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European Cultural Commons Workshop, Introductory Remarks (transcript)
 

European Cultural Commons Workshop, Introductory Remarks (transcript)

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YouTube video of this talk: http://youtu.be/VlHC0uPqdRY. ...

YouTube video of this talk: http://youtu.be/VlHC0uPqdRY.
This is a transcript of a short introductory video recorded for Europeana’s European Cultural Commons workshop in Limassol Cyprus on October 30, 2012.

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European Cultural Commons Workshop, Introductory Remarks (transcript) European Cultural Commons Workshop, Introductory Remarks (transcript) Document Transcript

  • “A Catalog of Connections” Intro remarks and greeting for Europeana’s European Cultural Commons Workshop Limassol, Cyprus | October 30, 2012 Michael Peter Edson Director, Web and New Media Strategy Smithsonian Institution Video: http://youtu.be/VlHC0uPqdRY
  • This is a transcript of a video recorded for Europeana’s European Cultural Commons workshop in Limassol Cyprus on October 30, 2012. The video is online at http://youtu.be/VlHC0uPqdRY Table of ContentsA Catalog of Connections ............................................................................................... 21. Europeana is one of the most important projects in the world today .. 42. Europeana won’t succeed by trying to be great ............................................. 53. A commons is like a gumbo ..................................................................................... 74. Beware of certain words........................................................................................... 7 “Culture” .......................................................................................................................... 8 “Audience” ...................................................................................................................... 9 “Access” ............................................................................................................................ 9 “Engagement” ............................................................................................................. 105. Think like investors ................................................................................................. 11Some additional notes/references ......................................................................... 13 Helping other people succeed ............................................................................. 13 Hubs and spokes ....................................................................................................... 13
  • Hi everyone.I’m Michael Edson. I’m the director of web and new media strategy atthe Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.But I suspect that many of you know that, and I know many of you inthat room in Cyprus today. I wish I could be there with you. I’m veryproud to know all of you. And I’m very very proud as a member of thehuman species, of the work you’re doing today and the work you’vedone through your whole careers to make culture and scientificknowledge and the work of museums and libraries and archivesrelevant and important and meaningful in society.I think Europeana is one of the most important initiatives in the worldtoday. As Harry Verwayen said so persuasively at the Open KnowledgeFestival in Helsinkin last month [September, 2012, see “Open CulturalHeritage Special Europeana Announcement from HarryVerwayen” http://bambuser.com/v/2996301 ], what you’re doingshows the world that Europe can accomplish difficult, meaningful thingsif you work together and if you stick to your principles. That means a lotto us here in the states. It means a lot to people all over the world. Sokeep going.I said that I’m with the Smithsonian Institution, but I’m not an officialspokesperson for the Smithsonian today. I’m speaking as a privatecitizen who has been thinking a lot about the cultural commons, and 1
  • thinking a lot about how our knowledge institutions can thrive and dothe important work they need to do in society during the digital age.A Catalog of ConnectionsAbout a year ago I read a really interesting article in Quora. Quora is anonline site that’s about asking and answering questions and it’s oftenfull of surprises. This article was called “What is it like to have anunderstanding of very advanced mathematics?”[ http://www.quora.com/Mathematics/What-is-it-like-to-have-an-understanding-of-very-advanced-mathematics , also cited and discusseda bit on my tumblr at http://usingdata.tumblr.com/page/4]OK…That’s kind of cool.The answer, the best answer, the longest answer, was from ananonymous mathematician who talked about what it is like to think andwork as a mathemetician. Two ideas came out of that writing, that essay,that really blew me away. And I think they’re relevant for you today.The first is – and I’m going to read off of a cue card behind the camera –“You are comfortable with feeling like you have no deepunderstanding of the problem you are studying. Indeed, whenyou do have a deep understanding, you have solved the problemand it is time to do something else. This makes the total time 2
  • you spend in life reveling in your mastery of something quitebrief. One of the main skills of research scientists of any type isknowing how to work comfortably and productively in a state ofconfusion.”That’s definitely the way I feel most of the time, grappling with theseissues that you’re working on constructively today. I feel like I’m alwaysworking in a state of confusion and like I never have a complete grasp ofwhat’s going on. So I would say, allow yourselves to be comfortable inthat state of confusion and allow yourselves to resist the temptation tofeel like you’ve mastered it. Because you haven’t mastered whateveryou’re working on - - things are changing that quickly.The second paragraph, element, of this article about mathematics thatinterested me so much was, and I’ll quote this also,“You are often confident that something is true long before youhave an airtight proof for it (this happens especially often ingeometry). The main reason is that you have a large catalogue ofconnections between concepts, and you can quickly intuit that ifX were to be false, that would create tensions with other thingsyou know to be true…”I love that idea of having a catalog of connections. I love that idea ofhaving a catalog of concepts, and that working through difficult ideas 3
  • and unknown ideas is a matter of making connections between thatcatalog of concepts.In the spirit of that idea, I want to give you five concepts to think about -- I want to assert five concepts that you can think about today. And youcan think about understanding the connections between them inrelation to your job in this workshop.***1. Europeana is one of the most important projects in theworld todayIn the 20th century – in the 19th and 18th and 17th centuries for thatmatter - - we made these wonderful institutions, these museums,libraries, archives, scientific organizations, knowledge institutions. Andnobody told us we had to make these things. We felt compelled to makethem as a human race, as a species. I think these institutions and whatthey represent in our genome is a part of our operating system - - partof the operating system of society.And we made them out of the tools we had available to us, out of thematerials we had available to us - - bricks and mortar and iron and glassand big marble columns and magnificent spaces in the middle of ourcities. And also quiet, dark rooms - - filled with shelves and drawers of 4
  • magnificent and unrivaled examples of human creativity and insight.And samples of the natural world, the scientific world.But we have new tools now. We have very new tools now, available tous today, that we didn’t have 3 or 4 years ago, let alone 30 or 40 or 300or 400 years ago. And it’s really important that somebody figure outhow to do the work that society expects us to do - - needs us to do - - inour institutions, with these new tools. Because the tools are… I won’tsay more powerful, but… powerful and meaningful in a way that our oldtools just are not. And I think this concept of a commons—and whatEuropeana is doing and stands for—really paves the way, more stronglythan any other initiative I know of.So that’s concept 1.2. Europeana won’t succeed by trying to be greatConcept 2 is that Europeana won’t succeed by trying to be great.I want you to resist the temptation –the incredible gravitational pull—oftrying to make Europeana the strongest, biggest, bestest, most bad-assedest portal in the world.Most of your success will come through making other people great - - bybeing a supporter of the passion and enthusiasm and the inquiry andintelligence and the verve of everyone else in the world. 5
  • I’m remembering a conversation I had with an online video portalcompany, I think it was SchoolTube. They approached the Smithsonianwanting us to become involved in creating content for teachers andstudents. Our initial reaction was “Oh, we’re going make the best 2-minute videos that teachers will ever use.” And, I think when the end ofthe day came, most of us realized that the most powerful thing that wecould do was “B-roll.” Was footage of George Washington’s (our famous“founding father”) battle uniform, or of the Washington Monument, orDorothy’s slippers [from The Wizard of Oz] - - or resources that otherpeople could use, teachers and students could use, to do their own work.So rather than manufacturing a complete vision of the future, or acomplete vision of knowledge, or of creativity, ourselves, and deliveringit through our portal down a one-way pipe to a passive audience…Maybe the most powerful thing we could do was to provide a verysimple platform that other people could use to be successful.And I think there’s a lot of wisdom and potential in that direction, foryour thinking: what can you do that will make your citizens, yourcountrymen and countrywomen, be more successful? Maybe you take ahumble role. A back seat. Maybe you’re just a simple platform thatpeople use to come and get the resources that they need to use to weavethe tapestry they’re building their lives with.…That’s number 2. 6
  • 3. A commons is like a gumboNumber 3 is, there are a lot of ideas on the table. I saw HarryVerwayen’s excellent briefing paper - - Harry and staff and team’sexcellent briefing paper - - and there are a lot of ideas on the table aboutwhat a commons is. I want to assert that those ideas are not a fixedformula, they’re more like the recipe for a soup, or a stew, or a SouthernLouisiana gumbo. You can make substitutions. You don’t need all theingredients. You can use different ratios of them depending on what jobyou’re trying to do today, or who your audience is.So don’t think too hierarchically or rigidly about “if we don’t do this itcan’t be a commons.”I’m thinking about Italo Calvino’s book “Invisible Cities”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Cities), imagining manydifferent kinds of cities, some impossible, some real…Not all commonshave to be the same or follow the same mould.And that leads me to idea connection catalog number 4…4. Beware of certain words 7
  • There are certain words that you need to think critically about - - youneed to question your use of, because they mean radically differentthings to different people.“Culture”The first is “culture.”I’ve noticed when I come to Europe - - and this is true in the states aswell - - when we talk about culture we talk about the opera…we’rethinking about the opera, we’re thinking about institutions. I learned anew term: “S.O.B’s” - - Symphonies, Operas, and Ballets - - the “S.O.B’s”!!You’re talking about institutions, and when you talk about servingculture, sometimes you’re thinking, without even meaning to, you’retalking about institutions and governments providing services to otherinstitutions, that then provide culture for their citizens. That’s notalways the best use of that term, or really what it means.I’m interested in the person who’s in their living room playing theharmonica. Or learning to play guitar, or singing in a community choir,or making art or writing poetry - - those individual makers or creatorsor imaginers in your populations that you serve. Sometimes culture isabout what they’re doing.The institutions of the 20th century had a hard time finding and relatingto those people. But now those people can find each other, and they canfind you, and that redefines that term “culture.” 8
  • “Audience”Another term is “Audience.”Is Europeana’s audience other institutions?Is it your 2,200 institutional partners?Or are they the citizens, that get served?And then, which sub-audience of those citizens? I think we’re inarguablyin a Long Tail environment where you have hundreds or thousands ofniche audiences. So as you talk today, be exceptionally clear about whatyou mean when you say the word “audience.” Who is that?“Access”Another danger word is “access.”As in, “We’re going to provide access.”Access is not the same as use. It’s not the same as sharing.Access usually, in the parlance of museums and libraries and archives,means, “You can come, and ‘access’ our stuff, on our terms, through ourpipe.”[As a point-of-reference, I had a conversation with the registrar of amassive natural history collection a few months ago. She stated,categorically, that her museum provided “free and open access” to their 9
  • online collections. In fact, her museum only releases metadata anddigital images of collection items under a full “copyright, all rightsreserved” status, and images are only released in low resolution. But toher, this constituted “free and open access” because her museum wasnot charging a fee to access these materials online.]And that, maybe, is not the most productive way of thinking aboutaccess in terms of a cultural commons.Along those lines I think we imagine the future as having us [ourinstitutions] be a hub, still, but with a lot of spokes: people will have tocome to us to access the things they need. But maybe the best role for usis not as a hub, surrounded by spokes, but as one of the endpoints. Partof a network of peers.“Engagement”The last term I want you to think about is “engagement.”Often when we talk about engagement we talk about you, out there, thepublic, coming and being engaged with us, with our stuff, on our terms.That’s not what I think a 20 year old would think “engagement” meanstoday.Engagement is a two-way pipe.Engagement is peer-to-peer (without institutional mediators, hubs). 10
  • Engagement is on terms your users are defining on their own, withoutyou, every day.So think about the bias of that term, engagement, when it comes up.5. Think like investorsThe last connection I want to bring up is… “pride” is not the word… butI’m very proud to know that you all are there today, as investors.You’re investing your own time, your energy, the reputation of yourinstitutions. You could be doing anything with this time today, butyou’re investing it in helping think through the European CulturalCommons. Think like investors.Where are you going to put your resources?When do you want payoff for that?When do you want benefits from that?Where do you want to be a month from now?Where do you want to be a year from now?Really press the urgency of that investor thinking. I think there’s somuch you can do now, so much you can do in the short term. Many ofyou have heard me repeat something I heard somewhere else, 11
  • Think big.Start small.Move fast.…But move. Do what you can, but do it.***And on that note, maybe I’ll get back to my hurricane preparation. It’sSunday [October 28, 2012], things are starting to get cold here, theweather is coming from a strange direction. Probably as your workshopis happening we’ll be hunkered inside my house, without electricity,hoping that the roof doesn’t blow off.So enjoy warm and sunny Cyprus and…I’m just thrilled, I’moverwhelmed and thrilled at the direction you’re headed, and the rest ofus, the rest of the world, is cheering you on.So go get ‘em.[Recorded October 28, 2012, in Falls Church, VA] 12
  • Some additional notes/referencesHelping other people succeedThis meme has been around for a while, and is deeply connected withthe Web 2.0 movement: see Tim O’Reilly’s seminal What is Web 2.0essay [http://oreilly.com/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html] , and hisrecent, excellent post on LinkedIn, Its Not About You: The Truth AboutSocial Media Marketing[http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20121002122119-16553-it-s-not-about-you-the-truth-about-social-media-marketing?goback=.ptf_]Kathy Sierra’s ideas about the changing relationship between customersand brands (and institutions for that matter) deeply resonate with meand have been a kind of sigil that I’ve used to unlock a lot of newthinking. I talk about Kathy’s “every user is a hero in their own epicjourney” tweet in nearly ever talk I give, most recently here: OpenDigital Heritage: Doing Hard Things Easily, at Scale (p. 3)[http://www.slideshare.net/edsonm/michael-edson-open-digital-heritage-doing-hard-things-easily-at-scale-text-version ]Hubs and spokesI was thinking about Clay Shirky’s writing about the newspaper industryhere: Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis[http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2011/12/institutions-confidence-and-the-news-crisis/ ], 13
  • “All of this seems to offer the grandmotherly option between Starkman and the FON crew — “You’re both right, dear. We need institutions and we need experiments.” Even given this hybridization, though, our views diverge: Plan A assumes that experiments should be spokes to the newspapers’ hub, their continued role as the clear center of public interest journalism assured, and on the terms previously negotiated. Plan B follows Jonathan Stray’s observations about the digital public sphere: in a world where Wikipedia is a more popular source of information than any newspaper, maybe we won’t have a clear center anymore. Maybe we’ll just have lots of overlapping, partial, competitive, cooperative attempts to arm the public to deal with the world we live in. Some of the experiments going on today, small and tentative as they are, will eventually harden into institutional form, and that development will be as surprising as the penny press subsidizing journalism for seven generations. The old landscape had institutions and so will the new one, but this doesn’t imply continuity.”Also, Brewster Kahle, in Interview: Brewster Kahle on Radio Free Culture[http://freemusicarchive.org/member/jason/blog/Interview_Brewster_Kahle_on_Radio_Free_Culture ] 14
  • “…we’re really organized toward having many winners. We want to have many publishers, many libraries, many authors who make money. And everyone is a reader. So the idea of having lots of winners and no central points of control is how we got here on the internet. It’s why Creative Commons is kind of an interesting approach, why open source has been working well. The world wide web doesn’t have central points of control. This is just the way to make a robust, evolving, environment.”I’ve unpacked the ideas around hub-and-spoke vs. lots of hubs and lotsof spokes here: Lego Beowulf and the Web of Hands and Hearts, (p. 11)[http://www.slideshare.net/edsonm/michael-edson-lego-beowulf-and-the-web-of-hands-and-hearts-for-the-danish-national-museum-awards-13444266 ] “And its important to emphasize that as its shown, this network of connections—this learning network—shows us, the Institution, at the middle. But these are not just one way connections from us in the middle outward to our audience on the periphery. These are two-way connections between us and The People Formerly Known as the Audience (a phrase widely attributed to NYU professor Jay Rosen)—between us and everyone else in the world. 15
  • To press the point even further, the most important part ofthis knowledge network, this new learning model, arent thelinks between the few of us who work at memory institutions.The really powerful links are those that connect "our"audience members to each other. Perhaps the most powerfulplace for us, as museums, in this diagram is at the side, asgenerous and helpful guides, catalysts, and conveners—as co-participants—rather than as owners or monopolists.” 16