Using Ning to talk about the future of museums

Note: This is a 2009 repost from a previous iteration of Voices of the Past. The original transcribed interview with Angelina Russo is below, though the video reflects the updated branding.

Museum3 (formerly Museum 3.0) is according its website “a non-profit organisation dedicated to the future of museums, galleries, science centres, libraries and archives.”

Q: Tell us a little bit about your site.

A: Museum 3.0 was set up by Dr. Linda Kelly at the Australian museum in 2008. And it was essentially established to connect professionals from the cultural institution sector.

What it aims to do is to explore relevant issues, share knowledge and to identify future trends.

Q: And what motivated the creation of the site?

A: I worked very closely with Linda Kelly on a federally funded research project called “Engaging with Social Media in Museums.” And through discussions that we had as part of this project, the Ning site formed as a way to really drawing together professionals to discuss some of the ideas within that project. That project’s been looking at the impact of social media on museum learning and communication. And so we set up the site to explore how we could use social media to develop discussions in the sector, to identify future trends and create a better understand of who is doing what.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the members who are on your site, and who do you hope to reach?

A: We are hoping to reach professionals, students and possibly even policymakers. We have had quite a number of cultural heritage museum studies programs actually linked to us, and through that, that has brought a number of particularly post-graduate students to our site, which I think is just fantastic. I like the fact that we have some museum directors, civic commentators, students, along with museum and library professionals, and people who are just interested, which is wonderful.

Q: Now anyone who as actually created one of these sites knows that creating the site is the easy part. The hard part comes with trying to create the sense of community around it.  What do you do to keep it active and growing?

A: As I said, Linda and I started the network about a year ago, and at that time it was mainly us who wrote the posts and we invited people to join and get discussions going. We had a couple of early adopters in this. Sebastian Chen from the Powerhouse Museum was of course there with us right up from the very beginning making sure it was a three-way conversation and not just a two-way conversation. And at every event we presented or where we gave a talk, we promoted the Museum 3.0 site as a way of museum professionals or cultural heritage professionals connecting to each other and finding out what is going on in sector. About four months ago, the site took off.  And this year, I believe, I only started two or three conversations, so I contribute to many of the conversations. I am careful to spend an appropriate amount of time really answering those questions or those discussions that are absolutely in keeping with the research that we’re undertaking. In terms of maintaining the network, I introduce myself to each new member, and we have about 800 at the moment, I read through their websites and blogs where appropriate, and I ask them whether they are willing to contribute something about their work to the site. And periodically, I send broadcast messages about events that are coming up. So in all, the site takes about six hours a week to maintain. So there is always a lot going on. It’s really quite a vibrant community.

Q: Now as we all know, any venue that is truly social has some conflict of opinion or personality. Can you give me an example of how you deal with some of those types of conflicts?

A: We have certainly had some robust conversations, in particularly around changes of design and practices for exhibition development. I have yet to see conflict arise though.

We did have a funny incident once when someone twittered about a blog site called “MuseumsSuck.com.” I read the site and wrote a blog post about it, and as I went through, I had seen that the website owner had written a short piece about the Museum 3.0 site. So I pulled a screen grab and added it to the Ning site to ask the question of our members, “What do we do when someone sets up a site called ‘Museums Suck?’” The owner of the site came to know about this and wrote to me personally. And a little while later, he took down the site. I was surprised when he took down the site. I thought that it was quite interesting for a whole lot of reasons, and that he had been inspired to give his opinions about what was happening in the sector and that they were also, they were just as relevant as anyone else’s. And you know, if you are out there, it would be great if it came back on because it was actually a lot of fun.

Q:  Why did you choose a Ning site as opposed to a Facebook group or maybe even a regular blog?

A: I think that Ning is a truly corroborative network tool. I have run a blog for the past two and a half years, and while I can see that we get quite a lot of traffic, I have no idea of who’s reading that blog. And as many blogs, I don’t get many responses.

With the Ning site, I can see who’s interested and participating, who’s inviting colleagues. It is much more democratic, much more lively, and I think that in the end it’s actually, there are fewer barriers with the Ning site than there are with a blog site.

I think that blogs, for the most part, in particularly one-person blogs, tend to assume some level of expertise in whatever you’re discussing. Where as with a Ning site, we have everyone from Linda and myself and Seth posting through to students who are doing internships at museums. So I think it is a much more democratic and dynamic site because of that.

I also love the fact that neither Linda or I have to start any of the discussions anymore. Our members have taken the opportunity to seek out other interested members who they can share their knowledge with, and so there are lots and lots of conversations that occur without my input or Linda’s input, nothing. That is really one of the strengths of the Ning site.

Q: What other forms of social media do you actively use to enhance the Museum 3.0 Ning site?

A: I contribute to other blogs where I know the discussions are in the same vein.  I am careful to be sure that I give back to the community of bloggers in the cultural institution sector, sort of network, in as much as they give to us. Because I think it’s important to be seen to contribute across a number of different sites, so that it is not just your own conversation that you are interested in, but in fact lots and lots of different ideas.  Even so, I am probably not as good at marketing the Ning as maybe I should be, and that’s something I will be looking at this year along with Linda.

Q: And Angelina, on a personal level, what other forms of social media do you actively use outside of Museum 3.0?

A: I have quite a solid and growing social media presence. As I mentioned, I run a blog, I have a LinkedIn presence, I have a Twitter account, I keep Facebook for my personal stuff, and I contribute to other blogs and other groups according to my personal and professional interests.

Q:  What most excites you about using social media in the fields of cultural heritage?

A: I think that sites like the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training is a great example of the potential value of social media in the field of cultural heritage.  By sharing knowledge across organizations and individuals is much less chance of that knowledge disappearing as people move on or into different parts of their working lives or to different parts of the sector.

Creative Commons is another fantastic social media and cultural heritage sector. Many of the organizations involved have contributed their historical photographs, which audiences have then added sometimes extremely significant amounts of research to, and all in the name of providing a much more complex, rich and deep record for future generations. I think that really demonstrates the power of social media and of the partnerships that can be created between cultural heritage sector and audience members.

Q: What is in store for the future of Museum 3.0?

A: I would like to do some Museum 3.0 meet-ups, particularly with our international members. I am hoping to meet some people in Indianapolis at the museums and web conference later this month. I will also contact some of the New York members and see if we can catch up in some of the days after the conference.

In the longer term, I am just about to start working with some people to start analyzing some of the data around some of the conversation stands, which have occurred within the Ning site particularly to try to assist some of the future trends to determine what audience members are interested in terms of the future for social media as we sort of move past this first wave of really tremendous initiatives within the sector. I think that what we will be seeing much more of in the sector, itself, and hopefully that will be reflected in the Ning site is that convergence between cultural heritage and cultural heritage professionals and audience members, as well as much stronger convergence between the exhibition and the public program, educational programs and curatorial research within museums.

In the short term, I will be continuing to work with Linda to develop the site further as part of the engaging with social media research project. If you visit the site, you’ll see we actually have the group set up for the engaging of social media and museums research project. That has about 90 members and we actually run a number of the initiatives from the Australian museums through the Ning site. So we can get real-time response to the research ideas as they’re developing.

One of the initiatives that we have developed as part of that is a Facebook site for exhibition development for a project for the Australian museum called “All About Evil.” And we decided to set up a Facebook site for that initiative to really garner a broad rang for audience ideas about what sorts of objects, things, activities, events might actually go into an exhibition called, “All About Evil.” It’s quite interesting to see how that has developed and part of the research now to look at how the Facebook site influences the final exhibition product.

We are looking forward to Museum 3.0 to continuing to develop, we are looking forward to attracting more members, and those members really sharing great deal of knowledge and connecting with each other.  And through that networking, we hope there is some value that we give back to the community by leading through example in the sense we have the opportunity finally to be able to have conversations across the sector, and I’d like to see those continue to develop. And I’d also like to see more curatorial kind of stuff become part of our membership so we can be certain that the issues that are being discussed and in fact reflective of the broad range of professionals working within the sector.

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