Sunday, 24 February 2008

More on cultural heritage and resistance to the participatory web

I've realised that in my post on 'Resistance to the participatory web from within the cultural heritage sector?', I should have made it clear that I wasn't thinking specifically of people within my current organisation. I've been lucky enough to meet a range of people from different institutions at various events or conferences, and when I get a chance I keep up with various cultural heritage email discussion lists and blogs. One way or another I've been quietly observing discussions about the participatory web from a wide range of perspectives within the cultural heritage and IT sectors for some time.

Ok, that said, the responses have been interesting.

Thomas at Medical Museion said:
This are interesting observations, and I wonder: Can this resistance perhaps be understood in terms of an opposition among curators against a perceived profanation of the sacred character of the museum? In the same way as Wikipedia and other user-generated content websites have been viewed with skepticism from the side of many academics — not just because they may contain errors (which encyclopedia doesn’t?), but also because it is a preceived profanation of Academia. (For earlier posts about profanation of the museum as a sacred institution, see here and here.). Any ideas?
I'm still thinking about this. I guess I don't regard museums as sacred institutions, but then as I don't produce interpretative or collection-based content that could be challenged from outside the institution, I haven't had a vested interest in retaining or reinforcing authority.

Tom Goskar at Past Thinking provided an interesting example of the visibility and usefulness of user-generated content compared to official content and concluded:

People like to talk about ancient sites, they like to share their photos and experiences. These websites are all great examples of the vibrancy of feeling about our ancient past.

For me that's one of the great joys of working in the cultural heritage sector - nearly everyone I meet (which may be a biased sample) has some sense of connection to museums and the history they represent.

The growth of internet forums on every topic conceivable shows that people enjoy and/or find value in sharing their observations, opinions or information on a range of subjects, including cultural heritage objects or sites. Does cultural heritage elicit a particular response that is motivated by a sense of ownership, not necessarily of the objects themselves, but rather of the experience of, or access to, the objects?

It seems clear that we should try and hook into established spaces and existing conversations about our objects or collections, and perhaps create appropriate spaces to host those conversations if they aren't already happening. We could also consider participating in those conversations, whether as interested individuals or as representatives of our institutions.

However institutional involvement with and exposure to user-generated content could have quite different implications. It not only changes the context in which the content is assessed but it also lends a greater air of authority to the dialogues. This seems to be where some of the anxiety or resistance to the participatory web resides. Institutions or disciplines that have adapted to the idea of using new technologies like blogs or podcasts to disseminate information may baulk at the idea that they should actually read, let alone engage with any user-generated content created in response to their content or collections.

Alun wrote at Vidi:
Interesting thoughts on how Web 2.0 is or isn’t used. I think one issue is a question of marking authorship, which is why Flickr may be more acceptable than a Wiki.
I think that's a good observation. Sites like Amazon also effectively differentiate between official content from publishers/authors and user reviews (in addition to 'recommendation'-type content based on the viewing habits of other users).

Another difference between Flickr and a wiki is that the external user cannot edit the original content of the institutional author. User-generated content sites like the National Archives wiki can capture the valuable knowledge generated when external people access collections and archives, but when this user-generated content is intermingled with, and might edit or correct, 'official' content it may prove a difficult challenge for institutions.

The issue of whether (and how) museums respond to user-generated content, and how user-generated content could be evaluated and integrated with museum-generated content is still unresolved across the cultural heritage sector and may ultimately vary by institution or discipline.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mia. There has been some discussion about this at both the fresh + new blog and my own Audience Research blog in a post about web trends with some useful links. We also talked about this at last Friday's Social Media and Cultural Communication conference (and also on the Ning group!).