thoughts on new media strategy

We’ve been thinking about new media as a possible session at the Affiliations annual conference, and also wondering,  what does this even mean?  there is alot of talk in museum circles about digitization, web 2.0, social networking, etc., but how do you make sense of it and actually make it meaningful for your museum or organization?

We’re fortunate at the Smithsonian to have a Director of Web and New Media Strategy who thinks about this all the time.  He recently invited Josh Greenberg, director of digital media and scholarship at the New York Public Library, to lead a fascinating seminar for Smithsonian staff and share his thoughts on their efforts to develop a coherent policy.  Among his many salient points:

we are shifting from a world defined by scarcity of access to scarcity of attention.  Design accordingly.

make information access user-centric, not system-centric.  this was particularly challenging to NYPL… people go to their site to search their catalog, right?  No.  they go to find out the hours of their local library, to see if any events are going on, or find a literacy curriculum.  keep in mind that what you think your users are looking for may not be true in practice.

meet users where they are.  NYPL wanted to find out why their ‘homework help’ site was so poorly visited.  guess what?  kids don’t use the library’s site when doing homework – they use google or wikipedia almost exclusively.  AND, the majority of traffic for kids online goes through platforms like facebook, itunes or instant messagers.  so don’t reinvent the wheel – just put yourself (via widgets, etc.) in the places where your users already are.  this goes for staff too.  if your staff has expertise in a certain area, encourage them to comment as an expert on relevant blogs, or respond to newspaper articles online, etc.

every one of your web pages is a home page.  alot of users will find you because something, somewhere, on your site pops up in their Google search.  make sure that if a user finds you via some remote page deep in your site, they can identify your organization and get back to your home page.

finally, digitization is not an end unto itself.  it’s a means for encouraging creative use of your content.  which means, to some degree, you have to let go of absolute authority over it, and let users make it their own. 

What do YOU think?  Interested in a session or more conversation about this?          




Star Spangled Banner

Countdown to November 21st: National Museum of American History reopens

 View of the Monumentimage_1_4458.jpgimage_1_4452.jpg


For the past 2+ years we here in Washington, DC have been awaiting not only the election results of the U.S. Presidential campaign, but the reopening of the Smithsonian’s American History Museum. The museum will finally reopen its doors once again to the public on Friday November 21, 2008. The opening celebration will include a “festival” – a weekend chock full of family programming. As very clearly articulated on the museum’s website the renovation will be a “transformation” of what was once a dated, dark building. Possibly the most striking new feature is the atrium skylight opening up the center of the building on all levels, finally allowing natural light to highlight the visitors experience.

The renovation will dramatically transform the museum and create new ways to present the objects of our nation’s past. The building will be much easier to navigate with a central staircase between the first and second floors.  New and improved features include 10-foot-high artifact walls on both the first and second floors showcasing some of the museum’s 3 million objects, a new welcome center, a state of the art exhibition hall for the Star Spangled Banner and new museum stores. The transportation hall will encompass nearly 26,000 square feet, includes 340 objects, and features 19 historic settings in chronological order. America On the Move is still a popular favorite at the museum.  As an opening bonus, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address will be on view from November 21, 2008  through January 4, 2009. 

For more information about the renovation and reopening, visit the museum’s website at

SI Channel award

SI Channel wins its first Emmy

nature_gold.gif     On September 24, the Smithsonian Channel’s ‘The Magic of Motion’ won the network its first emmy for outstanding achievement in cinematography in nature documentary.  At only just over a year old, SI Channel is the youngest network to win such a prize.  The show is part of Nature Tech – a series that explains biometrics – bringing technology and nature together.

Affiliates recently received a mailing from the Channel inviting them to collaborate and partner – either through joint marketing or by submitting story ideas. 

the Freer Sackler’s new cutting-edge bluetooth technology

From their press release:

Nath YogiThe digital marketing industry is growing rapidly and the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery are taking advantage of its momentum. The museums are launching a marketing campaign using Bluetooth technology for the opening of “Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur,” Oct. 11 through Jan. 4, 2009, at the Sackler Gallery.

Already a phenomenon in Europe and Asia, and now launching in cities across the United States, this new medium of advertising prompts Bluetooth phone users to opt-in to receive a free downloadable message. Clear Channel Outdoor and Qwikker, the leading providers of location-based mobile content distribution infrastructure, are offering this mode of advertising. Bluetooth-enabled bus shelters, located in Washington, D.C.’s major pedestrian areas, will deploy a silent prompt to mobile users with Bluetooth within a 30-foot radius.

The galleries will be able to target new and younger audiences through this innovative medium of advertising. A message from the Smithsonian will appear on pedestrians’ mobile screens, and those who accept the message will receive a detail of the bus shelter advertisement and a message urging them to visit the featured exhibition, “Garden and Cosmos.” This advertisement magnifies the eyes of a Nath Yogi from the exhibition and gives users the opportunity to use the artwork as wallpaper for their mobile devices.

How cool is that?! Read the Associated Press story about it.

Secretary Clough’s first town hall meeting

Secretary Clough at the CastleOn July 22, to a standing-  
room only crowd of 
SI staff packed into
the Baird auditorium
at Natural History,
Secretary Clough held his   
first town hall meeting,
and outlined his immediate
priorities in short order. 
With only three weeks on
the job, Secretary Clough
had been busy visiting as many units and offices as possible, and repeatedly referred to the Smithsonian as a “potent resource for the nation.”  His repeated call for creativity, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and reaching as many people, globally, as possible through our work, were all encouraging signposts for the future.

Governance reform was at the top of the list of his priorities, and the implementation of new policy statements regarding ethics and governance at the Smithsonian is paramount.  Taking care of the Arts and Industries Building “sooner than later” was also raised as a priority, much to the staff’s relief.

The Smithsonian will also rewrite its strategic plan, targeted for completion in a year, which includes building a vibrant, inspiring vision for our future.  He stressed the need for a comprehensive, creative, inclusive process that will produce this strategic plan.  As always, we want to hear from Affiliates – what would you like to see from the Smithsonian going forward?  How could we serve you and your constituencies better?! 

Smithsonian on Flickr

Just last month, the Smithsonian made its debut on Flickr – the free photo sharing website.  Hundreds of images from our collections have been uploaded.  Be a virtual curator – tell us your thoughts about the photographs and your comments will enrich the collection.  Tag them and see how they relate to other viewers’ choices or  your own.  Or, just browse the images, learn more about them, and enjoy.

Click here to explore the images.