Nick Poole of the MDA gave a speech http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk/nwh/ART41939.html
to the Museums Computer Group and because feedback was invited, I gave some, naturally.
The paper suggests that we have catered too much for the researcher, focusing on digital catalogues a) without being certain what researchers want and b) without catering enough for the second category of user. Two user groups are defined 1) People who do detailed research about collections 2) Millions of people who don’t visit museums of their own volition, who visit museum websites even less. Which actually means that only one web user group is defined (researchers), the others being mainly non-users. We surely know that our users are more varied and numerous than this. Up to 114 million people last year visited UK museums. And many millions visit museum websites too. There must be a big middle ground between serious researchers and casual accidental visitors. For those working in education the web is invaluable in being able to converse with teachers and learners, and sustain and share the outcomes of projects.
The analysis of markets for culture is complicated by the fact that culture is at the top of the heirarchy of human needs, needs to do with nostalgia, traditions, emotions, ‘just looking’, enjoyment, free time, conversation and play. Cultural needs are not seen as functional. Museums are split in their views about the main purpose of their websites, between supporting study and business (fuelling the knowledge economy) and supporting informal popular engagement. In many ways, multimedia & the web are offering more opportunities to make a museum experience full of play and conversation, and reach a wider range of visitors (potential researchers), whereas the curation of a real space can be bound by scholarly fastidiousness and may only reach a narrow audience.
The paper contains a paradox, perhaps unintended, in saying that we focus too much on researchers and that we are too technology-led, yet are spending too much on experimenting with Web 2.0. I’m not so interested in technology per se, but very interested in the educational and social potential of Web 2.0 (including trying to work out what it is!). It seems to me that Web 2.0 is less about geekery, more about ordinary people being able to use the web because it doesn’t feel like technology any more. It helps more of us become researchers. I disagree that we should step away from Web 2.0, mainly because there are free services out there with information storage capacity. We shouldn’t always spend money trying to replicate those within museum sites, but use them whenever we can, for example in education projects.
I particularly endorse the proposal for a national marketing strategy, with a proviso that the museum sector should be well defined (museums, libraries and archives? museums and galleries? digital cultural archives which have no visitor building?)
A 2 year moratorium on projects is a very radical suggestion, which I disagreed with on first sight, as major initiatives do encourage join up between several museums. However, I believe that many national partnership projects are too rushed, and less joined up and strategic than they should be.
If there is major investment in 3 or 4 key museum sites, it is important that all museums (of all types, including archives) are involved and consulted in this. If these meta-sites do employ Web 2.0 approaches, in a broad sense, it is more likely that smaller museums, archives and heritage societies can contribute content and expertise to these meta-sites, and that user needs can be better understood.
If you Google for ‘digital storytelling’, the top links focus on training in storytelling and multimedia tools ( e.g. http://dsi.kqed.org/index.php , the best of this bunch) and it’s hard to find public free databases dedicated to distributing heritage and cultural histories. So I did a bit of digging.
Please comment with more examples if you have them.
1 Digital storytelling & community archiving sites
A database for small heritage archives and community groups.
It costs quite a bit to sign up to it: http://commanet.org/English/C_What_you_need.htm
Cultural Objects in Linked Environments. This is a demonstration project, aiming to enable community groups/schools to tell stories using cultural images. Partners vary from schools to villages to museums across Europe.
An online community for sharing digital stories. The description sounds great but the site seems to be offline.
Schools can upload digital stories if they are within the National Education Network (UK broadband consortia)
Community groups can currently upload stories to Moving Here, not just the groups that were part of their Routes to the Future project, which has added 400 more stories from more migrant groups.
2 Generic tools that allow community & learning groups to create their own websites:
These tools are easy to use. However, your own story site wouldn’t easily be connected into a wider community that is about the history of places and cultures. (Comments are invited on whether or not this matters.)
http://lotsofbigideas.blogspot.com/ is a good example of a community blog, allowing refugees to post & share ideas & experiences
http://pbwiki.com/ Wikis can also be useful for making freeform hypertext stories.
http://elgg.net/ You can use a variety of tools to run your own learning network. ELGG Spaces is a new service that means you don’t have to download the software to your servers.
Drupal with CivicCRM is the best for a large Community website and has extensive audio and video uploading facilities.
For families’ to share information and their history/stories
Flickr, YouTube, of course, are also good distribution sites. Flickr isn’t just photos but can be for writing projects e.g. http://flickr.com/groups/nycwp/discuss/162532/
Ubuntu seems a good open source Operating System, especially if you’re doing projects with underfunded groups and other countries, because it’s available in many languages and there are 14,000 packages all with no cost (seems hard to believe).