Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A comment on Smithsonian Blogs

The Smithsonian blogs. Eye Level is perhaps the best known of the blogs, and possibly the oldest. I've always found Office of Exhibits Central most interesting, even though posts are rare. And most of the others, I've not looked at.

A funny thing happened recently; I find myself on the press release email list for Smithsonian web based initiatives. This makes some sense; after all, here I am blogging about them. The most recent release is an announcement for The Bigger Picture blog, "which presents an inside look at the Smithsonian’s photography collections and invites audiences to engage in an online discussion about photography’s powerful impact on our world." So I hop on over to check it out. I am immediately annoyed by the layout. There's a small photo and a short paragraph before a jump, or a cut, or whatever you prefer to call the link which hides most of the content. This bugs me. I don't find it good for browsing; I don't want to click all those links, and then go back and clink more links.

As with the other Smithsonian blogs, I find the information and images presented on the blog to be intriguing. But I still feel like the real human voice is being hidden behind layers of editing. I could be wrong; maybe the Smithsonian is relaxing their approval structures, and I just prefer the hyper-personal voice for a blog (or something between the institutionally edited and the OMG LULZ!!!1!! voices, anyway). But it just feels disingenuous. [Edited to Add: Catherine Shteynberg sets me straight in the comments: Authors are not edited! Way to go, Smithsonian. I recall seeing a presentation about a different .si blog which showed a very layered process for creating content and tends to color my thinking about the way things are done. Then again, my biases are at least two years out of date.] I get the same sense looking at the comments; it almost feels like the various authors of the blog are required to post comments on the other posts. Only a few comments struck me as coming from individuals outside the project. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it just strikes me funny when I think of blogs as a way to engage community and stakeholders outside the institution.

So, while I commend the Smithsonian for pursuing these avenues to disseminate information which might otherwise not be shared with a potentially large audience, I still have my misgivings about the way it's being presented. Oh. And here's a link to the press release: Click me.


Daniel said...

I like the format. There's a diverse assortment of topics, so an overview of posts is much more helpful to browsing than having every last detail on the front page would be. The RSS feed includes the full articles and a larger picture, so you don't have to do any clicking through if you're a regular reader.

And I don't know what you mean about the voice. It seems completely natural to me.

Catherine Shteynberg said...

Lynn, thank you so much for feedback about our new blog, THE BIGGER PICTURE--we'll definitely keep it in mind. And Daniel, thanks for checking us out.

We actually don't edit any of the content that comes from our many different blog authors. However, we really got off the ground a little over a month ago and so we're still building up a readership and experimenting with tone and content. We absolutely welcome feedback from you and your readers--comments would definitely enrich the discussion and will guide future posts! Also, feel free to also suggest any topics that you all might want to hear more about!