Community Sites & Emerging Sociable Technologies

A new paper Community Sites & Emerging Sociable Technologies has just been posted on the Museums and the Web 2006 conference website. I had the pleasure of co-writing this paper with Kevin von Appen from Ontario Science Centre and Bryan Kennedy from Science Museum of Minnesota. Here's the abstract…

A generation of new, easy-to-use "sociable technologies" is creating opportunities for museums to pioneer the creation of on-line communities. These communities can deepen and extend relationships with and among visitors, while moving museums beyond their traditional role as arbiters of knowledge. Blogs, podcasts, RSS feeds, wikis, open-source content management tools and more, collectively offer the promise of greater interaction and collaboration, both at the museum and on-line. Not since the invention of the Web and its subsequent development a multimedia platform have we seen such an exciting array of emerging technologies, yet few museums to date have taken up the tools and strategic advantages offered by what"s been dubbed Web 2.0. These advantages include the educational potential of constructivist learning models fostered by on-line collaboration and dialogue and "first mover" advantage with funders and partners. Meanwhile, not to participate is to risk being left behind by a significant and growing segment of our visitors, and to have our mission and offerings defined by others in our absence, potentially to everyone"s detriment. In this paper, we argue that the strengths of museums such as authenticity, emotional engagement and repeat visitation, make them ideal catalysts for on-line communities; we examine some early experiments; we explore issues of quality and accuracy in visitor-created content; and we suggest models for the management and maintenance of on-line communities.

Perhaps the most interesting finding was just how far behind museums are when it comes to Web 2.0 technologies. This is especially true of science centers, there are literally just a couple of community sites and blogs (Ontario Science Centre's RedShift Now and Science Museum of Minnesota's Science Buzz). Being behind technologically, has consequences. As we state in the paper…

If you searched Google with the phrase "science museum blog"? (something you could expect a science museum visitor to do) in January 2006, the top result was a sign-up page for the Creation Science Museum newsletter. ( http://creationscience.miricreation.com/creationsciencemuseum )

The top ranking item in 2005? Answers in Genesis, Upholding the Authority of the Bible from the Very First Verse ( http://www.answersingenesis.org/museum ), home to the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky, USA. Science blogs created by science museums are not what you find on these sites! If we do not define ourselves in this new medium, it will be done in our absence and quite possibly to our detriment – and the detriment of our visitors.

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