This weekend, I was working on this article about encouraging civic discourse in museums through 2.0 and looked up dizzily to realize I’ve been having too much of a collective action lovefest. As a designer, I believe that museums should strive to offer diverse networked, social experiences. But as a museum-goer, what about the times I don’t WANT to have a networked, social experience? What if I just want to look at the art and be left alone? One of the key aspects of web 2.0 experiences (which I was overlooking) is their flexibility in offering multiple ways to engage with the experience and the content.
Most 2.0 sites allow for many shades of “lurking” and “participating.” Consider YouTube. The large majority of YouTube users are lurkers—they watch videos, but do not submit them. The next group of people are users who rate, tag, and comment on videos, but do not submit videos. These people might be thought of as “judges,” or, at best, curators. They are adding metadata to videos about their value and content, which may be for their own use (for future navigation) or for collective use (to add to the larger conversation about what’s good and what isn’t). The smallest set are the “contributors” who actually upload videos they have made.
Many 2.0 sites that revolve around content, like YouTube, Wikipedia, and Flickr, behave this way. There are other sites, like Delicious and MySpace, that center around a more core personal experience (your tags, your site), and so require a minimum level of individual “contributing” to start getting value from the site.
How does this relate to the experience design in museums? Most museums offer lots of lurking, some contributing, and almost no judging/curating—and most experiences are in one of those buckets without dipping into the others as well. I can make a video, but I can’t rate them. I can touch the Van de Graff generator and have funny hair, and I can watch other people touch it, but I can’t vote on videos of the FUNNIEST Van de Graff hair experiences. I can leave a comment, and read today’s comments, but I can’t flip through the archive of comments going back X years.
There are many awesome museum interactives that are for single users that have an unintended lurker benefit (funny hair from the Van de Graff being just one example). On sites like Flickr, the role of the contributor as performer for an audience is explicit—and a source of motivation to continue contributing. Not every museum visitor wants to be a performer, but when the interactive elicits a funny or exciting or fabulous result that will be watched and enjoyed by surrounding visitors anyway, that “performance” could be captured and enjoyed in other ways, in the museum, on the museum website (live Van de Graff cam?), or on other sites like YouTube for a wider audience of lurkers and curators to enjoy. With clear signage to that effect, of course.
So that’s some perspective on experiences that already exist in museums. What about new experiences, intended to be 2.0ish, that are starting to be designed now? Here are some considerations to satisfy these different kinds of visitors:
- If the interaction has a performance component, make that clear and reward the active participant with a small slice of fame.
- If the interaction involves an opinion or a person-specific reaction, show the contributor how their input relates to the larger network of previous contributors.
- Allow the contributor to develop a personal profile/site/collection of data based on their interactions throughout the museum. Network these profiles at the contributor’s discretion (note: doesn’t have to be totally public… think about how cool it could be if these sites were only networked within a small community, like your class or your family).
- Wherever comfortable, give people a way to judge and classify content. This can be physical in the museum, or virtual on the web. They can take the form of ratings, tags, or comments.
- When someone judges something, connect them to other users who have made similar (or dissimilar) judgments/comments.
- Make the judgments count. Use them to prioritize content for lurkers and other judges. At best, let the judgments drive content presentation--let the users curate.
- Make the content easy to access from multiple entry points (in-person, on video, web, books).
- Make the content easy to navigate, and incorporate “frictionless serendipity” (thanks, Seb!) by using automatic tracking to make educated guesses about what the lurker is searching for.
- Update the content frequently and provide multiple forms of announcement about those changes.
The point here is to develop museum experiences that are available to all of these kinds of users at the same time. We’re all each of these kinds of users at different times of the day or points in our museum experience. I’d love to climb the rock wall but I’d prefer to just watch you throw the baseball. You’d love to give that painting a piece of your mind but will peacefully listen to that installation. So let’s give users an opportunity to do, an opportunity to comment, and an opportunity to watch.