One of my mentors, Michael Brown, told me, “The only way to get better is to change.” He was talking poetry, but over time I’ve found it to be one of the most useful, challenging ways to approach a range of situations. So now, after almost a year of Game Fridays, it’s time for a change. Not that I won’t still occasionally write about games, but they will no longer have a weekly presence on this blog (though you can always find lots of them by clicking the "game" tag in the topic list to the right).
Why the change? In this case, it has less to do with getting better than choosing a new direction. My interest in gaming in museums was ignited by working on Operation Spy, an immersive, narrative, live-action game experience at the International Spy Museum, and fueled by the CSI:NY virtual experience. But last week, I took a new job with The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, working on a very different kind of project involving collaborative distributed exhibit design. So where visions of Flash games used to dance in my head, I’m now starting to fantasize about team-building, inclusion, and, of all things, Second Life.
The Open Source Museum project at The Tech is a grant-funded grand experiment. The concept is practical: cut the time and expense of exhibit development by creating a social space where exhibit developers from many museums—along with scientists, artists, visitors—can collaborate to design concepts for exhibits. These virtual, polyglot teams will devise experiences that are not hindered by the cultural predilections of any single institution, and hopefully, will reflect a more diverse, inclusive voice and design. The Tech (and other museums down the road) will be able to offer up themes for upcoming major exhibitions, and the best of the concepts developed by the collaborative crew will be realized in the physical institution.
So what does this collaborative platform look like? We’re using a combination of a wiki-style website and a Second Life presence to make it happen. On the website, participants can propose exhibit projects, join teams, and maintain presences for themselves and their exhibits in progress. Those exhibits will be prototyped, discussed, and explored by visitors in virtual form in Second Life. All of the project ideas and virtual creations will be shared under a Creative Commons license, so the content truly is open to all.
This is happening very, very quickly. The project will launch in December, and we are planning to have our first exhibits developed by this process on the floor at The Tech in summer of 2008. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re playing it fast and loose. Of course, the good news about all of this haste is that it forces us to be honest to the spirit of the project, which is about openness, sharing, releasing things before their done for feedback and redesign by a cast of thousands.
All of this is sweeping many new questions into my mind. Will exhibit developers really use (and derive any value from) Second Life? How much structure is motivating and how much becomes a chore? What will incentivize different kinds of people to participate? How do we make this a growing social space and not a one-hit wonder? Will this project thrive or fall flat?
Ultimately, the biggest question in my mind is about value propositions. How can we design this project to give value to participants throughout the process? We’re trying to construe this as a professional development opportunity—to work with others, design for different kinds of museums, learn about Second Life and collaboration tools—as much as an exhibit design process.
What are the questions in your mind about team exhibit design? What would you want a project of this nature to include?
I look forward to discussing these and many other questions about this experiment in the months to come. Viva the distributed conversation!