By Clare Butcher
“Taking responsibility for being open” – these were the key words of Angela Plohman’s workshop held at the museum on 20 January, as part of the Transparency series we’re putting together. It was the very term “Transparency” that Angela first ploughed into (no pun intended) regarding the dangerous duality of being open while also generating a set of ethics for oneself in how and when and why information is communicated and feedback is invited.
Much of the appeal with online interaction for a public institution such as a museum is the “eventism” and newness (Ned Rossiter) around which contemporary culture revolved. So much content can be generated around a certain moment, current issue or presentation and yet, the capacity to follow these up, deconstructing them in post-event discussion and feedback is also an extremely useful quality of those same online platforms. Angela encouraged us to see past the hyper speed of web-based activity to the sustained, documentational and preservational potential it has. Another quote from Ned Rossiter: “Plagarise yourself as often as possible” – re-use and repetition is something integral to the Play Van Abbe programme currently overruning the museum. Why not also our webspace?
She recommended the text ‘Working the Net’ by Adam Jeanes
Who are we being transparent with? And why aren’t we facilitating that online feedback? This point raised some interesting discussion in terms of “user-testing” and stats analysis on our part as a web-team. What methods can we use to see how people work with the museum’s website? Angela also encouraged a real Peer-for-peer kind of self-editing – I we, as readers, cannot understand or use our own online applications, how can we expect those of our age group or online education to access and engage with this content? There may also be a lot of pruning of ‘virtual tumbleweeds’ necessary as we receive this feedback. And who will take responsibility for this, along with the other user comments we would receive if we invested in this opening up to user-comments?
This of course means that social networking sites are extremely useful but is this the right avenue for the museum? Angela cited the example of the Brooklyn Museum website and approach, as well as the Musee d’art Contemporaine Montreal’s Facebook page, as being PERSONAL examples of how this networking can be achieved. She stressed that if this end of transparency is not personalised, with people taking responsibility for the content they produce, we fail to fully grasp the nature of Web 2.0 culture. Perhaps even a visitor’s blog wouldn’t be such a bad idea!
For this reason, the museum’s Network and Discussion page could use a specific vision. It’s broadness is both its strength and downfall in that it has the capacity to give space to so many interesting discussions and issues laterally connected with the museum programme, however, its metabolism is too slow. If this page is meant to generate discussion, then it must keep track of the progression it stimulates. Angela challenged us to reassess the meaning and follow-up of these phrases and what we really aim to do with not only this page, but each aspect of the website. With transparency comes long-distance vision and it is precisely this which segues into our next workshop in the Transparency series as we generate a museum online policy. Angela encouraged us to be inspired by the creativity of other institutions, and the advise of seasoned practitioners, while also being true to the strategies of vision of our own museum content. Translating this into an online context is a challenge but by no means insurmountable.
Some other readings and suggested sites are:
The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
and Blast Theory for how online can be translated into the spatial and vice versa
Ned Rossiter’s Organised Networks