Sunday 1 March 2009

Creative Spaces: Museum Social Not working?

Few people would doubt the rising power and influence of social networks such as Myspace and Facebook. Millions of people use them to communicate and express themselves. That some of the UK's greatest museums should be represented is clear. It just seems they don't know how to go about it.

The answer is not to create their own social networking website. Trying to find what you want on the Natural History Museum website should convince you that it's best to leave social networking to the experts.

But more than that it comes down to what people want. I don't want to use a hundred different accounts across a hundred different sites (even with OpenID). I'd much rather our institutions, once they have seen the need for social networking, to fit it into what I do already.

Creating a museum page on Facebook would allow me to stay up to date with what's going on. You could even create groups for different departments, or for people who have been to see a certain exhibition.

Social networking has the added advantage of breaking down barriers. I have had people contacting me about phasmids on Facebook that wouldn't have been sent to me in other setting. Quite often this results in me having scientifically useful data.

So I guess the answer is two-fold. First, embrace what people are already doing. Secondly, don't prevent your staff from referencing their employer on social networking sites (as one nameless museum has) - especially when the possibilities of them doing amazing things is so great.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ed,

Interesting post,and a good point about not re-inventing the wheel in terms of social networking.

The key difference with Creative Spaces is that it incorporates a federated search of all 9 museums' collections, something that would not be possible to do on a standalone social networking site.

There is no doubt that museums who have seen the advantage of good use of social networks are seeing a return from their involvement.

It is hoped that Creative Spaces will sit *alongside* these presences (rather than in competition) as a way for people to browse and collect items from the museums' own collections, and use that as a means of connecting with like-minded people.

Ed said...

Don't get me wrong, making collections accessible online is good.

Making a Facebook application from it would be interesting. There are relatively few useful (and well made) Facebook applications.

By having a separate website I fear that you narrow your audience. Having a separate website for museum lovers may narrow your scope to people already engaged with museums. Opening it up to a widely used social networking tool allows you to reach a new audience, while providing a service to current users too.

Another complication will be making circa 30 million insect specimens available online!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely take your point on attracting the broadest possible audience, though there are licensing/copyright issues WRT where info exists and can be displayed

Ed said...

I take that point. Which is rather sad really - these collections are held for the benefit of everybody.