Thursday, April 10, 2008

How Much Time Does Web 2.0 Take?


On Monday, David Klevan (from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum) and I spoke at the MAAM Creating Exhibitions conference about Web 2.0 and museums. I provided the Web 2.0 framework, and David shared lessons learned from the huge range of projects the Holocaust Museum has initiated.

The biggest question that came up again and again was: how much does it cost? In most cases, the audience wasn’t asking about money: they were asking about time. When David explained that each of the Holocaust Museum’s myriad comment boards, blogs, and online forums is moderated by a staff member, the audience turned a little green. As one woman put it, “spending time on this means time staff isn’t spending on other work.” Absolutely. So in the interest of hers, yours, and everyone else’s time, here’s a rundown on what I see as the real time costs of a variety of Web 2.0 ventures.

The time cost of Web 2.0 is not in product development but in product management, maintenance, and growth. It may take you only a few minutes to create a blog, but doing so means (hopefully) a commitment to frequent content posts. When you start any Web 2.0 initiative, you should think about what (and who) it's going to require over its lifespan, not just pre-release. The time estimates below are written with sustainability in mind--the week-by-week management of Web 2.0.

First, the cheap options... and probably the most valuable. You don't need big time to get started with Web 2.0. Got 1-5 person hours each week? Become a participant.

You don't need a lot of time (or any technical expertise) to jump into the world of Web 2.0 and sniff around. Better yet, some of that sniffing can be appended by friendly actions that require little more than a keyboard and an interest in talking with others about your museum.

In 30 minutes, you can learn a lot about your institution and visitor opinions of it. You can...
  • Search for your institution on Yelp and TripAdvisor. If reviews include incorrect information, add your own comment giving helpful information about hours, prices, and new cool things people might like. If there are negative comments you want to address, commiserate, be friendly, and help them know that you care.
  • Check yourself out in the blogosphere. Go to Technorati or Google Blog Search and put the name of your museum (or exhibit, or program, or...) in quotation marks and hit search. You'll see all the mentions of you in recent blog posts. If something looks interesting, click through and read the post. You might even want to post a comment (and link back to the museum website).
  • Look for photos of you on Flickr and videos about you on Youtube. Again, add comments that give tantalizing information about the ancient vase behind the smiling girl or upcoming programs featuring those video-recorded light sabers. This is also a good place to get an education in how people are using images from your institution--both legally and illegally.
There are also a few Web 2.0 activities you can initiate without requiring frequent content updates. You can...
  • run a Twitter feed. The most time-consuming part of this is not posting content (how time-consuming can 140 characters get?) but attracting followers who will read your content. Search for people or institutions of interest to follow, and the followers will come.
  • post images from museum events on Flickr, upload videos from events on YouTube. The time these require is highly correlated to whether you are currently generating this kind of content, but if you are already snapping shots, putting them up on the web (with a handy link back to the museum website) is a cinch, and it's totally acceptable to do it sporadically.
  • create and manage a Facebook group or page, or a MySpace page. These are arguably the most time-consuming of the "cheap" time options, but if you have staff members who are already using these social networks, you can quickly broadcast out to a large group of people (like Twitter) at infrequent points, and provide a place for that group to meet and interact with each other. You can also have an extremely strange representation of yourself, as does the American Museum of Natural History. It must be working for them--they have over 2000 virtual "friends."
  • manage an online comment board on your website. Yes, it sounds overwhelming when David talks about monitoring all the boards on the USHMM website. But in reality, the monitors are making a very simple designation: is this offensive/dumb/nonsensical, or can it stay up as a comment? It's not hard to make that decision; most of us could do it in a few seconds. And since the average online museum comment board garners just a few comments each week (if you're lucky), this needn't be an onerous activity.

Have a bit more time and energy? Not satisfied with the puny 140 character limit on Twitter? If you have 5-10 hours per week, become a content provider.

You can...
  • Start a blog. There are many third party applications like Wordpress and Blogger on which you can host a blog with very little technical knowledge. Yes, you have to do a bit more than just typing to add the images and format the style of the page, but there are simple templates to work with as well (for example, this blog is served on a standard Blogger template). The challenge with blogging is frequently updating the content; I'd say once a week is a must, and posting two or more times per week is a great goal. If you spread the writing out among staff, it needn't take more than 10 hours a week to get three great posts up and monitor (and respond to!) the comments. For more information about what kind of blog might be right for you, check out this post.
  • Start a podcast. Same as the blog, but requires a microphone and some audio editing software. If you are comfortable producing audio content, it's quite simple to start a podcast... and reasonable to put out new content as infrequently as once a month. You don't need to have fancy machinery to make this happen. What you need is organization, interesting content, a person who can edit audio (which you can do for free with Audacity), and a place to post it. You don't have to host the audio yourself; you can use a service like Feedburner to host, organize, distribute, and market your content. If you want to get really fancy and go video, you can "vodcast" this way, too.

But you want something bigger? Have gobs of time and some technical know-how? Then sheesh! With 10-20 hours per week, become a community director.

These projects tend to be custom and are harder to define in neat bullets than the others. They include projects like...
  • community websites like Science Buzz (Science Museum of Minnesota) and Red Shift Now (Ontario Science Center) that combine a variety of text, video, audio, and image content accessible both from the museum and from the web. In these examples, staff are continually producing new content and interacting with the community via comment boards and other uploaded user-generated content.
  • open collections databases like the Powerhouse Museum's tagging system, where visitors can add their own keyword tags to museum artifacts. In this case, staff are producing digital assets and managing a back-end program (read: software techies) to provide visitors with the content they want via passive tracking of usage.
  • experiments in social networks like those performed by the Brooklyn Museum via their Facebook applications and video contests or by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in their Google Earth work and myriad comment boards. This pretty much requires dedicated staff.
  • open exhibit development projects like The Tech Virtual Museum Workshop. While it took a full-time effort to launch this Web+Second Life platform where visitors can propose and prototype their own exhibits (the best of which we are now building at The Tech), it now takes only about 10 hours of my time weekly to manage the community, coordinate classes, support virtual exhibit designers, and make it happen.
And that's the reality of many of these projects. The thing that often differentiates the heavy lifting ones from the simple activities is the ongoing development of new content, new platforms, and new experiments. Once they are running, any of these projects, even the ones that sound most ambitious, tend to require part-time maintenance and management, not full-time employees.

These projects require a fundamentally different skill set than many of the other jobs we do in museums.
Think of the folks doing these activities as floor staff working in your virtual galleries. They have some content knowledge and an interest in engaging with visitors. They aren’t super-techies or crack content experts. They manage relationships instead of producing exhibits or events. Some museums are starting to reflect this in their hiring, adding "community management" to job descriptions that formerly were just about content production or distribution.

But you don't have to change your title to get started. Bookmark your hour each week and start wading in. What ideas have I left out that you would add to these lists? What costs are you most concerned about when you consider embarking on Web 2.0 ventures?

50 comments, add yours!:

Paolo Amoroso said...

Speaking of the skill set required by these projects, I see a couple of challenges: 1) stimulating people to learn new tools beyond the basic web usage they do (email and web surfing) 2) seamlessly make these activities become part of a regular schedule, otherwise they are dropped after the initial enthusiasm.

Nathan B. said...

What a wonderful post! I enjoyed the humor, and from my limited perspective, I completely agree with everything you have written here. I blog at www.curatorandcollector.com , and I've just started up a blog for a local city's heritage organization. Both blogs take considerable time, but I enjoy them. I hope that one day this sessional lecturer can use these blogs to leverage into a museum job somewhere, and your post was something of an encouragement there.

Best wishes,
Nathan

Eric said...

Once again, nina, a post that I circulated to a bunch of staff. The low barrier to entry approach is invaluable.

See you soon.

Eric

Anonymous said...

Hi Nina, first of all my congratulations for the great job you're doing with this blog - this is my first comment but I've been reading you for a while. I would like to ask you an advice. I am organizing a big exhibition on Darwin which will open in 2009 for the bicentenary of his birth (i'm based in Italy). An important event which I would like to promote in the previous months with a blog to act as a sort of teaser; the exhibition itself will have a website but we won't fill it in with "real" contents before the exhibition opens to the public. Do you think this could make some sense? Thank you very much for your time.
Eva

Nina Simon said...

Eva,

I think it could make good sense, especially if the site of the exhibition (a museum?) itself already has a web presence that people are visiting. For an example of a museum doing this, check out what COSI is doing with their upcoming Lost Egypt exhibition.

Good luck!

c3o said...

Have you looked at tumblelogs yet?
They're minimalistic, scrapbook-like blogs that are focused on simplicity and make it easier to effortlessly post frequent tidbits, rather than setting aside large chunks of time for "proper" blog posts, and thus would fall somewhere between uploading to Flickr and commenting on blogs on your timescale.

They work well as simple multimedia blogs (embedding video and uploading audio is integrated), as "live" event blogs, or for collecting things from across the web on a certain topic. There are drawbacks and compromises, of course -- the lack of a proper commenting function is one.

Try Soup.io (Disclosure: I'm the founder of that site) or Tumblr -- at Soup, you don't even have to sign up to try it out: It's our goal to remove as many barriers to entry as possible, to encourage people who have so far only been passive consumers to post content online.

mike said...

Hey Nina - great post. I've been getting it from all directions - feed reader, links and a friend who IM'd me saying it'd found its way around their music company email list. It's always a good sign when that happens :-)

Mike

Liz said...

Hi Nina
I will be using this post with my colleagues, just as soon as the next person says "but I don't have time to post".
Actually, I sometimes think that they mean they are not sure they if they are allowed to blog: that is, it seems too easy to be able to blog. I don't mean that people post without getting someone to proofread, but they have more freedom on the blog than on the static website, for instance. One of the things that is starting to work for us is that many people are posting to one blog, so we have a regular a stream of posts without any one person feeling overwhelmed.
What this means long term, I am not sure, but it has spread the time cost.

Jennifer Wexler said...

Nina, thanks so much for this post. I've circulated it to several key staff members and we have just launched a Facebook page. It was nice to meet you at MAAM.

Jennifer

donniesblog said...

When directors and staff realize that these technologies can save time and afford real added value to their mission, service and success, the time line will look much more appealing and cost effective. Ongoing professional development in the form of networking with others, discussing outcomes and avoiding the "re-invent the wheel" approach to developing local organizational resources will naturally include Social Media interaction among other mission critical tasks (fund raising, community development etc). The question of whether or not to participate in Social Media applications/communities will naturally evolve to instead ponder "How did our org ever succeed without them?!?!?!"

donniesblog said...

When directors and staff realize that these technologies can save time and afford real added value to their mission, service and success, the time line will look much more appealing and cost effective. Ongoing professional development in the form of networking with others, discussing outcomes and avoiding the "re-invent the wheel" approach to developing local organizational resources will naturally include Social Media interaction among other mission critical tasks (fund raising, community development etc). The question of whether or not to participate in Social Media applications/communities will naturally evolve to instead ponder "How did our org ever succeed without them?!?!?!"

Donnie said...

When directors and staff realize that these technologies can save time and afford real added value to their mission, service and success, the time line will look much more appealing and cost effective. Ongoing professional development in the form of networking with others, discussing outcomes and avoiding the "re-invent the wheel" approach to developing local organizational resources will naturally include Social Media interaction among other mission critical tasks (fund raising, community development etc). The question of whether or not to participate in Social Media applications/communities will naturally evolve to instead ponder "How did our org ever succeed without them?!?!?!"

Anonymous said...

Hi Nina,
thanks for this helpful post - a lot of people hesitate to get involved in web 2.0 activities because they don't know "what it will take". I wrote an article for online retailers and made a translation of your great chart. Your system seems to ignore trackbacks, so here is the URL:
http://www.shopanbieter.de/news/archives/1613-Wieviel-Web-2.0-ist-moeglich.html
Greetings from Germany, Nicola

Paolo Amoroso said...

Web mashup tools such as Yahoo! Pipes make it easier and more effective to search for feedback on your institution.

If you have some programming background, you can put together in 30 minutes an "online media coverage dashboard" that keeps track of what is said on your institution, events and projects: Flickr photos, YouTube videos or blog reports posted by visitors.

For example, I created a Columbus Laboratory Notebook to follow the buzz about the Columbus laboratory of the International Space Station. You can also find photos by people who watched the STS-122 launch.

n.braguinski said...

I will defiitely use this post the next time I will have to motivate a coworker to star to blog!

joeflood said...

I found your site through twitter and thought this was a great article. I work in gov't and will share this with my colleagues.

Joe

MIraclestudios said...

Hmm great tips for marketers


thanks a lot

LyndaK said...

Hi Nina - we're actually conducting an experiment to time how long a partcular Web 2.0 action takes each week using a Facebook fan page for a particular program. It's also a test to see how staff "untrained" and a bit unfamiliar with Web 2.0 find using these tools.

I'm blogging our progress over at Museum 3.0

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JD said...

Great Post... Speaking from experience the times seem to match up. On the previous podcast I worked on with kids it took us 5-10 hours of work to complete a video podcast, especially editing.

Anonymous said...

Jusat wanna say congratulations for the great job

Blogstar said...

Thank you! Old article but usefull!

All my love.

MarkDilley said...

I think that we forget about the cognitive surplus - I don't think it is just after work:

see - gin, television, the “cognitive surplus,”

Mike Riversdale said...

Top article with some focussed and practicle ideas, many thank for sharing

Press Digital said...

thanks so much for this post. this really great job. and thanks for sharing it with us.

Inventory management software said...

Thank great post. I just put your blog "add to favourites" to read more in the future

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debra Askanase said...

Hi Nina, what a fantastic find. I actually think that your framework, taken with Beth Kantor's, answers the "fear of time drain" question. Nonprofits should create the social media policy they need, then look at your chart for guidance on how much staff time to devote to it. They could also use the chart to figure out what to cut out of their social media strategy. I was so inspired by finding and reading this post that I wrote about it and linked to your blog. I used your great chart and attributed it to you. I hope that that is ok with you. I look forward to reading your blog from now on!

Real said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
rikki crea said...

Nice article and very relevant I think for those of us who are just beginning to get our feet wet in the social media arena. I found the comments regarding costs in both time and money especially pertinent as I was just arguing the time issue with my much more social media savy business partner. She agrees with the article author that it really doesn't take as much time as one might think to mle, make social media a workable and productive tool for most businesses.

Mikey said...

great post

gyi tsakalakis said...

While different time expenditures will obviously produce varying results, we have seen value from participation as little as 3 hours per week. http://tinyurl.com/social-media-participation

NatCap Wing Public Affairs said...

This is a great post! Thanks for sharing.

Alex said...

Hi,

Thanks for sharing. Really it's a very good post. Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as a platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform.

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Web Design Quote said...

Hi,
This is really nice info.
I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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ideastack said...

Great Post.I agree with u this is just like a simple multimedia blogs thanks for sharing

Sweet said...

Excellent. I Will blog this too at our site and this will help more people then :)

Casper said...

Great article. Often maintenance and growth (of a website of blog)doesn't get the attention it deserves. And is still not allway's seen as core business. Thanks for sharing.

Web Designing India said...

I don't have complete idea about Web 2.0 to tell few words about it. I got very useful information from this blog. Thanks

Scratch said...

So true. Of course, you can write/publish stuff of value or pure fluff. Web2.0 just makes it easier.

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computer screen said...

hi Nina...

Great job!... i was in a conferens obout WEB 2.0... ites very interesting... your viewpoint is very interesting... Can you giveme some bibliografy about this topic? its very important for me...

thanks, Lily

jignesh said...

this post helped me alot.

keep Sharing ..

Thanks

Marcus Kirsch said...

I think this discussion is definitely not about skillsets. There are many options to get into web 2.0 or however we call those new platforms.

The main issue is to convince someone that it's worth the time (owever much time is available) and who is actually doing it. Especially museums seem to have a great problem with ownership, responsibility and this includes the ongoing issue of IT services in museum and their approach to security. Its a sad discussion point but one that really is a hurdle for innovation in museums.

Maybe other countries have better philosophies than the UK where I am based, but this is only a personal experience.

The cost, is a kind of funny one, as I feel it only represents people's fear of getting on board rather than making an actual financial decision as in reality , there is more unnecessary money spend on mediocre products as long as there is another reason for doing so. So I dont believe that the financial factor is as important as some might argue.

Kumar said...

Such a wonderful post! really I was waiting for this. Thanks!

iPad Developer said...

Useful post and I will tweet to my twitter also.

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