MW-photo
April 13-17, 2010
Denver, Colorado, USA

More than the Sum of its Parts: Pulling Together User Involvement in a Museum Web Site

Gail Durbin, Head of V&A Online, Victoria & Albert Museum, United Kingdom

Abstract

Experimenting with social media? Asked for some user generated content? Tested out a forum? Cracked on-line sales? Got coherence and clarity?  

The V&A has a long history of inviting people to add content to its Web site. From creating posters and replicating the Christine Keeler portrait in the 1990s, through Tattoos, to the current World Beach Project and Wedding Fashion sites, we have always tried to be true to our founding principle of encouraging creativity and involvement. We engage with our visitors also by inviting them to download high resolution images, buy tickets and publications, respond to polls, attend events, and visit us on YouTube and other sites and comment. In theory, some of these are two-way transactions, but the reality is different ,and what we have in the way of user generated content is quite disparate. You could say we have creativity without community;  contribution without coherence

This year the time came for a review.  We have put a lot of energy into thinking how we might pull these interactions together to create greater involvement for our visitors and a clearer picture for us of our users and their needs. Approaches have varied through forming an on-line research group, upgrading our blogs, crowdsourcing photo crops on our new object database, through to building visitor profiles to collect and repurpose contributions. Drawing both on the experience of participants and on lessons from the V&A, this workshop will suggest ways of working with visitors to create increased community and coherence. The workshop will include practical activity; no technical expertise is required.  Participants should leave with ideas they might put into practice in their own museum.  

Keywords: user-generated content, visitor profiles, blogs, on-line community, crowdsourcing, social media

Overview

This is not a conventional conference paper because it accompanies a workshop. The purpose of the workshop is to develop and share ideas, so this short paper is more an introduction to what we might cover and a request for contributions. I would be grateful if workshop members could send me names of any museums that use external social media sites successfully for community building purposes. I would also be interested to hear of museums that have found ways to build on-line communities on their own sites, or where on-line communities have formed around them. My e-mail address is

Creating On-Line Communities

How do you create on-line community where you may not have a real physical community? This is an issue that affects the large national museums in particular, but the solutions may have a bearing on all museums. I do not have a solution at the moment.

On the V&A website we currently have many and varied contributions from our users, but we lack community, and we certainly do not have coherence. The V&A has a long history of inviting people to add content to its Web site. From

We have always tried to be true to our founding principle of encouraging creativity and involvement. We engage with our visitors on-line also by inviting them to download high resolution images, buy tickets and publications, respond to polls, purchase tickets for events, and visit us on YouTube and Vimeo. In theory some of these are two-way transactions, but the reality is different, and what we have in the way of user-generated content is quite disparate.

The Review

This year, with plans for a redesign of the entire site, we embarked on a review. We found across our site about 40 different places where visitors conduct transactions, financial or otherwise, with the museum. These interactions have developed on an ad hoc basis and, in most cases, once a transaction has been completed there is a dead end. This is not helpful for visitors, and it is a wasted opportunity for us.

We have put a lot of energy into thinking how we might pull these interactions together to create greater involvement with museum issues for our visitors and a clearer picture for ourselves of our users and their needs. We have developed visitor profiles and formed and consulted an on-line research group, and within our new designs we are planning community pages based around core museum topics.

On-line Communities

This brings me to the second question: what do we mean by on-line community on museums Web sites? The same vocabulary is often used for entirely different concepts. Some museums talk about community in terms of Facebook and Twitter, but often all I see is a social media site being used to broadcast information about museum programmes.  A look at the number of people some museums follow is very revealing. When people followed are greatly outnumbered by followers on Twitter, that suggests a museum that is not actually planning to interact with its audience.

Some express the view that museums should go to the communities rather than replicating them on their own sites. Comments such as, “We don’t need another Facebook” or “Why upload images to our site when you can use Flickr?” bring sage nods at conferences. Sometimes these points may be true, but are there things that can only be done on a museum Web site? If so, what are they? Certainly a site like Flickr is a good place to collect images, but there is not much in-depth debate, and a museum (quite rightly) cannot focus debate on such a site. How then can the museum act as the catalyst for debate and sharing on the topics central to its collections? Is this exchange between visitors, as well as dialogue with curators, the definition of on-line community for museums? Is community a means of deepening visitorss’ engagement with the content and ideas of a museum? Can it be the route to a museum, connecting with expertise held by non-professionals? Can museums set out to create community, or is it something that just happens?

Through discussion and practical activity I hope we will come up with some answers as well as ideas to put into practice.

Links to Social Sites which Act as a Focus for Specific Communities

Cite as:

Durbin, G., More than the Sum of its Parts: Pulling Together User Involvement in a Museum Web Site. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2010: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2010. Consulted http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/durbin/durbin.html