Saturday, 9 February 2008

Resistance to the participatory web from within the cultural heritage sector?

Various conversations I've been having over the past few weeks have given me the idea that resistance to the 'participatory web' (Web 2.0/social networking sites/user-generated content) could in part be based along disciplinary lines - I'd love to follow that up and find out if art historians are more resistant than social historians, for example.

Or does it depend on the context - whether the user-generated content occurs in or outside the official website, or whether the audience is an unknown mass of the general public or a community of specialists, educators or peers? Does it depend on the age of the individual? Is it about control? Or fear that we are making unknown content appear 'trustworthy' through its association with our institutions? Is it seen as unprofessional, or as pandering to the lowest common denominator?

I'm also interested in how this resistance is demonstrated - is it active (people within the institution refuse permission) or passive (people just don't produce content)?

Is user-generated content more acceptable in some contexts than others? Does it matter whether visitors are commenting on existing content with clear lines between institutional- and user-generated content (perhaps on Flickr) or editing the curators opinion (perhaps on the National Archives' Your Archive wiki)? Are reminiscences ok when other forms of user-generated content aren't? Does the ability to relate content back to a user profile make a difference?

At this point all I have is a lot of questions. If you have any experiences of resistance to or cooperation with participator web projects of your own, or know of research in this area, I'd love to hear from you.

As an aside, I suspect it doesn't help that lots of institutions block Facebook, YouTube, etc. I've always thought people should at least be able to view whatever 'timewasting' sites they like in their own lunchbreak, and it would mean that staff are more likely to be familiar with the environments in which their content might appear.


  1. Referring also to a blog post that refers to yours here:

    For a new social networking site to take off you first need to have compelling content, which in turn leads to enough momentum of visitors to sustain social networking. Without this social networking will not take off.

    I don’t see this compelling content from the ‘official’ heritage sites. Get more of your collections available properly online, so you can view photographs rather than just indexes that photos exist.

    The other heritage related social networking hubs out there are the Time Team forum (obvious what the compelling content is there) and the BBC history fora (same again)

    The other reason the sites you mention appear at the top of the Google listings is because they link to each other, and are linked to by other sites.

    ‘Official’ heritage sites are in my experience very sniffy about linking to the popular web resources such as the Megalithic Portal.

    Another factor is that the database generated web pages they create for possible indexing by Google are also not at all Google friendly.
    Incoming and outgoing Links = popularity in Google…

    You also need to engage your visitors to make them active contributors, something that is not easy to do. Despite all the user generated content, according to my stats the vast majority of visitors are casual and don’t contribute.

  2. P.S. Can you add us to your blogroll

    The Megalithic Portal

    Some thought provoking posts, thanks

  3. Thanks for your useful comments!

    I'm really interested in the barriers to participation on cultural heritage sites for people who could be more engaged. Though I'm sure a number of visitors have no intention of actively creating content or at least not in a written form online.

    I'm going to be tidying up my blogroll soon, I should add you then!

    cheers, Mia