Tag Archives: youtube

Crowdsourcing Historical Memory with TellHistory

I’m thrilled today to introduce a project that combines my biggest interests–oral storytelling and cultural heritage outreach through crowdsourcing. It’s appropriately called Tell History.

And it was developed by Alex Whitcomb and Sarah Hayes. They’re crowdsourcing video-based memories that they tie to themes, timelines and maps. We all have a friend or relative who has a fascinating story to tell. TellHistory.com can help you help them to share that story in historical context. It’s also an inspiring story about how you can take your passion, and evolve it into a platform for the greater good. The interview starts with Alex and Sarah describing their own bit of history in the development of this project….

Crowdsourcing Historical Memory Topics

  1. What has the response been like?
  2. I know from personal experience that it can be very difficult to build engagement in digital projects. How have you gotten so many folks to contribute videos to the project?
  3. Tell me a little about how Tell History works …
  4. I think it’s interesting that you use a Theme of the Week to focus your contributions. How do you identify those?
  5. What kind of audiences are contributing to Tell History, and what kind of stories are capturing your attention? 
  6. You’ve made it very easy for folks contribute to Tell History. Describe that process …
  7. How have you been using social media to support the growth of Tell History?
  8. What kind of stories and themes are you focusing on for the future?
  9. Describe what your “big picture” goal is for Tell History …
  10. A project of this scope only happens because of people who believe in you and what you’re trying to achieve. Are there any folks who have contributed to the site that you’d like to give a shout-out to?
  11. How do folks connect with you online?

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Picturing preservation tech online with Cultural Heritage Imaging

Today we’re talking to Carla Schroer of Cultural Heritage Imaging. CHI is a small company based in San Francisco–the social media capital of the world–that’s doing some interesting things through photography and photosharing through Flickr. They focus on rock art and technologies related to photography in heritage research. In this podcast, we’ll explore how CHI is implementing its social media policy based on its strengths, priorities and available time. CHI

Schroer: Cultural Heritage Imaging has a mission to drive both the development and adoption of practical digital imaging and preservation solutions for the cultural heritage community. (Audio timestamp #00:02:02.6#)

Guin: What are some of the heritage resources you’ve worked on that our audience may be familiar with? #00:02:04.3#

Schroer: We’ve done quite a bit of work on rock art, including a workshop focused on rock art. We’re also working with a number of museums, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the New York MOMA and the Pheobe Hearst Anthropology Museum in Berkley. In all those cases, our primary focus is with the conservation departments in those museums. #00:02:32.4#

Guin: So this is pretty technical. You do a lot of work with laser imaging and scanning of cultural heritage objects. #00:02:43.2#

Schroer: Everything we do is based on digital photography, so one of our core philosophies as an organizations is that we want to develop technology and get it in people’s hands that they can do themselves. We really don’t like the service provider model where you have to hire someone to come do things for you. We’re looking for technologies that people can do on their own. A couple of the primary ones that we’re working with right now are reflectance imaging, where you take a sequence of images with light in different positions around the object. Once you put that together in the computer, you can dynamically relight the object and bring out very very fine surface details of the object. This is one of the reasons we’re working with museum conservation, because getting very fine surface information is of great interest to that community. We also do work with photogrammetry and some other photographic-based imaging techniques. #00:03:37.4#

Guin: With audiences so defined, you wouldn’t ordinarily think of an organization like this needing to adopt social media as part of its communications strategy, but you’ve taken a proactive approach. #00:03:51.8#

Schroer: I sit here in San Francisco, surrounded by all these technology people. We’re not really innovators compared to them. But we always had a web presence and later an electronic newsletter. From there, it became clear that blogging and using Flickr to create sets and have photos people could find online made a lot of sense. We are just starting to foray into video and posting things on YouTube as well. The focus was to make it easier for people to find us through keywords and search. We know from watching our traffic that people are finding us that way. #00:04:46.9#

Guin: You’ve really emphasized photography, and tell stories very powerfully with it. What made you decide to go the “still image” route to connect with your audience? #00:05:08.9#

Schroer: Our work is based on digital photography, which means that we already have good cameras with us when we’re working. So still photography makes a lot of sense. Marlin Lum (http://www.c-h-i.org/about_us/marlin_lum.html), who is our imaging director, also does wedding and event photography, so a lot of the photography on the website is his work. He has a great photo-journalistic style. The rest of us are more studipophotographers–very focused on special needs for getting a reflectance image and photogrammetry sequence, where Marlin is more of a photo-journalist. #00:05:56.7#

Guin: You’re a little different than most folks that I’ve interviewed for Voices of the Past in that you’re not a solo blogger or someone doing this for the fun of it. You’re doing this because it’s rooted in the values of your company. And, though you’re a non-profit, you still have to make payroll. So, how does your social media work? Is it the responsibility of one person, or is you as a group working together? #00:06:23.0#

Schroer: It’s definitely us as a group and we even have volunteers that help. It’s a group blog and we have guest bloggers as well. We are currently updating our website to WordPress to make it easier for all of us to share web management duties as well. We’ve started using CulturalHeritageImaging.org, rather than C-H-I.org, which will allow us to transfer content to the new site while keeping the old site. We’ve had some incredible volunteer help, including a design group that offered to help us pick a theme at get it customized. We’ve also had a writer who’s been doing a lot of work editing existing materials. We made decisions on how to regroup the material, but were missing some “glue” on how to make it flow. #00:08:13.7#

Carla Schroer of Cultural Heritage Imaging

Guin: What kind of topics do you blog and what is your audience for your posts? #00:08:20.6#

Schroer: It’s a group blog, so we’ll have equipment tips on there, we’ll talk about conferences we’ve been to or projects that we’re working on. We also invite people who are adopting technology, particularly reflectance imaging, to talk about their experience doing that. We have guest posts from the Smithsonian and the New York MOMA. We also post FAQs when we get questions. #00:09:14.5#

Guin: Beside your blog, what other social tools do you use? #00:09:14.5#

Schroer: Flickr has been big for us. We have started YouTube as well, including a video on our NCPTT grant project, and we have some additional videos on projects sponsored by the Kress Foundation with a museum conservation focus. Hopefully, the YouTube work will be similar to what happens with Flickr in that it will help people from a broader audience find us and be interested in the stuff we’re doing. #00:10:00.8#

Guin: Now that you’re branching out into these other forms of media, if someone wanted to visit your content there, what do you recommend they take a look at? #00:10:15.8#

Schroer: On our Flickr site, we make use of collections, so it’s easy to identify our work both by topic and project. #00:10:45.5#

Guin: You mentioned optimizing your content for search, so that you make connections. How do you optimize your content for the web through titles, tags and descriptions? #00:11:04.1#

Schroer: That’s what we’re working on right now as part of our website redesign. We’re doing some search analytics for what people are searching for. It’s a little tough, because some of the things we’re known for, like reflectance transformation imaging, are not something most people will go type into Google. So we’re working to figure out what people are searching for when they find us. And terms like “photography” and “cultural heritage” are so broad that it’s hard to optimize for those concepts. As we become more known in fields like museum conservation, that’s an area we’ll work to optimize. #00:11:59.6#

Guin: Since you’re transitioning to a new content management system, is there something that’s changing in your social media approach since you first began? #00:12:15.4#

Schroer: We are trying to tie some things together. For example, we have an e-mail list that we started about five years ago. So we use our social media blog posts, photo galleries and videos, as content to drive traffic that way. We also pick themes. So each month, we’ll focus on something like training and education, or rock art, etc., and use all of our platforms to emphasize that theme. It’s a more powerful way to help people learn about an aspect of our business. The biggest thing is that it always takes more time than you want it to. Because we’re small, we’re always thinking about how much time and effort should we put into these platforms and what kind of payback are we getting from them. We’ve stayed away from Facebook and Twitter at this point, not that we wouldn’t go there, but just because of the amount of time that it takes to really use them correctly.

Guin: What advice would you give to another small cultural heritage organization that’s just now getting into social media? #00:13:49.6#

Schroer: Blogging is an obvious first choice, because it’s easy to throw in pictures to help tell your story. To take that on, you have to have a person or two on your staff that are into it and feel that it’s fun. For us, Flickr made sense because we already had piles of photographs. We’re learning to use YouTube to tell our story in a more dynamic way. We had a couple of projects that specifically called for producing video. We’re also exploring the use of Screenflow [screencasting] technology to help explain concepts without people having to download data sets or a special view. They can quickly get a sense of what we’re doing. That will hopefully whet some appetite so that people want to download a data set and seeing what’s possible. #00:15:07.3#

Guin: What are your social media goals for Cultural Heritage Imaging? #00:14:42:00

Schroer: For us, it’s an expansion of why we started our website. We want people to learn about us, our work and the people who are partnering with us. It’s also a way for people to find out if they would like to partner with us, undertake a new technology or take one of our classes. As a non-profit, we also hope it will inspire people to volunteer or become donors. We have multiple audiences for our website, so we have multiple audiences for our social media as well.

Photos courtesy of Cultural Heritage Imaging

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A conversation with John Leeke, the “original heritage video blogger” (audio podcast)

Update: John’s started a blog called “Save America’s Windows,” which uses video conferencing, a forum and videos that complement his book on the subject.

John Leeke was videoblogging for nearly a decade before YouTube was even invented. And he was taking about heritage preservation. His “campfire chats” have created a community throughout the world and inspired countless folks to take up the preservation trades. In this interview, he talks about getting started in video blogging, the modern tools he uses, and why he’s an active, if reluctant, Facebook user.


Jeff Guin: John, welcome to Voices of the Past. What’s the mission of Historic Homeworks?

John Leeke: Helping people understand and maintain their older and historic buildings–that’s even a formal mission statement for my business, but it is really what I am about.

As a kid in the 1950’s, I grew up in my father’s woodworking shop. I was about 10 years old when I started and it was the usual thing: cleaning up and helping out. But by the time I was 12, I was doing some formal, regular jobs. My first one was fixing a broken picket on a neighbor’s fence. At least that’s what I thought I was doing. But later as an adult, I talked about this with my dad, and he said, “Now John, you thought I was teaching you about working with wood? Actually I was teaching you about working with people.”

When my dad passed away, I was clearing out his shop and came across the job sheet for that first fence picket project. And my dad had written at the top of the sheet “Help Mr. Williams fix his fence.” See? The work was really about helping our neighbor, not about me or the picket.

And you are still doing that today. And one of the ways that you are doing that is with web communication. And maybe some people don’t realize that you were producing social media even before the term came into existence. For many years now you have been producing video and communicating online. What lead you down that path?

I’ve got some inner need to share what I know. I am still not very sure where that comes from, but all throughout my work career it’s been there.

In the 1980’s I started writing articles about my work on historic buildings, woodworking and preservation magazines. National publishers like “Fine Home Building” and “Old House Journal” and so on. But there was a disconnect between me and my readers. And an occasional Q&A from a reader via the editor, but no real connection.

I am an inveterate do-it-yourselfer, so by the end of the ’80’s I was publishing my series of printed booklets and practical restoration reports. This put me in touch with contact with my readers and a dialog developed with many of them. Definitely social interaction, but the media was print. The booklets and letters, many phone conversations. Some of that interaction was on the Internet on bulletin board services.

By 1994, the World Wide Web was developing and I had my own website. So that interaction with the readers continued and expanded to many others this new media, webpages over the Internet.

By the end of the 90’s, the social media was developing and widely recognized, and I’d already been in the “thick of it” for five to eight years.

We’ve talked about your content, and it’s very rooted in the principles and ethic of social media. But what you have chosen to do is maintain simplicity within your own website and not overload it with all of your social networking icons and things like that. Why did you go for simplicity in actually maintaining your website and communicating with your audience?

Part of it is just the practical side that I can only put so much time and effort into it. I am out earning a living, working on old buildings, and that takes … full time. And then I am spending another half-time sharing what I know and writing and other projects, going to conferences and giving workshops and such. So there’s time and a half. And just like only so much could go into it. But I’ve always thought of my website as a destination. A quiet place for me and others to learn and share what we know. If you notice there is almost no advertising like some of the other old house websites. Ads flashing on every webpage and distracting from the real message. Well, maybe with some of those other old house websites, the advertising is the message. Tricking visitors into wanting more than what they need and the underlining purpose is making money.

One of the big struggles in preservation today, as you know, is the consumer marketing and building products. Like the vinyl pirates and the cooperate monsters in the consumer economy have mind-washed the American public into trashing all their final windows and replacing them with plastic, imitation windows–Don’t get me started! Well, they spend millions of dollars a year doing that. May of those dollars taken by the owners of old houses websites. When folks come to the historic home works, they immediately see it’s a different sort of place. They have some confidence, I think, that they will get objective information not hyped up and spun up with advertising dollars.

And I never got into blogging. The discussion forum at my website was highly active before blogging, so I just continued with that formal, well-known format of discussion forum. Now the forum has display video, and I could add features like live audio, but I really want to keep it simple enough that folks are comfortable using it.

I do participate in some of the social media. Folks learn about my work and end up on my website to learn more. One of the things that we all value highly is an original, historic house that still looks like it did when it was first built. So it seems OK to me if my website looks just like that: how I first built it. It’s a bit quaint, perhaps, but I get a lot of visitors and many of them say how easy it is to navigate. They can find what they need to know, so I don’t have any compelling urge to update it. No need for modeling and renovation.

You’ve got a book about historic windows. Tell me about it.

Save America’s Windows started out as two or three articles back in the 1980’s that I wrote for “Old House Journal” and a couple of the others. And by the end of the ’80s, I was consolidating those into a report on window preservation, restoration, maintenance and repair methods. So the content has kind of a history. And through the ’90s that developed and expanded. And by 2005 and 2006, it was thick enough to be a book. So I gave it a new title. Instead of “Save your Wood Windows,” “Save America’s Windows.”

And, I have to say, it is selling like hotcakes because there is this real strong interest in saving windows. I mean, that’s how I got the title. There is a thirst all across the country to take care of old windows within the field of historic preservation and maybe some of the practical affairs at the lower economical scale. Those who can’t afford to replace all their windows at such a high cost are just taking care of their windows. And so that’s what the book responds to.

You have actually pioneered the use of live chats regarding heritage topics. And you kind of had, for lack of a better term, a campfire chat about preservation topics over the course of many years. Tell me how that got started.

In the 1980s there were internet bulletin boards, and I got started on those as a user. And that was strictly a text message system. And after that I was a systems operator for a Compuserve board about old houses. And that was late ’80s or very early ’90s. And that had text and photos. You could upload photos to the files area. In ’94 or ’95, I had a contract to provide preservation information to a section of AOL called “House Net.” Part of that was hosting a two-hour text chat. Man, that was something. I learned how to think quick, be brief and type fast. And I felt that I could still help people pretty effectively with their old houses even with that kind of brief format. But I think it was so effective because it was live and interactive. It was actually conversations with few and many people involved.

Then in ’97 the first International Preservation Trades Workshop was held in Fredrick, Md. This four-day assembly of preservation trades people has continued every year since. But that was the first one and the participants had access to a bank of personal computers for their exploration of the Internet and other electronic resources. The timber framers are there, and the wood carves and so on. So this was kind of the newest thing back then.

Well, I couldn’t afford to go, so I set up and hosted an online conference through my own website. For two hours, with 15 folks there in Maryland and me in Maine, we chatted about using computers in the field of preservation and live text and realtime video. A rarity at the time. It was certainly the first time I’d done it. When high-speed access became common in 2001 and 2002, I started posting videos on one of my webpages and updated the webpage every day. I updated it by hand with HTML editors and ordinary text editors. Just like I was doing work by hand in the daytime with house restoration projects, planing  the old wooden boards by hand. This was way before any of the automated blogging services, so it was essentially a blog before blogs because we were updating it daily, and then I heard about video blogging in 2005. There was a group of 15-20 people who called themselves the “video bloggers.” And I kind of fell in with them. They were doing blogging just like I had been doing on my own by updating web pages, and then others were figuring out ways to do that easily on the new video blogging services. Well, this group of folks had this weekly online video conference meeting using the flash meeting service, and there was a lot of camaraderie as they developed new video methods.

Every week were were checking out each other’s new video blogs and helping each other figure out what looks good and what works and so on. And so even some of them were writing books about blogging and video blogging that were being published that year and the year after. And they really liked me because they were all video blogging about video blogging. And I was out in the real world video blogging about saving historic buildings. So they loved that and really helped me get up to speed quick using interactive video, mostly by using that Flash Meeting service. Now Flash Meeting is a live, interactive video conferencing service, they are kind of common now, but they were a rarity back then. And it was developed by the Old Media Institute of the Open University over in England in the 1990s. And they have on going developments and improvements on the Flash Meeting system.

The Open University is a distance learning school that is students worldwide. In fact, it is an interesting place. They have a campus with 2,000 or 2,300 people on it, but there are no students at the campus. It’s all staff and instructors and professors at the campus and their student body is truly all around the world. So they made the Flash system to serve their students all around the world over the web. Well, I got in touch with Peter Scott who leads that program, and he gave me a grant of services, so I could use Flash Meeting for my own work. He did that because he sad they were stuck in the academic realm, and I was out in the real world to train preservation trades people to save historic buildings. And one of the principle things they do at the Open University is study how knowledge spreads around the world, and they actively support what they call the horizontal spread of knowledge rather than vertical. The traditional way of learning is a vertical system where professors at the universities know it all, and they teach their students who end up becoming teachers themselves teaching their students to go out in the real world and do work using what they learned. Well that’s a vertical system they say. And what they are promoting is horizontal systems of knowledge transfer, where if trades people like I’m working with in preservation need to know something, they go side ways (horizontal) to other trades people and get the information they need to know directly from them. And that’s what I was doing with their Flash Meeting system. So they wanted to use me as a case study for how their system is used out in the real world.

Which kind of made you the original heritage video blogger …

Well, I was doing it pretty early. And all of the stuff, all of these tools whether it’s a table saw or a wooden hand plane or the Internet and my computer and a video camera are all just tools that I use to help people take care of their old buildings. And so this is just the next set of tools to learn about, and I was picking up kind of early on. As soon as they were helping me, I was using them. One of the things that they study at the Open University is how knowledge spreads, so that’s what I was doing. And I think that’s why I kind of looked interesting to them. And this Flash Meeting system is highly useful. After a live video conference is recorded, that recording is available and even more people watch it. Maybe six or eight participants have logged in and participated in the live meeting, but some of these recordings that I have done have been viewed 10s of thousands of times. And the Flash Meeting system keeps track of all that, and you can see in a worldwide map where the original participants were located in the video conference and the location of the recorded viewers all around the globe on six continents. And Peter at the Open University jokes, and he says, “They’re just waiting for someone on Antarctica to start watching my restoration videos so they can say ‘worldwide,’ seven continents.”

And recently, for example, we’ve had a live video training session with New Orleans Renewal and Building and Crafts Training Program, where Bill Robinson is training a crew of preservation trades people learning about wood window repairs and maintenance, and it’s an ongoing program of training that lasts for months, and windows is just one of the components. And so one Saturday we set up and had a morning and afternoon session over these live conferences, and those are still available.

Livestreaming and using video, recorded and live, is really where the Internet is going right now. Do you have any advice for heritage organizations that are considering livestreaming their training?

Yeah. I think the real key is to first understand that all of this is very doable. All of the tools have kind of…it is like they’ve merged finally into ways that actually work. And it’s not a big struggle to plug in your camera to your computer and hook your camera up to the Internet and be doing it. It may take a bit of learning and a bit of practice, that’s the other key–is to just do it. It’s like start doing it, don’t get worried about trying to meet high-production values. It isn’t Hollywood. It isn’t broadcast television. And you don’t even have to do it like anyone else is doing it over the Internet with their video camera. Just start doing it and do it enough. And that’s the key. To do it enough. Do it regular. Like once a week. Once a month. Or everyday, but just depending on what time you have available. And that’s the key. Just do it and practice. I mean, the first few times I did it, it was stilted. It’s not Hollywood. Like the true grit of what it’s like to work out at old buildings is where things get dusty and dirty during the work, and it’s OK if your camera shakes a little bit. It’s the content within it that’s important. And the way you get to that is just by practicing. By doing it. But don’t practice and then put it away in a drawer. Practice and get it out there. Because now, it’s not like it’s a television show where it’s highly edited. You might edit a little as you learn about that, but you get it out there and people respond to it.

I remember one of the first videos I did was about scraping paint, and so I demonstrated scraping paint and made this big screech like fingernails on the blackboard only worse. It’s like the scraper on the side of the house. And it was like this screeching scraping sound. And that was right in it, part of the true grit. And so a comment I got back from Simon Herbert out in Tucson. And he said that I showed that with my fellow office workers, he works at the county and their state preservation office. And he said that as soon as we came to that part, everyone turned around and walked away because they couldn’t stand that sound. So while it might be true grit on the worksite, but if it drives away viewers then you edit it out or you or you shoot your video so that you are minimizing that disturbance. And so it was just a lesson I learned early on and that’s how you get at it. But it’s like you have to overcome any embarrassment and so on, and the way to do that is just practice. So those are the two keys. Realize that it’s not costly and it’s very doable, and then just do it.

t_tbconf2007leekesash_126How have these technologies been effective in doing that? How has Historic HomeWorks changed because of these technologies?

My business is a little unusual. I’ve never paid for marketing or advertising. Through the 1980s and since, I have written articles for national journals and magazines, and that’s been a big part of my marketing. Like a lot of people learn about what I’m working on and then they call in and want some of that. But I’m not doing it for that reason. I’m not doing it for marketing it. I’m doing it because I have this compelling inner need to share stuff. And so that’s just like one of the happy results. And I started recognizing it just about the time it started happening. It was a big part of my marketing. For example, in an article I just tell stories about what I’m doing. And my first magazine article was about repairing the porch columns that I had to get done real quick because the couple was getting married on Saturday, and they were taking their vows right out on the front porch. So my work working on the Internet is just an extension of working on my projects and working in the print media. Now I tell my stories on the Internet and this means I can share my work and stories with a lot more people. One of the interesting marketing concepts, and now I didn’t develop it, is this idea called “long-tail marketing.” If you plot out a graph of let’s say all sales of windows. Big on the graph, coming up high on the graph are sales by Pella and Marvin. So that makes high in the curve of the number of sales over time. And so that’s like Pella is selling a lot of windows, and then like half way down of the regional companies like Black Mountain, windows over in Vermont, they are kind of like down on the curve. They were only selling a few windows compared to Pella in a regional area in New England. And then a little further out along that line, like maybe out here are the window restoration shops. One or two people working together saving old windows. And then, a little further out in the line, like maybe on this scale that I’m talking about here. Maybe 10 feet that way is John Leeke selling his book, selling a few books about saving America’s windows. It’s way out there on the horizon and then the long tail going out. And that’s the long tail of marketing.

The long tail is important because it goes way out. And even on this scale, the long tail goes out. Like here we are at a foot, it goes out 10 or 12 miles. Where way out at the end of the long tail, one neighbor helps another neighbor fix a window. And that neighbor gives his neighbor and friend $10 because he helped him out. So that’s like the far end of the long tail. And so that’s out on the long tail and that’s important because under the long tail, the size of that market because it goes out so far, is much more important that the area where all the windows are sold. And that works and happens largely because of the Internet. People can find out about each other. And sometimes, way out at the end of the tail, people are finding out about each other just talking over the backyard fence. And that’s a form of marketing, spreading ideas. But I think the real key is in this live interaction on the Internet. I mean, we all know how the Internet is used. How we use it to display words and pictures, and that’s the way it kind of started. Now, I learned back in the ’90s about this interaction that can take place over the Internet, and that’s something that the big corporations can’t do. They are trying to do it. But they do things like pay homeowners to write blogs about replacing their windows. And it has this inauthenticity about it that’s pretty recognizable. People know, or have a feeling, that that’s what is going on. The key with the social media now, Facebook and MySpace, is that it’s authentic. It’s real people talking about real things in their lives and sharing that.

What social networks do you use? You mentioned that you do use social networks even though you may not promote them on your website. You are out there on the social space. So what social networks are you actually active in?

The one I use most is the discussion forum on my own website. I really spend most of my time there. And enough people have found it and so it is pretty active. One of the reasons I use it is because of the outcomes from it. I can really directly help a lot of people. And also it is where I am writing most of my content now, both for my print publications and also for the videos. I mean, I do what people are interested in at my forum. And then I see what people are interested in at the other social media websites. But I can easily count the numbers, the system automatically does it, and I like that the numbers aren’t a secret and they are displayed right there at the discussion forum. You can see each of the topics, how many people are looking at them and how many people have left messages, and I use that. People are leaving messages, I am answering them. And that becomes the content for my articles. And because it is highly responsive, it helps the marketing of the materials I’ve developed there. So text and photos and videos are the tools there, but the real work flows around the community and work of the people that stop by. It’s a lot like the classical Roman forum where people stop by to ask questions and to see what’s going on and what people are interested in. At my website at the discussion forum, I say, “where people can stop by to ask questions, seek guidance, help others and keep in touch.” And nearly all my articles are developed there.

I’m active on Facebook. I’ve been about a year. I come to it a little late because I’m busy over at my forum. But I am not sure if I am actually helping there or not. For one thing, it is kind of complicated. The system works and then they keep changing how it works. Too complicated to easily learn and use effectively for me, and I practice with this stuff. And I have been using it for a year. I maybe log in there weekly. And so after 50 to 100 times logging in, I still don’t have a grasp on what’s actually going on, and that’s because they keep changing it. It’s sort of like that corporate marketing strategy where you keep your consumers off balance so you can take advantage of them. And so I am a little weary about that and Facebook and some of the others. And it’s pretty clear. Facebook is designed to benefit mainly it’s owners. And who knows whether or not it is truly helping its users possibly. So I am still dabbling there. I have gotten a few small pieces of work through connections at Facebook, so I am not saying it is a bad thing. Just, it’s questionable.

And then I post some videos and stories pretty regularly on “My Old House Online” account, which is another social website. They use the ning service, N-I-N-G, and that’s partly because it is hosted by one of my publishers, and occasionally I stop by Voices of the Past, and LinkedIn occasionally. LinkedIn to me seems even a little less useful than Facebook. But a lot of people are on it. And it is sort of, sort of, like there is an expectation that you will be involved in some of this stuff. And so that is a part of what brings me there.

You are expected to maintain the same level of activity on Facebook that you do on your own website, and it really, I think, dilutes your capabilities somewhat because your efforts are going in all these different directions ...

I think you are right there. And that’s exactly my response to it and why I’m being actually somewhat careful about spending too much time there. When I first logged in, everyday for about a week I spent about an hour there just trying to figure that out. And then everyday for…about an half a day a week for about a month, I spent time there. And now I limit my time to no more than 10 minutes a day and total half hour per week. And I am spending only about twice those numbers at my own discussion forums. I am only spending about an hour a week, sometimes more if I am writing for a project on the discussion forum, which I do frequently, but just on the interactive part of it and responding to new people and new posts, that’s less than an hour a week that I spend on my own discussion forum.

You talked about your involvement in traditional media a moment ago with the Old House Journal, and the fact that they have an Ning site now. Because you were actually in this industry before the social media really took hold, what has changed in the print-based industry and just the industry in general that you have seen since the advent of social media?

For me, having my first articles on wooden porch columns published in Old House Journal and Fine Home Building in the early 1980s was a real turning point in my work and career. And then I continued writing which helped me get established in my career and building it through the ’80s to the ’90s, but now print media is definitely declining, not only in the broader economy in almost all quarters, certainly national and regional newspapers. Local newspapers still seem to be thriving. But especially the magazine or book industries, not book publishing, but magazine industry. That’s definitely declining. And so they are all scrambling to do things, like Old House Journal, and getting online like last year or the year before. Now actually, the Old House Journal was online maybe it was 10 years ago or more. But that had been 10 years after some of us had been online and developed some rich content and ways of working with it. And I still write for the print publications occasionally.

My self-publishing efforts put me in direct touch with my readers. And like when my own readers pay me for a book, I get far more money than with the big publishers, who used to take most of it. And when I get more money, I can put more of that back into the publications, helping my readers even more. Essentially this happens pretty well in a niche market like mine. I mean, even Old House Journal and Journal of Light Construction, they’re pretty much a niche market, but mine is like a little micro-niche. And mine’s like hands-on, historic preservation, building specific, and the big publishers just get in the way. They are in the way now between me and my readers. I can help more people without them. Now that’s partly because I am pretty practiced at it. I’ve been writing for more than a quarter of a century. But this is true for somebody who has something to share and that other people want to know. I mean, they can just jump right in and start doing it too. I don’t think that I am anything special. I just sort of got an early start with both my hands-on work with these ways and sharing it.

If people want to find out more about your work or purchase your book, where do they go?

The central location is my website. That’s historichomeworks.com. And there I have the discussion forum, you will easily find it, and also the retro-video online conferences. Both those there’s no cost, it’s highly responsive. It’s the place to actually get the latest info. If you want to know what’s going to come out in my publications next, go to the forum. And if you don’t see what you are looking for, ask for it, and you’ll get it. And then it’ll be in print next month or maybe next year. And then there are also my publications, the result of that. The practical restoration reports. Gordon Bock, the OHA editor said, “They have my trademark hands-on, step-by-step instructions and famously lucid illustrations.” He said, “photos in particular are photos of clarity.” Well, that’s because I went to six years of art school. And to have the knack of getting it out on paper, in print and now all over the Internet. And then there is also workshops and training. There’s a section of the website that shows what’s coming up. Hands-on guidance around the country, my shop here in Portland, Maine. Or live videos all over the Internet. I also do consulting, personal advice for homeowners, contractors and building owners. I will even write back if you send me an old fashioned letter on paper. My address is 26 Higgins, Portland Maine. Zip 04103. Or give me a call. 207-773-2306. My personal computer and the Internet are like my bench saw or my hand plane. Just another tool that helps me do my best work. And it’s like the telephone, it’s a tool. So if you see me at a conference, be sure to come up, tap me on my shoulder and introduce yourself. There’s nothing like personal meetings, and if you are ever up in New England and get down east along to Portland, stop in and see me. I do that too.

Is there anything else you want to add?

Well, I think that the web and the social media is changing the heritage field, but we have to be a bit cautious about that change because it opens up a lot of opportunities for us like you and I (Jeff and I) and each of the listeners and viewers of this podcast to get in touch with each other. But it also opens up other possibilities. And the consumer economy and the corporations who benefit and control that are not blind. And they are busy taking over the Internet, and the World Wide Web, for their own purposes. Which, of course, is just to make money. And by law, these corporations are only to be concerned with making money. And so that’s the issue and you really do see it on the Internet. A lot of the early video blogging companies and websites are now shifting over to be a substitute for broadcast television. They have series of shows and channels. And some of them even set it up so it looks like a television. And so that’s what we have to be aware of. Is that that’s happening. And I think that when the World Wide Web really was like the Wild West. it was easy to jump in and do your thing. And it’s getting somewhat difficult now to do that. And it’s still possible to do it. And all of my methods were very low cost. Once you have access to the Internet, which is not low cost, but it’s available to many people even at local libraries and so on. And access to a few pieces of equipment like the computer to log on, or the video camera which is now modest in cost. This one that I am using right now is just a couple hundred dollars, and you can even get video cameras now for $40 or $60 that can act as a web cam or record video that’s editable. So you can get into a very low-dollar cost, and I think that it’s important to jump and do it before it’s taken over and you have to start paying the big bucks to participate. And that’s beginning to happen.

OK, well there was one more question that I had and that was on the blogs and websites that you personally enjoy. Whether they are related to heritage or not. Are there people out there on the web who are  your heros?

Yeah, there is one. And it relates directly to a video on the Internet. His name is Steve Garfield at SteveGarfield.com. And he was one of the people in that cadre of video bloggers that I first got in touch with when I first became serious about video over the Internet in 2004 and 2005. And so go to SteveGarfield.com and see what Steve’s up to. He just came out with a book. “Get Noticed” is the name of his book. And it is how to do this Internet video thing, and it’s a great book. And he’s a great guy. And so, that’s one person, but usually I am too busy fixing old houses and writing or shooting video for casual reading or casual web browsing to relax and have fun. I turn around and see who needs help next.

Well that’s awesome. John, I appreciate you talking to me. And thanks for being on Voices of the Past.

Leeke: It is great to meet up with you.

(Photos courtesy of Lisa Sasser on Flickr; Additional teaser graphic elements by SOYBEANTOWN and Damon Duncan)

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Podcast: Dale Jarvis on the art of storytelling on the World Wide Web

Dale Jarvis

Dale Jarvis is a member of a diminishing class: the storyteller. Yet, he is finding ways to share his art with whole new generation by reaching out to “use the media that they are using.” Whether it’s a podcast of traditional stories told by school children or telling stories 140 characters at a time on Twitter, Jarvis explores the web to find new ways to connect folks to their heritage. In episode of Voices of the Past, we talk to Dale about the online tools he uses and what kind of impact the Web will have on the preservation of cultural heritage.

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Jeff: Welcome to the Voices of the Past podcast. I’m Jeff Guin and today I will be talking with storyteller Dale Jarvis of Newfoundland, Canada.

Now, Dale is the Intangible Cultural Heritage development officer for Newfoundland. Dale, welcome to the podcast.

What do you do in your role in Newfoundland?

Dale: I help communities run community programs. So I go into communities, and I help them identify aspects of traditional culture or local heritage that they want to preserve. I mostly deal with things like community history, place names, traditional music–that type of thing–traditional skills like boat building. Those types of knowledge.

Jeff: Now Dale, you seem to be everywhere online, you contribute to a lot of different sites. How many sites do you actually contribute to?

Dale: I have different blogs for different organizations that I am involved with or different projects that I’m running. The most active one is the blog that I run for the heritage foundation for Newfoundland and Labrador, the Intangible Cultural Heritage blog. And that’s where I put a lot of information about the projects that I am involved with or community based projects that are starting up, workshops that we are offering, that type of thing. Just to keep people knowledgeable about what we are doing on a day to day basis.

Jeff: Well there are an awful lot of opportunities to have a conversation online, why did you choose Blogger for your blogs?

Dale: Blogger was free and easy. That was the main reason we do it. We do a lot of community based work, we do on pretty shoe-string budgets. So Blogger is a good tool for community groups and for myself to use.

Jeff: Absolutely, there are a lot of heritage organizations experiencing a budget crunch right now, and that is the great thing about social media, I guess, all of it is free, and there are different ways to communicate with it. Why did you choose to become so involved with social media?

Dale: It’s one more way of keeping in touch with people. I find that these days the first place people go when they are looking for information is online, and social media allows me to maintain contacts with people in a disparate area.

So I do a lot of work in the rural part of the province, and so it is just a way to create a network of people working in rural areas. So people that I might have a difficulty driving out to see, might be hours and hours of drive or a flight away can keep in touch using social media. And I like that it is very easy to update. So if I am doing something new on a particular day, I can very easily go in and make a very quick update. In a way that is more difficult with just a static website, and people can subscribe or not subscribe to what I do. So they can sort of choose to follow particular items that I am involved with.

Jeff: Now your use of online tools goes way beyond just the blogs. You are actually involved in quite a few social media outlets, what tools do you use?

Dale: I use a variety of stuff, and they are all sort of interconnected in some way. I use Blogger a lot. I use Twitter. I am constantly twittering about little things that I am doing. If I am running a new coarse or developing a new workshop, I will put a little Twitter update about that.

And I use Facebook a lot as well. I have Facebook groups for some of the organizations or some of the projects I am involved with. For Newfoundland and Labrador, there is an Intangible Heritage Facebook group.

This morning actually, I was updating some stuff about traditional wooden boatbuilding. We are developing a documentation coarse for people wanting to record traditional wooden boats. So it is a combination of photo documentation, drawing and oral history. So we are going to be teaching a coarse.

So I blogged about that using Blogger, and then I put a status update on my Twitter page, and then that’s all linked into Facebook. And I posted the event on Facebook as well because different people follow different things.

So it is a little bit of work. I find that I am updating a lot. I would love it if there was one, if I could do one thing and it would update all my different social media aspects. It would be great. But I do find that it is a great way of reaching out to people, and I do find that it reaches sort of a different audience.

When I am doing local history and working with community groups, the average age is sort of an older population. For boatbuilding, for example, the boatbuilders in the provence are generally older men, and they are not on Facebook. They are not following Twitter.

But there is a whole other generation of younger people who are interested in these issues, and it is a great way to reach out to them. And to get younger people involved in heritage and museum work, is to reach out to them and to use the media that they are using. So we are finding that we are getting folklore students, we are getting university students, college students who want to learn more about some of the programs we are running, and I think it is directly because of the fact we are using social media that is aimed toward that younger group.

To reach out to those older people, the people who aren’t computer savvy, I still to rely on the telephone and ads in the paper and that sort of thing, but it is a great way of reaching a broader spectrum of people and people who might not have been interested in heritage in the sort of traditional sense.

Jeff: All of this is great in communicating, but you still have a job to do. You are actually a professional folklorist, and how do you do your field work in the digital age?

Dale: I still rely on sort of old-fashioned methods of doing field work and documentation. If I am going out to sort of interview people, I still have to go knocking on doors and finding people to interview the old fashioned way.

I do use digital technology when I am doing my fieldwork. I use all digital photography, and I record digitally now. All my sound recordings are done digitally. I have a little hand-held digital recorder I use an mp3 wave recorder when I am doing my field work, which allows me to take field work and put it online pretty quickly in some ways.

One of the projects I am involved with with the university library is call “The Digital Archives Initiative,” and that’s a program to digitize material and put it online. They have digitized a lot of print material, but we are encouraging them to do more and more fieldwork documentation. So to take oral history interviews, interviews with traditional crafts people and put those digital interviews on line.

So the field work is still done the same way it has been done for 100 years, I have to go out and I have to sit down and talk to people. And that’s part of the job I love, but I am using new technology to make the processing of that information a little bit easier and putting that stuff online a lot faster.

Jeff: What’s your specialty in folklore?

Dale: My real interest is in Vernacular Architecture. That’s what I did all my MA work on, but I have a real interest in traditional knowledge and narrative and place-based narrative. So stories about place are really the sort of things I am passionate about.

Jeff: Do you focus primarily just on the folklore of Newfoundland or do you look at other countries as well?

Dale: I am really interested in collecting local stories. I am really interested in collecting local legend, and a lot of these things are migratory, like everything comes from somewhere else in some ways, and so I am really interested in how traditions blend and synchronize. And how stories from one place are adapted by people to a local condition and a local culture.

I think one of the great benefits of social media is that it allows me to keep in touch with people that are doing similar research in other locations. So if I have an interest in sharing stories digitally, it is very easy for me to find people who are interested in those sorts of things.

So for example, I am on several different listservs, public sector listservs and oral history listservs. So I know that people are doing similar work to what I am doing in India and in Hong Kong, and I have contacts with people I keep up with in Norway and in Switzerland.

Because we are all doing similar things, and the approaches and techniques are similar. We are all interested in our own local situation, but it is a real great way of sharing information and technical information.

So if someone is looking for information on how to record a Skype conversation, they put that request out on the listserve and almost instantaneously someone, somewhere in the world can get that information to them.

So it is a great way for professionals to keep in touch with one another. Whether or not that will impact how field work is done, I don’t know. Some people are starting to do field work in sort of digital worlds, and people are starting to study how societies online interact.

I think that is a fascinating field, but for me I still like traditional culture. I still like going out and interviewing the old men, you know, hanging out with the boat builders.

Jeff: Now you’re also involved with a professional storytellers’ Ning site, which Ning is a ready-made social network anyone can build. Tell us about that. Do you still have that sense of community in an online setting that you would in real life?

Dale: The Ning sites are good for sort of special interest type groups. So the professional storytellers‘ Ning group is a great way for keeping in touch with people that I might not have met in other ways.

I live on an island in Canada, so it is sort of difficult for me to met people face to face. And the storytelling community is sort of small in a way, there is not a lot of professional storytellers in the world really. And so sites like professional storyteller on Ning are a great way for me to meet sort of storytellers and find out what other storytellers are doing to keep abreast of what’s happening with the regional and national organizations.

Jeff: Tell me about your thesis work.

Dale: I did my thesis work on Vernacular architecture up in Labrador, northern Labrador, on a series of churches that were built by the Moravian Church out of Germany in the 17 and 18 hundreds. And they set up sites, pretty well-known American sites like Bethlehem, Penn., but they had also set up sites in the Caribbean and South America and in the Canadian North.

So they built these amazing Germanic churches way up in the middle of no where, these prefabricated in Sascha and then shipped over in pieces to North America. Fascinating, little-known aspect of Canadian architectural history.

And so I was studying how the architecture changed over time and how as the society changed and the local inductee population got more control over the church, how the architecture changed to sort of reflect more local concerns rather than this grandiose European style type architecture.

Jeff: That’s fascinating research Dale, and you actually contribute a lot to online media. You’re a prolific poster, you actually tell some of your stories on YouTube. Now, I imagine by now you are actually starting to get feedback on some of that content. Tell us about that.

Dale: I do get some feedback. I find that posting to sites like YouTube, and I also post video to a website called TeacherTube, which is sort of an education-friendly site. A lot of schools block YouTube, and so stuff posted on TeacherTube is more likely going to make its way into the school system.

I do get some comments from people who just happen to stumble across my stuff, people from other parts of the world. It’s not as interactive as some of the other online ways of communicating, so I never quite know who all is listening to my stories or watching my stories on YouTube.

But it is a great way to get that stuff out there. I think it is a great way of sharing stories.

As a storyteller, one thing that people ask me all the time is is storytelling dying. You know, is this a dying art? And I really believe that things are always in a constant state of evolution. I think traditions are always changing, and I think that the rise of things like YouTube indicate that people are really passionate about storytelling. They really want to share their own personal stories.

So, it is sort of a really great democratization of storytelling in a way. Maybe people don’t sit around and tell the long form fairy tales in quite the same way that they used to, but people are incredibly interested in sharing their own personal stories and creating stories and sharing them.

So I am fascinated by sites like YouTube because I think it does indicate that their is this human desire to share stories. That storytelling is something that is something that is really important to us as a species. Everyone wants to share their story in some way.

Jeff: Well exactly and storytelling is evolving. There are different ways of telling a story now, and I actually noticed that one of the things you are involved with is using Twitter to tell a story. Tell us a little bit more about that.

Dale: Yes, Twitter is one of these things that you have to sort of boil down to something to a very little short sort of thing.

So storytellers are sort of used to waxing poetic and telling these long stories. I can tell stories as a storyteller, you know, sort of those long fairy tales that take 30 minutes 45 minutes to tell, and I know storytellers who can tell one story that can last three hours.

So Twitter sort of forces you to rethink how you approach a story. I have told stories on Twitter. As part of a storytelling festival I was involved with, I actually told a long-form story just 100 characters at a time in over the course of a week.

So people could sort of follow my tweets and then read the whole story as I posted it. But I think that there is also the potential to use Twitter as well to share some tiny little stories.

There are some great little websites. There is one called Twistory, which is sort of one of these sites that collects all the things that people are putting as updates on Twitter and post them under different categories.

So you can find everything someone hates or loves at a certain moment or what they believe in at a certain moment. And they are fascinating.

Dale Jarvis

It is maybe not sort of narrative storytelling in the way that we think of it, but it is sort of a remarkable insight on into current moods and how people are perceiving their own little personal worlds.

Jeff: How else are you bringing storytelling to the online world?

Dale: I have experienced a little bit with telling stories online. I’ve told stories in Secondlife for example. I have started a storytelling guild in Secondlife. So I can go in as an avatar and tell a story.

It’s a very different type of storytelling from the sort of storytelling that I am used to where you eye contact, which is very important I find in telling a story. But people are really interested in hearing stories. So even in a sort of virtual setting where you don’t have quite the same physical eye contact, direct human interaction, people still come together to sit around a virtual campfire to listen to stories, which I find remarkable. And I think it really illustrates that human interest to listen and tell stories.

Jeff: I think it is great that Newfoundland actually has an official Intangible Cultural Development Officer and an official folklorist. Is that something that is integral to your culture there? Not everybody has one of those.

Dale: I think because Newfoundland has such a unique history in Canada. It’s the oldest part of Canada in some ways, but it is also the newest part in Canada in others.

It only joined into confederation in Canada in 1949, so before that it was its own country basically. And so since it was its on country and an island for so long, it had sort of developed its own unique sort of indigenous culture.

Very sort of Irish, west country English sort of culture. Very much based on traditions around the sea and fishing. Great live traditional music seen here in the Provence. So culture and language and music and traditional dance are really important still at the community level.

So it’s not surprising in Canada, which is this geographically large country, there are really only two providential folklorists in the whole country–one is in Quebec, which has a very distinct French tradition and then my position here in Newfoundland, which has its own very Anglo-Irish island tradition as well.

So yes, I think my position really has come about because people here really recognize that there is something unique here and that there is a value to it and that it is something worth preserving, worth saving.

Jeff: Dale, do you think the stories you are telling now are going to get lost in the online melange of different tools? Is there something that is going to get lost in the actual storytelling itself in the shift of digital?

Dale: One of the programs I run here locally is a storytelling program at the elementary school level. I work with one local school, and I go in and I teach storytelling to grades 4 to 6.

So I go in one day a week, and I work with six different classes and I actually teach students how to tell stories. So I teach them how to tell traditional stories. I teach them a lot of local stories, so stories about the fairies and local ghost stories and local legends and local folk tales.

One of the little projects that we started last year was to record those stories in mp3 format and then podcast those kids telling those traditional stories.

When I first went into the school, I said, “How many of you have heard people tell stories?” and you know, a couple of kids raised their hands. And I said, “How many of you have an mp3 player?” And like every kid in the class put up their hands.

And so what I am trying to do with that project is use new technology to promote a traditional skill amongst youth. And unless it’s meaningful to them in some way, unless it has some sort of value to them, they are not going to be interested in the tradition.

But they are fascinated by the stories, they love the stories. And they also kind of think it is neat that they can go online and listen to other kids telling their stories.

And I sort of knew it was working when one day when I was leaving the school, there were two girls talking to each other and then one girl turned to the other and said, “I’m so downloading your story.” And I thought OK, OK, I have done something right then in this school.

Jeff: Is that podcast still available?

Dale: The podcast is still available. It is holycrosselementary.blogspot.com, and you can go on and you can listen to some of my grade 5 and grade 6’s telling traditional stories.

Jeff: And how do you think the new technologies are going to affect the folklore field?

Dale: I think technologies, like cell phones, are something that we are going to see more and more get used for some of this stuff, especially like the iPhone. Especially with the GPS capabilities, and I mentioned before that I am real interested in place-based narratives, place-based storytelling. I think that we are going to see more and more of this type of stuff.

One of the projects I am involved with right now is a project that was started in Toronto called Murmur. The murmur project started off as an art project in downtown Toronto, where people collected local stories told by local people, they recorded those stories, they put them all online.

So there is a map of the neighborhood and you can go to the site and click on the little dot and listen to a person tell the story about that particular location. But then if you actually go to the street and walk down the street, there is a little sign on the street with a phone number and a six-digit code, so you can take your cell phone and dial the number, punch in the six-digit code and listen to the person tell their story on that spot.

And this a project that started in Toronto, it’s moved across Canada. There are now projects in South Pablo and Brazil, there’s projects in Scotland and Ireland, and we are starting up a similar project here in Newfoundland.

I think that that has great potential. That these sort of cell phone based stories and sort of using new technologies to get local stories and local traditions and local knowledge out to a wider public are going to be very, very popular.

I know places like the Appellation Trail and national historic sites in the United Kingdom are starting to experiment with GPS based narrative-type devices, so you can have your iPhone and walk around the site and listen to different types of stories. And I think we are going to see a lot more of that type of stuff happening more in the very, very near future.

Jeff: Do you see more folklorist catching on to social media or more of them using it these days?

Dale: I think it is going to happen. I think the technology is getting friendlier all the time, and it is getting easier and easier and people are getting so familiar now with things like Google Maps.

Even two years ago, people didn’t use Google Maps in the same way that they used today. It comes almost standard that when you are looking for place information, that you go to Google Maps. And it is so easy now to integrate YouTube video onto Google Earth. I think we are going to see more and more of this way of sharing local heritage information and local folklore on those new forms of media.

I was just at the Toronto storytelling festival telling stories, and it is very much so the traditional festival, folk festival, where you go and sit and you listen to people tell stories. And that is fabulous, and I think that the sort of heart of storytelling will always be there at that sort of very personal way of telling stories.

But while I was at the festival, there were two sort of middle-aged storytellers who came up to me and said why do we need to get on Facebook? We have been on Facebook, and we don’t understand it, and why do we bother doing this?” And so I sort of went through my social-media rant about why they needed to be on it.

And then later on in the festival, I was with the same storytellers, and they were saying, they were discussing problems every festival has about attracting new audience. You know, how do we attract new audience to the festival, and I said you know, this is part of the reasons you need to be involved with social media because that is a sort of way to attract the “under 40” crowd to come out to these types of events.

When you go to folk festivals and storytelling festivals across North America, the average age is about 40 plus, generally, but there is this whole other generation of people that are a potential audience and ultimately a potential paying audience for some of this stuff.

So I think that it is really important to start reaching out to those different people and keeping those sort of traditions, whatever they are, by transmitting them to the next generation using the new technology, new media, those types of things.

Jeff: Dale, thanks for joining us today.

Well, that’s it for today’s episode of the Voices of the Past Podcast Podcast. Now, to reiterate what Dale said, our mission here is to inspire connection to heritage values using new media. If you like, you can join the conversation at our show notes site. 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.

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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KSU Digital Ethnography Project – An Analysis of How Students Learn Today

by Dylan Staley

My average class size is 115.

18% of my teachers know my name.

I complete 49% of the readings assigned to me.
Only 26% . . . relative to my life.

I will read 8 books this year, 2300 web pages, and 1281 Facebook profiles.

I will write 42 pages for class this semester,
And over 500 pages of email.

Such is the disheartening tale of student life portrayed in 2008 Professor of the year Michael Wesch’s short film entitled “A Vision of Students Today.” Wesch leads a Kansas State University working group dedicated to exploring and extending the possibilities of digital ethnography. The video was created by surveying 200 students from Kansas State University about their daily lives as students. The video is powerful and thought-envoking, but, is it really this bad? Is this really how we are trying to teach our students?

If we want to achieve true education, there are going to have to be radical changes within “the system.” Thanks to Dr. Wesch, students are beginning to realize that this is not the only way to be taught, and that for true education to be achieved, both teachers and students are going to have to take several steps back and analyze how they are learning and teaching.

I love learning . . . but I HATE school. – 2007 Professor of the Year Christopher M. Sorensen

While writing a blog post isn’t going to change how students are educated, and neither is a video, we cannot hope to change a problem that we don’t know exists. The first step to change is knowing what needs to be changed. And if we want to bring up the next generation of great minds that are going to preserve our history and carry us on into the future, we cannot feed them age old information. Our history is important, we must preserve it. But it is a degradation of our culture and heritage if we allow it to be taught in this way.

Voices of the Past seeks new and innovative ways to bring education to the masses. It is not a class, it does not have an instructor. It is created by normal people, inviting others to join in their work. This blog could be one of the best examples of the way education can evolve: into something that is both by and for the community.

We are not teachers. We are not students.

We are all learners.

We invite you to post your comments on this blog post, education, and whatever else you see fit.

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What is social media?

Social Media apps


For the last few years, the terms “web 2.0” and “social media” have been used for nearly anything new and interactive on the internet. Since Voices of the Past and sites like it integrate many basic social media tools, let’s take the time to consider the concept of social media and its potential to advance heritage preservation.


In technical terms, the social media phenomenon is a fusion of cross-platform technology, open-source web code and the interactive presentation of audio, photos, videos and text. But at its heart, it’s about empowering people to achieve goals through connection with others who share similar values, regardless of their location.


Core to this connectedness is the idea of community and how it’s being redefined. For example, the purpose of Voices of the Past is to inspire connections to heritage values using new media. You don’t have to have lots of money, a Ph.D., or be a credentialed preservationist to view the site or interact with it. It doesn’t matter where you live either. If you care about heritage, you belong here.


The accessible nature of social media tools, coupled with the relative anonymity of the web, levels the playing field for discussion. This takes away some of the fear of saying the wrong thing and allows people of many different backgrounds to interact as peers.


Social media comes in a variety of flavors. Some of these tools—like forums and message boards—you may already be familiar with. Others, like photo sharing (Flickr), video sharing (YouTube), wall posts (FaceBook), blogs (WordPress), music sharing (iTunes), and internet telephony (Skype), may be new.


When you visit the a site like Facebook or MySpace, what you’re seeing is a form of social media called a “social network.” Essentially, it brings social media tools together on the same web page. The efficiency of social networks is leading to an explosion in their popularity. The combined worldwide user base of MySpace and Facebook roughly equals the population of the United States.


So how’s this different from the web we used to know? For one thing, you’re no longer just reading the company line. The web is now instantly interactive with the potential for infinite conversation on any given topic. It’s like the old gossip fence, except your neighbor is potentially anyone in the world.


What’s been the reason preservation and heritage issues have been so hard to communicate? It’s because they, like politics, are traditionally local. And while probably nothing will ever most people care who’s the state representative for Burning Moscow, Nev., you very well may throw in with an online group that is fired up about preserving the Old West mines there.


So, your worldview isn’t just limited to your place of residence anymore. With social media, your interests can help define your social responsibility in the realm of heritage values. Explore and enjoy!


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