Tag Archives: museums

Case Study: Alchemical Quest Rare Books Museum Interactive

alchem quest

In 2012, I managed development of a museum exhibit interactive called The Alchemical Quest, which supported an exhibit of rare books. The books originated during the golden age of alchemy, from the 16th and 17th centuries and were drawn from the collections of the Othmer Library of Chemical History. The report below documents the project team’s efforts to make these texts accessible and alive to visitors via touch projection technology.

Project Goals:

  • Reinforce the depth and complexity presented in the exhibition content
  • Implicitly reiterate the exhibition narratives while allowing for visitors to enjoy the imagery of the books through the interactive experience
  • Provide visitors with alternate means of experiencing the books in the exhibition
  • Foster curiosity and encourage deeper exploration of images and text
  • Demonstrate an example of an alchemical process in its entirety
  • Reflect the fantastical and practical balance found within the books

 

Case Study: Museum Interactive for The Alchemical Quest Exhibit by jkguin

 

 

Going Mobile: Implications of mobile technology uptake for Cultural Organizations

By Marcus J Wilson, Pooka.Pro

It is forecast that mobile web access will overtake web access by traditional computers within the next three years.  That is – users of the Internet will be more likely to want to view your website on a handheld mobile device than from a desktop or laptop computer.  But how many of us are confident that our website even displays properly across mobile devices?

If your website was designed even three or four years ago, it’s likely that it wasn’t designed with mobile phones in mind, and that could become a real problem for your organization in the years ahead.  Various emulators for different mobile Operating Systems can be downloaded, but these can be tricky and time consuming to set up, so you may find it easier to go down to your local technology store and view your website on the various display models there.

The proliferation of mobile operating systems now widely used–alongside the need to support competing modern browsers as well as previous versions of the most popular browsers–means that there are more considerations that ever when developing your website.  There are decisions to be made regarding the presentation of your information for different types of device, as well as decisions relating to the accessibility of the technologies used within your website.

One thing is for certain …  If your website uses Flash technology to display animated graphics, video or even to embed audio content, this content will not be accessible on many mobile devices – and it will not be accessible on mobile devices made by Apple (iPods, iPhones, iPads).

Recently Adobe, the authors of Flash, announced that they would cease Flash development for mobile devices, essentially marking the end of support for Flash technology on the web.  This decision was partly due to Apple’s decision not to support Flash on its devices.  However, it is also due to the development of a new technology – HTML5.

HTML5 is the emerging standard for the web, and can be used to provide a lot of the functionality demanded by the modern web that was not available in earlier versions of HTML – such as animation, the presentation of audio and video and finding the geographic location of the website user.

HTML5’s companion technology, CSS3, allows much more flexibility in the design and graphical presentation of your website across a range of devices.  This will allow you, for instance, to present a very different looking version of your website depending on whether the user is viewing it on a computer screen or small handheld device.

The good news is that HTML5 and CSS3 are supported across pretty much all modern mobile devices, and implemented across most recent versions of the main desktop web browsers.  If you are looking to redevelop your website, you should check that your web developer is future-proofing your website to work with these emerging technologies.

HTML5 also has majors implication for Apps – those handy or entertaining little programmes or games you can download for your mobile device from App Stores.

The mobile marketplace has become incredibly fragmented, with a variety of different platforms to cater for – Apple’s iOS, Android, Blackberry OS and Windows Mobile.  To develop an App that is accessible to the majority of your audience members would now require you to code that App for at least three mobile Operating Systems, and promote that App through a range of different App Stores.  Unless you have money to burn, this isn’t within the reach of most cultural organisations.  Neither does it represent money well spent in most cases.

However, HTML5 could be an ‘App killer’.  HTML5 will allow you to leverage most of the functionality contained within Apps, including geo-location, and it is accessible across platforms.  That is, you only need to develop one version of your HTML5 App, and it will work across all mobile devices, as well as desktop computers – and potentially all through your own website, without the need to submit or promote your App within a range of App Stores.

So, does this mark the death of the App?  Well, not necessarily.  App Stores are still a useful way of promoting and selling your premium App to a global audience that is not perhaps going to find your website of their own accord.  It’s also in the interests of hardware providers like Apple and Blackberry to ensure that they retain the rights to distribute unique content for their hardware to help them retain a clear competitive edge in a marketplace that is growing ever more competitive.

However, in most cases HTML5 Apps delivered via the web will provide a more affordable and practical alternative to App development for cultural organisations with a good idea of the audience for their productions and services.

The first mobile web apps to emerge have been largely of the gaming variety.  However, it is likely that we will see the first HTML5 web apps developed by and for cultural organisations in 2012.

In the meantime, for those of you wanting to check out a mobile web App, you could take a look at Coolendar.com (best views on a mobile device).  If you want to create you’re own simple mobile web App for your venue using content from your own web feed or social media, WidgetBox can help – check out the web App Throckmorton Theatre created.  Or, if you want to experience the broader multi-media and geolocation capabilities of HTML5, you might want to try The Arcade Fire’s interactive video experiment for their song ‘The Wilderness Downtown’.

It will be important to monitor consumers’ uptake of web-ready HTML5 mobile Apps because, at the end of the day, it will be the consumer that drives the changes in the Apps landscape.

Since No One Knows Us, We Decided to Social-ize: the National Park Service Northeast Museum Services Center

NMSC-teaser

Some of you may not realize that the National Park Service (NPS) has “museums” or museum collections.  Many of you may not know what a Curator, an Archivist, an Archeologist or a Conservator actually does behind the scenes for any museum that you’ve been to. And most of you have probably never heard of the Northeast Museum Services Center – referred to by our initials (NMSC).  But, you undoubtedly know the power of social media to connect you and other readers with this type of information.

The NMSC is an NPS program that helps parks – primarily in the Northeast – with preserving, protecting and making accessible museum and archival collections. Our team of Curators, Archivists and Conservators are available for cataloging (both archeology and archives); museum research and planning; collections conservation and general technical assistance.  Think of us as museum consultants for the parks – we help parks to assess their collections management issues; to find funding to correct those problems and then to assist them with correcting those problems.

We were fairly late to the game, but we now realize the value of social media to any organization and have started additional public outreach through Twitter, Facebook and a blog of our own.

Is Tweeting Really for Us?

For at least a year or more, that was the question bouncing around our office about Twitter and other forms of social media.  Our office is a generational mix from 20 something volunteers, interns and technician that all want to be on the cutting edge of innovation to 40+ year old staff that are unsure of the value added by websites that our kids are using in their free time.  We are also like most entities nowadays, being asked to do more with less. Two of our full-time staff members left for other jobs in less than a year and we were unable to re-fill those positions.  In that time, the workload only increased.  With that in mind, should we be “wasting” valuable staff time on something “frivolous” like Facebook or Twitter?

I’ll admit that I’m one of the 40-somethings and I was on the fence about the value that we might get from putting any staff time towards social media.  But, I/we realized several things based on general observations, calls with our parks and an assessment of social media usage –

  1. Most people are unaware that NPS sites even have “museums” and/or museum collections. We hear the same thing that you may be thinking, “But, the NPS is Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. It does not have museums like Smithsonian.” You are correct that the NPS has very few traditional four-wall museums like the Smithsonian.  But, what we do have (and that we help to manage) are 26 million artifacts and archival documents in the Northeast alone in the real places that they were used or made.  That includes the landscape drawings of the Olmsteds at Frederick Law Olmsted NHS, the library of John Quincy Adams at Adams NHP, archeological collections from Jamestown at Colonial NHP, Civil War archival collections at Gettysburg NMP, and natural history specimens collected from Shenandoah NP.
  2. Since the NMSC is a behind-the-scenes group that even lacks a public domain name, most people (NPS staff included) are not aware of the services that we provide.  In many cases, the general public may have heard the title Curator, Archivist, Archeologist or Conservator, but may not really know what we do.  We all know the objects that we see on exhibit or the documents that we use for research, but collections care is also a critical component of the NPS mission that needs to be fostered.  Not to mention the fact that all cultural institutions need to help build and diversify the museum studies workforce.
  3. Social media has already become the information clearinghouse for the museum field. While we were blindly thinking that Twitter was just celebrity gossip or blogs are a dying form of communication, all forms of social media had become the accepted way of disseminating information for organizations such as Association of American Museums (AAM), Smithsonian Institution and most of our parks.  We had isolated ourselves and we were missing critical information.

So, in late 2010 with the relaxing of some NPS social media restrictions, we decided to join the rest of the world and test out a social media initiative for our office.

Now, Go Engage Your “Audience”

Giles Parker
Giles Parker, Museum Curator, Northeast Museum Services Center, National Park Service

Okay, so, we knew what we wanted to say about the museum collections in the National Park Service and about our work. Our goals were/are fairly simple: highlight the museum collections in the Northeast Region of the NPS; encourage the public (as well as NPS followers) to adopt an overall stewardship ethic; and connect (or re-connect) ourselves with non-NPS museum professionals in order to stay abreast of the latest curatorial trends.

BUT – Who is our audience? How do we attract them to us? What are the best forms of social media to do that? And, what format should the content take?  Many books have been written about the use of social media by museums; workshops are available and the web is full of great websites that provide guidance.  None of those are focused on a behind-the-scenes program like ours that works with collections from many disparate sites and focuses on region-wide collection management issues.  We decided to turn to one of our 20-something Museum Specialists (Megan Lentz) as our de facto Social Media Consultant to develop a short-term and long-term social media strategy.

Megan reviewed existing uses of social media by museums and brought her own usage to the discussion.  We then decided to start our slow roll-out with two Twitter feeds (@NPS_NMSC and @NMSC_Volunteers ), a Facebook Page and a blog focused on our Archeological Collections Management team.  Generally speaking, we’ve engaged our varied audience in a number of different ways:

  • Setting up searches on the federal government’s official jobs site for Curator, Archives, Archeology and Conservator job announcements that need wider distribution;
  • Creating Google searches focused on issues such as “museum storage,” museum security and fire prevention that affect all of our sites;
  • Developing a calendar of key dates for our parks – such as birthdates for historical figures – as times to highlight images and facts about NPS museum collections associated with those sites;
  • Connecting with our parks and other cultural institutions through Twitter and Facebook to find collection management information that we feel should be shared and discussed;
  • Generating threads that focus on key collection management issue including the use of museum collections in social media campaigns;
  • Initiating a feed focused on the work of our volunteers and interns program (@NMSC_Volunteers) to help build the workforce and reinforce the types of museum opportunities that are available;
  • Blogging about the work of our Archeological Collections Management team.  Most people know the Indiana Jones and the excavating side of archeology, but are unaware of the curation involved after the dig.  Postings have included research and photos on bottles that may have been used by George Washington, the history of matches, and a spotlight on pipe stems.
  • Utilizing a third-party social media dashboard (Hootsuite) to plan and space out postings to all of our accounts.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In less than 6 months, we feel like we’ve made significant progress towards our goals with NPS and non-NPS followers from across the nation.  In many ways, the numbers speak for themselves. We primarily provide service to 76 sites in the Northeast, but @NPS_NMSC (190+ followers), @NMSC_Volunteers (80+ followers), NMSC on Facebook (70+ followers), and our blog (300+ readers per posting) are reaching a much broader audience.  Hootsuite also provides analytics and many of our postings get 10 to 30 additional clicks for more information. Are those numbers that you’d be interested in?

Additionally, the current NPS Director Jon Jarvis was appointed in 2009 with a set of priorities that focused on Workforce, Relevancy, Education and Stewardship.  Our early successes with social media are also helping us and thus the NPS as whole to make progress in each of these areas as well.  We’ve been able to re-connect with the museum workforce outside of our region and outside of the NPS; help parks with relevancy by focusing on the latest trends in the use of museum collections; discover some of the latest technologies such as the use of Google Maps and also QR codes that might improve access to museum collections for educational purposes; and find information on fire prevention and security needs for museum collections.  And, we feel like we’ve only just started to scratch the surface.

Based on these early successes, we will continue to support and improve upon our current social media outlets.  We plan on getting more of our staff involved and thus highlighting more of our work as well as the collections in the Northeast.  We are also considering other social media options including a blog for our entire office.  Megan continues as our de facto Social Media Consultant and monitors the latest trends in social media usage.  We are also advocating for other NPS parks and regional programs to use social media in a similiar way (with an emphasis even less on “us” and more on the actual resources).  These statistics and early successes may also help us to advocate for a public domain name to reinforce the NPS stewardship role to the general public.

Conclusion

If you or your organization does not have a social media strategy at this point, consider the tremendous benefits and get started.  If you don’t have a 20-something on staff to work with as your Social Media Consultant, consider bringing someone on board or contracting with someone to develop and implement that strategy.  If you are interested in connecting with more museum or NPS information, consider following some of our parks and other cultural institutions through social media.  And, if you want to know more about NPS museum collections, what a Curator does, or what the NMSC does, consider following us on Twitter, Facebook or through our blog.

For a very small time commitment, you will find that social-izing is worthwhile.

Audio Podcast: Jennifer Souers Chevraux on the role of museums on the social web

Coming up on this edition of the Voices of the Past podcast, we’ll explore the role of museums on the social web.

Museoblogger

Intro: And welcome to Voices of the Past. The podcast that helps you use the web to advocate for the preservation of cultural heritage. I’m Jeff Guin and today we’re going to join Bethany Frank as she interviews Jennifer Souers Chevraux of the blog MuseoBlogger. Now Jennifer helps museums and cultural organizations engage their audiences by developing compelling experiences and using new media to cultivate a new generation of patrons. Here’s that interview.

Frank: Hey Jennifer, thanks so much for joining us for the podcast.

Chevraux: Hi, glad to be here.

Frank: So, to go ahead and get started. How did you get involved with museums?

Chevraux: When I was in undergrad, I volunteered at a couple of museums because I was an art history and anthropology major, so it made sense to go to both of those museums. And that was the only access I had to artifacts and original artwork. So I volunteered there, and I thought that it may be something that I would want to do. And then my first job out of college, I worked for a traveling museum on a train. It’s called the Art Train, still in existence, and I worked with them. And being on the train and working there wasn’t exactly your typical museum experience. So then I thought maybe it wasn’t what I wanted to do. But I tried archeology, that’s what I went to graduate school in. And then I tried teaching, which I did like, but I kind of wanted everyday to be a little bit different. And so I went back to museum work. Kind of went through the back door deciding that this was a good way for me to work in a place where I got a little bit of education, a little bit of working with artifacts, a little bit of outreach and talking with the public and volunteer training. I got all of that, and everybody thought my job was really cool.

Frank: Wonderful. So could you go ahead and tell us some about Illumine Creative Solutions?

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Chevraux: Illumine Creative Solutions, that is my consulting business that I have. What happened is, I was on staff at several different museums. At the time that I founded Illumine Creative Solutions, I was on staff as the director of exhibits at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and I was pregnant with my first baby. And I was working about, I would say, averaging 50 hours a week, sometimes 60 hours a week. And realized that I didn’t really think that was going to jive so well with motherhood. So it came to pass that I had the opportunity to help another smaller museum here in Cleveland with a project they were doing while I was still on staff with the Natural History Museum. And it was really a great opportunity to come into a place that didn’t really have an exhibit instructor. They needed some new ideas and a fresh approach, and so they reached out to a colleague of mine who said, “You should talk to Jennifer.” And I was doing this project, and it really seemed that I could balance that with my job that I already had with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and so I thought that maybe I could balance some consulting work with being a mom too. And pretty soon, people started calling me. My phone was ringing for other projects saying, “Well now that you don’t work at the Natural History Museum, can you help us with this project? Would you have time to do this?” And so it kind of blossomed that way. So now, i do for museums what I used to do on staff. I do on a project basis.

Frank: You mentioned that you got into museums because you wanted each day to be different. So what all would a general week pertain for what you do?

Chevraux: I generally work about three days a week. I dedicate two days to my kids and going to museums and orchestra performances and fun things they want to do. Spending time being a museum consumer, and a consumer of cultural events and organizations and living history places. Because they love that, and that gives me the opportunity to see it from the visitors perspective. And then the other days, I am working on projects. Some of what I do is helping museums engage audiences, and I do some visitor evaluation and project/program evaluation. I’ve helped some nonprofit clients, who are not museums with grant support because they don’t have as large of a staff. Often they are only two people, and they get snowed under. And so I help them put together surveys and assessments and help them show that the programs that they are doing are reaching people in a meaningful way. And meeting their missions. And I do that with museums too. And so any given week, I could be putting together an exhibition working on developing a traveling exhibition program, which I am doing right now with a museum. I am working with an artist to put together a traveling retrospective exhibit of his work that’s going to go to museums. So I am reaching out to some of my museum clients and colleagues to see if we can form good partnerships for that. It’s very diverse, and it makes me feel like I still get to contribute to the field that means so much to me. And  I get to also balance that with enjoying museums and historical centers with my kids.

Frank: So, what role does your blog play with all of this?

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Jennifer Chevraux and daughter

Chevraux: I started my blog not really knowing where it was going to lead. Once my daughter was born, I realized I wouldn’t do nearly as much writing as I did as director of exhibits, when I was putting together exhibits and having to write text and interpretive panels. And I wanted to keep my skills sharp, so I started a personal blog. And then I realized quickly that I didn’t have enough that I thought anybody would want to say. And about a year later, I thought, “Now I really want a place to say things that normally, on staff, I would say to colleagues.” Conversations we would have. Discussions we would have. Things that I would encounter with my work with clients. Things that would come up and I would have something that I wanted to say about that, but instead of coming home or coming back to an office with a museum where I had lots of colleagues were we could talk about that, I would come to my house and nobody really wanted to talk about my day job. So I needed a place that even when nobody was listening, I could pour out my perspective on certain issues that came up. So I started my job to sort of give me a place to not vent, but share. Because I had all these things in my head, and I no longer had a director of exhibits or director of education or a marketing director, where I could go in a say, “What do you think about this?” And the MuseoBlogger site that I have, gives me that opportunity. And then I realized that it didn’t take long before a lot of my clients and my former colleagues and people that I knew through the Ohio Museum Association were following me, and then I would get these emails from them saying, “Oh, I really liked your perspective about this, I really liked what you had to say.” And it was funny to me because I didn’t realize that they were reading it. It’s definitely allowed me to make new connections that I never would have expected.

Frank: What all goes into creating your blog?

Chevraux: My blog is not museum specific, I would say, although most of what I put in there has to do with museum work. Some of it has to do with just cultural organizations and the challenges that they face today. The world changes so quickly that I think sometimes museums have that institutional glacier effect, where we hear about something that we want to change…orchestras, operas, all those organizations, they are very traditional. And they have traditional boards and traditional constituencies, and so when all of a sudden something like Twitter comes along, “Ooo! Twitter! Ooo! What’s that? Let’s get on that!” And they don’t know who in their organization is going to be that person. Or “Oh! There is all this social media, we should have marketing do it!” And marketing says, “But we’re already doing so much. We don’t really have time for anything.” But I think my blog gave me an opportunity to say from the outside, some observations I thought would help them keep in touch with the average person. Because sometimes, I think, they are looking at a constituency that’s no longer average.

Frank: And so, in your blog you discuss the future of museums. Can you explain to me where you see museums going in the next so many years?

Chevraux: That’s a tough question because I think there’s the place that I would like to see them going, and then the place some of them are going to end up. I think museums are coming to a crossroads where they’ll have to decide who they are going to be in the future and is that who they’ve always been. I think some museums will dare to reinvent themselves the way they do their own business. in terms of the way they meet visitor expectations. They way they reach people. Maybe even the way that they staff museums. And then certainly the way that they find funding. I think some museums will resist the change and become more and more disconnect with their own communities. Because the community is changing. It is no longer just wealthy while industrialists who are looking for the Andrew Carnegie approach to funding a worthy adventure. We don’t have any of those people anymore. And when you look at what Bill Gates funds, he isn’t just making a museum anymore. He’s funding human rights projects or world health projects. And museums can’t be the ones who are missing out at the table. They need to look at their sustainability and find a way within their own communities to become sustainable. And I hope that that means they’re going to become more visitor focused. And it’s a delicate balance. When you have collections of historic artifacts, you have to be collections focused. You have an academic curatorial staff. You have to be focused on their needs and their important research. But all of that has to be balanced very carefully with what people in your community expect from you. What do they need from you. And if you are always answering that question the way that we answered it 20 to 25 years ago, pretty soon you become irrelevant to a large selection of your constituency.

Frank: How do you think social media plays into this and into museum’s futures?

Chevraux: I think social media is a wonderful way for little expense. I say that accepting that you probably need to have a staffer these days just dedicated to it. But I think it’s relatively inexpensive compared to traditional media for having constant access to your potential visitors and your museum members and funding base. It’s like having your own TV station in your museum. You might not be able to constantly broadcast a visual image, but you can continuously broadcast events, upcoming activities and programs. You can tell your audience and your community and even your funders, if you’re here (I’m in Cleveland), the Cleveland Foundation is on Twitter. If you put something up there and they’re following you, which they do for most of the museums and nonprofit organizations that they support. They want to know that you’re out there. They hear about the good work you’re doing. How wonderful is that? You didn’t have to put a stamp on anything. They get it right away, and I think you’re constantly in touch. Now, they might not be watching at the very moment that you post that, and that happens. People turn off their TV too. But I think, in a general sense, it gives you a constant access to those people who could potentially be your visitors and patrons.

Frank: Speaking of patrons, in what ways do you use new media to cultivate the next generation of enthusiastic patrons?

BW meChevraux: The web has become the go-to resource for so many people in today’s culture that it’s a first stop for people. They no longer check their mail to see if they got a recent museum publication. They’re not looking for the museum magazine or the latest newsletter in their mail. If they want to know what’s going on with the museum, they click on the museum’s website and hope that there’s an updated calendar. This is a little note to all museums: make sure your calendar is up to date. Because that is where people go. And I think that today, helping museums understand their visitors behavior and propensities just by looking at their own. I was talking to a museum colleague a few weeks ago who works at a small decorative arts museum at an historic home, and we were talking about how we tend to go to Wikipedia. And sometimes that’s a bad thing because we go there first, and we take that information and we don’t want to internalize it too much. And how we were looking for an answer about when something was coming, and the first thing we went to was that particular website. And then she said, “You know, this makes me think that I need to make sure that our calendar is up to date.” And that’s one of those things, sometimes, that I think there’s a disconnect: between the way people use the web themselves and the way their websites for their museums or their cultural organizations are kept. If yours wouldn’t make sense to you or you were frustrated because it wasn’t up to date or it didn’t have enough content on it, then maybe you need to take a hard look at who else is using it. And maybe you need to make sure that it is giving you lots of good content, and that it is completely fresh.

Frank: You mentioned in your Lent post different things museums could do with their exhibits to make themselves become more relevant. What kind of things can they do?

Chevraux: I like to go to a museum and wander through the exhibits and feel like I’m not being bombarded by information all the time. It’s like a nice space where you feel comfortable and you can learn at your own pace. At the same time, if they’re doing a good job in an exhibition of getting your creative juices flowing or getting you to think about a particular topic. It also then seems logical to have someplace in the exhibition where you can tap into those creative juices or that stimulation you’ve created with your visitors. And allow them to share that. So, whether it’s just a suggestion box in the end or it’s something that’s using media or it’s encouraging them to tweet about what they’ve learned. Just giving visitors a way to feel that their impressions of the exhibition are relevant and important to the institution. People today have become very focused on themselves. Not in a negative way, but they want to know, “What does this mean to me? This Mastodon is very fascinating, but why should I care about it?” The exhibition needs to at first relate that somehow to the person’s own experience. Perhaps we talk about climate change and extinction, and relate that back to something that a person cares about in today’s world. Once you’ve made that connection, perhaps it would be nice to maybe share that meaning that you’ve created for them in a way back to the institution. Nina Simon does a great job in her recent book talking about how participatory experiences shouldn’t go just from the museum down to the individual, but the best experiences come back to the institution. And then they can even be shared with future visitors. That’s a wonderful way for the individual to feel important in a space where you are telling them that everything around them that belongs to the museum is important.

Frank: We can see in your blog ways that museums are engaging with new media and national events, like the Super Bowl and things like that. What other ways are people doing this and why is it beneficial?

Chevraux: I would say that anytime a museum takes itself a little bit less seriously and can share that with their communities, it’s never a bad thing. And I think that one of the things that we need to understand about today is that so few people go to work in a three-piece suit anymore. Ladies don’t wear gloves, men don’t wear hats, and a lot of these museums were built and their programs were built during times when people did all of those very formal things. And museums are slow to come around to the idea that we don’t have to be so buttoned up and look quite so self important to be important. And in fact, when you let your guard down a little bit, and you make a bet like the New Orleans Museum of Art did with the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which I think is what you are talking about, I put that on my blog. I thought it was wonderful. They tweeted about this and they got this wonderful bet going that they were going to basically two pieces of fine art were wagered, if you will, between these two institutions based on who would win the Super Bowl. All of a sudden it went viral, and everybody thought, “How fun is that?” And it’s art museum based. I mean, how many people who care so much about the NFL ever cared that much about those two fine arts institutions. Maybe a lot of them do, I love art museums myself, and I also happen to love NFL football, which maybe is why it struck me as so much fun. But I think that there were a lot of people on both sides of that coin who thought that was a really great way to show that they live in the same world as the rest of us. Here in Cleveland, the Cleveland Museum of Art is a very find institution with a remarkable collection, and when our Cleveland Cavaliers were in the NBA playoff, they put “Go Cavs” banners on the very front of their building where they usually have these beautiful banners that say, “free.” Because we are very lucky here that our institution is free and open to the public. But also, they took that opportunity to be a little less serious, and they took down those banners, and they put up these “Go Cavs” banners, huge banners, on the front of their building. Because I think that it gave them the opportunity to say to our community, “We live here too. We want them to win too.” And in fact the orchestra, which is very fine here, but of course plays to a very much higher brow crowd, they actually did a promotional web video for the Cavaliers as well. And it was great from my perspective to see that because it said, “We understand that not all of our people here in Cleveland are regular orchestra members. Some of them are just Cavs fans. Some of them love the Browns. And we live here too.”

Frank: So as you’ve said before, you have a presence on Facebook and Linkedin. Where else are you, and why did you chose to use those mediums?

flowerChevraux: I have a Facebook page for my business, Illumine Creative Solutions. Although I will say I don’t have a whole lot of really exciting content on it. And that’s my fault just because I’ve gotten busy with just the blog and other things. And usually what I do is I use it as one more venue to post what I recently put up on my blog. So, and every now and then I update it saying what I’m up to. But it’s nice because that let’s people that I know outside of my professional circle know what I’m doing in my work because they think that working for a museum must be the most fascinating thing. And I also have, of course I use LinkedIn, and I think most people do these days, which is great. At the very beginning when I had a LinkedIn account, I had no idea what I would use it for. But now I use it a lot. So it’s linked to my Twitter, so when I put something on there that I am working on professionally, it shows up on my Twitter account. And then I also, I have to admit, am a newbie on FourSquare. I have FourSquare, and I sometimes check in, but I have to say, a lot of times I forget. I’ve gone to a cool place, and I realize, “Oh! I’m in the parking lot. Oh! I should have checked in while I was at the art museum. Or I should have checked in when I was at the Cleveland Clinic doing something. Or Oh Man! I was just in a really cool place that does FourSquare, and I should have clicked.” So I have yet to really make that a part of my presence if you will. And as I said, I have website, and it’s just about to be redone and relaunched, and it will be up in the next couple of weeks.

Frank: What is FourSquare?

Chevraux: FourSquare is kind of Twitter meets your GPS. When you go somewhere, you have the application on your phone, and you click on it and you tell your followers and friends where you are. So if I go to Chipotle for a burrito, I can “check in.” And it says, “I’m here, and if anybody else in my circle is around and wants to have lunch, I’m here.” And it also keeps track of where you’ve gone. And so it sort of makes that human connection between Twitter, which is “let’s communicate with all these people out in cyberspace” to now “They are in our building, let’s engage them in a meaningful way.” You know that they are there because they’ve just checked in. And people can get badges and even become the mayor of the place. So for example, because I used to work at the Natural History Museum, I go there a lot with my kids. I enjoy it so much. And I could probably be the mayor of the Natural History Museum just if I checked in every time I went there. The person that checks in the most would get to become the mayor until someone else checked in more than they did. But I would certainly earn my badge. If museums or other heritage sites that are looking at this haven’t checked out FourSquare yet, I would say check it out. Because it is sort of that step between having people know you in the virtual world and bringing them into your world on site, which is what all of us are hoping social media will do for our organizations.

Frank: So what is your advice for folks wanting to get involved with new media to promote their heritage organization or communicate their own personal heritage ideas?

Chevraux: I have a couple of things. I would say, one of the easiest things to do if they haven’t yet done the Facebook page or if their Facebook page is lacking, is to just do that because I think that that’s the largest low-hanging fruit audience out there. People will “like” you virtually just to add you to their circle. Just because they want to see your updates. And then all of a sudden you’re getting all of these people who never really knew what you were about or just, “Oh! I went to that place. That living history site when I was in fourth grade. I haven’t been there since.” Click on them. Like them. Now they get all sorts of interesting information about what your organization does today, which we are all hoping is a lot different than somebody who’s 25 was in fourth grade. And that’s an easy one. I think the more that institutions do this, the more that they see the potential and the more that they may realize that they have to have someone in charge of maintaining it. Because I think that the best people I follow put up really great content. And for example, one of my favorites that I am happy to plug, is the Sue the T-Rex at the Field Museum. Now maybe people wouldn’t know that Sue the T-Rex tweets. But not only Sue tweet, but in the most incredible way. It’s funny. It’s new content. It meet their mission because it’s talking about paleontology and interesting dinosaur behavior. But it’s also smart and savvy and funny, and somebody, I’m sure, at the Field Museum is in charge of keeping it so. So if you want to be really good at it, you probably have to have somebody who’s dedicated to it. The other thing that I would say, is that if you’re a small organization, and you’re willing to let your guard down a little bit, you could always share it. You could make Twitter five different people’s responsibility, and you could get five different people’s input. And that’s fine. That’s a good way to start. But if you’re willing to let your director tweet, I think it’s awesome. Because I think that’s something that people really care about. The leader of an institution is somebody that’s usually respected and revered, and when they can share some of the insight about leading an organization or things that they find meaningful. For example, Max Anderson at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, he tweets. There are many directors that do. But it is great to know that that person who has a lot of professional experience and cache is sharing that not only to his colleagues, but also the museum consumers at large. I think it’s great.

Frank: Well Jennifer, it’s been so much fun talking with you today. Thank you so much!

Chevraux: Thank you so much for having me! It has really been an honor to be included in your webcast series. Thank you.

Outro: Now you can learn more about Jennifer and MuseoBlogger or Illumine Creative Solutions at our shownotes site. That’s Voices of the Past dot O-R-G. There you will find a transcript of this interview plus several others that we’ve done with other folks in the field of cultural heritage who are using social media to make a difference in their world. That’s it for this edition of the Voices of the Past podcast. And until next time, I’m Jeff Guin, and we’ll see you online.

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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.

Nina Simon on museum participation and curating a second life in the social space

Nina Simon Podcast Teaser

Nina Simon, the blogger behind the popular Museum 2.0 site, talks about why she believes social media is the key to helping museums and heritage groups connect their constituents with their content. Among the topics covered are the time investment required for social media as well as how to use social media philosophies to better visitor experiences without necessarily using the web tools.

Here’s the transcribed interview:

Welcome to the Voices of the Past Podcast. I’m Jeff Guin and today I’m talking to Nina Simon with the Blog Museum 2.0. Nina, I wonder if you’d just start by telling us the story of how you created museum 2.0 and also tell us what kind of impact your hoping to have in the field of cultural heritage.

N: Sure. I think that in late 2006, there were a lot of museum folks who started to be interested in this idea of what is the impact of web 2.0—wikis and of YouTube and all these things–on cultural institutions. But a lot of the people who were asking these things were not people who were in a position to be technically embedded in what was going on in that world. I was somebody who, because of the people in my peer group and also because my husband runs a web technology company, was heavily involved with people who were really on the fringe doing some pretty crazy stuff. You know, the first ones to Twitter, all that kind of stuff. So I felt like I was in this position to learn more about it and maybe to some demystifying about what all this stuff is and how it can really apply to our missions. I think that one of the problems is that we look at this new technology and we say, “Okay, this thing will slice penguins!” And then we say, “Great! Everybody needs this!” But nobody needs a thing that slices penguins. And certainly not zoos and aquariums!

But there is this question of ‘these are communication tools and they’re being used in some interesting ways and how can we use what’s going successfully about those, and apply them to our missions; not just by using those same technologies like blogs and podcasts, but also by looking at what’s going on in the web and saying, “How can we make a physical space that has the energy and the conversation around artifacts and content the same way we’re seeing that happen right now so intensely on the web?”

J: Now, I first found out about your blog through a post you wrote a while back called “How Much Time Does Web 2.0 Take?” And I know that the time versus benefit is question is still a big one for lots of folks. What do you have to say to someone who’s in heritage preservation who kind of sees the benefits of social media, but is still scared that it might be too big of a time sink?

N: I think that very reasonably our first approach to something like this is to say, “We need to understand the whole landscape so we can form a strategy.” But I think that that’s not the real appropriate starting point; that can be very overwhelming. I think the starting point is more, try one thing that doesn’t take too much time and can work for you. And so a great example is something like just looking at blogs just becoming a spectator in that world; joining LinkedIn or joining Facebook. LinkedIn is a perfect example of one that, I think a lot of people have joined LinkedIn and they’re not really sure why, and they’re sort of aggregating connections but there is this understanding that maybe one day I’m going to need this network, and every once in awhile I do get a message from somebody who says, “Hey, I’m looking for someone to fill this position,” whatever it is through that network. And I see it as having a very specific professional function, and I feel comfortable with it in that function.

I think that in the same way that a lot of museums, when we first started having interactive exhibits. Imagine if instead of ever touching a push button or flipping a flip chart, you would start it by saying, “We want to understand every kind of interactive we could ever make, before we make a decision about where we’re going to go.” And I think that instead what we know that we do, is we go museums, we experience interactive, we start getting a sense for ‘I like this; I don’t l like that.’ And I think that in the same way, we have to explore those new communication tools, just by engaging with them a little bit personally. And one thing I often recommend to people is if you are uncomfortable by starting with something visitor-facing, because maybe it won’t reflect your mission, maybe it will be overwhelming or too much, then start by creating something within your own staff. A lot of these tools have opportunities to be private, whether it’s making a wiki or having a Twitter feed, and I think that working within your staff can also help you understand where the people who might be great resources to be part of these initiatives. You may have a lot of young people in your organization who are already engaged and can give you a little bit of an introduction to this landscape. And you may find that there are certain services that are or aren’t going to work for your institutional culture. And working within your staff and volunteers is a great soft launch place to test that out.

J: Great advice, and also very in keeping with what you’re all about, because you’re not totally connected and wired all the time, as people would expect from bloggers. You actually off the grid out there in California, tell us about that. Does that help keep your life in balance and is it possible for someone to be too connected to the web?

N: I’m sure there is that possibility. I don’t know that I’ve ever been one of those people. I think that I am less connected than people would think. What I’m connected to is other people who are very connected to the web. I think that it is important from the perspective of the Museum 2.0 blog that I am always a learner alongside other people who are reading as well, and I am not an expert or a super-user. And I’m often in the same way everyone else is, looking at this stuff and saying, “Oh, another thing.” I can’t do that. But in regard to living off the grid, I love living off the grid and for me, living in the woods means that it’s so easy for me to unplug. I think when I was living in the city of Washington D.C., there was a more a sense of everybody—you could always be online. You could always be with your device, and I think that this is not a generational difference. You know, my mom–early cell phone adopter–she picks up her phone everywhere. We’re in a restaurant, she picks up the phone. I can’t believe it. I don’t think this is something that’s just ‘kids are always on their cells.’ I think that there are a lot of people who don’t have comfortable relationships with technology where we control it. And for me, part of living out here means it is so easy for me to say, “You know what? I do not have to be connected right now.” And granted, yes, it helps that sometimes I notice “Oh, we don’t have a lot of power right now. It’s been really cloudy. I guess I’m gonna spend some time with some books now.” Or “My cell phone doesn’t work up here,” kinds of thing. But I think also, you can do this everywhere. I think that it’s very legitimate and peaceful for us to all turn off every once in a while and that’s certainly something I use a lot in my own life, because otherwise you can’t get anything done.

J: Exactly. Now, you are someone who knows how to get things done though, and you’re not leading the conversation among museums, but really in the social media world as well. In fact, you had a post recently called “The Hierarchy of Social Participation” which was very popular; it was linked all over the blogosphere. Tell us how you came up on the concept and also how do people use it to connect better to their audiences.

N: Yeah, I think that a lot of people look at what’s going on in the web in terms of people socializing on the web, and they say, “Wow, there are these huge community spaces where all these people are talking to each other!” And I think that then, from a cultural heritage perspective, the analog would be to say, “Well, if we create the right kind of space, we’ll get a lot of people talking to each other.”

And there’s a more sophisticated problem here and what I did with that “Hierarchy of Participation” was really analyze ‘How did they get to that conversation space on the web?’ And it’s sort of surprising—I call it ‘Me to We Design’—that they don’t start by saying, “Hey, everybody get together and talk about books.” They start by saying, “Oh you? You like these books? Oh, this person likes those books and this person likes some of the same books as you.” And you start having these triangulating experiences, from my very personal interest to somebody else, through a shared interest, and then that compels me to talk to that person. So I think that what you see happening on the web in terms of these social interactions and relationships forming, are really mediated through technology and through content. So I’d love to see museums looking the same way for content and having ways for people to say, “I love this painting. He loves this painting. Now I’m more compelled to talk to that guy than I am to talk to talk to that guy than any other visitors in this place at the same time.

J: That’s a great insight, and you seem to be breaking ground on so many different levels, but I wanted to talk about your writing for a second. Most folks who read blogs or have attempted to blog have heard the rule ‘250, 300 words max.’ Keep it short and sweet; it’ll keep your readers coming back for more. Yet your posts are 700 and sometimes 1000 words long. And yet they’re still engaging and philosophical and deep even. Was that something that came naturally to you or was it the result of a process of you finding your voice as a blogger?

N: I can’t remember which writer it was who said, “It’s much harder to write 250 words than it is to write 1,000 words.” And it may be just that I’m sloppy, but no, I think that what I see—a lot of blogs are places that you go for aggregated content. I know if I go to Tree Hugger, that’s the only that’s the only place I need to go around environmental design because they’re connecting to everything. And they don’t need to put long posts because they’re not really doing analysis; they’re more saying, “Hey, look at this thing. We know our audience wants this aggregated stuff.”

And I think from the beginning what I was trying to do with Museum 2.0 was really to learn myself by figuring some of these things out and doing that in a public way. So I feel very grateful that other people have interest in these longer posts. I think that one lucky element is that because the museum audience–there aren’t many blogs in this world–I think that there’s not a set expectation for the posts to be short in the same way there is, say, in the tech world. And so I think of it more as a magazine kind of experience. I’m only putting up a couple of posts a week and so I feel like I spend time on them. Hopefully other people spend time on them. And that it’s a different sort of analytical experience.


J: Well it certainly is for me and it must be for other folks too because you have so many comments on your blog, which is kind of a rarity among blogs about heritage issues. How did you manage to build the sense of trust and community around Museum 2.0 that makes people feel comfortable enough to comment?

N: That has been a very slow growth and something I am so grateful for. It took me a while to realize that. Because when I go to other blogs I don’t always comment them. In fact, I rarely do. But now that I blog, I realize how desperately needy I am to hear from other people. And it makes me realize that there are probably other people out there who also would love to have more comments. But it’s interesting to think, when I talk to other people who read Museum 2.0, they never–unless it’s in sort of this marketing way of “Oh, how do you get comments?”–they really don’t care too much about the comments. And that is so interesting to me because, for me, what they’re getting is from me; what I’m getting is from them so I feel like I’m much more desirous of comments than they are. And I think that if you start a blog and you find that you don’t have a lot of comments, look at how many readers you have, because it’s okay. Think about it. Most of the things we read in this world we don’t comment on. That’s really okay. And it was not until Museum 2.0 got to getting about 1,000-2,000 people per week looking at it, that I really started to have a few comments. So now even, probably about two thousand people look at Museum 2.0 a week, and on the average week maybe there are ten comments on a great week. So it’s a pretty low percentage there. That’s fewer than 1%, and so I think that it takes a lot of eyes to get a few fingers moving and that’s something you see all over Web 2.0 that the number of spectators compared to the number of creators is really a huge percentage. And I think that’s something that when we do these initiatives with organizations we’re not aware of, and so sometimes we can end up in these sort of embarrassing situations you say, “Our museums going to have a video contest.” And then you only get three submissions and you wonder what happened, because YouTube is so popular. But of course, there are millions of people looking at YouTube videos and a very small percentage of those millions are actually posting videos. It’s still mostly an audience that wants to consume.

J: Well, let’s go a little bit deeper into your writing style then, because what I’m interested in finding out is when you sit down to write a post, do you consciously think about how to turn that consumer into a commenter?

N: Yeah, I think a lot of the posts start with a question and end with a question. And it’s important to me that most all of those questions—I don’t think I ever write a question just to have it there. This is a pet peeve of mine with museum labels, when you have a label that ends with a question like, “What do you think the girl is doing?” But of course, the person who wrote the label doesn’t care what you think. It’s just sort of there for you to work with. And I think a lot of the things I’m dealing with on the blog, I’m grappling to figure out ‘What are the situations where you want to talk to strangers?’ or ‘How could this tool be used?’ And I think that the more I can—and I’d love to hear from people about what they think works for them, but for my perspective–the more I put myself out there and honestly say, “Hey, I’m trying to figure this out. Let’s help each other figure this out. Help me figure this out,” that I really legitimately love reading those comments and learning from other people. I hope that honesty and that interest in them comes through. And that’s different than if I was just saying, “Here’s my thing. What do you think?”

J: Absolutely, and obviously you’re very skilled in developing that interpersonal communication through your blog, and I’m also curious to know if you use any social media platforms. And also, what those platforms allow you to do as far as furthering that relationship with your reader.

N: I love Twitter these days, but I think I fall in and out of love with different things. Certainly, I use a Google homepage, which I really recommend to anybody. It’s a very easy tool that just helps you, and on Museum 2.0 there is a post. If you search ‘Google homepage’ there’s a step-by-step of how to do it, but basically it means that whenever I open a web browser, I’m seeing feeds that I’m interested in, I’m seeing the weather where I am and I have a Wikipedia where I can search right from there. It’s a very useful thing where I can have a lot of content at my fingertips.

So, certainly I read several blogs, although one of the things I love about Twitter, which is what’s called a micro-blogging program, is that Twitter is a way that individuals can send out very short messages and you can choose to follow those individuals, in which case you receive their messages, and other people follow you. So, when you “tweet” something out, it goes to everybody who’s following you and vice-versa. So, often what will happen is, somebody will just put out a provocative question. I just got one from the Tacoma Art Museum where they just, in their tweet said, “When does public art not become public?” and it had a link to a Wall Street Journal article. So, I’m more likely to read this article now because it came with this interesting tag line of, “The art museum is interested in this; maybe I’ll check this out.” So, I use the web pretty informally in that way.

I love a program called Pandora, which is an online radio program. And actually it’s one that I know several organizations, stores, and I don’t know if any museums are using it as their background music, but is a one that’s safe to use and doesn’t have advertising, and it works in a really interesting way based on collaborative filtering, where you put in a song or an artist, and they have all this music tagged so they can figure out which music you might like because of the music you’ve put in. And it’s pretty sophisticated; it’s not just saying, “Oh, you like Paul Simon. You’ll like Art Garfunkel.” It’s saying, “Oh, you like Paul Simon. You’ll like other things with African drums and call and response, or whatever elements they’ve tagged as being part of that artist’s experience. So, but those are totally personal. I think that professionally, I don’t use Facebook that much, although I’m aware of it. I think mostly for me it’s about making sure I’m keeping track of the people, via mostly their blogs, that are really doing something interesting. Oh, and the other one that I use so much I forget that it’s Web 2.0 or social media is Flickr. Flickr is a photo sharing web site and I recommend this to any person who is planning an exhibition, a program, anything where you need source images. Flicker is all based on photos that people have uploaded themselves. So for example, when I was working on an exhibition where we knew we wanted to thematically have a Middle Eastern, Moroccan kind of feel. I could go on Flickr and look for things like “Moroccan hair dresser.’ And I could see exactly what a barber shop would look like in Morocco in a way I really couldn’t find on something like Getting Images or Google Images or any of the typical sources. So, I highly recommend Flickr in that way.

And then the last one I use, which I use personally and professionally is a site called Delicious. Delicious is a way to keep your web bookmarks, but it stores them online so that instead of them being in a folder on your computer, they are something you can access from any computer. And what that means is that if Jeff and I are working on a project together, I can create a delicious tag for Jeff and Nina’s project, and then Jeff knows at any time, he could go and look at the links that I have put in folder. So we can sort of share bookmarks in that way. And I find that pretty useful when you’re working on specifically research project with other people, where you want to be able to say, “Hey, check this out.” But you don’t want to have to constantly email links to people.

J: Yeah those are interesting.

N: What about you?

J: Well actually I use most all of those, and I’m glad you mentioned Flicker because it’s been a great help in putting together the Preservation Today Netcast. You can go on there and you can actually go to advanced search and search by creative commons licensing and that means you don’t have to go through the long copyright process for use of the photos. All you have to do is give attribution. So how can folks find you on these other social media platforms?

N: Yeah sure. I’m “ninaksimon” in all kinds of places on Facebook and Twitter. And I think if you go to the blog, under the contact area I think it lists all that kind of stuff, but also, one thing that I use and has become very popular in some areas and some people have no idea about it is a website called SlideShare. It’s a great way to very easily share PowerPoint presentations or Keynote presentations. Like, on my site, you can see a link to all of the presentations that I put up or download. So it’s a really useful way to let other people download your slides and talk about them.

Oh, and one other one that I just love, and I think that museums should be using all over the place, especially with education programs, is a website called VoiceThread. It is so wonderful. It’s like Slideshare in that it’s a way to share images with other people, but then you talk over them, and it’s really easy to have conversations around them. And so for example, I’ve used them in planning an exhibition where I would put up a bunch of images and say, “Here are some of the things we are thinking about for this exhibit. We are thinking about doing an exhibit on this with an image of that and talking and thinking about it, blah blah.” And then other people can go on and can also comment in voice.

And there is something about voice and having people talking to each other that really is neat. And I was surprised to find it was a vehicle that got a higher comment rate than blogging did. So, a much higher percentage of people who look at a voicethread will comment on it in voice. And I find that really interesting, so I think that that’s another element as you’re looking for social media strategies for your institution that maybe a variety of different strategies that may elicit different forms of visitor participation.

And you can really design that based on your own comfort. So, something like a podcast— that’s totally pushed content. You don’t have to receive anything back from visitors on that. So if that’s what you want to do, that’s okay. But if you want something that really elicits participation, I love following museums and libraries on Twitter, because that’s really a conversation going on and it is so neat to me to feel like, “Wow, the San Francisco Zoo is shearing a sheep this week,” or, “The library in Grand Rapids is talking about a favorite book that a visitor brought in today.” And it gives me a little slice of what’s going on in institutions that really increases my connection with them in a more personal way. And I a lot of that is what this is all about: getting away from our branded, museum-speak language that can really read in this day and age particularly, as kind of false, and getting to a place where we are having more personal relationships with each other and with visitors.

J: And that’s what it’s all about, really. Now I haven’t heard of VoiceThread before; this is a new one on me. Is it just found at www.voicethread.com?

N: Voicethread.com, that’s right. And let me check. I think my name there is Nina K. Simon, and I’ve a couple, if you want to check them out in a museum way, and it actually includes one where we failed to get comments and that was sort of an interesting situation I have some ideas about.  But it looks like I’m just ‘Nina Simon.’

J: Well, now you piqued my interest. Tell me a little bit more about the technology and what type of audience is it best suited for?

N: It’s great for students, because you can have all these kids that are so cute, where every kid is doing their presentation about their drawing and they’re talking about their drawing. And then other kids are commenting on their drawing. It is really great.


J: Okay, I’m gonna switch gears here just for a second and ask you my big question for the interview, and it is a question that is directly related to museums but is also very personal to me, and it actually entails a confession too. The confession is–pause for dramatic effect–I don’t particularly care to go to museums. And I like the idea of going to them and I realize that that statement kind of runs counter to everything that I’ve said about your blog and enjoying it and maybe even my stance as someone who values heritage. Is there a social media solution for someone like me,–and I hope I’m not the only one–who can’t see beyond the glass case to connect to the artifact or the museum contents?

N: Yeah, absolutely. Jeff, a lot of people share your problem. I have that problem in art museums. I always say to people in art museums who work there, “I feel like I am always going to an art museum hoping for an epiphanil experience and I always leave a little spiritually unfulfilled.” I think that there are some—well, I think that there are some things that are already happening in museums that we, as visitors, are bad at taking them up on. And they as museums are bad at really selling us on. I don’t know if you’ve ever done audio tours or gone on a tour with a guide in a museum. I tend not to do them, but in times when I do, I always have a better experience. So, that’s sort of an interesting problem, right? There is great additional content available, but for some reason it just isn’t appealing to us in the format that it is being presented. So, one thing I’m seeing happen at some museums now, for example, SFMOMA, San Francisco, they’ve hired somebody they’re calling a community producer, and that person is basically staging conversations in the museum. She reserves time with curators and she really creates a space that feels like, just sitting down on a couch with some people. Some are experts, some are visitors, and talk about this stuff.” And it’s not something you have to sign up for or you have to go with a guide to do. You just into a room and there it is.

And I think that there are these ‘lowering the barriers’ ways to connect people with experiences that are additional layering of information that can be very nonthreatening like that and don’t require a lot of planning. Also some great examples of places where they’ve either allowed visitors to write labels of their own or write questions directly on the labels where they find that—well the big argument against that is, “Well, visitors don’t know anything.” But what happens is, people spend so much more time with the artifact if they have to try and write a label about it or if they have to think of a question about it, that they are having a more valid, analytical experience with the artifact. And part of that is what museums are supposed to be about, is helping you figure out, “How do I learn about this stuff and how do I get engaged with this stuff?” So I think that sometimes giving up a little authority, even if it means losing that expert voice at the front end, doesn’t mean you lose it at the back end because what is those visitors then become very interested in learning more.

So, I think there are a lot of things that just have to do with how we host people and how we make that a friendly opportunity. And really connecting humans with humans. Because, overwhelmingly people who leave museums who have a positive experience, when asked what that positive experience was, they say the experience they had was another person, usually a staff member. And so I think that the more we can maximize that opportunity, not just between visitor and staff, but between visitors and visitors, the more it’s gonna be seen as a really positive experience. And then museums will be more fun because they’ll be thought of as somewhere social instead of somewhere where you have to whisper.


J: Exactly, and ultimately that’s what it’s supposed to be about, right? It’s about the people. It’s great to preserve the artifacts and the material culture, but ultimately it’s about the people who made it, I would think anyway.

N: Yeah, and on the flipside, some people would say, “No, no, it’s not about people, it’s about preserving these artifacts.” And I think that even in preservation, there are some places where they are starting to say, open up their preservation labs so people can watch how paintings are restored or the Smithsonian has a really interesting blog on their exhibit central, an interview with a model maker and stuff like that. And I think that that is great also in terms of the more the parts of the museum that are more visitor accessible, exposing the process. Everybody loves those ‘how things are made’ kinds of shows and I think that museums, when we put an artifact out on the floor and it looks all perfect, it’s also kind of dead. And it’s really the making and the decisions around that that are very exciting and we need to find new ways to be comfortable exposing those, I think.

J: Absolutely. Well, let me propose a scenario for you. Let’s say that there’s this very small university museum somewhere with an even smaller budget. The curator is very involved, but minimally involved with the web and social media. Occasional web browsing, email primarily. What could a person like that do to use the social media philosophies and even the tools to better connect with their visitors?

N: I think the first question–and anybody can answer this question–is “what do I want my relationship to be with visitors?” And I think that part of that is about what we’re already comfortable with, but part of that is aspiration. What could it be and where would I like to go with this? And I think that that really drives what you might like to do. So, some people might say, “The conversation I want to have with visitors is to share my expertise.” And that’s what they already do in exhibits and that’s certainly something you could continue to do in, say, a blog. And maybe then the voice would be a little more informal, or you’d cover things that aren’t covered in the exhibition. Everybody bemoans that they can’t get enough on the labels as they’d like to. So maybe a blog in that case would be appropriate if you want to share expertise.

Other people might say, “I want to have more conversations and understand more about what my visitors want from the museum.” And those people might want to look into something like Twitter or Facebook, putting yourself out there as an individual in a social network in forum that involves things like asking questions and getting answers. Now, you understand that I started by saying, “you want to have conversations with visitors, try out Facebook.” Not, “Try Facebook and try and convince people that you want to have conversations with them when really you’re just there because you feel like, “Oh I’m supposed to be there.” I think nobody is well served if you feel like you’re going into technology because you feel in some way like you ought to be doing it. I think that what you ought to be doing is examining the kinds of relationships you want to have with visitors and then I think a tool like that Museum 2.0 can help you refine what those possibilities might be and then search for the tools that are going to accommodate that.


J: Right, good stuff. Well Nina Simon, thanks so much for taking the time to visit with me today. I know that I learned a lot, and I just had a good time talking with you. I’ll see you on the blog.

N: Of course! Thanks, my pleasure, Jeff.

J: Well that’s it for the first episode of the Voices of the Past Podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Now our mission here is to inspire connections to heritage values using new media. If you like, you can join the conversation at our shownotes site, and that’s voicesofthepast.org. Check out the heritage news and even contribute news of your own. I’m Jeff Guin, and until next time, I’ll see you online.

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Armchair tour of museums and Web 2.0

Nina Simon Armchair Tour of Museum 2By Nina Simon

Confused about social media?Don’t know where to start? For the last two years, I’ve been hunting down great projects in and outside of museums that exemplify the themes of visitor participation, user-generated content, and flexible relationships between institutions and visitors.Here are some of my favorite museum projects that represent interesting, thoughtful experiments with Web 2.0:

The Bay Area Discovery Museum: A Lesson in Good Listening

You don’t need a big initiative to get involved with social media—you just need ears and a voice to add to conversations that are already happening.Jennifer Caleshu, head of marketing for a small children’s museum, is an active participant in local Web 2.0 parenting and recreational sites like Yelp!, and developed relationships in those online communities to build strong relationships with current and potential visitors.She recently started a blog for the museum, but her best work is in listening to what others are saying about her institution.She describes her social media strategy here on the excellent Museum Audience Insight blog maintained by Reach Advisors.

MN150: A Visitor-Generated History Exhibition

The Minnesota Historical Society developed an innovative permanent exhibition featuring the 150 most important contributions of Minnesota as nominated by regular people.Read an interview with the lead developer of MN150 here.

The Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum is a leader in innovative social media initiatives, from the creation of Facebook applications to crowd-curated exhibits and a “posse” collection-tagging project.You can read three articles about their initiatives here or visit their community site here.

Library of Congress on Flickr

When the Library of Congress put some of their photo collection on the photo-sharing site Flickr, it opened up whole new conversations and interpretations of their content.Read more about it here.

ExhibitFiles

ExhibitFiles is a social networking website for people who make and visit exhibitions.It is a living database of exhibit case studies and reviews and is useful for anyone looking for best practices in the field.

Museum blog types compared (with examples)

In this post on Museum 2.0, I compare the different types of museum blogs and offer a self-assessment tool to determine what type might be right for you.

Beth’s Blog and the WeAreMedia wiki

Beth Kanter is an extraordinary social media maven with a focus on non-profits.She covers everything from Web 2.0 tools to fundraising strategies on her blog and on the NTEN WeAreMedia project site.

Useum

The North Carolina Museum of Life and Sciences is doing a series of no- to low-cost experiments with Web 2.0 and documenting them here.

Science Buzz and Red Shift Now

The Science Museum of Museum and the Ontario Science Center each maintain impressive community sites that integrate real-time visitor feedback from the Web and the museum floor here and here respectively.

Teaser image by Shelley Bernstein on Flickr. 

 

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