Sunday, November 28, 2010

Month at the Museum, Part 2: Marketing, not Science

Kate McGroarty's month living at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is over. The young actress and teacher beat out 1,500 other applicants and spent 30 days exploring exhibits, participating in live demos, talking to visitors (both in-person and online), and romping through the museum at night. She blogged, tweeted, and Facebooked her experience for a crowd of eager followers. She learned that "Science is beautiful, engaging and just about EVERYWHERE." And she earned $10,000 for her efforts.

Now that the smoke has cleared, so what? What is this project really all about and what did it accomplish?

Month at the Museum was a marketing success for the museum. It got people excited about a huge and potentially impersonal institution by connecting them to a unique, highly personal experience. In July, Director of Public Relations Lisa Miner told me, "Under the past five years, we've undergone a lot of changes. This is a way to talk about those changes and all the things that happen in the museum." The goal was to "reintroduce" the museum to people who hadn't visited in a long time, and to do so through authentic, energized experiences of the museum roommate.

Lisa's goals were met. Kate's enthusiasm and humor made her an attractive spokesperson for the inner life of the museum. Her tweets, posts, and Facebook updates are uniformly upbeat, quirky, and riddled with exclamation points.

And it works. On her Facebook page, hundreds of people have made testimonials to how inspiring she is and how much they've enjoyed following her experience. Kate was able to put a personal face on a large institution. People were excited to talk with her online and then to visit her in person--something that's pretty much impossible to do with other museum staffers visitors meet through their web presence. I have no doubt that her efforts will bring people back to the Museum of Science and Industry and help people reconnect with what they enjoy about the museum.

Despite all its positives, I struggled with this project. Partly, I felt uncomfortable with the unrelenting Mickey Mouse club feel of Kate's posts. I haven't found a single negative or even complex comment about Kate's experience. It's all "totally awesome."

But my bigger struggle is based on a misunderstanding I had about what Month at the Museum is fundamentally about. When the project started, I thought it was about science. I had this mental picture of someone coming in and initiating unorthodox projects, testing hypotheses, and generally playing with science in a way that science centers don't typically engage.

But that's not what happened. Month at the Museum was a creative marketing project, not a scientific endeavor. The storyline of the experience was simple: girl comes to museum and is transformed by science. Lisa Miner told me this story before the project even started; Kate just substantiated it. In July, Lisa said:
This is really the best time to have someone move in and be able to really see the changes we've made here and ultimately the changes we make in someone's life. We've heard from a lot of famous people how they were totally inspired by this place--and that's just a single visit. What could happen for someone over a whole month?
I was a bit surprised that Lisa already had this fixed idea of the story, but Kate delivered in her final blog post:
How did one month in the Museum of Science and Industry transform me? I expected to come away from this experience with a new understanding and appreciation for science. The month has definitely lived up to that expectation.
I used to think that because I was more naturally drawn to the arts and literature, science did not have a place in my life. INCORRECT! The only person who told me I couldn’t love science was myself. Silly, silly Kate. And now I have a whole new world to discover for the rest of my life.
This is marketing, not science. Lisa and the museum team decided what story they wanted to tell, and then they found a way to tell it. I appreciate their success, but it is also somewhat antithetical to the scientific process in which you make a hypothesis, experiment, and discover the results. Science is about answering an unknown question, not telling a scripted story.

This prescriptive marketing approach to Month at the Museum meant that there were few surprises or plot twists to the thirty days. "Science can change your life" is not a new storyline for science centers and museums. Institutional marketing, educational programs, and exhibits constantly reinforce that message constantly. Instead of posing it as a hypothesis and seeing what would happen, Kate immediately took on the message, joining the museum team as a cute, funny new cast member.

I appreciate that this project is about marketing, not muckraking. But I wish there'd been a little more focus on the nuance of making science part of your life--the story behind the institutional message. I wish that Kate had been more of a scientist, experimenting with herself and her own attitudes, rather than a science communicator.

The Museum of Science and Industry has had a great marketing and PR success with Month at the Museum. Next year, I hope this gives them the confidence to be a bit more experimental--and scientific--in their approach.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How Does Participation Work in Multi-Lingual Museums?

Spending time in Europe, I'm reminded how complicated it gets when you have to interpret exhibits for a multi-lingual audience. Here in Barcelona, it's standard to see three languages on labels (Catalan, Spanish, English), and in Scandinavia I've seen as many as six. Even in North America, it's becoming typical to see two languages on the walls.

And this leads to a basic question, one I haven't figured out: how do you encourage visitors to participate when they speak different languages? While there are some kinds of participation that are not language-based like making art or voting, most participation is lingual. If your goal is to promote a social experience among visitors, it can be tricky if they can't read or speak the same tongue.

In the most extreme cases, I've talked to folks from museums that are government-mandated to provide all content in multiple languages who say they are unable to invite visitors to make comments because they'd have to translate all of them and simply can't dedicate the resources to do so.

So what are the options? As far as I see, an institution like this could:
  • focus on non-language-based participation. Many fabulous participatory projects--like the Johnny Cash Project or the Art Gallery of Ontario's "In Your Face"--don't require language. This certainly could work well in an art museum, where visitors can make art, or science museums, where they could participate in citizen science projects, without sharing a language. You could even get creative with documentation--photos instead of text, music instead of words--but it's limiting.
  • designate the difference between languages using design. A comment board, for example, could offer blue cards for English speakers, green for Spanish, and so on. The result would be a board that is colorful and makes it easy for people to find comments they can read. This would work best in an institution where there's likely to be a parity of participation among different languages. It would be disappointing to see just one card in "your" color among lots of cards you can't read.
  • invite visitors to translate others' comments if willing to do so. I'm now imagining a card with a place for "Your Comment (English)," "(Spanish)," and so on down the side. You write your comment in the slot you feel comfortable writing in, and other people can fill in the rest of the card if possible. This may sound silly, but there are probably some people who'd be happy to contribute in this way (and may not want to write their own comment). People could also caption each other's videos, but that's more intensive. The challenge here is some kind of vetting to keep people from writing obscene and false translations. I'm not sure if there's more of an impulse toward obscenity in translation than in commenting, but it seems particularly rife because you're distorting another visitor's comment, which isn't nice.
  • use digital interfaces. Machine translation is by no means perfect, but for short two-sentence comments, it's probably good enough. We're likely only a few years from being able to translate text and audio on the fly at a reasonable level of quality. Many museum projects are on long enough leads that this is a good time to seriously investigate digital comment interfaces that incorporate automatic translation.
I'm sure there are people out there with clever ideas about this to share. It's not just a museum issue--it's all over the social web as people maintain global friendships. What have you tried? What have you seen work? What are you experimenting with? What could you imagine?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Navigation by Recommendation: Lessons Learned from a Little Experiment

How do you find your way around a multi-faceted museum? Do you interrogate the map? Create a plan for yourself? Get deliciously lost?

I spent some time playing with this question last week at the Milwaukee Art Museum, a large general museum that is moving toward redesign of the permanent galleries. I was there for a think tank about the reinstallation along with a handful of designers and academics.

As a visitor on my own, I got instantly lost in the main part of the permanent collection. There's no central spine or hub to anchor you. I wandered through labyrinthine galleries labeled only by tiny white-on-white numbers in high corners, feeling more and more like I should have unspooled a string behind me so I might later escape. While for me meandering was mostly pleasurable, if I were there with a particular goal or a group of people, I would have been stressed out. The galleries weren't huge--most seemed to be under 2000 square feet--but they had poor sight lines from one to the next. Parents in particular were keeping close watch on kids who might quickly slip from antiquities to modernism without an obvious way to reconnect.

So when the folks at the think tank asked us to make a media piece to address one problem we saw with the current setup, I decided to do a little experiment in visitor-driven navigation. I'd had a good experience earlier asking a guard what he recommended--it had taken me into a gallery I otherwise would have missed completely. I wondered what would happen if that interaction was scaled up.

I partnered with staff member Bambi Grajek-Specter, and we went out into the galleries armed with a simple question: "What would you recommend that I see?" We'd approach people who were looking at art, ask them what else they'd seen that they thought was cool or interesting, and then we'd write it down on a little card with an arrow pointing to that other work. The idea was to make lots of these cards and lay them on the floor around the galleries so if you wanted, you could follow them to a (potentially interesting) work. It was a super low-tech "if you like this, check out that" strategy.

At least, that was the idea. We talked to visitors and made and placed cards for about half an hour. We quickly learned a few things:
  • You really can't guess what people will like. A teenage boy recommended a silver tea set because "I like seeing things that were used." A couple lavished attention on a painting because "we love lemon meringue pie". People told us about mummies and infinity rooms and gold crosses. A young boy recommended "the dental floss," referring to a large contemporary work by Cornelia Parker featuring rocks hanging from wire. This work is in the same room as another piece by Robert Gober that is considered highly appealing to families (and I saw many staff members pointing it out to parents), but the eight-year old we spoke to was drawn to Parker's abstract curtain of rocks instead.
  • It's easy to ask visitors just one question. Bambi noted that she felt like she learned a lot more talking to twenty people for just a minute than trying to administer a two-page survey in the same amount of time. We never really had to apologize for taking up their time since the encounter only required one verbal exchange. In many cases, we ended up in long conversations with visitors, but that was always driven by their interest in telling us more about what they liked, why they were at the museum, etc.
  • Most people enjoyed talking to us. They liked that we asked, and then that we listened. Our favorite pair, a father and daughter on a visit for the daughter's school project, were unsure of what to recommend to us when we first met them. But they showed us a couple things, and later in the hour, they approached us again and pulled us into another gallery to show us another beautiful object. Even though people were mostly pretty hushed in the galleries, almost all of them perked up when asked. This was reflected again in a great encounter I had at the Walter's Art Museum later in the weekend, when a silver-haired, well-coiffed lady (the perfect image of a traditional museum goer) told me "I get so annoyed by how quiet museums are. When I visit, I want to talk to people, strangers, about what I'm seeing." Amen.
  • People who didn't want to do it saw it as a test. No one expressed that we were intruding on their visit or that they didn't want to talk. But a few people seemed nervous that we were trying to trick or evaluate them. They were okay talking to us, but weren't willing to have something written down or their photo taken. Interestingly, this included two young employees/volunteers.
  • The cards are ok, but the people (and the conversations) are what matters.We had documented the activity with pictures of the people with their cards, and it was abundantly clear after the dust cleared that the personality and energy of the recommendations were in the images, not the cards. The cards were friendly but generic; they just said things like, "if you like this, check out XX around the corner," or "I love how realistic this sculpture is." As we flipped through the photos of the people we'd talked to, we saw hints of the curious stories that connected face to painting. A recommendation is a gift, and it is best packaged in some positive or intriguing sentiment. That packaging was in the photos, not the cards.
So what would I do with this little experiment? While visitors did notice the cards, it was clear that we had in no way created a good prototype for a navigational recommendation engine. It was too impersonal, in addition to it being just too darn hard to find something in one gallery based on a card-based recommendation in another. I could imagine expanding this to something digital that would be easier to use but no more compelling. It's a great example of a situation where even a simple prototype exposes a core flaw in a technology concept.

But the activity itself WAS compelling, because of the fun conversations, unusual recommendations, and evocative photos. There are two clear next steps I'd take with this:
  1. Do more of this, and publish the photos of people with their recommendations. The pictures I took are full of life and reflect the diversity both of the museum collection and the audience. I could see a great online campaign, map series, or touchscreen interactive where you can browse people and their recommendations.
  2. Test out a "by visitors for visitors" version. This is the holy grail for me. I'm imagining a game where visitors are encouraged to approach each other and get recommendations for what to see (functionally what Bambi and I did). This might sound unlikely, but with the right instruction set and a kind of game piece or card to use as a prompt, I think it could work. The instruction becomes a kind of social object that gives people something to talk about. And hopefully the conversation could yield more useful instructions about how to get to the recommended work than a card can.
This is definitely an unfinished idea--we only spent an hour on this experiment. Want to take it to the next level? What would you do? What could you try in an hour?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

New to the Field? Want to Attend the AAM Annual Meeting for Free?

Since I posted my "how I got here" post earlier this week, I've received lots of emails and comments from museum professionals, old and (mostly) young, about their own paths and struggles to get into the museum field.

As a followup, I want to note that there are at least six ways to attend the American Association of Museums annual meeting in Houston May 22-25, 2011 for free. AAM is the granddaddy of American museum conferences, bringing together several thousand practitioners to share, learn, argue, and socialize. While at first I found it a bit overwhelming and corporate, it has become my favorite museum conference both for the breadth of content and the volume of leaders present from whom I love to learn.

I'm a member of the board of NAME--the National Association for Museum Exhibition--and we're offering three fellowships to attend the conference in 2011. EdCom--the Education Committee--offers three fellowships as well. Here are the specifics on these fellowships.

NAME student fellowship (2):
  • WHAT YOU GET: conference registration, $500 for travel/hotel, free tickets to NAME events, and a NAME mentor to hang out with you during the conference.
  • YOU MUST BE: a full-time graduate student in an exhibition-related course of study.
  • ALSO, YOU MUST: not have attended the AAM annual meeting before.
  • TO APPLY: send me one email titled "NAME Fellowship" with the following attachments: a cover letter (1-2 pages) about why you want to go to the meeting and why you need the money, your resume, and a letter of recommendation from an academic advisor or professional supervisor. More info here.
  • APPLICATIONS ARE DUE FEB. 18, 2011. Recipients will be notified by March 22.
NAME new museum professional fellowship (1):
  • WHAT YOU GET: conference registration, $500 for travel/hotel, free tickets to NAME events, and a NAME mentor to hang out with you during the conference.
  • YOU MUST BE: working or trying to work in the museum field with less than five years of museum experience.
  • ALSO, YOU MUST: not have attended the AAM annual meeting before.
  • TO APPLY: send me one email titled "NAME Fellowship" with the following attachments: a cover letter (1-2 pages) about why you want to go to the meeting and why you need the money, your resume, and a letter of recommendation from a professional supervisor or mentor. More info here.
  • APPLICATIONS ARE DUE FEB. 18, 2011. Recipients will be notified by March 22.
EdCom diversity fellowship (3):
  • WHAT YOU GET: conference registration, one-year EdCom membership, free tickets to EdCom events, and a EdCom mentor to hang out with you during the conference.
  • YOU MUST BE: a full-time graduate student in museum studies/education or new museum professional (3 or fewer years experience).
  • ALSO, YOU MUST: be a person of color.
  • TO APPLY: fill out this form, provide a resume, and a letter of endorsement. More info here.
  • APPLICATIONS ARE DUE JAN. 14, 2011. Recipients will be notified by February.

Hope to see you in Houston!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

How I Got Here

Last week marked four years for the Museum 2.0 blog, and it got me thinking about how and why I first started doing this. People--especially young folks looking to break into the museum business--often ask me how I got here. This seems like an appropriate time to share the story. It's a long post, and you might not be interested. This is for those who ask for it again and again.

Ed Rodley recently wrote a blog post about museum jobs entitled "Getting Hired: It's Who You Know and Who Knows You." My story is more a case of "Getting Hired: It's What You Want, How Aggressive You Are, and What Ideas You Can Offer."

Part 1: It's What You Want

In 2002, I was finishing a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at WPI, a hands-on, technical university in Worcester, Massachusetts. I'd always believed in engineering as a creative path to changing the world, and my professors encouraged that mindset. But internship after internship didn't live up to those expectations. I met lovely people in engineering, but I found the work to be too detail-oriented and microscopic in scope to satisfy me. I had a healthy second life as a slam poet, and I loved the world of artists and performance. I'd always joked that my dream job was to design pinball machines--a technical problem wrapped in creativity and pleasure. There's not a lot of work in pinball, and I had a deep secondary interest in unschooling and free-choice learning. So when I finished my bachelor's degree, I traded engineering opportunities for science center internships and was instantly hooked.

I never pursued or wanted to pursue a graduate degree. I've always been good at school but suspicious of the gold stars. I wanted to be in the real world as soon as possible. And while my parents were a bit nervous about me turning away from engineering, they trusted me. I've always had confidence that I can make the life that I want, and I credit them for empowering me with that perspective.

Part 2: It's How Aggressive You Are

My first year in museums, I tried to get as much broad experience as possible. I went to two science centers, one huge (Museum of Science Boston) and one tiny (Acton Science Discovery Museum), and told them: "I'll work for you for free for three months, and then let's talk about whether you are going to pay me." I stayed at both for about 8 months, making about $7/hour by the end. I believe that setting that expectation at the outset made a big difference both in my eventual pay and the responsibilities offered to me.

At the tiny science center, I got to do everything from leading programs to building exhibits to managing volunteers to cleaning snot off of plexiglass. At the big one, I worked on a small project with teens to design science exhibits for community centers in their own neighborhoods. I learned to appreciate the audience reach of a big institution while vastly preferring the diversity of work and lack of bureaucracy of a small one.

I also learned that the best money in museums for someone who's starting out is in art modeling. After a long day running around a science center, I would show up at the Worcester Art Museum in the evening and make $20 just to stand around and listen to a painting instructor talk about art. It was like getting paid to process the day in a lovely setting. I survived the first half of 2003 financially on art modeling and poetry gigs.

By the spring of 2003 I felt I'd learned what I could in Boston and tried to figure out where to go next. I applied to work for This American Life (rejected) and in the meantime fell in love with someone who lived in Washington D.C. So I packed up and moved down the East Coast. In DC, I worked half-time for NASA as an electrical engineer and half-time for the Capital Children's Museum (now defunct) as a science educator. I made $26/hour at NASA and $7.25/hour at the Museum. While I'd often grit my teeth and think "one hour doing math in a peaceful room equals three hours running like crazy around this museum," I loved the museum work more. I wrote puppet shows about science and ran a "stump the mathematician" booth. I designed electricity workshops for families. Every time a kid said, "I never knew science could be like this!" I got hooked all over again.

In the spring of 2004, I quit both my jobs and decided to try to get a full-time position in a museum. My goal was to find an incredible professional to work for in an institution that was small enough that I could actually make a contribution. I didn't really care what kind of museum I went to as long as I could work for a rock star. After being rejected for a job at the Institute of Learning Innovation (founded by one of my heroes, John Falk), I discovered that person in Anna Slafer. Anna had been the founding Curator of Education at the National Building Museum, led the Rolling Rainforest project, and was a real innovator in developing in-depth participatory design experiences with community members (though I wouldn't have used those words at the time). In 2004, Anna was the Director of Exhibitions and Programs at the International Spy Museum. I wrote her a letter expressing my admiration for her and what I thought I could contribute to her department, and then I pestered her and her staff for weeks until they'd talk to me.

Eventually, they had an opening for "Exhibits and Programs Associate"--a low-level jack of all trades position supporting the department. I didn't have the graduate degree they wanted, but I tried to differentiate myself by really demonstrating the specific ways I could enhance their work. For the second interview, I even built a little lie detector and brought it in. I made it clear that I could do the job and was thoughtful about what they were trying to achieve.

The Spy Museum was a dream place for me. The reach is huge--at the time, about 800,000 visitors per year--but the staff is tiny. We had only eight people doing everything related to content and programming at the museum. In my first six months, I got to help research and install a temporary exhibition, manage youth and adult programs, start a podcasting program, and learn how to run department budgets. I tried to master the administrative work as quickly as possible so I could keep volunteering for other creative projects.

Six months in, the Museum committed to creating a highly interactive, separate ticket "you be the spy" experience (now open and named Operation Spy). It was going to be developed by contractors and overseen by Anna. I went to Anna and argued that we should have someone internally who could lead the creative development and manage the process under her--someone without all the other responsibilities that Anna had as a department head. I promised to commit to stay through the opening if she'd let me take on this role, and I suggested that she could keep me at my (low) salary instead of hiring an expensive project coordinator. I also told her if I couldn't work on this project, I'd likely move to the West Coast within six months.

Anna accepted my proposal. I stayed on for three exhilarating years, during which I got to develop story, game, and scenic elements for the project, prototype the experience, manage contracts and contractors, and be intimately involved in every aspect of a huge and complex project. I learned about game design, theme park design, video production, script-writing, show programming, and air compressors, working with cranks and fire marshals and brilliant folks of all kinds. It was exhausting, stressful work, and I loved it.

Part 3: It's What Ideas You Can Offer

I started the Museum 2.0 blog in November of 2006, about halfway through my work on Operation Spy. While now the blog's a big part of my life, at the time, it just felt like an experiment--a place for me to develop my ideas in a public setting.

The blog started with a conference experience. I'd been attending conferences like ASTC for a couple of years and had mostly been incredibly shy. I knew how to be assertive and social in small settings like my museum but not in larger groups. I'd see exhibit people I wanted to learn from, people like Kathleen McLean and Paul Martin and Darcie Fohrman, but I literally didn't know how to talk to them.

When Kathleen starting talking at ASTC in 2006 about the idea of a "wikimuseum" and visitors as users, I realized it was something I wanted to explore further. I started the blog as a personal learning activity, but also for the dorkiest reason in the world: to have something to talk about with my heroes. I had this dream that I would write about a topic they cared about, send them an email about it, and maybe the conversation would go somewhere.

It didn't happen like that, but other things happened instead. First, blogging gave me the confidence and drive to call up people who did cool projects and talk to them. I started meeting people through the blog--both those I interviewed and early readers who commented. I also found that blogging was a great outlet for the side of me that missed my previous life as a poet. Like slam poetry, blogging is writing for an immediate and hopefully vocal audience. Blogging helped me develop my ideas, engage in reflective practice, and pursue a growing passion for visitor participation in museums (and it's funny to look back and realize the first lines of my book came from one of the very first posts).

By summer of 2007, when I left the Spy Museum to move to California, the blog was a big deal. At AAM and ASTC in 2007, people I'd never met, people who would never talk to me the year prior, were eagerly approaching me saying, "Oh, you're Nina Simon!" This phenomenon has grown tremendously over the last few years, but it was never as strange as it was in 2007, when I viscerally felt the difference a year of blogging had made in my career and network of colleagues.

The blog naturally and easily spawned a consulting business, but even more importantly, it connected me with a whole world of inspiring, challenging, thoughtful colleagues. Heroes I admired from afar became friends and mentors. I'll never forget when Elaine Heumann Gurian cold-emailed me in 2007 to ask if I would consider reviewing a new paper she was writing. It was like the God calling to see if I could give my opinion on a new planet. I've been struck again and again by how generous people in this field have been towards me. Instead of seeing me as a threat or a young person not worthy of their attention, experienced members of this field have given me their time, conversation, and guidance.

Now, as a freelancer, my work combines long-term, creatively challenging participatory exhibit projects with lots of little workshops and brainstorming sessions with institutions around the world. I'm associated with a narrow niche (visitor participation and social engagement), so people call me specifically for that, which means I don't have to pitch "my approach" to hesitant potential clients. I'm getting weary of the travel, but I've learned a ton in the past three years and have gotten to do some incredibly cool things. As one of my friends says, "You're lucky. You get paid to go give people ideas." It is lucky. I feel that way every day.

Blogging radically changed my understanding of how you progress in the museum field. Before the blog, I assumed the way you moved up was by taking on bigger jobs and projects over time. I thought I would be judged for new opportunities based on prior work. But as it has turned out, almost none of my consulting clients care about my experience at the Spy Museum or other institutions. They don't care how young I am. They care about the blog. They care about the ideas. And while I'm proud that I have the experience and competence to get the work done, I'm always surprised at how little clients seem to worry about that.

Possibly Transferrable Generalized Lessons

This is the most self-oriented post I think I've ever written. I don't pretend that anyone else can or should follow my path into the field; everyone approaches learning and careers differently. But here are a few things I think worked for me and might work for you:
  • Be aggressive and clear about your intentions. Tell prospective employers or supervisors what exactly you want to do, what you expect to accomplish, and what you want to receive. Bosses are like boyfriends; they're not mind readers. You have to tell them what you want. Lay out your goals so they understand where you're heading and hopefully can help you get there.
  • Articulate what you can do for your organization, not what you can do generally. Many people focus job application cover letters and interview content on what they've done so far. That's fine, but for a prospective employer, it's much more powerful if you can explain specifically how your skills will improve their organization. It's not overreaching to tell an interviewer your ideas for programs or exhibit fixes or even to mock up an example. It's a good way to demonstrate thoughtful intent, and at the same time, to see if your ideas are welcome.
  • Take opportunities to do things you love, even if it means more work. If I had spent all my time at the Spy Museum on the admin part of my job, Anna would have seen me as a great administrative assistant. Instead, I got all the admin work done quickly and well and spent extra time differentiating myself as a creative producer. That made her see me as a creative asset beyond my initial job description.
  • Seek out mentors. I'd rather work for someone brilliant somewhere lousy than vice versa. Even at conferences, I tend to pick sessions 75% based on people, 25% based on content. This may be a personal defect, but I learn more from people who inspire me.
  • Find a starting point for conversation. At those conferences five years ago, I literally didn't even know what I might say to someone like Kathleen McLean. It took blogging and developing a specific interest for me to gain the confidence and voice to know what I wanted to ask. (I'm fundamentally terrible in cocktail party/conference situations, so if you're more naturally shmoozey, you probably don't share this problem of finding something to say.)
  • Share your ideas. I used to say that the Museum 2.0 blog's popularity was a case of "right place, right time." I expected the museum blogosphere to explode in 2007 or 2008. But here we are in 2010 and I can count on my hands the number of frequently-updated blogs by people sharing ideas and experiences in the museum field. There is lots of room for new voices online. If writing isn't the way you like to share your ideas, there's room for video series and podcasts and drawings and photo sets too.
I hope this is helpful for someone. If you have any questions, I'm happy to share more. Thanks for reading, discussing, cheerleading, arguing, and being part of this exploration for four great years.