Museums & the Web ’07: Web 2.0 @ the Brooklyn Museum

Frequent readers of hangingtogether may remember the comment from my WebWise blog that I had wished to hear more from keynote speaker Elizabeth Broun on how the Smithsonian America Art Museum plans to reach their audience where they already gather, rather than wait for them to come to the museum website. Now I’ve gotten my fix – Shelley Bernstein and Nicole Caruth from the Brooklyn Museum delivered a compelling paper during M&W about how their institution has engaged with Flickr, MySpace and the like. Although Shelley probably wouldn’t be quite satisfied with my use of the word “engage.” She pointed out that you can’t fake being part of a social networking site – you have to “live it,” and live it they do in Brooklyn.

What I found so compelling about Brooklyn’s move into Web2.0: by posting sets of images on Flickr or creating a profile on MySpace, the museum has taken the risk of giving up a certain level of control over their material and the kind of discussion which would ensue around it, and I felt gratified to see that the rewards for taking that risk were bountiful. Check out some of the comments the Brooklyn Museum’s Flickr and MySpace presence have elicited, and it becomes obvious that they have managed to build up the kind of street credibility that cash spent on PR and advertisement rarely can buy. Also apparent from the comments (and from the website statistics, as Nicole and Shelley pointed out): this presence translates into virtual and real-life visitorship, one of the easier to use metrics for community engagement.

In a way, the kinds of aggregations of digital resources for teaching and learning that I spend a lot of my time thinking about have a very similar function to Flickr and MySpace – they need to be compelling enough to aggregate people (eyeballs) as much as they need to aggregate the materials themselves. During M&W, I participated in a mini-workshop called “Digital Images Online: Meeting the needs of Educators,” where we heard from Diane Harley and David Green about their studies on the use of digital content in university classrooms. One of the findings (in my own words): the aggregations we as a cultural heritage community have built in terms of visual resources are by and large not yet compelling enough for faculty to use – they’d rather turn to the biggest aggregation of them all (Google) to be satisficed. Just as the Brooklyn Museum has figured out how to use the eyeballs Flickr and MySpace aggregates, we need a more consistent mechanism to do the same for digitized collections content in the search engines. I’ll talk a little bit about that during the upcoming ARLIS conference on a panel called “The evolving data standards landscape: leading the way to integrated access,” where I speculate about what we can learn from the presence of aggregated library content in Google search results.

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