There have now been a couple comments on this blog to the effect of: "Visitors already create content in museums through their thoughts and social interactions." One person commented that the more interesting question is not how we build a platform for visitor content creation but how we facilitate sharing of that content.
Great point. Smart point. Instead of jumping to developing new content platforms to enable a particular kind of visitor creation, let's try to exploit (in the best possible way) the content created in response to the stuff we already have. And so, informed by my experiences as a kindegardener, I humbly submit a couple good (and bad) points on sharing.
Good sharing point 1: Encourage social interactions.
The most immediate place to start sharing is with the people with whom you came to the museum. So give them access to do or view together so they start talking about it. Then go one better and give them exhibits that give better experiences the more people use them so that they pull strangers into the act.
Give people tools to interact socially while in the museum. This can be low tech (talking) to high tech (mobile devices). Create portals and applications such that people can communicate and share when they are neither temporally nor spatially co-located.
Bad sharing point #1: Don't put up unnecessary walls between strangers.
The Tate Modern has a great web application where you can create your own collection of six pieces of art around a theme, with your own labels. Sadly, however, you can only choose to keep the collection or email it to friends. There's no option to add it to their web catalog of such collections, which is currently limited to 5 collections created by their curators. Maybe this is a copyright issue, but I don't think you can call a guest a "curator" just because you allow them to arrange 6 images for themselves. If you don't want to put it out on the web for anyone to see, create a membership base of users who are creators and or viewers. deviantART does an awesome job of this, allowing people to "skin" websites with art/graffiti which is then accessible to members.
Good sharing point #2: Share with others who don't have access.
Later this week, I'll be interviewing Jerry Paffendorf, co-inventor of Destroy TV. Destroy TV is, among other things, an application that allows people who have the web but can't access Second Life (a 3D virtual world application), to operate a live camera in Second Life and chat with avatars in the world. There are many cool things about DTV, but on a basic level it's a great way to share Second Life, and what's going on there, with other people--not just as passive viewers but as active participants. We're going to talk about ways to bring the same thinking to museums...
Bad sharing point #2: Don't expect a free-for-all to work out. Sharing requires special structure.
This post started with the idea that you could have strong sharing around already-produced content. While that's true, the best sharing requires some thought as to the structure of that sharing. Sometimes, something as simple as a map can serve as an organizational (and inspirational) structure for people to share personal stories. Or, you can get much more complex and create interfaces for give and take. How about exhibit challenges where one person posts content that a non-simultaneous partner has to complete/judge/operate on? Am I Hot or Not for exhibit content? Post Secret in museums? Sending mail to strangers in museums? I'm ready for a resurgence of the chain penpals...