In Defense of Wikipedia as a Research Tool

At the end of my graduate seminar this past semester, I suggested that while I did not as a whole consider Wikipedia a “scholarly” resource for citations today, it was certainly a good starting point to search out relevant references.  I proposed that five years from now, the next iteration of Wikipedia might prove to be a legitimate scholarly resource, citable in papers in the same way survey textbooks are today.

That class discussion prompted me to pull a book that had sat in my “to read” stack for the past couple of years – The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen.  His thesis is that Wikipedia, YouTube, etc. are the breeding grounds for amateurs to spread their misinformation, contrasted to the high standards of traditional professional journalism and scholarship.  I hoped the book would give an alternative to my classroom advocacy of such online venues as tools for engagement and dissemination of information. I read the Introduction and Chapter 1 and was greatly disappointed.  When I got to page 48 and read Keen’s rant against the “citizen journalist” reports from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I realized he writes from an elitist and Luddite perspective.

My interest in this discussion is from the perspective of whether such online resources are at least starting points for valid and reliable research information.    This week my Applied Archaeology and Museums class, will discuss plans for their first class project.  Students will prepare written papers on repatriation of the Elgin Marbles.  We will then have an in-class debate on the pros and cons of the Elgin Marbles repatriation.  I looked at the Wikipedia page for the Elgin Marbles.  After spending 15 minutes clicking through the various links on the page, I realized it would simply be stupid of me not to point students toward this as a first resource for the class project.  Check out the page.  I think you will agree.  The page simply is not the idiocy Mr. Keen rants against.

In a recent blog post Jennifer Carey links to a list of 15 resources for free scholarly information.  I was particularly intrigued by the Wikimedia Foundation’s project Wikiversity that is “devoted to learning resources, learning projects, and research for use in all types and styles of education from pre-school to university, including professional training and informal learning.  We invite teachers, students, and researchers to join us in creating open educational resources and collaborative learning communities.”   Sounds exactly like the nightmare Mr. Keen wrote about.

Here is what I learned about Wikiversity in 15 minutes of clicking.  Wikiversity has some well-developed modules, principally in the hard sciences. I am preparing for a special course this coming fall flowing from Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.  Through Wikiversity I found that this spring a module Political Simulations and Gaming is being created through the Department of Board Game Design  at the University of Westminster.  I will check back in a few months.  Seems a great potential resource.

The naysayers such as Keen are like the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1400s who issued a death sentence for those using the Gutenberg printing press.  (I got that info from a scholarly reference cited on a Wikipedia page.)  Wikipedia and other online user-generated resources have the same range of quality as the “professional” community.   As with the Gutenberg’s press in the 1400s, Wikipedia and other user-generated resources will continue to grow as new technologies.  In just a few years, Wikipedia has quite admirably raised the bar of their quality.  Such user-generated resources are effective tools for the types of engagement that archaeologists and museum professional strive in their outreach efforts to the broad public we serve.

Try this – go to Wikipedia and search your favorite archaeological or museum something – whether NAGPRA, Hopewell Culture, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Field Museum of Natural History . . . Then ask yourself, is this good user-generated information for the public to have ready access?  If it is, that’s great.  If not, perhaps you should use some of your own expertise to user-generate some content!

How do you use Wikipedia or other online sources in your work?

Marketing Museums and Archaeology

At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, we do a reasonably good job of marketing on a limited budget.  We have a monthly e-newsletter with a 1700 person buy-in circulation that includes 200 press contacts.  We receive consistent press coverage of our events.  Our Facebook page has grown to over 800 likes with a moderate level of engagement.  We have a good regional distribution network for our rack cards.  We are attentive to off-site events in which we can take part.  Also, we are fortunate that the University of Memphis administers and promotes our Museum.

But we still fall short in taking advantage of many opportunities.

Related, this week a very common event occurred at the Museum.  I was at the front desk chatting with two visitors in their late 50s headed toward California.  After learning their general route was along Interstate 40, that they had plenty of time and a strong interest in Native American culture, I recommended several stops along the way.  First, I told them about the Mississippian era Parkin Archaeological State Park about 45 minutes into Arkansas from Memphis.  Next, we talked about Spiro Mounds, just across the Oklahoma border and within 20 miles of the Interstate.  Finally, I highly recommended the complex of Chickasaw Nation of cultural heritage venues including museums and a new Cultural Center south of Oklahoma City centered in the Sulphur/Ada/Tishomingo area.  The two visitors were most appreciative as they were not aware of any of these venues.

Here is the punch line to that story.  Were I not standing at the front desk, did not engage the visitors, they possibly would not have found any of these museums and archaeological sites.  We had no brochures for the locations (our fault) but even more so, there is no website, brochure, or other resource that is a one stop shopping for, how to “plan your road trip west if you are interested in museums and archaeology”

What are some solutions?

  • Gozaic is a service that attempts to fill the void, but after two years, judging by their website they have not been very successful.  Neither Parkin, Spiro, or the Chickasaw Nation Cultural Center show up on their searches. Administered through Heritage Travel Inc., a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Gozaic has the potential of Culture 24 in the United Kingdom that hosts pages and links that direct the visitor to venues by type, such as prehistoric.
  • Trail guides, such as the Louisiana’s Indians Mounds of Northeast Louisiana, the Megalith Trail of the Morbihan region of France, or the Archaeological and Heritage Trails around Inverness, Scotland UK, are becoming increasingly popular as a means for cultural heritage travel.  However, most of these resources stop at modern state or county political boundaries.  The Great River Road website is an example of a tool that might be of more interest to the regional traveler as it traces cultural heritage venues along the entire Mississippi River corridor in the United States.
  • Perhaps most effective, but least efficient is for each cultural heritage venue to stock the rack cards and basic promotional information for everything within a few hundred mile radius of their site.
  • I wrote about Kent Vickery last week, a former professor of mine who retired to Woodland Park Colorado.  About one year ago, a couple stopped into our Museum.  Again, by coincidence I was at the front desk, asked where the couple were from and they said Woodland Park Colorado.  I asked if they knew Kent Vickery.  They replied they went to the same church as Kent, and he advised them on museums to visit during their trip.  This story and countless others, show that word of mouth seems one of our best promotional tools.
How do you market your site or museum to the cultural heritage traveler?

Museums, Archaeology & Mobile Apps

Got myself an iPad a couple of weeks ago so I am now learning about the mobile app business.  I have to confess that the biggest draw for me in taking the iPad plunge was to use a music/sound making app called Reactable.  At the same, I sufficiently rationalized the iPad’s portability and work applications as factors to justify the cost.  To dutifully follow-up on the rationalizations, I went to the App Store and searched on Anthropology, Archaeology, Museums to see what all was out there.  There is a good bit of cool stuff.  You can tour Roman-era London via the Londinium app produced by the Museum of London, explore the Please Touch the Exhibit app from the Melbourne Museum, view fine art in the Philips Collection multimedia app based in Washington D.C., and on and on . . .

There is a good bit of museum and archaeology app stuff out there.  But are these apps the latest fad, toys, or what?  As is often the case the American Association of Museum provides a good summary overview text on the subject.  Mobile Apps for Museums: The AAM Guide to Planning and Strategy edited by Nancy Proctor is a good place to start investigating the applicability of these new mobile applications.  Proctor is the Smithsonian’s Head of New Media Initiatives.

In 100 pages, the volume contains 12 brief overview essays on almost all phases of mobile apps from the technical to practical considerations.  An additional 12-page glossary interprets the jargon inherent in any such discussion.  Although a careful read of the entire volume is worthwhile, several essays stood out to me:

  •  Robert Stein’s essay “Mobile Content Strategies for Content Sharing and Long-Term Sustainability” deals with the compatibility of museum apps across time and space.  He reports on a paper he and Proctor co-authored at the 2011 Museums and the Web Conference that addresses this issue and references the TourML wiki as a source for ongoing dialogue.  The upshot of the article is recognizing the importance in the early stages of app development that there are industry standards to assure the production of quality and interactive products.
  • Kate Haley Goldman’s essay “Understanding Adoption of Mobile Technology with Museums” is an important first read for anyone considering mobile apps in museum settings.   Goldman astutely observes that “for institutions already using mobile interpretation, encouraging visitors to use the mobile interpretation was the largest challenge.  Yet for others – vendors and researchers, as well as those considering projects – attracting new visitors via mobile was a primary goal.  This disconnect represents a great opportunity for future research” (p. 67).  Goldman speculates that part of the disconnect comes from the validity and reliability of the visitor survey measures.  She argues for visitor based longitudinal studies to help clarify the issue.  This understanding echoes Clay Shirkey’s concern that internet technology must be relevant to existing behavior.
  • Jane Burton’s essay “Playful Apps” provides another layer of insights as the relationship of the museum user to museum apps. She notes that you can explore physics by playing Launchball from the Science Museum of London or learn about human origins by visiting Meanderthal from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  She cites Flurry, a San Francisco based smartphone analytics firm report, in noting that “studying the U.S. mobile gamer, we note that she earns over 50% more than the average American, is more than twice as likely to have earned a college bachelor’s degree, and is more like to be white or Asian” (p. 74).  Like Goldman, she finds that conventional wisdom on app adoption and use in museums might be suspect and counter the conventional wisdom of the typical app user.
The collection of essays provides an excellent starting point and balanced overview for anyone wishing to get beyond the immediate must have hype or the flip side of too quickly dismissing the use of mobile apps in museum or archaeology public engagement efforts.  However, except for an essay on mobile apps at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, no author in the volume considered in a substantive way whether the apps actually fit in with the mission of the museum or organization.  Proposals for adopting such new technology that are thoroughly enmeshed in the mission of the institution will allow justification of the high cost of app development and equipment often needed to operate the systems.  Otherwise, nay sayers (and funders) may argue that we are just jumping on to the latest interpretive fad.

What is your experience with mobile apps?

Moving From Me to We

Chapter 3 of Nina Simon’s The Participatory Museum  is titled “From Me to We” where she considers how an individual’s museum experience might be enhanced by other visitor experiences at the same institution.  She writes:

Designing experiences that get better the more people use them is not simply a question of providing experiences that are well suited to crowds. While many people cite social engagement as a primary reason for visiting museums, they don’t necessarily want to spend their entire visit talking or interacting with other visitors in groups. Successful me-to-we experiences coordinate individuals’ actions and preferences to create a useful and interesting collective result. Technologists often call this “harnessing collective intelligence.”

This passage suggests the very real potential of moving the Me to We concept beyond the visitor experience to the institutions themselves.  In my capacity as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, I believe this understanding is ripe with opportunity.  In the past couple of months, museums in West Tennessee formed a loosely structured consortium of institutions.  In reviewing an admittedly incomplete listing of West Tennessee Museums I counted nearly 75 institutions, many of which I was unaware of their existence.  This led me to thinking about the following:

  • If our newly founded consortium takes a unified approach, how will each institution and the group be strengthened in “harnessing our collective intelligence” in cross-promotional efforts?
  • Beyond simple promotion, what is there at each of the 75 West Tennessee Museums that will produce a better collective experience both regionally and at each location?
  • How do we maintain our individuality as institutions to prevent becoming clones to every other museum’s good idea?
  • How do we create multiple webs of interconnectivity without getting completely bogged down in the process?

Related, a few weeks ago a friend was talking to me about the wonders of Spotify.  I signed up for the service and now have direct access to a greater diversity of music than I imagined available – all that I can download to my iPod.  Of late, I have thought about how when I entered high school in the mid-1960s, for my cohort there was Top-40 radio, and that was it.  Shortly, rock took off on FM radio and broadened the scope a good bit.   But today Spotify advertises “millions and millions of tracks” to choose from instantly.  This new choice is both a qualitative and quantitative leap of staggering proportions.

The same is true for the cultural heritage venues.  Besides the increasing number of the institutions of all shapes and sizes, budget cuts, the virtual world, competing leisure time and informal learning opportunities, all diminish the immediate visibility of museums and other cultural venues.  We took for granted the success of these cultural heritage sites in the past.

Moving from Me to We is not simply a matter of pragmatic self-interest and survival.  Rather, moving from Me to We is a means to most effectively live into our missions in the 21st century.  There are tremendous potential and current successes to this movement.  I will review some of these opportunities in the coming weeks.

How will your institution move from Me to We?

Museums: Online, Real-Time, or Both?

A couple of years ago there seemed to be a sharp divide between proponents of online vs. real-time museum experiences.  Now the online museum experience is accepted as here to stay.  I was surprised at the lack of hostility from the museum world toward the Google Art Project.  Having gotten past the knee-jerk position of taking sides in the online vs real-time debate, the discussion now focuses on how the two experiences complement each other.  Such is focus of All Together Now: Museums and Online Collaborative Learning by William B. Crow and Herminia Wei-hsin Din, published this year by the American Association of Museums (AAM).

The volume is typical of the AAM publications that offer a general introduction to an area, coupled with an abundance of resources for further study.  The basic premise is laid out in the Preface that states:

We see these changes and innovations as terrifically exciting – not as a celebration of the new media and technologies themselves, but for the possibilities they offer people.  As we shift from the Information Age to the Collaboration Age, these new technologies offer people the ability to work together in ways that simply weren’t possible even 15 years ago.  And, although museums draw strength from their unique physical collections and locations, they also now see themselves as digital collections and communities, located in an increasingly global world (p. 6).

The authors organize the presentation in four parts:

  • A basic discussion of online collaborative learning – the underlying theory, types, resources, and challenges
  • the conditions necessary for implementing online collaborative learning
  • the roles individuals play in the process
  • the tools for building the online collaborative community of practice
A highlight of the book is the substantive case studies that review the methods, successes, and challenges of the online collaborative process.  The case studies include the Smithsonian Commons project, San Diego’s Balboa Park Cultural Partnership of 26 institutions, and other projects both large and small.  The case studies are particularly valuable in that they give equal balance to what worked, what did not work, and future directions.

The message of All Together Now is consistent with that of Clay Shirkey who notes that it is not the media or technology that drives the behavior but rather enables existing interests.  A distinct value of the book takes the collaborative process beyond the online experience to consider collaboration on an inter-institutional basis as well.

Those who are just beginning to explore collaborative online learning will find All Together Now a useful model within which to start their discussions.  For those who have already ventured down this road, the volume contains a framework to assess the efficiency of existing programs.  For all readers, the book has a wealth of online resources to investigate additional online collaborative opportunities.

The authors and case study contributors leave behind the debate of online vs real-time and instead embrace the collaborative reality that marks the current and future phase of museum outreach to the public we serve.  This focus is consistent with the AAM theme for the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Creative Community.

How are you moving your institution or practice toward online collaborative learning?

Advocacy & Museums: Not Just for Administrators Anymore

With shrinking support dollars, advocacy is more than ever a pressing and essential survival skill for public institutions.  The American Association of Museums‘ (AAM) 2011 book Speak Up For Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy by Gail Ravnitzky Siberglied is an excellent starting point for the discussion.  As AAM President Ford Bell notes in the volume’s Preface “We advocate for the value of our museums every time we open an exhibit, welcome a school group, send out a press release, meet with funders or hold a special event in the community.  Advocacy can be as simple and personal as chatting with a visitor” (p. xi).  Advocacy work with elected officials and policy makers is the focus of the volume.

Like many AAM publications, the scope of Speak Up For Museums is basic but comprehensive.  The volume covers the limitations in advocacy work for nonprofits, involvement of museum boards, advice from public officials and museum advocates, and a basic civics lesson on government structures and operations related to advocacy.

Two chapters stood out as particularly helpful to me.  First, Chapter 3, An Advocacy Inventory, contains step-by-step templates/guides for compiling institutional data (e.g., visitation demographics, elected and other public officials, and economic data) critical for successful advocacy.

Chapter 6, Start Advocating Today! A Week-by-Week Plan provides a list of 57 advocacy tasks.  The examples range from simple to complex and include adding all relevant elected (city, state, county, federal) officials to your mailing list and social media sites (and vice versa), updating a museum’s virtual presence on websites, Wikipedia and social media pages, and  joining with other area museums in advocacy efforts.

The AAM hosts a Speak Up For Museum webpage with many links and information on advocacy work.

The 125 page volume was a quick read and a ready reference for framing further advocacy work.  My takeaway points directly and indirectly from the book include:

  • Museums continue to move from being collections driven to centering on the visitor experience in the same way that archaeology now includes a public accountability component unheard of 50 years ago.  In this regard, all practitioners take on advocacy roles.  Advocacy is now embraced by the field archaeologist, the curator, and the research scientist, not just the administrators, educators and marketing departments.  Particularly with the advent of social media institutions no longer have the luxury of controlling the means and pace of their advocacy efforts.  Speak Up For Museums focuses on advocacy with public officials.   Although not explicitly stated, the public realm of advocacy also requires a full team effort.  Despite centralized press releases and lobbying efforts, all staff need to create their 3-minute elevator speech advocating for the institution.
  • I have a new appreciation that advocacy is a long-term process that starts with building a relationship today.  I often smile smugly at the Facebook entries from the institution that only posts for self-promotion or Kickstarter/Pepsi Challenge type fundraising efforts.  I suspect the public official feels the same way if they only hear from me when I need something but am not engaged as part of the broader solution.
  • Advocacy is not rocket science.  Advocacy can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and doing the next right thing.  Adding the email addresses of all relevant public officials to an e-newsletter list is pretty straightforward and can probably be achieved with a half-hour of Google search time.  In fact, Chapter 3 “An Advocacy Inventory” suggests that the template/guide tasks “can also be done as a case study for a graduate class in museum studies” (p. 16).  Hmm . . . sounds like Project 1 for my Museum Practices graduate seminar in the Museum Studies Certificate Program at the University of Memphis this fall semester – pick an area museum and develop an advocacy guide for them.

Speak Up For Museums is a great resource to start or further develop an institution’s advocacy work.  Although geared specifically toward museums, the application is adaptable to a range of nonprofit agencies.

What are your tools for advocacy?

Are Museums Missing Out on Social Media?

National Museum of the American Indian, Washington D.C., USA

At the American Association of Museum meetings last month, multiple sessions made clear the growing use and importance of social media in museums’ day-to-day functioning and outreach efforts.  Many institutions are investing considerable resources in their social and virtual media presences.  My recent visit to Smithsonian Institution venues in Washington D.C. affirmed this direction.  For example, at the National Museum of American History website, one can spend hours blogging, interacting, and virtually roaming through collections not on exhibit in real-time.  The same is true of the National Museum of the American Indian’s website.

The internationally based New Media Consortium website contains Horizon Project reports on emerging technologies. One report is a 2010 shortlist for Museums that provides a good overview of potential of social media in museums along with case studies.

Museums increasingly rely on social media and other digital resources to deliver on their mission of public outreach and education.  The web abounds with evaluation tools including simple Facebook insights, Google analytics, and many more to assess the demographics and experiences of those who use the social media resources.

But are museums successful in actually reaching their intended audiences with social media tools?  A survey published by Museum Next provides some interesting data on this question.  I was particularly intrigued when looking at the results broken down by user age.  The table below draws on data from the Museum Next website.

Social Media Use Relative to Museum

Here is some of what stands out to me.  The breakdown by age of those individuals who use social media is not surprising, only confirming conventional wisdom: Young folks use social media a lot but older people do to.  The percentage of individuals who are actually fans, subscribe to, or “like” social media pages declines dramatically with increased age.  But here is where things get interesting.  A solid 70% or greater of all age categories report visiting museums or galleries, but only a small percentage of those people are aware of museums that have social media pages and even fewer follow those pages.  If all those individuals who

  • subscribe/like social media in general and also attend museums
  • were aware of museum specific social media pages
  • and subscribed at the same rate to museum social media pages as they do other social media pages
  • then the followers of museum social media pages would instantly increase by 400%.

I am not a statistician (nor do I play one on TV) and I realize that my assertion relies on a couple of assumptions, but the clear sign is that museums do not presently maximize the potential of social media for individuals who both now follow social media and visit museums.

We have a lot of work to do in connecting social media using visitors who come through our museum doors with the social media and virtual presence in which we are currently investing our resources.

How do you promote your social media resources to your visitors?

Evaluating Social Media and Museums

Along with a reported 5000 other individuals, this week I am attending the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Museums in Houston Texas.  The impact of social media in Outreach efforts is evident by the number of sessions devoted to the topic.

If the first session I attended on Sunday is any indication, then the Annual Meeting will prove well worth the 10-hour drive from the flooded Mississippi Delta at Memphis to the furnace of hot winds blowing in southeast Texas.  The session was We have 10,000 followers . . . Now What?  Evaluating Social Media’s Impact.  I suspect this title resonates with many folks in Museum and other nonprofit institutions.  For many, the aggressive Facebook or Twitter campaigns were launched, likes and followers signed on, and then came the “so what do we do now?”  Web tutorials on building social media platforms abound but there is considerably less discussion on the hows and whys of sustaining the presence.  The AAM session provided some great insights in filling this void.

The presenters were Elizabeth Bolander from the Cleveland Museum of Art,  Sarah Elizabeth Banks from the National Museum of Natural Hisotry (NMNH) at the Smithonian, Jay Geneske from Echo Green, and Ryan French from the Walker Art Center.

The discussion opened by challenging institutions to define their goals in using social media.  Too often museums only conceptualize social media as a seemingly cheap form of marketing to drive visitation to a museum or event.  Sarah Elizabeth Banks provided an alternative approach from the Smithsonian.  Social media at the NMNH is also viewed as a tool for engaging the public directly in research and then disseminating the research results.  For example, when NMNH scientists in Africa needed immediate assistance to identify  fish species.  They announced the project on Facebook, uploaded the images of the fish to Flickr, and via email sent out a call for participation.  As well, the Smithsonian blog reported the project that was also featured on the Smithsonian website. Ultimately the fish identification was a “Facebook Story of the Week for the NMNH.  With support from the virtual community the NMNH scientists completed the identifications in record time.  Instead of viewing social media as a marketing tool to drive visitation, the fish identification project demonstrated how a research project can be assisted through social media.

The session speakers all agreed that social media must flow from the museum’s mission.  As such, institutions need to incorporate social media into the forefront of activities and not as an afterthought.

The Walker Art Center uses YouTube videos to take visitors behind the scenes in exhibit construction.  The speakers also pointed to the power of memory when posting photographs to Flickr of past events and visitors.  Both the Walker Art Center and the Smithsonian actively invite the public to upload their photographs to these projects.

Speakers noted the tremendous resource drain social media can have on a staff.  For example, the Walker Art Center runs 10 separate Facebook pages, blogs, YouTube channels, Twitter feeds and more.   Out of the 150 attending this AAM session only one individual’s job responsibilities were full-time in social media.  Most attendees performed social media tasks as an added assignment.  The speakers expressed considerable variation in how their institutions controlled social media output.  However, the need for radical trust was a theme in all the presentations.

At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, over the past couple of years, we have thrown a lot of virtual spaghetti at the social media wall.  A good bit has stuck.  We, like many or most other institutions now must sit back and soberly assess the impact, and strategically plan our next steps.  My ultimate takeaway from the session is that social media is moving to the forefront of all that we do in Museums and Outreach.  We need to be fully engaged, intentional, and mission driven with this tool as we move forward.

How are you evaluating your social media experiences as you plan for the future?

FaceBook & Radical Trust

Mississippi River source, Lake Itasca, Minnesota

How do you respond to challenging posts on your Facebook (FB) page?  I had a couple of interesting discussions about this in the past week.  First, here is an exchange from our C.H. Nash Museum FB page on the current flooding of the Mississippi River in Memphis Tennessee where we are located:

FB Post:  Is Chucalissa going to flood?

Us: We certainly hope not! We are all keeping a very close eye on the surrounding areas and taking necessary precautions, just in case!

FB Post: what happened in 1937?

One day goes by and we do not respond . . .

FB Post: This too tough of a question?

Us:  We are still researching that question.

I get an email from the staff somewhat frantic feeling they must definitely respond to the question about the 1937 Flood. Instead, we post the following response:

Us:  We routinely receive flash flood warnings during heavy rains primarily from the areas leading up to the bluff on which Chucalissa is located. Don’t know about 1937 and a cursory Google search does not suggest a direct impact on this bluff top. Sounds like an interesting research question though. Have at it!

FB Post:  Oh well shows what I know – I thought Chuckalissa was in the flood plain as like a seasonal fishing camp – and that the other 2 villages located east of their were more permanent.

Here is my takeaway on this experience.  FB pages are meant as social media and that requires an engagement.  FB does not require us to have encyclopedic knowledge, but does require a dialogue.  “Fans” of our page who might have the required knowledge to answer the question.  Could that spark a bit of a research project on their part?  Turns out the person who posted the initial inquiry was in error about our actual location.  But my experience with FB is that the dialogue is key.

I had an interesting experience on the essential interactive nature of FB when we started our FB page a couple of years ago.  I once removed an individual’s post that I considered as somewhat inflammatory and controversial.  The individual then emailed me rather incensed about my action.  We had a brief backchannel discussion where we worked out the issue.  I regretted deleting the post, realizing I could have addressed the issue on-line.  Six months later the same person made a similar type of post.  We immediately responded online in a proactive and engaged way.  The individual has ceased such practices.  Ultimately, our experience shows that if there is accountability on both sides of the equation, the FB dialogue works.

Related, I was speaking to a friend from a large professional organization who lamented that all of their social media posts needed the Director’s approval.  Based solely on my experience at a small museum with a limited staff, to meaningfully take advantage of social media, I needed to give up the control.  Since doing so two years ago, I have cringed a couple of times at our staff posts, provided some corrective yet supportive and encouraging feedback to staff, but we continue to move forward in a good direction.  Importantly, I have learned a great deal about social media from my predominately 20-something staff.

There are many online resources that discuss these issues.  The Museums Social Media wiki has links to lots of social media policies, plans, and resources including those from the Smithsonian, Getty Museum, and National Public Radio.  From the Radical Trust website is a very cool article The Social Media Stage by Collin Douma that “is a practical guide for brand marketers who are just getting their feet wet in social media. With a focus on the community management realm, this paper is loaded with tools, best practices, response protocols, content filters, job descriptions, effort assessments, etc.”

Social media is messy.  Social media is not linear.  Social media is not a monologue.  But, social media is phenomenal tool for engagement, and outreach to a wide diversity of audiences.  And as our demographics below show, FB has certainly moved well beyond the original concept where you needed a college student ID to get in!

What is your experience with radical trust and FB?

Demographic of C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa FB page, May 2011

Social Media, Gaming & Engagement

A few weeks ago I attended the Society for Applied Anthropology meetings in Seattle.  I particularly enjoyed the session titled Exploring the Boundaries of Social Media.   One of the more interesting papers in the session was by Kelley Downey, Catherine Chmidling, Patricia Webster and Karol Ezell titled Applied Reciprocal Exchange in Farmville and ‘Ville Games: The Economics of “Good” Friends and Neighbors.  Karol Ezell presented the paper and discussed the Facebook (FB) applications in a way that I had never appreciated before.  Currently there are some 46 million registered monthly users of FarmVille.  I confess that I ‘hide’ FB friends who deal in FarmVille and are always looking for pink cows or whatever.  Karol put this game into a different perspective for me.  She explained how FarmVille can be used to teach anthropological concepts of balanced, negative, and moral reciprocity ala Malinowski’s discussion of the Trobriand Kula Ring.  That is how FarmVille operates.

Can the interactive model of FarmVille be used to explore trade and exchange in prehistory or other aspects of the archaeological material record?  There seems tremendous potential in this area.

The Alternative Reality Gaming Network provides a host of examples of how this direction could be taken in Archaeology and Museums.  Find the Future is an Alternative Reality Game of sorts that will be played at the New York Public Library later this month.  In an overnight session 500 individuals will conduct research and write a book on the subject using the resources available at the library, presumably via digital access.  The project was created by Jane McGonigal an evangelist for gaming as a tool for education and real world problem solving.  You can hang out at her website, read her new book, and spend a good bit of time getting enmeshed in the gaming for good info.

Here are the takeaways I get with from this discussion:

  • Whether FarmVille or Find the Future, an engaged and participatory experience is required for the game to work.  The process brings people together and in community.
  • The actual implementation of such games can be technologically straight forward.  I am not a computer programmer and although the technology of FarmVille is way over my head, I can conceptualize how to actually implement something like Find the Future.
  • This all comes down to a critical point – as Shirky notes in his book Cognitive Surplus, technology does not create the behavior, rather technology enables a better implementation of an existing behavior.  Therefore, as a starting point, can we conceptualize a FarmVille or Find the Future scenario within the tangible resources now in our museums?
  • I suspect that a critical point in so doing is to commit to a radical trust.  I tremendously value the experience I had some 15 years ago with the 5th grade school girl who was allowed to interpret the Poverty Point headless figurines on her own terms.  (I wonder if she remembers that experience as much as I do?).   If we don’t promote and validate engagement at this level, then all of the digital technology in the world will only produce the same old same old.

Oh and here is a bonus from the SfAA session – Karol Ezell reported the revealing comment of one of her students “I am not going to die alone.  I am going to be plugged in.”

How can our museums be truly plugged in?