I’m not actually so worried about the Museum becoming obsolete, but I am intrigued by the question of what it is becoming in the age of the Internet and social media.
Because in fact 172m virtual visitors is probably on the low side. Those are just the online visitors we can count because they are coming to websites and digital properties that we control. But in fact, our audiences are now accessing content and information about the museum and its collections through a range of social media and other third party platforms that the museum does not control. This photo, for example, of the stunning Norman Foster roof over the American Art Museum’s courtyard, was taken by a visitor to the Museum. I found it on Flickr, as did several hundred other people.
So I’ve come to think that, instead of a neo-Classical building, the American Art Museum looks something like this: a distributed network of content and services that exist on a wide range of platforms, both controlled by the Museum and not.
Increasingly, I think we can describe the Museum as a social network, with our visitors, both real and virtual, using traditional and new technology means to expand the Museum discourse beyond the platforms that the Museum itself controls. Here’s another way of looking at this. The Museum has its traditional platforms for communicating about the collection: wall labels, brochures and catalogues that it publishes. It probably also offers some sort of guided tour, and may use new technologies in the galleries for wayfinding or to provide additional information on objects and exhibitions. It may offer audio or even multimedia tours to visitors, or a tour that people can take using their own mobile phones. Some museums provide podcasts and downloadable audio tours on iTunes and iTunes U. Most museums now have at least a modest web presence, or even a blog. But whether or not a museum runs its own blog, chances are at least a few of its visitors are blogging about the museum themselves. In the same way, they are taking photos and making videos in the museum and sharing these through Flickr, YouTube and Facebook – and this is happening even where it is forbidden to take photos in the Museum. They as well as Google are adding information about museums to Google Maps and Wikipedia, and generally talking about their museum experiences through Twitter and other instant messaging services, both through computers and smartphones. So whether it has embraced social media or not, the Museum has become social media. Now you may think this is easy for me to say, coming from the Smithsonian which is probably better resourced than most institutions, although we of course always feel very poor and hard done by! But I think that even very under-resourced museums are immersed in a similar sort of network. To demonstrate what I mean, I decided to think through what this network might be for the Museum of Antioquia in Columbia, about which we heard such a moving and inspiring presentation yesterday. The Museum of Antioquia has actually already gone beyond this network, because in addition to its outreach programs that bring new audiences into the museum, they are taking the museum to the people through their innovative travelling exhibition program. Now unfortunately I was unable to speak to Signora X… before she left to check my assumptions, but let’s imagine for now that the Museum cannot afford expensive in-gallery technologies like computer kiosks, or multimedia tours, or even audio tours on traditional museum players or cellphones. As far as I can tell the Museum in Antioquia doesn’t produce podcasts or downloadable audio tours, and are not present in iTunes or iTunes U. Maybe they sometimes don’t even have enough money to publish catalogues or brochures; I know that at the American Art Museum print publications are an expensive part of any exhibition budget. The Antioquia Museum does have a website and you can find information about its projects on other websites from Columbia as well. So when we take away everything that costs a lot of money here, what are we left with? Well, we are left with our human networks. We still have our guided tours and outreach projects that help connect visitors with the museum both on site and in the community. And interestingly we have our social media networks as well. Because even if the Museum is not actively blogging, or using Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook etc., their visitors are. I found 891 photos of the Museo de Antioquia on Flickr. There are numerous videos made by visitors to the Museum on YouTube, and the Museum is referenced on Facebook pages as well as blogs and other websites. None of these forms of outreach has cost the Museum a penny; the visitors have done it all themselves.
To give further insight into how our visitors are bringing the Museum into their social media networks, here is a little case study of how I visited the Caixa Forum in Madrid earlier this week using my iPhone, which is not the only way to communicated with a network – as we saw from the Antioquia’s projects, you can build a powerful human network with no technology whatsoever – but this handy device definitely makes it easier and faster. First, my friend and I communicated by email and telephone to agree to meet at the Caixa Forum. In order to get there, I looked the Museum up on Google Maps, and sent her a text message confirming my arrival time. While en route, I sent out a tweet to see if my network had any suggestions for what to see at Caixa Forum. My friend Chris in California repeated or ‘retweeted’ my query to his network. By the time I got to the Museum, I had several suggestions for what to do both there and elsewhere in Madrid from another friend in Indianapolis. I was of course immediately impressed by the ‘living wall’ I found at the Museum so I took a picture and sent it to my network via Twitter. Chris, who has never been to the Caixa Forum, thanked me for sharing the image and experience. I later uploaded my photos of this and other museums I’d visited to Facebook, where others in my network are enjoying and commenting on them. James in New Mexico found out about the Thyssen Museum for the first time through my tweets and photos, and took it upon himself to redistribute links to both my photos and the Museum’s website to his network of over 2,000 followers. None of this cost the Museum a penny, and it provided a meaningful, cultural experience around which I have connected with a wide range of people. I could have done this with no new technology whatsoever, of course, but it would have been taken a lot longer and more effort, and would have been much more likely to fizzle out, losing the momentum and passion of the immediate moment of discovery.
So the Museum is transforming from the Acropolis, that somewhat forbidding treasure house on a remote hill…
Into Agora, a community space of civic engagement and dialogue, where we share our experiences and learn from each other in a networked way. In the Agora we don’t just listen to the Oracle, we actively discuss what we see and experience, so are ourselves transformed from students into teachers – arguably the most powerful way to learn.
So where does that leave the Oracles – or the curators – in the 21 st century museum? Chris Anderson, author of the Long Tail and Free and editor of Wired magazine, made a very provocative suggestion during his keynote presentation to the Smithsonian 2.0 conference:
Well, it may be a crazy idea, but it is already being adopted by Museums like the Powerhouse in Australia. They have put much of their collection online, and many of the records look like this: fairly thin in information, plain and not very interesting to look at.
But within one week of their publishing that record, a ‘citizen curator’ contacted the Museum with addition information about that object. As a result, its record now looks like this, with 3 zoomable high resolution images and over 750 words of information.
Basque 2.0 and the Gipuzkoa Commons
GIPUZKOA 2.0 Nancy Proctor, Smithsonian American Art Museum ProctorN @si. edu On Common Ground
What is the Smithsonian … in this Web 2.0 world of information on demand?
The Smithsonian Institution More than 30 million visitors in 2009 & 180 million ‘virtual’ visitors
A Network for the Increase & Diffusion of Knowledge <ul><li>19 Museums </li></ul><ul><li>156 Affiliate museums </li></ul><ul><li>9 Research centers </li></ul><ul><li>And a Zoo </li></ul>
Photo by Mike Lee, 2007; from the American Art Museum’s Flickr Group Our audiences now access the Smithsonian through a wide range of platforms beyond our walls and websites
The Smithsonian has become a Distributed Network
Stadelijk Museum: DIY AR http://stedelijk.medialab.hva.nl/
Smithsonian Commons <ul><li>Michael Edson, Director of Web & New Media Strategy </li></ul>
The Smithsonian Commons “ The Smithsonian Commons will be a special part of our digital presence dedicated to the free and unrestricted sharing of Smithsonian resources and encouraging new kinds of learning and creation through interaction with Smithsonian research, collections, and communities.”
Smithsonian sites rarely show collections, expertise, programs, research, and community content side-by-side
http://www.si.edu/commons/prototype http://smithsonian-webstrategy.wikispaces.com http://www.slideshare.net/edsonm Michael Edson: [email_address] Nancy Proctor: [email_address] The Smithsonian Commons Get involved!
<ul><li>What do your audiences want from you? </li></ul><ul><li>What do you want from them? </li></ul><ul><li>How can you align both of those to your mission(s)? </li></ul><ul><li>What can you sustain? (small is powerful) </li></ul><ul><li>Prepare for change! (make content that lasts) </li></ul>The Basque Commons
Encontrismo Think differently And ask more questions!