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Behind the social web scene at the museums

Posted: February 9, 2011 at 1:41 pm 3 Comments »

According to MC Leon Tong, director at Drupal development house BrightLemon, last night’s “Social Web for Museums, Galleries and Education” session at Cass Business School was one of the most subscribed events of London Social Media WeekSabina and I were lucky enough to be on the list so that we could find out why.

The presenters, given a strict 10 minutes each – a brilliant idea, but surely a strict five-minute communal Q&A could have been appended? – fell into one of two distinct categotries: the gallerists, curators and educators, who spoke about their social activities right now, and the techs, who spoke of what was to come.

The former showed that the UK’s major spaces are all very busy with contemporary  social technologies, but then again, they’re exceptionally well positioned to take advantage. As the Tate’s Kirstie Beaven found out when she asked @Tate‘s quarter-of-a-million followers just why they were following, these organisations have killer brands.

What’s more, social networks tend to work when communities come together around content (the fabled social object – think photos in Facebook). The M&Gs are hardly short of content, but even so, all of those presenting last night were supplementing their own stuff with UGC, including, in the case of the V&A, chicken cosies. As the V&A’s Gail Durbin stated explicitly, it’s about “actively engaging users in the collections”. Her big presentation-closing idea, to provide V&A fans with individual pages to curate their own slices of the V&A’s collection, sounds like a winner to me.

The tech side of things troubled me, particularly with regard to education. Certainly a site such as the Louvre’s is not particularly well optimised for search, but Drupal-advocate John Fintan’s suggestion that the museum compete with Wikipedia for terms such as “Mona Lisa” ahead of focusing on user experience seemed strange, and slightly arbitrary, to me.

Yes, he was using his son’s school research project to illustrate the value of publishing data in semantically-friendly forms – but what struck home for me was not how tricky it was to find the best material, but rather how his son hadn’t the wherewithal to get past Wikipedia.

Fintan himself defined education (via Wikipedia!) as society’s “transmission of accumulated knowledge, skills and values”. I’d suggest that self-reliance and individual initiative would be among those skills and values, and that educators should be mindful of the impact of task-simplifying technology.

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One Comment

  1. Joaquin
    Posted February 14, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Self-reliance and individual initiative are generally at odds with the way education has been socially engineered: a process of narrowly targeted learning with the aim of maximing success at passing exams.

    As for the impact of task-simplifying technology, I don’t think those of us who have lived the transition from isolated knowledge to web connectedness are really aware of how it may have rewired our thought processes (see http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/6868/ for a long read about this) so it’s hard to foresee its impacts on a child 2.0 way of thinking.

    When these two factors are coupled, the most economical/darwinian way to maximise success in exams is not wasting time doing independent thinking and research, but accepting the consensus of knowledge and getting your facts from Wikipedia.

    I’m quite sure John Fintan’s son school research project got very good grades.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sabina Rosander, Cision UK. Cision UK said: Some thoughts on last night's social web for museums, galleries and educators #smw event http://bit.ly/fgss5P [...]

  2. By Content is dead, long live the meta-content | CisionUK on February 16, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    [...] more and more people come to rely on such paths, content becomes less important than the ways in which these filters describe it. Your content can [...]

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