As part of the article I’m working on for the
Level 1: Individual Receives Content (Museum to Me)
In this model, the content provider or museum delivers content for the user to passively receive. You look at an artifact. Watch a video. Listen to a news clip. Read a label. The level of user engagement is self-determined by your interest in the content and your motivation to reflect on it, either singly or with your companions. A successful level 1 experience features content that is meaningful and interesting to viewers. If your visitors are hooked on your content, proceed to…
Level 2: Individual Interaction with Content (Museum with Me)
Most interactive content in museums falls into this category. The exhibit provides a opportunity for the user to play with the content. You press the button. You drop the balloon. The content may be responsive to you, but the interactive experience is non-networked; that is, your interactions with the content are not affected by, nor do they affect, other people’s interactions with the content. Again, the level of social engagement is self-determined. A successful level 2 experience builds on killer content (level 1), not interaction for its own sake. The interaction provided enhances the visitor’s engagement with the content. Got that covered? Then, move to…
Level 3: Individual, Networked, Interaction with Content (Me & Me & Me & Museum)
These are experiences in which your individual interaction with the content is networked so that each individual’s interaction is available, in a limited capacity, to the entire group of users. Voting, whether for American Idol, national elections, or museum kiosk surveys, falls in this category. Your action is not influenced nor influences others, but you are aware of how others have acted in the same context. This is where many museum programs lie that allow user-generated content. You can register your own opinion about X at the video kiosk, and others can view your video. A successful level 3 experience makes you feel connected to others who have used the same content; visitors start to wonder why others voted/expressed themselves as they did. And thus you are ready for…
Level 4: Individual, Networked, Social Interaction with Content (Me to We with Museum)
This is the level where web 2.0 sits. Individuals still do their interacting with the content singly, but their interactions are available for comment and connection by other users. And the architecture promotes these connections automatically. For example, on Netflix, when you rate a movie highly, you don’t just see how others have rated it; Netflix recommends other movies to you based on what like-minded viewers also rated highly. By networking the ratings, tags, or comments individuals place on content, individuals are linked to each other and form relationships around the content. A successful level 4 experience uses social interaction to enhance the individual experience; it gets better the more people use it. The social component is a natural extension of the individual actions. Which means, perhaps, users are ready for…
Level 5: Collective Social Interaction with Content (We in Museum)
This is the holy grail of social discourse, where people interact directly with each other around content. Personal discussions, healthy web bulletin boards and list-servs fall in this category. Healthy level 5 experiences promote respect among users, encourage community development, and support interaction beyond the scope of the content.
So how do we level up?
The good news is that moving up the levels does not require new content. At all levels, the interaction and participation can occur around pre-existing content. A lot of museums top out at level 2 or 3, imagining that offering people heightened opportunities to interact with content, or to create their own content, is enough. Granted, I’m not sure if social engagement is the goal for interactive designers. But with side benefits like deeper connection with the content, greater appreciation for the museum as a social venue, and heightened awareness of other visitors, it deserves a place at the drafting table.
UPDATE: I wrote a follow-up to this post based on some comments. It's here.