3six5 has all the hallmarks of a good participatory project:
- It offers an enjoyable activity that is scaffolded by simple specifications without prescribing any particular result. Participants can share their days however they please, as long as they write 365 words or less and include a picture.
- The reward for participants of having your contribution displayed is fairly and clearly structured. Participants only get 24 hours of fame, but they know exactly when they are. It's also easy for participants to promote their posts by sharing them on social networks and via email.
- It showcases diverse voices. I love the differences among the posts from this past week, which covered Mardi Gras, unemployment, network science, attempts to get pregnant, and technology addiction. Granted, the posts so far have been somewhat tech-heavy, but I think that will diversify more as the year goes on. (Techies knew about the project first and were most likely to sign up for early dates on the calendar.)
- It combines personal stories with a sense of being part of something bigger. The project's originators call it "a crowdsourced journal of 2010." The story we tell together may not be profound or historically significant, but it's intriguing for its diversity of style and content. I think of 3six5 as a coffee table book that is being written one day at a time.
- Participants sign up in advance, but then have time to consider their contribution. This separates the desire to participate from the actual generation creative output. Of course, it also causes some stress for the project managers (two Chicagoans named Daniel and Len), who have to track down contributors each day to remind them about their upcoming contributions.
- The project is easy to set up but complex to administer. In advance, Daniel and Len had only to promote the concept, set up the website, and start soliciting and slotting in contributors. But now, they have to continue to market the project, while also getting a post out the door every day. They run a virtual newspaper written by a reporter they've never met, who is replaced every single day.
From my perspective, there are two primary barriers that would prevent a museum from running a project like this:
- Perception of lack of significance. Even as museum staff try to convince visitors that personal journals from the 1800s are thrilling, staff may not think it worthwhile to help visitors write about their own lives.
- Complexities of project management. The 3six5 requires maintenance and communication with contributors every single day of the year, including weekends. Museums and traditional institutions are not typically set up to manage participatory projects at such a high level of detail. These institutions are highly capable of managing the complexities of building maintenance and security on a daily basis, but few other functions of the institution are handled this way.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether projects like 3six5 make sense for cultural institutions, and if so, what you think it would take to make them happen. And you might want to check out my 3six5 post about waking up in the woods on Feb 22. I promise a very different window into my life.