Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Radical Trust Quiz: How Radical Are You?

Ok, a confession. Before last week, I thought “radical trust” was a savings account full of surfboards. But it’s a term that seems to be exciting a lot of folks in the museum field, and for good reason. Jim Spadaccini has a good collection of sources here, and here’s Seb Chan’s simple explanation:

Radical trust means trusting users not to muck things up (and rewarding them with control in return). ... It should also be stressed that most ’systems’ of trust in Web 2.0 applications are specifically constructed to encourage and protect, through safeguards and small but not insignificant ‘barriers to participation’ (Wikipedia’s login and lock controls, Slashdot’s reputation system, Google’s continual tweaking of PageRank etc) what is being described as ‘trust’.

Radical trust is appealing because it represents loosening of museum authority and openness to visitor input. But as Seb wisely points out, “part of the appeal of the term ‘radical trust’ is its quasi-moralistic/spiritiual/revolutionary tone.”

So let’s get down to practicalities and do some quantifying. Is your institution an open-armed wiki or a locked push machine? How much trust do you have in your visitors? Give yourself a point each time you answer yes to the questions below…

Tagging/Museum Metadata

  • Do you trust your visitors enough to let them tag the exhibits in your museum or the online collections on your website?
  • Do you trust them enough to publish these tags on a sign in the front of the museum or in a tagcloud on your homepage?
  • Do you trust them enough to replace the text on your wayfinding maps with the user-generated museum tags?
  • Do you trust them enough to let them edit each other’s tags?
  • Would you allow tags that represent value judgments like “awesome” or “boring?”
  • Would you make this process totally automated and unmonitored?

Rating/Museum Evaluation

  • Do you trust your visitors enough to let them rate the exhibits or artifacts in your museum?
  • Do you trust them enough to publish the highest ratings as “top content” on wayfinding signage and publicity material?
  • Do you trust them enough to reconsider or redesign poorly rated elements of the museum?

User Contributions/Museum Content

  • Do you trust your visitors enough to let them contribute to the content of your museum?
  • Do you trust them enough to let them contribute to museum research?
  • Do you trust them enough to judge, prioritize, and curate other visitors’ contributions respectfully?
  • Would you allow content that you deem to be inaccurate?
  • Would you allow content you deem to be offensive?
  • Would you allow content you deem dumb, ugly, or non-useful?

Blogging/Exhibit Development

  • Do you trust your visitors enough to share with them the challenges of developing a new museum project?
  • Do you trust them enough to blog about your process and solicit their comments?
  • Do you trust them enough to act on their comments and engage in community design?


  • How much money will/do you dedicate to these efforts?Give yourself a point for every $100k per year.

Unlike those “are we soul mates?” quizzes, there’s no perfect score here. If you scored low, don’t worry. You’re in the same boat as 95% of museums. Of course, if you’re here because you haven’t thought about these issues before, it might be time to start. If you’re conceptually ready to accept some of the realities of what radical trust can entail, start experimenting, evangelizing, and implementing. And if you answered “yes” to every question, well, you’re a more courageous person than I.

And the money question is huge. Evangelize, evangelize, evangelize. It doesn’t matter if you are ready to tear down the walls if the influencers are still skeptical of 2.0’s value.

I scored a 13. How about you? What other questions would you add to this quiz?

2 comments, add yours!:

Sheila said...

All great questions.

I'm not sure how tags would be useful on printed wayfinding maps in museums. Perhaps b/c I'm thinking very linear, I'm also not sure how popular or "top" content could be incorporated in wayfinding signage or publicity materials, mostly b/c of the extra time and money it would cost to keep reproducing that type of printed material for the museum spaces. I like the idea of that on a website because it's inherently non-linear, but visitors really want concrete stuff when they visit a physical museum.

I might rephrase one of your questions about user-generated content: would you allow visitors to curate their own online exhibits using the museum's content together with their own?

Also, another realm is federation among institutions. So, would you allow other museums to edit or tag your online content? And there are no doubt more questions along this line.

Nate said...

I feel like the Walker could answer yes to many more than I ended up with, mostly because we just don't have the tools built yet in some cases. I know a lot of that is on our radar for the coming year, but it's hard sometimes to shift the momentum on our site development path -- for the most part we're pretty agile and can respond to new ideas, but some of our sites (collections) have a ton of baggage that makes it hard to update or add tagging.

Still, great questions!