Virtually everyone who went to MW2008 in Montreal earlier this month is already deeply committed to moving their institutions further into the social media/web 2.0 space. There were 600 or 700 people there, so for a conference it was an intimate event, and also international, with participants came from museums in Australia, Finland, Italy, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Britain, Canada, Germany, the US and 18 other countries.
Over the next few posts I’ll give you a round-up of the themes, good examples and memorable stories from the sessions I attended. If any of you were also there and have something to add, please do!
One of the themes I heard expressed most often was that you never know what knowledge visitors have about your collections until you give them an opportunity to share their comments. A terrific example of this is the Library of Congress initiative on Flickr. Several months ago they uploaded thousands of photos from their collections and have invited the public to add tags and comments. Why did they do this? Because, to quote from their Flickr page, “the identifying information that came with the original photos… can be incomplete and is even inaccurate at times. We welcome your contribution of names, descriptions, locations, tags, and also your general reactions….More words are needed to help more people find and use these pictures.” If the Library of Congress trusts ordinary people to provide worthwhile information, perhaps your institution can take advantage of this untapped knowledge source as well.
Another related theme was that visitors have a very different perspective on objects and artworks than curators do, and those view points are often refreshing and help us see things in new ways. A case in point comes from The Brooklyn Museum. In her presentation, Shelly Bernstein reaffirmed the benefits they’ve experienced from making the Museum’s collection available on multiple social sites, and from inviting the public to respond to it. Their current example of collaborating with the public is the exhibition project Click.
Inspired by the high quality of visitors’ photographs of works in their collection, and posted on Flickr, they are now organizing an exhibition of photographs of the changing face of Brooklyn, taken by the public, and then curated by the public. As their website says, “The results will be analyzed and discussed by experts in the fields of art, online communities, and crowd theory.”Read all about it here.
Another point that kept bubbling up to the surface was that “it’s better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.” Often there’s no consensus within the museum about whether to embrace any of “this web 2.0 stuff” or how to do it. In these cases a common tactic has been for an intrepid curator, web producer, marketing person, or educator on staff to just start putting videos on YouTube, or blogging, or constructing a FaceBook page and calling it an experiment – for as long as possible, under the theory that it’s easier to sell an idea once you have some results.
I’ll be posting more on some of the specific sessions – about emerging audiences, user generated content, metrics, YouTube, social tagging and a cool very user friendly programming language, so stay tuned. The conference website has all the session descriptions, speaker bios, papers and of course, blogs, so check it out.