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October 6, 2010

[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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March 27, 2009

Long-tail museum

Jeff Gates posts about how the Smithsonian American Art Museum is facing the fact that it’s a long-tail phenomenon:

Our Web statistics showed that the number of visitors to our top ten sections paled when compared with the total number of visitors for all other pages, even though only a few people viewed each page. The challenge: how could we make it easier for our online visitors to find things of interest even if that information is buried deep in our site?

He continues:

Museums are changing. Like many other organizations, our hierarchical structure has historically disseminated information from our experts to our visitors. The envisioned twenty-first-century model, however, is more level. Instead of a one-way presentation, our online visitors are often interested in having a conversation with our curators and content providers. In response, many of us at American Art have been looking for ways to engage our public by designing applications that promote dialogue. By encouraging user-generated content and by distributing our assets beyond our own Web site and out across the Internet, we hope to make our content easier to find. In doing so, we are trying to fulfill our long tail strategy. In order to succeed we will need to approach our jobs differently.

And that’s just the introduction.

Meanwhile, the Library of Congress has expanded on its successful 15.7M views Flickr experiment and is now posting material at iTunes and YouTube.

Among the items Web surfers can expect on iTunes and YouTube are 100-year-old films from Thomas Edison’s studio, book talks with contemporary authors, early industrial films from Westinghouse factories, first-person audio accounts of life in slavery, and inside looks into the library’s holdings, including the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence and the contents of President Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night of his assassination.

This is all getting just too cool. Time to put the toys back on shelves behind glass


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