'Connor because... well, portable immersion room!!!!)

Did I mention that the museum can now tour the wallpaper room, arguably the most popular exhibition since the re-opening? Matt did that.

I imagine there was a non-trivial capital cost to the Biennale and I gather everyone aged a few extra years for every week leading up to the opening. We're still not at a stage where any of this is necessarily easy or cheap, yet.

The goal is to make simple things easy and hard things possible not to groom magic ponies.

But again, like last year, when you look at what's been accomplished and you imagine the time and cost it would take for a traditional client-service firm (or firms) to do the same it's pretty easy to imagine an impossible budget. One that would have prevented the work that went to London from ever happening.

If you think I am joking read these two blog posts side-by-side — Micah Walter's run-through of the entire London Biennale project and Lisa Adang's post-mortem of developing a brand new Pen integration for the Process Lab — and consider that both of these projects were happening at the same time.

When you factor in the costs of outsourcing to include (probably) not being able to again piggy-back on the work done for London for the next thing then it starts to put things in perspective.

I also know those are just fancy words when you're looking at the reality of a spreadsheet so I wanted to say thank you for continuing to take leap after leap of faith in to... well, so far it's worked out pretty well hasn't it?

This is how it should be.