Web 2.0

Do you currently use these sites? 

 You Tube   flickr   MySpace  

Are you blogging or podcasting from your site?  If so, you’re navigating Web 2.0. 

An array of Smithsonian webmasters led a fascinating discussion today on the challenges and implications of Web 2.0, which, according to wikipedia (appropriately enough) refers to the newest generation of the web that faciliates greater user interaction in the creation and sharing of content.  Here’s some highlights from the discussion:

Who’s the authority?
  The great fear of many museums – if users are commenting and manipulating our content (collections, images, etc.), how will the public know what’s true?  SI webmasters seemed to be unified in their response to this topic – essentially, who cares?  Michael Edson of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum pointed to the New York Times, in that their site posts letters to the editor right next to articles and editorials.  The American History Museum’s Matt MacArthur highlighted their collection pages, which invite visitors to comment on featured artifacts.  It becomes fairly obvious which voice you’re reading – the Museum’s or its visitors.  Plus, let’s give our visitors the benefit of the doubt in terms of critical thinking!

How will what we do on the web affect our brand?  What’s the differences between our virtual presence, and our bricks & mortar experience?  Guess what?  For younger consumers (say, roughly under 50), there is no difference.  Brand perception is exactly the same whether they are in your building or on your website – they expect both experiences to be great, and identical. 

Super serve your niche.  When asked how to reach people who aren’t accessing your site, the answer was to focus on your core community first.  If your visitors aren’t finding high res images, or lesson plans, or your hours, easily, fix it.  A point that was made consistently was the viral nature of Web 2.0 – the better you are, the more your core, devoted visitors will “tag” you, will blog about you on their own sites, will add you to del.icio.us (look it up!).  Your popularity will grow organically.

Look for yourself!  This is a fun exercise – see (and make sure you know) what people are already saying about you.  You’d be surprised.  Tim Grove, an educator at NASM, shared his experience in finding a video on YouTube about a teen’s boring visit to the Museum!  (there are much better videos about them there too, don’t worry.)  Wonderful pictures from the 2007 Folklife Festival were posted on flickr, some with the guidance of the Smithsonian’s Photography Initiative.  Try looking up “smithsonian affiliate” on any of these sites and you’ll find some great stuff we didn’t even know existed!   

Want to know more?  AAM is all over this, and so are lots of museums.  Check out AAM’s blog, Museum 2.0.  The current issue of Museum News has an article on museums in Second Life, and plenty of articles on the topic.  The Brooklyn Museum gives a good glimpse into some cutting-edge applications (i.e., their visitor video competition on YouTube).  I would also highly recommend Stephen Johnson’s Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software which, among other things, conceptually links the characteristics of Web 2.0 with those of slime molds!

And speaking of user-generated content, what do you think?!