Thursday, September 18, 2008

Twitter, Flickr, and Blogging: Using Free Online Applications to Facilitate Visitor Feedback

Last Friday I was part of a panel at AASLH about facilitating visitor feedback using technology. The other speakers focused on technology in the gallery, especially the potential of cellular phones. I spoke about using free online applications, focusing on blogging, Twitter, and Flickr. I'm posting my powerpoint slides here for your perusal, along with some narration to give you a better idea of what I spoke about. I gloss over a lot of what I assume readers of this blog might know, but am happy to elaborate if desired.

Go below the jump for the rest of the presentation. (Click on any slide to embiggen)

Today there are so many online applications that it can quickly become confusing.

That's why I am going to speak about only three kinds of applications: Blogging, where Blogger and Wordpress are two popular platforms; Microblogging, which includes such applications as Twitter, Jaiku, and Plurk; and Photo Sharing, where I will talk about flickr.

So these three applications all have 4 main things in common. They are free and online, otherwise I wouldn't be speaking about them today. They all rely on user generated content - that's content provided by you. And they all have self selected audiences - no one has to interact with a museum on the internet, so those who do have chosen to for some reason.

(Slide which provides a definition/overview of what blogging is - essentially I read the slide and elaborated slightly)

So this is an example of a museum blog. This is the blog which I maintain for my institution. As you can see, it's also a subject specific blog, dealing primarily with Collections Management. This is a screenshot of a semi-regular feature called "Whatzit?" where I feature an object, or an extreme close up of the object, offer some minimal information on the object such as that it is metal, and challenge my readers to guess what it is.

The primary method of receiving feedback through a blog is by comments which readers leave on your post. This is the bottom of the post in the previous slide. I had two people leave comments guessing what the object is. It's a fluting iron, by the way. So, just two comments, and one of those comments came from a friend of mine.

So, if you're blogging, how can you faciliate feedback? (You do the things on this slide.) By showing your presence and your interest in what people are saying to you through comments on the blogs, you are demonstrating that you value the feedback, which may lead to continued commenting and interaction. But, in general, you should expect fairly low levels of feedback to a blog. Nina Simon, who writes the excellent museum tech blog Museum 2.0, reports that she has an approximately .5% comment rate. Which means that people may be reading your content, but they might not be talking back to you. Think of it as a large lecture course at a University where lots of people might show up, but very few will speak up.

If blogging is a lecture course, microblogging is a seminar course. The brief updates and following structure, together with the direct response function creates a more informal, interactive environment. Today I'll be focusing on Twitter.

This is a screen shot of the Twitter profile of the Renton History in Museum in Renton, WA. The museum has begun experimenting with various online applications in the past couple of months, and I think they're doing a great job on Twitter. You can see that the "About" in the sidebar has all the pertinent information about the institution, and you can also see how many people are following Renton History's tweets, and how many people Renton History is following. You can also see that Renton History is tweeting about all kinds of things - about a program, about stories of regional interest, and is participating in the direct @ response.

On Twitter, feedback is mainly in the form of @ responses. And this story demonstrates the power of direct interaction. The user whose tweet is shown here had worked within eyeshot of the Renton History Museum for some time, but had never visited. One way or another, they ended up communicating on Twitter and the user came to visit the museum, something he may not have considered doing before. The museum has made a personal connection through Twitter.

(This is how you can facilitate feedback on Twitter.) By using Twitter you can expect relatively low levels (only 38 people are currently following Renton History's tweets) of higher quality interaction.

The final application I will be speaking about is Flickr. Any one who has used Flickr knows that it is more than just photosharing. Using flickr you can (do the things listed on this slide, which I explained).

This is a screen shot from Renton History Museum's flickr account. You can see that the photo in question (of a restored coal car being brought into the museum) is tagged, put in a set, and has a description.

Here is an example of a history organization using a group to facilitate interaction. You can see that there are more than 50 members in the group who have contributed over 1300 photos to the group photo pool. To me this indicates a real interest and motivation on the part of flickr members to be involved. You can also see that there is a message board at the bottom where anyone can begin a discussion. You can also see that the message board hasn't been used in three months.

(I explain briefly what the Commons is.) This is a photo from the Powerhouse Museum in Australia and the comments left on the post. Some comments are just marveling that people in the past went hiking in full dress, while others, notably the second from the bottom, adds more information to the photo. The Powerhouse Museum leaves the last comment, thanking the commenter for adding to the information about the photo.

There are three main kinds of feedback that can be expected on flickr (see slide), and to facilitate feedback, you should get involved and be active (see slide).

So how might you get started with all of this? Just do it!


Thursday, September 11, 2008

AASLH 2008 Day 2

Welcome back to sunny Rochester!

Day two started out in a session updating everyone on the Connecting to Collections initiative, which was interesting. I was truly hoping to hear anecdotes about success stories, but that was not the focus. Instead the focus was on updates about the program rather than its impact.

The morning plenary guest speak was Lynn Sherr, of ABC news and multiple books. She spoke fascinatingly about women's history, the history of women's history, and Susan B. Anthony. She was an excellent speaker and I was tempted to buy her book and get it signed as a gift for a relative.

I then skipped the luncheon, the meeting of the membership, and the silent auction, returning for the afternoon concurrent session. I attended a session where a conservator, a curator, and an exhibits person discussed issues of use and object presentation. It was an engaging session, with a lot of back and forth and interesting issues brought forward.

I then attended the evening reception at the Strong Museum of Play. This was excellent. This is the part of the entry where I start to get excited about today. The Strong Museum is Really Really Big. It's awesome in the awe sense of the word, especially if you love children's things and child like wonder. I was almost giddy when I walked into freaking Sesame Street.

I took advantage of behind the scenes tours of the collections space (15,000 square feet!!!) and of the exhibits construction/planning space. The collections space was a-freaking-mazing. Huge and with beautiful storage units and very interesting collections. I have some really remarkable images, but not uploaded. Expect a photo post in the future to make up for this.

Right now it is getting late and I want to run through my presentation for tomorrow one more time. I'll be putting that up on the blog later as well... eventually.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

AASLH 2008 Day 1

Phew! Day one of the annual meeting of the American Association of State and Local History is over. It's being held in lovely downtown Rochester where it is surprisingly difficult to eat dinner after 8 pm for under $10 within walking distance of the hotel (assuming you are a young woman walking alone in an unfamiliar city after dark... so we're talking 2-3 blocks in any direction).

I began my morning by attending a session on Using Digital Collections to Expand Your Audiences. It was nothing new or exciting. In first, the first speaker was extremely underwhelming and thought it was wonderful that a new image shows up everytime you load a certain webpage. One gentleman spoke about how easy it is to make video in house. His was the most interesting of the session. The other two gentlemen spoke about their specific archive digitization projects which, while interesting, were not really helpful or inspiring.

At the keynote address, I sat in the back of the room and knit on my sock. This is not disrespectful; I do actually listen better when my hands are occupied. Two other knitters spotted me and joined in, one even returning to her room to get her knitting. The keynote speaker, Bernice Johnson Reagon, was really wonderful. And she managed to get several hundred historians, archivists, librarians, and museum folk to sing along in a call and response. I took video. But the hotel wireless is slow, so I cannot upload it to prove this to you.

Second session of the day addressed Museum Studies Programs and the Future of the Profession. Unimpressed. Had been hoping for something interesting, something new to chew on. But I heard about how the Cooperstown and GW programs work and that there are too many people with Master's Degrees applying for too few jobs and that there are too few people with the kind of experience necessary to be the director of medium and large institutions.

Final session of the day went Beyond Construcction: Transformational Small Museums Building Projects. Four museums build and renovate. Very interesting stuff. Had been hoping for information on packing and moving collections, which was not the main focus. Nonetheless, it was the most interesting session I attended all day.

I have to say, it feels good to be among other museum professionals. While my job is an excellent experience, I am working alone among non-museum professionals, and certainly, non-museum generalists. I was even able to strike up a conversation about blogs during one of the "networking breaks." Ice cream was provided.