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[2b2k] Smithsonian Commons

The deadline for my book is looming, but I spoke today with Michael Edson, Director of Web and New Media Strategy at the Smithsonian, and I’d love to include his idea for a Smithsonian Commons.

The Smithsonian Commons would make publicly available digital content and information drawn from the magnificent Smithsonian collections, allowing visitors to interact with it, repost it, add to it, and mash it up. It begins with being able to find everything about, say Theodore Roosevelt, that is currently dispersed across multiple connections and museums: photos, books, the original Teddy bear, recordings of the TR campaign song, a commemorative medal, a car named after him, contemporary paintings of his exploits, the chaps he wore on his ranch…But Michael is actually most enthusiastic about the “network effects” that can accrue to knowledge when you let lots of people add what they know, either on the Commons site itself or out across the whole linked Internet.

Smithsonian Commons goes way beyond putting online as much of our national museum as possible — which should be enough to justify its creation. It goes beyond bringing to bear everything curators, experts, and passionate visitors know to increase our understanding of what is there. By allowing us to discover connections, link in and out, and add ideas and knowledge, what used to be a “mere” collection will be an embedded part of countless webs of knowledge that in turn add value to one another. That is to say, we will be able to take up the objects of our heritage in ways that will make them more distinctly and uniquely ours than ever before.

Let’s hope Smithsonian Commons goes from idea to a national — global — center of ideas, creativity, knowledge, and learning.

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2 Responses to “[2b2k] Smithsonian Commons”

  1. Very good idea. All this stuff belongs to everybody and everybody should see it.

    It might be a good idea to have a private company build the site and operate it with ad supported revenue. The Smithsonian would be a voting partner on the operation and provide the content at cost to the operator who would cover costs of preparing it and collecting it to the site and reimburse the smithsonian.

    Make it a 5-year contract that people would have to bid on every 5 years like any other government contract.

    It would be tricky to do and take some creative thinking. The object is to avoid building another USPS that is under government control or allowing the company with the deepest pockets to own it forever. Both of those would be undesirable. This is all of our property and heritage in the final count, not to be given away or fumbled by another government operation.

    MM @shooteyeout

  2. […] will be an embedded part of countless webs of knowledge that in turn add value to one anotherDavid WeinbergerThe Smithsonian Commons project is a new initiative and forms part of the digital presence of the […]

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