Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Two Notes from O'Reilly Radar on Web 2.0

There have been two good posts on the O'Reilly Radar recently that I wanted to bring to attention of these folks, both on the definition and use of "Web 2.0".

The first was a post offering a brief definition of Web 2.0: Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them. (This is what I've elsewhere called "harnessing collective intelligence.")

The second is about pre-roll advertising, but contains this generalized gem: So if you want to build a business around digital media, you have to be the best place to view/consume the media. Being the only place to see it is a naive strategy that won't work. You have to make digital media easy to find, easy to watch/listen/view, easy to comment/tag/share, and easy to replicate/reblog/republish.
Both of these ideas can be applied to museums and potential approaches to use of 2.0 in museums. The first is the familiar concept of museums transitioning to being a platform for specific kinds of encounters and experiences. The second quote builds on this by pointing out that it's essential, when you build a platform for user information, to make it the most appealing place to access that information.

Many museums share content beyond their four walls through virtual exhibits, online collections, etc., which begs the question of whether visitors will pay for the cow when they can get the milk for free. Why go to the museum if you can see it all online in your pajamas? The answer is--or should be--that the museum is the best place to experience the content. If you are confident in this fact, then making all kinds of content open source is a benefit to the museum--extending the reach of the content, motivating interest in the brand, encouraging others to use and experiment with your content.

There are certain advantages to starting as a content provider and then expanding services as a platform. Museums already have strong brand identity, and people expect that the best (and mostly, unfortunately, only) place they can connect with their content is in the museum.

With that in mind, I'd love to see museums opening up their content to users on the web--and in the galleries. There are some interesting comments out there from people who are pissed off about not being able to take photographs in art museums. If there's a copyright issue or a safety of the artifacts issue, I understand, but if not, what do you gain from protecting your content in this way? Wouldn't you rather have 42,000 photos from your museum logged on Flickr (MoMA, which does allow photography) or 3,900 (SFMOMA, which does not allow photography)? Similarly, encouraging people (staff AND visitors) to post videos on YouTube, blog about museum experiences, podcast programs... it all generates interest in the museum itself.

Seeing a video of someone walking through an exhibit doesn't make me think, been there done that. It makes me want to see the exhibition. Imagine if we applied the same fearful logic to sex. Reading about it hasn't been shown to diminish interest in the genuine article, the "best place" to experience it.

How can/are you opening up the content at your institution to become more "platformesque"?

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