Chapter 3: From Me to We

There are many technical definitions for Web 2.0, but in 2006, publisher Tim O’Reilly boiled it down to a single phrase: an application that gets better the more people use it. As he explained:

Google gets smarter every time someone makes a link on the Web. Google gets smarter every time someone makes a search. It gets smarter every time someone clicks on an ad. And it immediately acts on that information to improve the experience for everyone else.[1]

This isn’t just true about Google. The more videos you rate on Netflix, the better job it does recommending films—not just to you, but to all its users. The more books in your LibraryThing library, the easier it is for people to find books they might like. These systems provide more than personalized experiences; they also provide community value.

What does a cultural institution look like that gets better the more people use it? Many people—professionals and visitors alike—see museums as getting worse the more people use them. More people means crowds between a visitor and her aesthetic experience. More people means more noise, more fingerprints, more mess. While staff members celebrate high visitation as a sign of institutional health, they privately recommend that friends visit during quiet hours for a better experience.

But what if it was possible to design an institution that enabled visitors to enhance each other’s experiences? The previous chapter addressed tools that get better the more individuals use them; this chapter explores ways to enhance visitor experiences via interactions with others. This is “me-to-we” design, which enables cultural institutions to move from personal to social engagement.

Designing experiences that get better the more people use them is not simply a question of providing experiences that are well suited to crowds. While many people cite social engagement as a primary reason for visiting museums, they don’t necessarily want to spend their entire visit talking or interacting with other visitors in groups. Successful me-to-we experiences coordinate individuals’ actions and preferences to create a useful and interesting collective result. Technologists often call this “harnessing collective intelligence.”

Consider the Ontario Science Centre’s Facing Mars traveling exhibition. The exhibition opened and closed with a question: “Would you go to Mars?” and visitors entered and exited through turnstiles labeled “yes” and “no.” This personalized experience primed visitors emotionally for the exhibit based on their personal identities. But Facing Mars went one step further. Above each turnstile an LED display showed the aggregate number of visitors who selected “yes” or “no” to date. Each visitor could watch the number tick up as she walked through her selected turnstile. She had a personal experience answering the question, and her answer made a visible contribution to the exhibition and affected the experience of others.

While the exhibition was on display at the Ontario Science Centre, about two-thirds of entering visitors answered “yes” they would go to Mars. At the exit, the numbers were reversed and only one-third still wanted to visit the red planet. Collective intelligence told visitors something very simple: lots of people think they want to go to Mars, but when they find out what’s really involved, they change their minds. This insight is interesting and surprising. And, it was more powerfully conveyed since it was based on data that visitors knew they had contributed to. This message could not be as convincingly offered in label text as it was via the displays, even if it was an underlying focus of the whole exhibit.

Visitors entered Facing Mars either through the “Yes” or “No” turnstile. The setup was duplicated at the exit so visitors would vote again on their way out.

The LED displays made visitors aware of themselves as part of a larger social network of visitors—some like them, some unlike them. For visitors whose minds were changed by the exhibition, the displays offered confirmation of a shared social shift. For visitors who did not experience a change of heart, the displays provided information that may have encouraged them to reflect on what made them unique. The LED displays created a social context for what was already a compelling personal experience by networking the individual selections of each visitor.

The Network Effect

The Facing Mars turnstiles are an example of the network effect, which translates individual actions into community benefits. The network effect is the backbone of social networks. Here’s how it works:

  1. Individuals have personalized interactions. They create content, make choices that generate data, or provide personal information in the form of profiles.
  2. An internal algorithm makes connections among the individuals. That can mean sorting profiles by interests or types, setting relationship levels among different individuals, or simply aggregating the content.
  3. The networked content is displayed or provided back to the individuals. In examples like Facing Mars or comment boards, everyone gets access to the same content. In systems like LibraryThing or Pandora (see page 46 and page 51 respectively), the content is customized to individuals to provide personalized recommendations or content streams.

The New York Hall of Science’s exhibit Near is a good physical demonstration of how these networks work.[2] Near is a floor-mounted exhibit. When you step on the Near mat, you become a node, represented by your location on the mat. Your movement is the individual action. When other people step on the mat, lighted lines indicate abstracted relationships with other nodes/people on the mat. The lights are the content output. The exhibit employs a simple algorithm: it draws a line between each node and the node nearest to it. If there are just two people, there will be two lines, one from me to you, and one from you to me. If there are several people, there will be several lines, and not all nodes will be in reciprocal relationships with just one other close node. As people move around the mat, the lines change as they get closer to some people and further from others. The more people moving on the mat, the more the light display indicates the dynamic ways that nodes can be related in a complex system.

Photo (c) Scott Snibbe.

Beyond illustrating how networks work, Near demonstrates the power of the network effect in designing multi-person exhibits. The exhibit is flexible and scalable for groups who drift in and out. The activity of walking on the mat is individual, so individuals don’t have to worry about how others’ contributions might disrupt their personal experience. But the exhibit immediately and transparently communicates the benefits of multiple individuals all acting at once, encouraging group play. Near doesn’t require visitors to explicitly work together, but it provides additional rewards when people do so.

The Balancing Act Between Networked and Social Experiences

Designing high-quality experiences for multiple users is no easy task, especially if an exhibit has to work as well for thirty people as it does for two or must accommodate both pre-defined and casual groups of users. The most scalable way to do this is to provide many optional individual actions that can add to a social experience but that are not essential to the exhibit’s success. Rather than designing exhibits with fixed roles that specific numbers of visitors must fill at the same time, you might design more flexible ways for non-participating visitors to engage peripherally in single-user interactives as spectators, helpers, or partners. For example, some museums have “quiz game” style exhibits at which individuals can answer questions in front of a large projection. While only one visitor can hold a controller, a larger group can crowd around to help him answer questions and play along.

In Near and Facing Mars, network effects allow any number of visitors’ individual actions to combine toward productive shared outputs. To make this work, designers have to respect individuals’ actions and personal space so they feel confident jumping into a social environment. If Near had required visitors to get uncomfortably close to generate connections, fewer people may have felt comfortable playing with each other on the mat.

This principle is also at work in some of the most successful multi-touch table installations in museums. Well-designed multi-touch tables promote both personal exploration and interpersonal play. People feel comfortable crowding around these tables and engaging with each other because each person can control his own zone of the table with his hand. No one can take over “your spot” but there are often opportunities to work collaboratively to beneficial group results. Everyone comes to the exhibit equally, and it’s easy to look up from what you are doing to check out what’s going on at another station or talk to another visitor. By entering via their own safe space, visitors are more willing to engage with others.

Recall the stages of social participation introduced in Chapter 1. Most unfacilitated social engagement among visitors starts with a stage three or stage four experience. The Facing Mars turnstiles offered a stage three polling experience, in which individual users’ actions were networked and presented to each other in aggregate. Most user-generated content experiences in cultural institutions are also on stage three. Visitors can produce content (write their own labels, produce stop-motion videos, etc.) and other visitors can view them. Stage three experiences tend to promote social awareness but not necessarily social engagement among visitors. I can’t respond specifically to the person who wrote the provocative message on the comment board—I can only respond to the masses. Others can see my contribution, but they can’t talk directly to me.

The difference between stage three and stage four lies in the extent to which the institution serves as a platform that mediates direct social engagement among users. For example, imagine equipping the Facing Mars entrance turnstiles with a system that offers each visitor a sticker indicating whether they chose yes or no.[3] Now, visitors who wear the stickers would see not only the aggregate responses of visitors-to-date, they can also approach other visitors in real-time in the exhibition and say, “Hey, I chose yes too!” or “Huh. I chose yes and you chose no. What makes us different?” This is an experience that cannot happen based solely on the LED displays (stage three). It also cannot happen based solely on people making selections privately for themselves (stage two).

Facing Mars could be designed on any of four stages of me-to-we design.

Stage four experiences are most useful when cultural institutions want to promote direct interpersonal engagement, or when visitors would benefit from knowing more about the unique background or profile of the other visitors using the platform. Visitors may not need a stage four experience to read each other’s memories about a historic event or find out how they compared to others in a poll. But in situations that feature opinionated content or recommendations, people like to know who’s speaking.

CASE STUDY: A Networked Show at the Anne Frank Museum

One of the best illustrations of the hazy boundary between stage three and stage four experiences is the Free2Choose experience at the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam.[4] Free2choose is a very simple interactive show in which visitors vote on their stances on issues related to freedom. It is one room, with a long, semi-circular bench with cushions and room for about 30 people to sit and stand. Every few feet on the bench, there is a small voting box about the size of a light switch with two buttons on it, one red and one green.

The visitors on the bench face a large projection screen that plays a fixed loop. First, a one-minute video clip presents an issue (for example, whether students should be allowed to wear headscarves to school). Then, a statement pops up: “Students should be allowed to wear religious symbols in school.” Visitors see a ticking countdown and are told to vote by pressing either the green (yes) or red (no) button on the voting box. At the end of the countdown, the results are shown for both “Visitors Now” and for “All Visitors” (meaning all visitors to date).

The Now vs. All display makes Free2Choose a powerful social experience. When you take a poll alone or walk into Facing Mars, there’s no suspense about the outcome. I voted yes for going to Mars, and then I saw that 65% of other visitors over time agreed with me. In Free2choose, I voted yes for headscarves, saw that 65% of all visitors agreed with me, but also saw that only 40% of the people currently in the room agreed with me. When the results for “Visitors Now” differed greatly from those of “All Visitors,” the surprise was audible. I was in one group where 100% of us voted that Protestants should be able to parade through Catholic areas of Northern Ireland, and we looked around with curiosity and complicity when we saw that only 60% of “All Visitors” agreed with us. Every group was different, so every outcome was different.

Free2choose is powerful because it introduces social tension. When I voted in the minority, I felt that I was in the minority not just conceptually but physically, in that crowd, in real-time. Because the room was often full, I found myself looking for people “like me” in the crowd. But I had no way to identify them in the faceless group of button-pushers.

And that’s where the social dimension of Free2choose (and stage three experiences generally) falls short. There is no component to the Free2choose exhibition that highlights the specific selections made by individuals in the room, and no vehicle to incite conversation among differing groups. When I visited Free2Choose, there was lots of buzz in the room—but only in whispers among familiars. At one point, I stood next to a group of British visitors who voted that flag burning should be illegal. I had voted the opposite. We were standing close enough—a few inches apart—to see each other hit the button, but I was not comfortable asking them about their decision or having a discussion about our different choices.

How could Free2choose encourage visitors to talk with each other directly about the issues? Here are some design suggestions that could foster stage four or five engagement:

  • Voting could be more public. When the results are shown, spotlights in the ceiling could illuminate areas of the room in different colors corresponding to who selected yes or no.
  • Instead of voting in place, visitors could be directed to vote by moving to one side of the room or another.
  • After the results are shown, the screen could instruct visitors to find someone in the room who voted differently from them, or just to ask their neighbor what they think about the issue or the results.
  • Visitors could be instructed to share voting stations and to have a brief discussion to come to a consensus vote. As it was, there were too few stations and people awkwardly looked on as others used them.

Not everyone would want to go to the next level and have a conversation with strangers, but based on their conversations with companions, it was clear that some visitors were deeply engaged and did want to talk about the results. In an international city like Amsterdam, in a museum focused on one girl’s extreme story that has touched the whole world, there is an enormous opportunity to go to the next level and facilitate cross-cultural discussion. As it stood, I had an interesting time comparing the results from different groups in my head. But I didn’t understand why those groups were different, and I didn’t gain more insight into how different people think about complicated human rights issues. I wanted more than just a fun interactive—I wanted to understand the other people in the room. It would have made for an extraordinary and unique experience in line with the overall mission of the Anne Frank House.

Free2choose is a perfect example of the limits of a stage three experience. Even though you are densely packed in a room with other people expressing opinions about important issues, you don’t turn to your neighbor and start talking. The stigma is too great, and there is not enough scaffolding to help you cross the social barriers. You vote and see the results (stage three), but the voting mechanism is not a social object that mediates and motivates engagement with others (stage four). And so, even though you are all together in the same room, grappling with tough issues, you will never launch into group discourse (stage five).

Finding Your Own Way In

Not every exhibit benefits from being more socially networked. The Exploratorium’s Spinning Blackboard exhibit is a good example of an exhibit that had to shift away from a networked setup to provide a high-quality multi-user experience. Spinning Blackboard invites visitors to make patterns in a spinning disc of sand. In the exhibit’s original version, visitors all worked on the same disc. They were able to easily and unthinkingly mess up each other’s patterns, which led both to confusion and frustration. The shared platform hindered rather than improved individual experiences.

The exhibit was redesigned as several adjacent spinning discs, allowing visitors to individually create their own sand patterns while remaining in discussion range with other pattern makers. This reasserted the primacy of the “me” experience while still making social engagement possible. This redesign resulted in a significant increase in number of patterns created, presumably because people were less frustrated by disruption and more able to fulfill their exploratory interests.[5]

The original version of Spinning Blackboard suffered from too many hands in the pot. Photo (c) Exploratorium.

In this case, the Exploratorium staff saw their goal as making it easier for visitors to control the sand patterns. But they could have taken a very different approach by prioritizing the social cooperation and competition that occurs when many hands dig in the sand. Consider the multi-player online game Just Letters.[6] Just Letters is an online version of refrigerator magnets in which you use your cursor to move around letters to make words. There’s no goal or score, but the multi-player environment provides diverse opportunities for people to work together or compete. At any time, there may be as many as twenty people logged in, moving around letters. A group will decide to gather together all the blue letters. Then someone else will start stealing letters to spell his name over and over. Since there’s no way for people to chat with the other players in the game, those who want to work collaboratively have to find creative ways to intuit each others’ goals and help.

The disruptiveness that plagued the original version of Spinning Blackboard is the game mechanic that makes Just Letters unpredictable, lively, and fun. I’m not suggesting that one of these experiences is better than the other, but that it is possible for social friction to generate positive user experiences. It all depends on the values and behaviors you want to promote.

Designing Mediating Technology for Social Experiences

Just Letters has something that Spinning Blackboard does not: the mediating barrier of the Internet. Because people play the game through their own personal computers, they may be more comfortable both disrupting each other’s play and collaborating with strangers than they would be in person. In this way, technology that looks like a social barrier leads instead to social engagement.

We’re all familiar with the way technological barriers can make us more comfortable socializing with strangers—for good and ill. The same comfort that allows people to bare their souls (and lie) on the Web encourages kids to make funny faces through car windows. When you interact with strangers across barriers, you are more willing to engage in ways that might be considered rude or disruptive if you were together in person. This means that if you design the right barrier, you can invite visitors to engage with each other in some unusual and valuable ways.

Two layers of technology mediate Just Letters: the letters and players’ computers. Without these barriers, people are probably too polite to make this kind of interaction possible. If you encountered a similar experience in a museum—a giant magnetic poetry wall, perhaps—people would likely interact with the wall singly or in their pre-determined groups, creating their own poems. I doubt that visitors would often interact in real time with other users of the wall—even to ask nicely if they could borrow a word. The social barriers to interaction among strangers are too high.

But imagine constructing a real-world version of Just Letters with barrier intact. Picture two magnetic poetry walls, back to back, with rods on the inside connecting words on each side. The walls look disconnected, but as soon as you move a word on one side, a word on the other side moves too. Suddenly, you start peeking around the wall, wondering what the heck that other person is doing. You might start coordinating or competing. The physical barrier between you would create a social environment for play, a bridge for stranger-to-stranger interaction.

CASE STUDY: How Internet Arm Wrestling Mediates Social Engagement

The Internet Arm Wrestling exhibit is a fascinating example of how technology-mediated interaction can lead to direct interpersonal engagement in museums. Internet Arm Wrestling was installed in six American science centers in 2004. This exhibit allows people to virtually arm wrestle with people around the country. When you sit down to use it, you grasp a metal arm (meant to simulate your competitor’s arm) and are connected to another visitor at an identical kiosk. This visitor may be a few feet from you in the same science center or hundreds of miles away at another science center. You receive a “go” signal, and then you start pushing. The metal arm exerts a force on your arm equal to the force exerted by your remote partner on his own metal arm. Eventually, one competitor overpowers the other, and the game is over.

What makes Internet Arm Wrestling incredible—and a bit bizarre—is the extent to which strangers feel comfortable socializing around this game. Each player can communicate through a webcam feed to her partner as they play. Early on, some science centers removed the audio functionality of the webcams because some kids yelled obscenities at each other through the cameras.[7]

A visitor at the New York Hall of Science watches his opponent intently as he presses on the metal arm. Photo by Ryan Somme.

I watched piles of kids use this exhibit at the New York Hall of Science in 2007, socializing both at each kiosk and across the kiosks. In some cases, multiple kids would gang up on one kiosk and try to sit on the arm to exert force on it. Kids would push on the arm as hard as they could, then turn their heads to look and laugh at their opponents at the other kiosk, then turn back and shove on. Other times, strangers—adults and kids—would stick out their tongues at each other in the cameras or make funny faces to try to distract their opponents from the task at hand.

Think about how unusual this is. Strangers—adults and children—engaging in silly and competitive social behavior through a set of metal arms. Would you ever challenge an unknown child (or adult, for that matter) to an arm wrestling match in a museum? Would you ever challenge a stranger to an arm wrestling match unprompted, ever? The Internet Arm Wrestling exhibit allows people to enjoy an interpersonal experience that otherwise wouldn’t happen.

The Experimentarium in Denmark took this one step further with EgoTrap, a game visitors can play onsite with their mobile phones. After completing three solo challenges, each player is linked via mobile phone numbers to another who is playing at the same time. The players are instructed to call each other, and then they meet up in person and play the rest of the game together throughout the science center.

This is not quite as risky as it may sound. Mostly intact groups (students and families visitors) play EgoTrap, so players are likely to be paired with classmates or family members. But this game raises an interesting question: if you wanted to invite absolute strangers to engage with each other, could you? That’s what the next case study is all about.

CASE STUDY: Learning with Strangers in The Human Library

The Human Library is an event that gets strangers talking openly and directly with each other about prejudice.[8] The organizers describe Human Library as “a tool to foster peaceful cohabitation and bring people closer together in mutual and careful respect for the human dignity of the individual.” Visitors sign up with a staff member, look through a catalog of stereotypes, pick one of interest, and enter into a 45-minute conversation with a real person who embodies that stereotype. As its organizers put it:

The Human Library works exactly like a normal library – readers come and borrow a ‘book’ for a limited period of time. There is only one difference: the Books in the Human Library are human beings, and the Books and readers enter into a personal dialogue. The Books in the Human Library are people representing groups frequently confronted with prejudices and stereotypes, and who are often victims of discrimination or social exclusion. The ‘reader’ of the library can be anybody who is ready to talk with his or her own prejudice and stereotype and wants to spend an hour of time on this experience. In the Human Library, Books cannot only speak, but they are able to reply to the readers’ questions, and the Books can even ask questions and learn themselves.[9]

A Human Library requires three kinds of people:

  1. Books who openly and authentically represent certain stereotyped groups (i.e. quadriplegic, Black Muslim, cop, Goth, lesbian)
  2. Readers who check out the Books for 45-minute to 2-hour discussions
  3. Librarians who facilitate the whole process

The Human Library was conceived in Denmark in 2000 as a way to engage youth in dialogue about ending violence by encouraging people to meet their prejudices and fears in a safe, fun, facilitated environment. Since then, Human Libraries have been produced all over the world at festivals, in libraries, and in workplaces. While they started as one-off events, Human Libraries have increasingly been included in the regular slate of programming at major libraries and educational facilities. Some institutions have expanded their scope beyond the initial focus on prejudice to provide a peer network for learning. For example, the University of Arkansas’ Fall 2009 Human Library catalog included Books like “Meditation 101” and “Learning about Table Tennis” alongside more traditional volumes like “Christian Female Soldier,” and “I am an Atheist.”[10]

Where evaluated, Human Libraries have been incredibly successful. In an evaluation of a Human Library in Istanbul featuring 21 Books, 481 out of 484 Readers said they would recommend that others try the reading experience.[11] Several readers praised the authentic nature of the encounters as “exciting” and “educational.” One reader said: “I could find common grounds with the advocate of an opinion that I do not agree with :) .” Another Turkish reader commented:

I’ve never had a gay friend. It was unbelievably exciting to find myself facing him with his body, opinions and identity. It seems he was not very different from me and especially he was not an alien. From now on, I will not disrupt my communication with the gays, I will enhance it.

A subway ticket inspector Book at a Danish Human Library shared this reflection:

It was very interesting to meet and learn about how these young people experienced us (ticket inspectors) on duty in the trains.

Some of the most frequently asked questions were “Do you have to be a bastard to get a job like yours?,” “Don’t you ever feel sorry for those people who somehow find themselves in a situation without a ticket but needing transportation?,” or “Isn’t it terribly difficult for you to have to do this to other people?.” In several cases they had questions that related to a specific situation they themselves had been involved in. I heard many of the readers’ personal experiences with my colleagues, good and bad. But the advantage of the situation was that I was right there, sitting with them and ready to try to answer their questions. I often had to cut the conversation short when the time ran out.

I especially remember one situation with a young couple, sworn members of the Punk scene with their colourful hair and black leather outfits; we had a very interesting discussion and some more people joined us and started to ask questions. It ended up being 20 people joining in and listening to me babble about my work as “the bad guy who writes out the tickets.[12]

Unlike other networks explored in this chapter, the Human Library does not function on a proximate model. It doesn’t give Readers Books that are most “like them” or related to their lived experience. Instead, it challenges Readers to connect with something foreign and unfamiliar. The value system that underlies the Human Library network is one focused on confronting long-held beliefs and moving outside your comfort zone.

The Librarians play a very special role in making this possible. By serving as connectors instead of delivering content, Librarians can spend their time recruiting new and interesting Books, creating a safe space for Books and Readers, evaluating the experience, and refining the setup, rather than learning how to deliver Book content (less authentically) themselves.

Librarians help eager Readers find Books of interest at a 2009 Human Library in King’s Garden in Copenhagen, Demark. Photo courtesy Human Library.

Librarians also perpetuate the metaphor of the library, which serves as the platform for the social interactions. The Human Library methodology very deliberately mimics traditional library experiences. Human Library spaces are often decorated to simulate libraries, or increasingly, are staged in real libraries. Visitors fill out a special library card, talk with the Librarian, browse the catalog, and spend a significant amount of time with any Book selected. Librarians maintain these conventions, even in contexts like festivals in which they seem a bit absurd. The creators of the Human Library project recognized that libraries are safe places for learning new things. They capitalized on that value to make a risky proposition to users. By framing the whole experience in the context of a library, which has widely understood implicit rules and expectations, they turned something that could have simply been about provocation and bravado into a true learning opportunity.

This simple plywood advice booth helped Advice visitors feel comfortable talking with each other.

I worked with a team of graduate students in 2009 who used a similar device in Advice, a temporary exhibition at the University of Washington student center.[13] The students designed an advice booth as part of the exhibition and invited volunteers—some of whom signed up entirely spontaneously—to staff it. As in the Human Library, the advice booth provided a familiar infrastructure (a platform) that made people comfortable giving and getting advice from strangers, including eight year olds, tattoo artists, and money managers.

These platforms—the library cards, the advice booth—may seem artificial, but they are deeply important. Imagine the alternative. Imagine putting out some comfortable couches and a sign that says, “talk to strangers about your prejudices” or “give advice to each other here.” Even in the context of a larger exhibition or comfortable environment, I suspect that very few people would use these spaces. The booth and the library both scaffold the experience, transforming something threatening into an experience that appears appealing and safe.

In contrast, consider British artist Jeremy Deller’s open-ended dialogue program, It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq, which traveled to several museums in the US in 2009. The piece featured two guests, an Iraqi translator and a US Army reservist, who sat on couches in a conversational space, flankedby a powerful artifact—a car that was destroyed in a suicide bomb attack in Baghdad. The goal was to support “messy, open-ended discussion,” and the draw was the idea that visitors could go to the museum and talk about Iraq with someone who had actually been there during the war.

I saw It Is What It Is twice at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Both times, the central square it was situated in was crowded with people enjoying art, hanging out with friends, and working. I never saw anyone engage in dialogue with the guest experts. Even with a couple of comfortable couches, a provocative object, and a sign that said, “Talk to X from 3-5,” the barriers to participation were high. From my perspective, It Is What It Is was not designed with sufficient scaffolding to robustly and consistently support dialogue. It didn’t bridge the social barriers that keep people from naturally talking to strangers. It didn’t set expectations for what would happen (which was intentional) and that made people more wary about getting involved. Whereas both the Human Library and the advice booth were audience-centric, focusing on what visitors wanted to discuss or ask, I felt like It Is What It Is was trying to push something at me. It felt like if I sat on that couch, someone might talk at me or try to sell me their view.

By formally linking individual entry points to a social experience, the Human Library and the Advice booth successfully engaged a stream of diverse users. While the experiences were structured by the platforms, they often evolved into the kind of “messy, open-ended” dialogue that Jeremy Deller sought with It Is What It Is. But without designed infrastructure for engagement, the results appeared more haphazard. It Is What It Is was an unscaffolded social platform, one in which the connection between individual actions and the shared outcome was not well defined. In open-ended platforms, interesting and surprising social interactions may occur. But they are more likely to occur consistently in well-structured ones.

Platforms and Values

Social platforms need to be well designed to be successful, but that doesn’t mean you need to entirely redevelop your institution to make every visitor experience fit into a structured framework. Designing an entire institution that functions like a Human Library or an advice booth probably isn’t your goal. Your goal is more likely to promote social learning, creative participation, or meaningful conversations about institutional content. There are ways to achieve these goals with low-tech, socially networked platforms, many of which are just as effective as and more natural than their high-tech counterparts.

Designing the best social platform for your institution or project boils down to understanding your participatory goals. How do you want visitors to learn from or interact with each other? Do you want to promote dialogue, as the Human Library does? Do you want to promote group collaboration? Do you want visitors to respond to each other, to help each other, to create things together? If you think about network effects in terms of a useful outcome for visitors and institutions rather than in terms of data collection, you can design platforms that reflect your participatory values.

Let’s look at three examples of institutions that created simple platforms for three very different participatory goals.

To encourage visitors to develop a stronger emotional connection to Worcester City Gallery and Museum’s collection, that institution created an exhibition called Top 40 in which visitors voted for their favorite paintings by paper ballot. Top 40 featured forty paintings from the permanent collection, each of which was labeled with a large number indicating its place in the Top 40 standings. The exhibition ran through the summer of 2009, and the labels were changed weekly to reflect the count from visitors’ ballots. Collections Manager Philippa Tinsley wrote:

Spontaneous discussions broke out in the gallery on the relative merits of different pictures; visitors of all ages came back again and again to see where their favourite was in the chart that week and to cast another vote—at times they were queuing outside before we opened. As well as our existing audience, new visitors came just because they wanted to be part of it.[14]

A painting shown with its "rank" of 9, as decided by that week's visitors.

By developing a platform that was highly responsive to visitor input, the Worcester City Gallery and Museum achieved their goals to connect visitors to the paintings on display and the institution as a whole.

To promote collaboration among teenagers and young adults, the Ontario Science Centre uses front-line staff and labels in an atypical way in their Weston Family Innovation Centre (WFIC). Many exhibits in WFIC feature no instructional text or graphics, and visitors struggle to figure out how to use them. WFIC staff known as “hosts” mill around engaging visitors casually and socially. When a visitor approaches a host with a question about how something works or what it’s for, the host will often pull in another visitor, saying, “Hey, can you help us out? We have a question.” The hosts thus link visitors—often strangers—to each other, and provide a supportive environment for those visitors to play and learn together. There are some visitors for whom this strategy would be very off-putting, but it fits in with the overall vibe of WFIC and supports its goals for visitor collaboration.

To help visitors connect personally to a formal institution, in 2009 the Dutch ceramics museum Princessehof hosted a seven-month visitor co-created exhibition of wedding china called Shards & Happiness (Scherven & Geluk). The museum invited people from throughout the Netherlands to showcase their wedding china, wedding photos, and celebratory stories at the museum. These diverse personal stories prompted heightened levels of dialogue among visitors about their own family celebrations, and Princessehof engaged in extensive onsite and online programming to promote community conversations and sharing of wedding- and wedding china-related experiences. Staff even hosted a “wedding for a day” event in which visitors could pair off, walk down the aisle, and toss the bouquet just for fun.[15]

Each of these is an example of how an institution designed a platform to translate individual actions into collective benefit. Each of these projects “got better the more people used it.” And most importantly, each platform reflected the specific values and goals of the project at hand.

Designing Social Platforms for Specific Values

To design a platform that will reflect the specific values of an institution or project, consider these three questions:

  1. What individual actions will be available to visitors?
  2. What will staff do with the individual actions, i.e. how will the institution respond to them, incorporate them, and use them?
  3. How will the institution display the collective outcome of the individual actions?

Let’s look at each of these questions through the lens of a common museum platform: the comment board. While they seem simple, comment boards can be designed in very different ways to achieve different social results.

The individual action:

Comment boards offer visitors specific materials to use to share their thoughts. Different comment board designs bias people toward different results.[16] Sticky notes and pencils signal an easy, quick activity that anyone can do. A typewriter, or fancy markers and drawing paper, signal a more involved activity. In the Advice exhibition at the University of Washington, the staff provided visitors both with sticky notes to answer each other’s questions and a “bathroom wall” where they could scrawl whatever they wanted. While no one specifically told visitors, “you can write bad words on the bathroom wall but don’t do it with the sticky notes,” they certainly interpreted the interfaces that way.

The response:

Once visitors write their comments, what happens next? Can they immediately stick them on the wall, or do they drop them in a slot for some kind of staff processing? On some comment boards, staff curate submitted comments and pick a selected few to display for all to see. On others, visitors can place their comments wherever they like, even layering over each other’s.

Sometimes the staff is under responsive; visitors place their comments in the box and they languish there for weeks. Other times, staff members respond directly to commenters. When the National Library of Scotland put out a Victorian writing desk for visitors during an exhibition of famous authors’ letters to publisher John Murray, librarians committed to responding to letters that visitors wrote. They were shocked to find themselves quickly overloaded with multi-page, personal letters written in longhand to long-dead authors. Fortunately, the staff honored the promise—but they also learned to think more carefully about how they would respond to visitors’ contributions in the future.

The display:

Museums tend to use one of two types of platforms for display of visitor-generated content: those that value recency or those that value quality (or a mixture of both). Platforms that value recency put the newest visitor comments front and center, and previous comments are either archived or accessible on secondary layers. Platforms that value quality use some curation system (almost always staff led) to select featured content for presentation to visitors. Recency models may encourage more visitors to contribute because they will receive the immediate satisfaction of seeing their comments on display. In contrast, quality models may motivate less contribution, but those who choose to comment may be more invested in what they share.

Moving Beyond Recency and Quality-based Systems

There is a conflict between recency and quality-based models for showcasing visitor-created content. Recency models let everything through instantly, drowning out the gems. In contrast, quality models require staff time to read, curate, and post the best submissions. This can lead to exhibits piled with contributions languishing for weeks until the staff member in change can sort through them and select the best for display. How could these two models be usefully blended to improve the display on comment boards?

There’s no reason that staff members need to do the work of curating visitor-created content alone. As noted in the first chapter, there are many more people who enjoy spectating and critiquing content than there are those who enjoy creating it. Inviting visitors to sort and rate visitor-generated content takes the load off of staff members who rarely have the time to do it. It also provides “critical” visitors with an activity that generates useful collective outcomes from their frustration at poor contributions and delight at quality ones. Curating visitor-generated content is not only about expressing likes and dislikes; it’s a useful cognitive activity that promotes learning how to make judgments and connections among content sources. There are many historians, curators, and scientists who spend more time evaluating and analyzing content than generating it. Why not promote a participatory activity that reflects these important learning skills?

By incorporating the networked preferences of visitors over time, a visitor-generated exhibit could dynamically provide higher-quality offerings to spectators. But with this potential comes a worry that visitors will just select the funniest items, or the ones made by their friends, or will generally use criteria that is not in line with museum values.

The best way to address these concerns is by being explicit. If you want to encourage people to curate using particular criteria, give them the criteria. Say, “pick the photos you think best represent the theme,” or “pick the comments that are most provocative.” Or, you can say, “use your judgment and select the ones you think have the most value.” Clear criteria can help reinforce your goals, but they aren’t always necessary. Sometimes trusting visitors as participants means accepting that their values are just as valid as those of the staff.

Creative Approaches to Platform Design

With some creative thinking, it is possible to design platforms to meet even the most ambitious goals. In the simple example of sharing visitor-generated content, there are many other values beyond recency and quality that can be emphasized. Let’s take a look at how the same system could evoke two different values: diversity and reflective discourse.

Imagine a video kiosk in a history museum intended to invite visitors to “share your story” related to a historic event on display. A platform that values diverse sharing might employ kiosks that use different questions and themes to solicit different perspectives on the same experience. Visitors acting as critics might be asked to sort the videos into different perspective categories rather than rate them or pick their favorites. At another station, critics might be able to then select favorites within each category. In this scenario, spectators would not just see “the best” videos overall, but the best videos reflecting a diversity of perspectives.

Now imagine the same exhibit with a different platform that values reflective discourse. This exhibit might use heavier consistent theming across the video creation kiosks. Visitors might be prompted to select another visitor’s video as a starting point and make a video in response to it rather than reacting to an institutionally-provided query. For critics, the system would focus on commenting rather than rating or sorting. Videos might be featured based on the chain of response they generate rather than on the diversity of perspectives represented. In this scenario, spectators would see long multi-vocal dialogues played out across videos and text comments.

Two platforms, two designs, two different goals and desired visitor experiences. Let’s leave the world of the theoretical video kiosk and take a look at two real platforms—Signtific and Click!—that were successfully designed to reflect distinct values.

CASE STUDY: Structured Dialogue in the Signtific Game

Signtific was an online game platform that promoted dialogic discourse about wild ideas. The Institute for the Future released Signtific in 2009 to help regular people engage in futurecasting, or predicting the future. Signtific was not a museum project, but it could easily be adapted to cultural institutions as a low-tech internal or public brainstorming tool. It was, quite simply, a comment board that encouraged people to engage in dialogue with each other.

Here’s how it worked. The staff produced a short video introducing a provocative yet possible future scenario in the year 2019. In the first version of the game, the question was: “What will you do when space is as cheap and accessible as the Web is today?” The video explained: “In 2019, cubesats—space satellites smaller than a shoebox—have become very cheap and very popular. For $100, anyone can put a customized personal satellite into low-earth orbit.” It then posed the simple question: “How will the world be different?”

People were not allowed to answer the question generically. They had to pose their answer either in terms of “positive imagination,” (i.e. the best thing that could happen) or “dark imagination,” (the worst that could happen). Answers had to be brief—140 characters or less—and were displayed to look like index cards. Game designer Jane McGonigal called Signtific a platform for “micro-forecasting,” explaining “the idea was to make it easier for people to share small, quick ideas about the future.”

Spectators could very quickly scan the cards to see both the positive and dark answers and could click on any card of interest to follow up with a response. Players could not respond freely to each other but were required to use one of four types of response: momentum, antagonism, adaptation, or investigation. Players used momentum cards to add additional ideas, antagonism cards to raise disagreements, adaptation cards to suggest other potential manifestations of the same idea, and investigation cards to ask questions. The response cards were also limited to 140 characters.

Multiple response cards could be played on any other card, generating expanding trees of debate and discourse. The result was a network diagram of cards, a threaded dialogue that took place across many nodes. The game masters curated some of the most interesting cards daily and offered frequent rewards for “outlier” ideas that were improbable but fascinating.

A "positive imagination" card that spawned multiple response cards below.

Signtific provided a very deliberate framework to prioritize collaborative brainstorming about the future. These four design decisions reinforced their goals:

  1. Responses were kept short. This allowed people to scan many cards quickly and focus on responding to the most interesting ideas rather than wading through or generating long personal manifestos. It also made it easy to contribute quickly. Instead of focusing on crafting perfectly-written responses, players focused on the arguments they wanted to make and the cards that represented their interests.
  2. The scoring emphasized interpersonal play, not just solo participation. Players were rewarded with points for playing their own cards as well as for motivating others to contribute response cards. Players earned more points for starting a great discussion among many people than for personal pontification.
  3. A Signtific user profile. The bar graph illustrates how many cards of different kinds the player has employed.

    The profile setup encouraged people to experiment with different forms of argumentation. Each player’s personal profile tracked the number of each type of cards played and a small message read, “Are you stronger in some areas than others? Play another card to balance your strengths.” This simple message set an expectation for players to explore the different types of argumentation rather than sticking with the ones that were easiest for them to use.

  4. The “outlier” awards put wild ideas front and center. The scoring system rewarded people with special badges for suggesting ideas that were “super interesting.” One of the important techniques of futurecasting is to deliberately seek out aberrant possibilities. Since these more unusual cards were not necessarily going to receive special attention in the flow of the game, staff made sure to feature them wherever possible to encourage people to take risks and think broadly.

Signtific was not an open mushy conversation about the future. It was a structured platform of specific interactions guided by clear values of collaborative discourse and imagining multiple outcomes for a potential scenario. It was a well-designed platform imbued with the Institute for the Future’s value on “helping people make better, more informed decisions about the future.”

Many civic and cultural institutions share this goal, and the Signtific platform could be adapted to both professional strategic brainstorming and crowdsourced dialogue about community issues. While Signtific’s online platform made it easy to scale the number of cards played, this could easily be designed as a physical game played with colored sticky notes. Imagine offering a set of bins with different colored stickies—red for momentum, green for antagonism, blue for adaptation, and so on. Rather than inviting visitors to just share their response to an institutionally provided prompt, a Signtific-like platform could encourage visitors to collaboratively address tough scenarios like the future of transportation, multi-lingual education systems, or genetic modification of humans.[17]

CASE STUDY: Testing the Wisdom of Crowds at the Brooklyn Museum

When it comes to cultural institutions taking an ambitious, creative approach to designing a platform with specific values, Click! takes the cake. Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition was developed in 2008 by the Brooklyn Museum to investigate the question of whether crowds could “wisely” judge something as subjective as art.[18] Click! happened in three stages: an open call for submissions, online judging of entries, and presentation of the final exhibition. In the open call, people submitted photographs on the theme of “the changing face of Brooklyn.” Then, the museum opened an online tool where visitors could judge the photographs on their artistic quality and relevance to the exhibition theme. Finally, staff mounted an exhibition of the photographs with prints scaled in size to match their rank in the judging scheme. The photographs were also displayed online, where visitors could access more information about each photo and how it was judged.

The submission process for Click! was fairly standard, but the judging and display were highly unorthodox. Despite the Brooklyn Museum’s extensive forays into social media, the team designed the judging platform to intentionally limit the social nature of the experience. Citizen curators made their judgments privately. They could not see cumulative scores for each photo nor the comments others had made. They couldn’t skip photos or pick the ones they wanted to judge. They couldn’t send links to friends to encourage them to vote for their favorites.

Why did the Brooklyn Museum team deliberately restrict social behaviors? In simple terms, they wanted to build a fair platform to test the wisdom of the crowd. According to social scientist James Surowiecki, crowds are only “wise” if individuals cannot have undue influence on each other. If everyone guesses the number of jellybeans in a jar privately, the average will come very close to the true number. But if everyone shares their guesses, or encourages their friends to guess like them, the average will not be as accurate.

Restricting social behaviors also helped demonstrate respect for the artworks. It helped judges focus on the photographs, not discussion surrounding them. For the same reason, judges moved a bar on a sliding scale to judge each photograph rather than picking “best out of five” or assigning a number to each image. The team felt that a subjective rather than numerical assessment reduced the emphasis on the “score” for each image.

The Click! judging interface. Citizen-curators used a sliding scale (top right) to judge each photograph for its artistic quality and relevance to the theme. They could also leave comments, but these would not be revealed until judging was complete. Instead of social content, the judging platform provided personal statistics (bottom right) to encourage judges to continue their work.

The platform also required judges to create profiles with just two data points: geographic location and self-reported art knowledge. The team used these data points later to run comparisons so they could see if self-described experts rated photos differently than their novice counterparts, or whether Brooklyn denizens had different perspectives on the “changing face of Brooklyn” than judges in other areas.

In the end, the photos were displayed, both virtually and physically, sized relative to their rank in the judging scheme. The physical display was not thematic; it was entirely random. In the physical exhibition, the sizes of the prints were fixed, but on the Web, audience members were able to resize the photos contextually by changing data criteria, looking at the photos resized based on geographic location or self-reported art knowledge of judges. Interestingly, the top ten photos selected by judges of all levels of self-reported art knowledge included eight of the same images, suggesting that “crowds” of people with little art knowledge are likely to make comparable choices to those made by experts.

Click! spurred conversation among participants and cultural professionals not just about the photographs’ value, but also about the ways cultural institutions might appropriately engage the public as participants. Once mounted, the exhibition was a highly social space. The community of people who had been involved in making it—photographers and judges alike—came to share the experience with each other and with their own networks.

Online, the conversation continued.[19] Users continued to make new comments post-opening, energized by the seeded content from the judging phase. Visitors could surf the images that were “most discussed,” which promoted ongoing dialogue around the photographs. The online platform also allowed visitors to compare the relative ratings of different photographs—a flexible opportunity for visitors to practice juxtaposition on their own. Visitors could even view photographs that enjoyed the greatest “divergence of opinion” among the different self-defined geographic and art expertise groups. This prompted yet another discussion about the relative abilities and prejudices of different groups of people in determining the aesthetic value and relevance of images to a broad public.

Click! was a controversial experiment because its value system was so different from that of traditional art institutions (including the Brooklyn Museum itself). Its goal was not to find and display the best photos submitted by photographers. Instead, the goal was to perform a public research project about crowd-based decision-making. As Shelley Bernstein, organizer of the show, put it, “it’s a conceptual idea put on the wall.”

Conceptual ideas don’t necessarily make pretty exhibits in a traditional sense. The Museum’s contemporary art curator Eugenie Tsai commented that, “[Click!]’s about data, and making the data visual. It’s not really a photography show in the way I would curate a photography show.”[20] Bernstein and Tsai were both explicit about the fact that they made decisions in favor of research and against the most beautiful exposition of the art. All the photos were printed with the same process, and their sizes were determined by the judging process rather than aesthetic preferences. Critics from the New York Times and the Washington Post commented that the resulting show was not that visually impressive, but they were comparing Click! to photo exhibitions, which Bernstein would deem inappropriate. It would be more correct to compare it to data visualizations like tag clouds or spark charts—whether the audience wanted that or not.

Click! was a deliberate attempt by a museum to test something and present the results, saying, “don’t judge this as art.” Not everybody believes or wants to hear that. Some of the photographers who submitted their work to Click! were not thrilled to learn that they would not be able to control the way their photos would be printed, and some were skeptical about the validity of the public curation platform. As one photographer put it, “Why it is better for the crowd to use this peculiar (annoying and frustrating) method, is beyond me.”[21] To some, the collaboration was a force fit to institutional goals. Fortunately, according to Bernstein, her team’s open and clear communication with the artists about the project helped keep most participants feeling positive.

Some participants didn’t care if their work was being exhibited as data; they were just thrilled to see their photographs up in the museum. This feeling of connection extended to those who had served as online curators as well. As participant Amy Dreher put it: “I felt ownership over what was on those walls because I had been involved in it from the first walk we took to the last photo I ranked.”[22]

Click! may have generated dynamic tension between what the museum wanted to present and what some participants and reporters wanted to experience, but the institutional team stood by their initial goals as a valuable experiment and visitors responded positively to the exhibition. Ultimately, experimenting with the questions of how visitors might be engaged in curatorial process and whether crowds of visitors could be “wise” evaluators of art were the most important parts of the Click! experience from the institutional perspective. The exhibition was just an output of that research.

Platforms and Power

Click! was controversial because it threatened the traditional power relationships in a cultural institution between visitors and staff, experts and amateurs. Socially networked platforms have political implications. If experts, exhibits, and program staff no longer deliver content exclusively but also serve as facilitators connecting one visitor’s experience to another’s, institutions’ roles as content authorities change. This is threatening to the power that staff members have enjoyed for many years in cultural institutions, and it can generate a great deal of fear and resistance.

These power struggles are not new, especially in the educational sector. In the 1960s and 1970s, educational revolutionaries like Paulo Friere and Ivan Illich spoke out against traditional schooling systems, claiming schools were oppressive systems promoting non-reciprocal relationships between teachers and students. Friere and Illich both sought alternatives that would engage equitable communities of learners, and one of the ideas Illich promoted was networked education via what he called “learning webs.” In his 1971 manifesto, Deschooling Society, Illich suggested an educational model based on a person-to-person network in which each individual would list his skills in a kind of phonebook.[23] The phonebook would serve as the “available curriculum,” and people could call or write to each other and solicit instruction from each other on everything from auto mechanics to poetry. Illich argued that this kind of citizen-powered education would be much more powerful and valuable to communities than formal schools.

What Illich didn’t discuss was exactly how he would design his hypothetical phone book. As we’ve seen in the above case studies, there are significant value judgments inherent in the design of participatory platforms. How would you design Illich’s educational phone book? Would you organize it by skill offered, location of the instructor, or the name of the person offering it? Would you include information about each person’s relevant experience and credentials? Would you encourage learners to rate their learning experiences and use those ratings to reorder the list? Would you introduce a feedback loop to help people find the most popular teachers, or would you design the platform to distribute learning experiences as equitably as possible across participants?[24]

Each of these decisions would send the resulting community experience down a different path. Platform designers have incredible power over the user experience, but it’s a kind of power that may be unfamiliar to those accustomed to designing and presenting content experiences. It’s not the power to be the only voice in the room but the power to determine who speaks and in what order.

To be successful leaders in a socially networked world, cultural institutions must feel comfortable managing platforms as well as providing content. One of the primary fears museum professionals (and all professionals) have about entering new relationships with audiences is the fear of losing control. However, in most cultural institutions, the professional expertise of the staff—to preserve objects, to design exhibits, to deliver programs—is not based on content control. It’s based on expert creation and delivery of experiences. Expertise is valuable, even in a platform-based institution. The problem arises when expertise creates a feeling of entitlement to control the entire visitor experience. Power is attractive. Being in control is pleasant. It lets you be the only expert with a voice. But if your expertise is real, then you don’t need to rule content messages with an iron fist. You can manage the phone book instead of directing the classroom.

Developing platforms to harness, prioritize, and present a diversity of voices around content does not mean giving all the power to visitors. Platform designers grant users a few specific, designed opportunities—to create their own content, to prioritize the messages that resonate best for them personally—in the context of a larger overall ecosystem. The platform is what’s important. It’s a framework that cultural institutions can (and should) control, and there’s power in platform management.

Platform managers have four main powers—the power to:

  1. Define the types of interaction available to users
  2. Set the rules of behavior
  3. Preserve and exploit user-generated content
  4. Promote and feature preferred content

These powers constitute a set of controls that constitutes a real and valuable authority. Let’s take a look at each one and how it applies in cultural institutions.

The power to define available interactions:

This power is so basic that it is often overlooked. On YouTube, users share videos. In Free2Choose, visitors vote on questions of personal freedoms. In the Human Library, people have one-on-one conversations. On Signtific, players debate the future of science. Every platform has a limited feature set and focuses on one or two basic actions that users can take. Cultural institutions don’t need to offer every kind of interaction under the sun—they just have to pick the few interactions that most support the kind of behavior and content creation that they value. There’s power in the specific decisions about whether users will be allowed to contact each other directly, make comments or ratings, or produce various kinds of digital and physical artifacts. When staff members focus the platform on a very small set of active features, they are able to steer the direction of the overall user experience and the body of growing visitor-driven content.

The power to set the rules of behavior:

Online participatory platforms influence user and community behavior both implicitly through the tools that are and aren’t offered and explicitly through community management. Every online social network has rules about acceptable content and ways that users can engage with each other, and those rules have serious implications about the overall tone of interaction on the site.

Most cultural institutions tend to rely on implicit rules of behavior, but it’s a good idea to draft community guidelines or information about what is expected from visitors in a participatory environment. For example, the Make History story-sharing site for the National September 11th Memorial and Museum informs users that they should only share their personal experience of September 11th and should do so as accurately and honestly as possible. The community guidelines also note: “Given the intensity of the event, some strong language may be appropriate in certain stories. But consider that this site will be used by people of all ages.” The staff set guidelines that honored the emotional nature of September 11th memories while encouraging users not to go overboard.[25]

Differences in community guidelines and rules also often influence the makeup of users who feel welcome and choose to participate. When it comes to cultural institutions, it’s important to make sure that staff members’ own personal biases toward certain kinds of behavior don’t overly dictate who feels comfortable participating. If you have some particular audiences in mind for a project, involve them in deciding what constitutes inappropriate behavior. A platform for parents might have very different community guidelines than one for artists or another for young historians.

The power to use and exploit user-generated content:

Platforms have the power to set rules related to preservation and ownership of the content they display—often with quite strict intellectual property statutes that favor the platform over users. Every time someone posts a video on YouTube, she gives the site the right to use that video in perpetuity however it sees fit. She owns the content, but she grants YouTube:

A worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the YouTube Website and YouTube’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the YouTube Website (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.[26]

This is a standard clause in the Terms of Service of many online social platforms.

Cultural institutions have different standards for managing intellectual property, protecting visitors’ privacy, and monetizing visitors’ creations. While museums tend to be more protective of their own and their lenders’ intellectual property than online social platforms, they are also typically more protective of visitors’ rights to control what they make and do. For example, when the Denver Art Museum invited visitors to make their own rock music posters in the Side Trip exhibition, staff didn’t automatically display copies of each poster on the wall. They asked visitors whether or not they wanted to share their posters publicly.[27]

There are many models for how to share and use visitor-generated content that respect both institutional and visitors’ interests. Here are a few examples:

  • The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Ghosts of a Chance game accessioned player-generated objects into a temporary part of their collection database, with clear rules about what happened to the objects at the end of the game (they became the responsibility of the game designers, a sub-contractor to the museum).
  • The Metropolitan Museum used visitor-generated photos from Flickr in the popular “It’s Time We Met” advertising campaign, following user-specific licensing requirements to credit visitors properly.[28]
  • The Chicago Children’s Museum used visitor-generated multimedia stories in their Skyscraper Challenge exhibit (see Chapter 2) as the basis for research on cognitive development.
  • The Powerhouse Museum and the Brooklyn Museum have both created print-on-demand books of content generated by visitors involved in community exhibits and online projects.
  • At the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Gail Durbin has discussed using content created in museums as the basis for customized on-demand retail items, like personalized calendars showing images of your favorite exhibits, or one-off books of images captured at a fabric-making workshop.

In the same way that Web 2.0 sites display a range of respect for user-retained intellectual property, cultural institutions can navigate and create their own rules—with related powers—for content developed by visitors.

The power to promote and feature preferred content:

One of the greatest powers retained by participatory platform managers is the power to feature content that reflects the values of the platform. Just as the question of which stories to feature and bury in a newspaper is a question of power, so too is the question of how to feature content in social networks. Recall the alternative strategies for how to feature content on comment boards; these strategies are fundamentally about the question of how content will be selected for promotion. Institutions may promote the most popular content, the newest content, staff-selected content, or content that is unique in some way. While some platform designers strive for transparency in promotion systems, most tailor their systems to feature the kind of content and behavior that they want to see modeled for other users.

There was a fascinating example of the power of platform design in the successive redesigns of Facebook from mid-2008 to mid-2009. Over that year, Facebook evolved from focusing on personal profiles shared with small groups of known individuals to focusing on publishing lifestream-style feeds of status updates and short-format content for mass audiences. Whereas previously Facebook was a place to maintain a profile and connect to a web of friends and acquaintances, by the fall of 2009 it had become a personally relevant content stream, a dynamic newspaper created for each user (and shared with the rest of the world by default). Some users complained and left the service, but most remained—and changed their own behavior to match Facebook’s new design.

The power to promote and organize users’ content may be the most important platform power for cultural institutions because it is the one that most dramatically enables the platform to present its values and model preferred behavior. It is also the most technical power, because it requires understanding how design decisions affect broad patterns of user behavior.

Cultural institutions are still learning to wield this power effectively. When museums do assume this power, it is often in a zero-transparency way that doesn’t model behavior for users. Visitors are invited to contribute creative work or data, and then must wait until the end of a contest or submission period to see what the staff selected to feature. In opaque systems, visitors can’t adapt their contributions based on staff feedback along the way. Compare this to the Worcester City Gallery and Museum’s Top 40 exhibition in which visitors could access new information about the relative rankings of paintings on display every week. In Top 40, the regular refreshment of featured content motivated people to keep visiting and participating throughout the run of the exhibition.

There are real opportunities in a participatory world for cultural institutions to retain authority related to visitor values, experiences, and community behavior. The power of the platform may not let the staff dictate every message that floats through the doors of the institution. But with good, thoughtful design, it can ensure that those messages enhance the overall visitor experience. When you are able to network individual visitors’ experiences in ways that are both useful and beautiful, you will motivate new experiences and relationships that are exciting and valuable for the institution and users alike.


This chapter focused on designing platforms for connections among people in cultural institutions. This leads to an obvious and uneasy question for museum professionals: what about the objects? If institutions evolve to support visitors creating, sharing, and learning from each other, where does the collection fit in? Chapter 4 addresses the unique role of objects in participatory institutions. Artifacts can be the heart of platform-based experiences, the “object” of visitors’ conversations and creative expression.

Chapter 3 Notes

[1] Read O’Reilly’s complete 2006 UC Berkeley School of Information commencement address here.

[2]Near is still open at the New York Hall of Science as of this printing.

[3] This is effectively the same as the scheme for A Matter of Faith at Stapferhaus Lenzbergon page 85, but with a less confrontational question and a simpler interface.

[4]Free2Choose is open as of this printing with no scheduled end date.

[5] Sue Allen and Josh Gutwill’s excellent article, “Designing Science Museum Exhibits with Multiple Interactive Features: Five Common Pitfalls,” appeared in Curator, issue 47, no. 2 (2004) and is available for download here [PDF].

[6] Play Just Letters.

[7] From the institutional perspective, the mediating technology let people cross too many social barriers.

[8] Until 2010, this project was called Living Library. It was renamed Human Library due to a legal conflict. I have changed all references to Human Library for clarity, but some of the referenced downloads may include the old term.

[9] Download the comprehensive Human Library Organizer’s Guide, which is available in eight languages here.

[10] See the University of Arkansas’ complete catalog here.

[11] Download the complete evaluation report from the Turkish Human Library here [DOC].

[12] This excerpt came from the Human Library Organizer’s Guide referenced above. For more reflections from Books, check out this page.

[13] There is a longer case study about Advice in Chapter 3.

[14] Read Tinsley’s complete account in a Nov 2009 blog post, Guest Post: Top 40 Countdown at the Worcester City Museum.

[15] Learn more about Shards & Happiness and see photos of the 24-hour newlyweds here.

[16] For a detailed account of how different comment board prompts and materials affect visitor behavior, consult pages 16-22 of the formative evaluation of the nano exhibition at LACMA Lab, available for download here [PDF].

[17] At the 2009 Museums in Conversation conference in Tarrytown, NY, Elizabeth Merritt tested this out during a lunch session about the future of museums. Colleagues from museums around New York state were quickly able to imagine some positive and dark futures for museums—and to adapt and investigate them in some funny and surprising ways.

[18]Click! was inspired by The Wisdom of Crowds, a 2004 book by social scientist James Surowiecki, which argued that large groups of non-experts can be collectively “wise” when individuals in the group are able to make decisions without overly influencing each other’s choices.

[19] Explore Click! online.

[20] Listen to a one-hour panel discussion about Click! with Tsai, Bernstein, and technologist Jeff Howe here.

[21] See comment #27 on Shelley Bernstein’s June 2008 blog post, Preparing to Click.

[22] Dreher described her multi-faceted involvement in Click!, which started with exploratory walks with fellow photographers, in “The Click! Experience: A Participant’s View,” in Exhibitionist, 28, no. 2 (2009): 55–58.

[23] See Chapter 6, Illich, Deschooling Society (1971), especially the section on “peer-matching networks.”

[24] For one interesting approach to networked learning, check out The Public School.

[25] Read the complete community guidelines for Make History here.

[26] Read the complete Terms of Service for YouTube.

[27] Denver Art Museum educators did, however, archive a copy of every poster made for internal evaluation and collection purposes.

[28] See the “It’s Time We Met” Flickr-based ads here.

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  1. [...] chance to put one of the ideas in Nina Simon’s book The Participatory Museum to the test. Her case study about Structured Dialogue in the Signtific Game in chapter 3 describes a project where people engaged in conversation online about wild ideas. For me the beauty [...]

  2. By realtime crowdsourcing « Erfgoed 2.0 on January 5, 2011 at 8:06 am

    [...] content. Maar dan wel op een uitvoerige en mooie manier. Daarbij heeft het NHM zich gebaseerd op de ‘Structured Dialogue’ in de ‘Signtific Game’ uit het boek The Participatory… van Nina Simon. Uitgangsunt was bezoekers te vragen bezoekers te vragen om bij te dragen aan het [...]

  3. [...] kell 16:30 muuseumis Miia-Milla-Manda (Facebooki sündmus). Arutame The Participatory Museumi III, IV ja V peatüki üle. Teretulnud on ka kõik, kes eelmisel korral veel ei jõudnud. Taavi tegi [...]

  4. By From Me To We | on March 11, 2011 at 10:41 am

    [...] Facing Mars could be designed on any of four stages of me-to-we design. [...]

  5. [...] Chapter 3 of Nina Simon’s The Participatory Museum  is titled “From Me to We” where she considers how an individual’s museum experience might be enhanced by other visitor experiences at the same institution.  She writes: [...]

  6. By notebook on November 1, 2011 at 8:56 am


    [...]Chapter 3: From Me to We – The Participatory Museum[...]…

  7. [...] give up as they move on line. We can play the role not just of classroom and laboratory but also student center. Museums can come out of this stronger than they are now. With collections information and [...]


  1. My favorite artist is Nicolas Poussin. For some reason I can spend an hour looking at any of his paintings. How I would love to proclaim my love of Poussin when I visit, e.g. the Wallace Collection in London, which has my very favorite painting, “A Dance to the Music of Time.” It would be so amazing to share the experience of viewing an original Poussin painting with another Poussin aficionado. What if art museums invited visitors to fill in the blank of a nametag that says “President of the [fill in name of artist] fan club”? Or sold more permanent buttons of the work of different artists that would become a badge of one’s love of that artist, to be worn on the museum visit in hopes of finding a kindred soul?

    Posted July 30, 2010 at 5:31 am | Permalink
  2. I just have a quick observation about the Free2Choose exhibit, and the ways that it could be made more participatory by making the votes less anonymous. Interesting ideas, but I wonder if it would have the opposite effect and discourage people from voting in the first place?

    I say this because some people might be comforted by the relative anonymity of the current voting process. If their vote turns out to be completely different to everyone else’s they don’t have to fess up to it if they feel uncomfortable being in the minority. Also, people are more likely to be honest if they know they aren’t going to be challenged about their choices afterwards (removes group influence effects from the equation as well).

    On a related note, is there any evidence of cultural differences in how people relate to these participating / voting experiences? I’m wondering if it is easier for people from more individualistic cultures than those which place a high value on conformity / deferral to authority figures, etc.

    Posted October 5, 2010 at 11:07 pm | Permalink
  3. @Regan Forrest: Regan – Great points and I definitely agree (as did some of the reviewers when reading the first draft of the case study). Some people would vastly prefer to participate anonymously, and probably all people would prefer to be anonymous for certain questions. Changing the exhibit in this way would make it a fundamentally different experience–maybe not better or worse, but attractive to different people. I’d love to see an A/B test on it and what would happen.

    My suggestions were made based on my own (American) perspective on the energy in the room and the desire for more interaction. Perhaps the activity could start anonymous and become more interpersonal as it progresses, or invite people to opt in… though that would negatively impact the lovely simplicity and drop-in drop-out design of the program as it now stands.

    I think there is a benefit, however, to an institution such as Anne Frank pushing people toward more engagement with each other around these issues of freedom and security, a la Human Library. If there’s potential to have greater impact, even with some attendant discomfort, it’s worth considering a design shift. It comes down to a question of the institution’s level of activism and their mission with regard to the exhibition. There’s no right answer. But there is an opportunity to go further, if desired.

    Posted October 7, 2010 at 7:09 am | Permalink
  4. Sarah

    The ability of the digital media to increase interactivity, particularly in historical dialogue is profound. People are more inclined to involve themself in exploration and involvement on digital media. Social engagement is more likely due to the lack of self-consciousness people feel as they are familiar and comfortable with digital media.

    Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig in ‘Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving and Presenting the Past on the Web’, suggest that Interactivity enables many types of historical dialogue, which are potentially richer and more comprehensive in digital medium. They suggest that historical practice could conceivably transform by ways of new forms of collaboration and debate enabled through digital media. Digital media indefinately transforms the traditional one-way, reader/writer relationship.

    Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Permalink
  5. Nicole

    I found the case study on the Internet Arm Wrestling display particularly interesting. This display effectively took part of the digital world and used it to facilitate stronger interaction between strangers in a real-world context. Not only does this help to create social bonds and shared experiences, but, as Sarah said, interactive displays like this one could enable a richer kind of dialogue.

    I also think the idea of using digital media in a museum context has a lot of potential. Activities like Just Letters could potentially have an online presence on a museum’s website as well as within the museum itself, allowing for the creation of a community which continues to interact and collaborate outside of the museum’s walls.

    Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink
  6. Tony

    I played Just Letters. I found it to be a unique experince. While it can be catagorised as ‘fun’, it also allows you the player/participant to very easily upset people. I would postulate it is a version of the Milgram Experiment. It is a faceless excersie, yet the impact could have larger ramifications. Suppose you are playing with a child at the other end, you dont know, to you it is just a player. They are trying to spell words and learn, and you manipulate the words from buck (male deer), to $uck (not a male deer), by adding an ‘f’.

    Digital musuems have the possiblily to being influenced by popular rule. In the end, exhibits will be simpler, in order to encourage people, and thus dumb down the populus. I am not saying actual musuems are better, as Tony Bennet and a vast number of others will testify to. I am simply pointing out that more care needs to be taken with them.

    Posted July 17, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink
  7. Marissa

    Tony, I could not agree more. To support your argument I just logged on to a game of Just Letters and found very disturbing comments on it. In its defense though, the internet is full of adult content that is easily accessible, even for children, and that is no doubt a harmful mechanism. People do silly and rude things in real life as well, there is not much we can do about preventing their use of the internet. I agree with what you argue and that greater restrictions need to be taken on some of these games which may have younger audiences, but if you restrict the words made available on the game, how do you expect people (particularly young adults) to be attracted to play this game? Suggestions?

    Posted July 17, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Permalink
  8. Larissa

    Tony, Marissa, I also agree. And this totally supports the comments that I have made at the end of chapter 1… the internet and those who use it are not reliable. Like in this case of misused, inappropriate language. You also have the problem of people using such games or sites, or even comment areas like this, as social dating areas to find “someone” or perhaps even for abuse. I don’t understand how we can let the academic world be infected by the filth of society because we have decided to let our discipline out into the world-wide-web. As Gertrude Himmelfarb stated, the digital technology and the internet are useful “but I am disturbed by some aspects of the new technology-… by the moral problems raised by cybersex”.

    Posted July 18, 2011 at 2:16 am | Permalink
  9. Wow. I love seeing all of your comments and discussion here – it really makes the book feel “live.”

    Larissa et al, I would say that people are unreliable, and that it’s the structure of the design environment that gives them cues to act in ways that are both humane and profane. The more attentive we are to how we design things, the more likely we are to nudge people toward the type of behavior we want to support. I see that particularly strongly in museums in the design of comment books/boards. Thoughtlessly designed ones receive thoughtless, silly comments. Boards that connote care and respect for visitors receive thoughtful comments. Design can make the same person a rogue or a prince.

    Posted July 18, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink
  10. Larissa

    Hi Nina,
    So I understand howyou can control participation in the museum much more effectively than via the internet, and avoid situations such as that occurring in the case of Just Letters. However, I am curious as to whether you think these controlled participatory design techniques can be used with digital, web-based sources as well? The internet is, as Paul Turnbull describes it, “a spawling, open and chotic public communicative space”, and I do not see how it may be possible to control an environment such as this, like you would do in a physical museum. What are your thoughts?

    Posted July 18, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  11. Rhi

    Digital media has the ability to not only create an environment where participatory and interactivity is encouraged, but to engage persons, who would not usually be in the focus audience. First of all, today is the age of a techonological and digital world, long gone are the days where history is confined to dusty text books and lecutres. Digital media has the ability to relate history to many people (especially younger) through a means that they understand, and can enjoy. There is also the supreme convenience factor, people essentially have the information at their fingertips, as opposed to physically going into a museum of library to retrieve the information. I acknowledge what others have written, about the dangers of unreliable information availble on the internet, but I speak more of a digitalized museum archive instead of a particapatory site offering information (wikipedia).

    Likewise, participatory exhibitions in museums have the potential to capture the interest of people, who would not usually find themselves comfortable or interested at a museum. As mentioned above, the case study of the metal arm wrestling is a fine example of a participation exhibit, not only is the learning being generated through interacting with the exhibit, there is also the added element of interacting and engaging with another person. Digital media can enlarge its targeted community, whereas in the past, the audience may have only been the people who were interested in the subject matter, the audiene could be widened by other people who are interested by the digital media activies related to the subject matter.

    Posted July 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink
  12. Larissa

    Rhi, I have a problem with your comment that “people essentially have the information at their fingertips”. This is not necessarily true. Many people do not have computers, access to the internet, or the finances to easily explore the internet to gather information. Also, the internet is limited in the information it can provide, in particular historical information, as not all archives or sources have been transferred to the digital medium. Therefore, you may argue that we are in the age of the digital and technological, but this does not extend to all societies or all people living in our societies.
    Also, you may argue that a digital museum will gain the interest of more (and in particular younger) audiences, but I would argue, that if someone was interested in a visiting a museum, they would be just as likely to visit a real, physical museum as a digital one. And in the case of young people in particular, I think it is important that we continue to encourage participation at real over virtual museums as research and learning via the internet only encourages younger students to be lazy… “The difficulty is that students habituated to surfing on the internet, to getting their information in quick easy doses, to satisfying their curiosity with minimum of effort often do not have the patience to think and study this old-fashioned way”- Gerturde Himmelfarb. AKA, we should be encouraging students to study “the old-fashioned way”, by using books and physical museums and archives, rather than allowing them to become lazy by simple surfing the net. And, tying into my earlier comments and the beginning of this one, the internet is not always reliable or controlled, and cannot offer a student the depth and width of information than physical sources can.

    Posted July 18, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink
  13. Marissa

    Larissa, I can understand the need for “old-fashioned” methods of studying but to an extent. As I have mentioned in Chapter 1, I believe that history does need to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to digitalisation. I personally prefer books to the internet so can understand it from that point, but there are many students out there who I believe would prefer digital books because then they would not have to leave their house or something. I can also understand that internet is not always accessible, but sometimes museums and libraries are difficult to get to as well. Things like traffic and time may be infleuntial factors there.
    In relation to the physical and digital museums, physical museums can allow for biased interpretations of history. I have written an essay about museums and how they can be used as sources themselves because of the way they are organised and what material is shown, and in what order. Throughout history, museums have been controlled by governments or organisations that have their own purposes and agendas. I have no doubt that there are some out there today that do the same. I understand that digital museums could do the same, but there are allowances for other perceptions, as most digital media does. We do not wander through a digital museum and see things in real life (which although is prefered) which I would believe accounts for less of a push to believe what they are trying to portray.

    Posted July 18, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Permalink
  14. Sarah

    The idea that digital media excludes older folk, less educated and people that have no accessibility to the internet and encourages to be lazy can be disregarded. As Cohen and Rosenweig have pointed out, teenagers tend to be more occupied downloading music rather than exploring historical archives online. In fact digital media allows for more diverse and more inclusive histories than traditional archives. One of the most significant benefits of digital media is the opportunity to allow more varied views to be included in historical record than ever before. The internet enables ordinary citizens and minorities with not only a presence on the internet but also gives them a role in recording history. As expressed by Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive; “The Internet is people’s medium: the good, the bad and the ugly. The interesting, the picayune and the profane. It’s all there.” This is more representational than a museum which typically portrays certain stories and histories through what it displays and what it intentionally or unitentionally ’silences’. Digital media enables greater historical record. Imagine the potential of history writing in the future with a greater selection of sources to draw from due to digital media.

    Posted July 18, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Permalink
  15. Marissa

    Sarah, but would teenagers be more interested in exploring historical archives online or reading a historical book? Another benefit from digitalisation of archives and digital museums is that they can make themselves look more presentable and interesting, there is only so much a book cover could do.
    Also I agree with your statement regarding the improvement of historical sources as a result of digitalisation. Another key benefit related to your statement as well as the Me to We theory is the improved communication between historians through sites such as these or email and instant messaging (though the latter do not refer to digital museums and archives directly, but offer the sharing of knowledge). There is also a larger capacity on the internet for storage of data as pointed out by Cohen and Rosenzweig. In physical museums there is a certain amount of room provided to the museum which restricts how many resources made available to the public. Digitally, space is adundant.

    Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:17 am | Permalink
  16. Rhi

    @ Larissa:
    I acknowledge your point that not all people have access to the internet. However when I stated that “the information is essentially at people’s fingertips” I meant this in a general sense, there are obvious restrictions that would inhibit people from having such in reach information, such as finance, internet access etc. What I meant was, that if people did have the means (computer, internet access) then yes, information would be readily available to them. You are right in saying that not all museums have converted their history to digital, however many have. Te Papa has a online galleries and catalogues, along with other NZ museums and art galleries, and yes it is true that not all information can be reliable, but I think the fact of the matter is, that there is a lot that can be.

    I stand by my statements that digital history can be used as a means to interest younger people who generally tend to be not that captivated by history. I do agree with you that if a person is truly interested, then they would just as likely visit a real museum rather than a virtual one. However I point you to one of your own arguments, what if this person who is genuinely interested is inhibited to access this real museum by finances? Or travel? Or that a museum is just inaccessible to them? A virtual museum would then cater precisely for these people. Not only to them but to others, who may want to go, but cannot find the time. Digital media ensures that these people who are genuinely interested are catered to.

    I acknowledge your argument that it is important for young people to be acquainted with books and to participate in “real” museums. I do however think it just important that young people orientate themselves with digital media, why? Because in this day and age they need these relevant skills. Just today on the news, I learned that students at Orewa College are being told to buy ipad 2’s for school use. I personally think this is ludicrous and expensive, but it just goes to show that a digital environment will soon become the norm. Therefore it is important for students to not only appreciate books, but to equip themselves the skills and become interested in a digital media environment.

    I do not agree with your argument that, “research and learning via the internet only encourages younger students to be lazy…” I have been at uni for five years and can speak from personal experience…there is nothing lazy about researching online. It takes a fair amount of time to become used to adequately orientating yourself online journals, archives, galleries etc. I’m sure you’d agree that there can be some rubbish on the internet, and it takes some time to weed out what is irrelevant. This is why I believe it is important that students are taught how utilise digital media to its full extent. I think it is unfair to pigeon hole young people as only using the internet for downloading, and facebooking. Perhaps if more emphasis was placed on digital media then the internet would be used by students for more educational purposes. In this day and age I think it is important for people to understand and appreciate the importance of both digital history and real history, and perhaps if both combined, the best results can be achieved.

    The other benefit of having history/information digitalized is that it has the potential to always be current and up to date. This opposed to print, where amendments have to wait until the next publication. I work part time in a law firm and have seen first hand the benefits of having up to date and current legislation. I remember when I had to find legislation in print, it could take up to an hour, to find the right book, only to discover that the law had been amended and what I was reading was officially old and irrelevant law. By having this information now digitally archived, it is not only so much more accessible, convenient and free, but it is up to date with the latest amendments. Legislation from the 19th century that does not even exist in print (to be purchased) can be located easily. I use this as an example to show what I really do think is a benefit of having historical information available via digital media.

    I agree that the importance of real books and museums should be stressed, there is really no replacing a trip to museum and live history, but I do believe there are some real benefits of digital history. Other than that, it was interesting to read your response, you had some good ideas that differed from my own opinion!

    Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:22 am | Permalink
  17. jimi

    larissa, I totally agree that the internet is not the right medium for the acedemic pusuit of History. Imagine a future Civilisation uncovering our digital History. Would they be as facinated as we have been with the ancient’s? Firstly the vaast majority of the content on the Internet makes us look like ignorant biengs that are totally concerened with ‘Filth’. Secondly our technology will not be able to stand the test of time, our collective memory banks, i.e. Hardware, would be unable to survive the type of events that have caused the fall of past civilisations. Thus because we are becoming a Race of humanity that does not create real tangible things that will allude to our inteligence but rather digital creations, future examiners of our history are likely to conclude that we ignorant, lazy. Finally just a quick word in support of digital Museums; Museums by their nature have never concerned themselves with accuracy take for example the linear narrative of the Cantabury Museum in Chrsitchurch NZ Starting with the Maori in a savage state of nature and then quickly progressing to Pakeha sofistication culminating in Antartic exploration all the while effectively deleating the progress and participation of the Maori. Museums are designed to captivate the attention of the ‘average person’ and they are extremely biased by their funding base, so a digital museum really makes perfect sense for the masses, thus leaving real valuable interpretaions of history to the professionals.

    Posted July 19, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  18. jimi

    @jimi: Sorry about my spelling, it was my first time posting on the web infront of an audience of faceless critics, so i was very nervous.

    Posted July 19, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink
  19. jimi

    To Rhi and others, Doesn’t anybody care about the Environmental impacts of digitalisation, sure Vallum is outdated as a recording device, but at least it stood the test of time. Paper is obviously useless and unsustainable. But think of the impacts of all those little kiddies and the mass of technology they are using to ‘participate’. Rhi do you think it is really necessary that kids have ipads or is it just global corporations influencing our culture? Also if it is to be a truely democratic collective digital history, all 6.5 billion of us would need to be able to have access to it. Unfortunatley computers and their hardware are made of plastic and other valuable and finite resources, such as silver etc, also the average lifespan of a computer is what a couple of years at best, they are designed to be obsolete in a short period of time. Is this what you want for our history also?

    Posted July 19, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  20. jimi

    Nina, can you please allay my fears that ‘participation’ is really a hidden agenda for volunteering for a scientific experiment, where the average person is actually the lab rat? Can you please tell me how the mass of collated information about how we are collectively thinking in games such as ’signtific’ is actually being used? We all know how facebook on sells our information so that corporations can better tailor their agenda to our specific wants and needs, we accept this when we sign up, but are the ‘participant’s’ in these museum led experiments truly aware of the MARKET VALUE of their input? Are the museum institutions supportive of our collective information being made readily available to everybody? Please Nina are you able to allay my fear that this is all just another way to exploit people, especially as they are paying in one way or another for the experiment.

    Posted July 19, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink
  21. Rhi


    Hey Jimi, just to clarify what I said earlier, no I personally do not think it is necessary to have ipads in the classroom, I think it is too extravagant a purchase and can cause other problems such as alienation and bullying of students who are not able to afford one. I just used this as an example to show that many schools are heading in a digital media direction. Your argument about the environmental impact of digital media is interesting, I haven’t thought about this, but it is true, that if everyone had a computer etc, then we could see a rapid depletion of the earth’s resources. I wander how this compares to the depletion of trees for paper?? hmm interesting. someone should insert a graph to show us. Would be interesting.

    Posted July 20, 2011 at 1:12 am | Permalink
  22. Mitch

    @jimi: jimi, I’m not sure if you’re merely playing devil’s advocate here or if you’ve raised the point inadvertently, but the reality is that regardless of the fact that some people (such as, most likely, Nina) genuinely care about input and participation, other companies, organizations etc merely provide avenues of participation in order to capitalize on peoples innate desire to contribute something that they believe to be “important” when most likely, it probably isn’t. This “contribution” then becomes the connective tissue if you will that establishes contact with themselves and a product or service, which, of course, necessitates the forfeiting of money.

    Posted July 20, 2011 at 2:20 am | Permalink
  23. Marissa

    Rhi, I support everything you have said about digitalisation. I think that the idea of digital resources being current and up to date is a good concept and argument for this. Also I would like to point out that the internet would preserve our history. I understand that there are dangers from the internet in this matter, but most things on the internet is usually left behind and I believe that in the future the internet would be an amazing source for historians. They would be able to access our facebook profiles not to misuse our information for their own purposes, but as sources of people in our time or future important people. I could imagine that future historians would be able to manipulate the internet in more ways than we do now so as to collect data about our century etc. What is an important historical event took place tomorrow for example like 911. Historians would be able to access our thoughts and feelings about this event many years in the future as well as news events (that are now online as well) etc.
    Jimi, I agree with Mitch that I’m sure many historians and designers of the participatory museums would genuinely care about societies responses. There will (and HAVE) always been companies willing to do anything to gather information to work in their favor and I don’t believe this will change anytime soon. It is an inevitable aspect of human nature and though it may be unfair, what can we do about it? Further restrictions?

    Posted July 20, 2011 at 4:24 am | Permalink
  24. Jason

    I am going to assume the neo-luddite point of view on the digitalisation of history. Gertrude Himmelfarb makes a few very relevant points in relation to technologies encroachment into learning institutions. A true luddite effectively hates progress, I personally don’t mind progress but am wary of the rate of change in recent years and how vulnerable the information is to being less than 100% correct. That may be a less than fair statement when considering historical information retrieved from different sources as history changes over time in how it is percieved. We have had the enlightenment, rennaisance, post colonialism, realist, post modern and others and each has told of an historical event in linear time from a different socially linear point in time, still the same event though. How many of you out there have actually read a chapter of any digitised book? I started to read this one but soon found that the scroll wheel on the mouse makes skipping to what maybe interesting parts to easy and when I find that the page dosen’t scroll lower that I have effectively learnt nothing and retained less than nothing and feel as if I have lost time (linear time) that cannot be regained.

    Posted July 20, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink
  25. scott

    People have been commenting that using more advanced digital technology could prove a barrier to some people. This must surely be far outweighed as by making exhibits interactive and available online this could open them up to people from all around the world, who otherwise could never see them. Click! seems like a great idea for getting the community involved. Jason what you say about simply skipping parts is true, but on the other hand would you have seen this book at all if it wasn’t online?

    Posted July 20, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink
  26. jimi

    @Rhi: Rhi, I totally agree with you on your points about marginalisation of children whose parents are unable to afford the technology. I think a more legitimate option would be that the school provides the technology equally for all sort of like text books, obviously this is outrageously expensive especially given the techno corporations propensity for creating junk that is out-dated every other year, and of course we live in a democracy so all schools in NZ would need to be upgraded more or less simultaneously. This means the Government would need to find a way basically to keep global corporations like ‘apple’ funded so that our Nation can keep up in the technological race and thus our advantageous place as a developed Nation. However there are a number of problems with this.
    1. The Government cannot afford this because in effect we are operating under a massive load of debt already
    2. Tax payers cannot afford to have our taxes increased to fund technology because the majority of NZ families are finding the rising costs of living simply too much already. More tax to fund technology will result in a lower standard of living.
    3. Trying to keep up with the other developed Nations does not make any sense at all because their economies are unsustainable and they are all in more debt than we are.
    Unfortunately this issue goes far deeper than the Orewa ipad case study, because it really strikes to the heart of democracy in a global sense. Take for example the millions of people who do not even have access to basic necessities such as food and water, yet the children of NZ are blessed with either parents who can afford to give their children a massive head start in an unfair race for comfort, or a government which is willing to fund it, even if the country is driving itself deeper and deeper into debt. This marginalisation between developed and developing countries maintains a status quo where the rich get richer, and well i guess we are not supposed to think too much about the ‘others’ much less the environmental impact of all forms of liberal democratic expansionism. In other words developed countries embracing technology to maintain their status is unethical to the have not’s in a global sense, moreover since we cannot allow the entire world’s population access to the same developments equally because of the environmental impact we seem to be in a situation where our core democratic principles are being over ruled by global corporations greed and control i.e. just buy our new fancy thing and increase your ability to stay ahead of the rest and forget about the world’s problems. To conclude digital historians claim that ‘participation’ is a democratic way that all can be a part of cultural citizenship, yet when you think about it from sustainable principles it is actually unjust and immoral. I think that a country such as NZ should be a leader not a follower and if that means planting some more trees and teaching using old fashioned methods such as paper then this has got to be a least worst outcome than techno-consumption.

    Posted July 20, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  27. Jason

    Scott I never would have read any of this book given a choice and only found out about it as part of a history assignment. Technology in the past has stirred up societies, look at the period at the time of the invention of the printing press. Yes, the printing press made knowledge more accessible to more than just the intellectual elite that at the time was the clergy, but as Elizabeth Eisenstein notes in ‘The Printing Press as an agent of Change’ it subverted one elite and replaced it with another. This is what digital histories are doing at this point in time. If with the increase in digitalisation of books around the world means that books are to a degree phased out and that in theory this means that it is accessible to more individuals the theory is WRONG!. In a globalised capitalist world 20% of the worlds population use 80% of the resources. 80% of the worlds population probably don’t have access to electronic devices(or even contiplate buying one) let alone electricity to use them. A book is a median that is truly more accessible than the internet is or could possibly become.

    Posted July 20, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink
  28. Tony

    Some have talked about digital archives, and how they are a great way to access things. I agree. In an actual book I found a number of books circa 1850 mentioned. So I went online and found them. I have them on pdf. Yet with no power to fuel a computer/ebook etc then the USB is redundant. It might have alot of sapce to stpre thintgs, yet if i cannot get access to it, then what?

    The 911 digital archibve is amazing. I am not a fan of it, I am just amazed that it has been set up. Inevitable eventually, I know. We all have some memory of the event, regardless of where we were. Some feel more compelled to share their excperinces. A cursary glance from Google shows that there is an archive for Revolution 2011 (Tusnia, Syria, Egypt, Lybia, ??). 10 years ago, most would not have heard about them, unless you read to many spy/war/adventure books. The point I am trying to make, albeit the long way around is that the digital achives and musuems can amass a huge amount of information, yet it can become redundant in a heartbeat. Not so much the content itself, but how to get that content.

    One last point. A photographer took a bunch of pictures of President Clinton meeting people at some political rally. He was not the only one, there was dozens. He had a film camera. He himself said at an i/v that most people would have discarded most of the pictuires he took. It was only that he had a contact sheet that he could review his pictures. One of the people Clinton hugged was Monica Lewinsky. That image was splashed all across the globe. He only had it because it was in film. Somethng he could see, and is harder to erase.

    Posted July 20, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  29. scott

    But Jason how is it creating a new elite? I feel like computers with internet access cost much less then a whole library and are therefore much more accessible and useful.
    Books are clunky, heavy and incredibly inefficient at storing information, as well at taking a lot of effort to access in many cases, while one laptop with connection to the internet can access just about everything of use to society. Libraries are free and contain internet access usually so I don’t see who loses out of putting things online. Hard copies of things are done man, all that’s left is to scan and upload historical items, that way we won’t have to travel right round the world to access a particular document and they will not be affected by time.
    Sites like wikileaks also show the power that in many cases the internet returns to the average citizen to collaborate and avoid the medias twist on events.

    Posted July 20, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink
  30. Mitch

    @ jimi and Jason, you guys both make important points. The injustices we are talking about transcend moral issues, the way humans live in this world is simply unsustainable. Something will give, this is inevitable.

    Posted July 21, 2011 at 12:52 am | Permalink
  31. Barbara

    Mitch, I think your warning about companies who use participation as a way of getting consumer information and selling their stuff is an important one. People’s willingness to join in participation activities can also be used as a political tool, or even to scam. People posting seem to be interested in the moral and civil rights issues raised by digital history.
    Here’s another moral issue to debate: historians want to have the fullest possible information about what happened in the past, and digital recording of people’s knowledge of past events can be very valuable. I’m concerned about those who don’t share their knowledge – not just the “inactives” but the antagonistic ones. Do you think historians should put pressure on them to share their knowledge ?

    Posted July 21, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  32. Jason

    A large percent of the worlds population that live in developing countries don’t have access to libraries. If I were to live in siberia were would I have to travel to find a library with internet access to find out how to slow cook reindeer(not a good example but an example). Anyway a movie critic by the name of Michael Medved believes that sense the invention of the TV that childrens attention spans are measured in seconds rather than minutes. The internet only increases the rate at which images etc are available which to an extent is a good thing. Information on the internet is only as good as its original source. How effective is the monitoring of the information that is available? I once accessed wikipedia and retreived some information only to cross check it with some of the books that it had claimed to have retreived the information from only to find that it was totally wrong. If a book tells me that WW2 started on the 3rd of September and wikipedia states that it actually started on the 4th I will take the books answer over wikipedia any day. Before the internet which is a great resource for quantitative research when a child was asked to answer a question they would have to engage with the question, think about it, then retreive the relevant information to answer that question. Nowadays they go to a search engine type in the key word and bang theres a range of possible answers within milliseconds, now what they do is right click the mouse scroll down left click copy, paste done. The child has answered the question that was required but probably dosen’t even know what was said. Next time after I have thought about it for a few hours what are some of the other serious consequences for this age of digitilsation for the human race.

    Posted July 21, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  33. jimi


    @Mitch: yes I am glad that you are able to percieve the true depth of the issue. We as historians have the privelige of using hyndsight to make critical interpretations of the past. It does not take to much imagination to fast forward a couple of hundred years and think how will future historians view our culture of today. If the environment is not our primary consideration in all areas of human development we will be admonished as ignorant i.e. if their are any human historians around to examine our records at all to make this interpretations. What was so wrong with chalk and blackboards or rock paintings? why do we need to develop and expand all the time? just because a person thinks of an innovation that is more advanced does not mean that we must embrace it.

    Posted July 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  34. jimi


    @Mitch: yes Mitch that is good point, I am sure that Nina’s heart is in the right place. I am not accusing her of exploitation. In fact her approach is very noble for example her book is available free online which gives us the opportunity to debate it. I believe you are correct about the bad guys i.e. corporations or companies who seek to capitalize from peoples ‘inane desire’ to have a say and this is most likely not the intention of museums. I raised this point precisely because I believe that we are becoming a homogenized group of digital consumers. The more encouragement a human being is given the more they will develop; we know this because it is how we learn. Museums are assuming the role of providing exciting ‘participation’ which is encouragement to develop along technological lines. My concern is that more digital we become in our lives the less in touch with reality we become this must be counterproductive to culture. In effect we are allowing our collective development as human beings be dictated by seemingly harmless technology and the ‘participation’ it provides. Who is the profiteer in this equation? It is the corporations who provide the technology. What is the effect on collective cultural development?
    1. We become technological addicts often oblivious to the detrimental effects on our cultures. Time is spent in online communities rather than spent getting involved in the real community. If you sit a child in front of the T.V they become absorbed, if you plug in a playstation they can be detached from reality for hours. In fact some adults become detached for days. Take for example the case of the Korean couple who got so addicted to creating a digital baby that they neglected their real baby which resulted in death.
    2. Detachment from reality, for example our online personality gets more attention than who we really are. We love our created self rather than our natural self

    My position is that digital ‘participation’ is addictive and can be counterproductive to natural development of culture. My position is simply that blogging or ‘participating’ is highly addictive, the more prolific or normalized it becomes the more an individual is unable to ‘participate’ without it. This creates a number of adverse cultural and ethical dilemas most of which I have covered throughout my criticism on this site. to conclude no I am not the devil advocate, it is the technofiles who would happily see the inequality that technology fosters and the social evils that result from detachment with reality, It is the Neo-luddites who take a stand that are the angels of humanity trying to keep a hold of what makes us human rather than machines

    Posted July 21, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Permalink
  35. Scott

    Jimi your argument sounds not too well though out. Of course technology must be advanced if it enables ease of life and sustainabiltity as many fields of science work towards today. The time where you could argue for refusing technological advancement for the betterment of humanity is so far gone it is pointless to consider, the only way forward is to adapt our practices into a more sustainable medium, of which a computer containing(or able to access) instantaneously every word written is more economical and eco friendly then gigantic libraries which you must traverse the world to experience – and then trawl through whole books rather then searching key words! I am all for putting entire museums and archives online. Pointless innovations should be ignored – as largely they are, but funding and enthusiasm for development and progression must continue.

    We have left the discussion topic long ago but oh well- You seem to think it would have been better for us to have not left the caves?

    Posted July 21, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  36. Larissa

    Jimi- Thank you for agreeing with my point. The internet is not the right medium for the academic pursuit of history. As many people have pointed out there are benefits to digital history, but the internet is not a reliable or respectable enough place for historical research in general. I will not argue with the uses of digital archives etc, but only argue that any source found on the internet must be scrutinised like any other source so that the scholarly work which has been placed on the internet can be separated from the “filth” that you can also find.
    Scott- Yes books may be “chunky” and harder to store, but does this mean we must dismiss them simply because the internet is an easier option? If you are worried about the bulkiness of books then I would suggest digitalising documents in a CD-rom format for example rather than going straight to the internet which, as we have been discussing, may not be the best place for historical academic study to resign.
    As in Jason’s example, many people trust books far more than the internet, and though books are debated and have contested theories, in general, a book is far more trustworthy than many sites people will find on the internet.

    Posted July 21, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink
  37. Scott

    Jason come on man. If 80% of the world can’t access libraries or whatever number you want to come up with then how will us using computers negatively affect them?
    If they can’t get access to books, and they are still alive then clearly our western ways of passing on knowledge are lost on them, I am sure they will not suffer from us using digital technology.
    Every argument getting spouted on here against the digital world is absolutely ridiculous – ‘Detachment from reality, for example our online personality gets more attention than who we really are. We love our created self rather than our natural self’ – How on earth have humans survived this long if this is a legitimate threat to their survival? Come on people we aren’t talking about children and tv shows, we are talking about an invaluable information device which needs utilising to the fullest.

    Posted July 21, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Permalink
  38. Scott

    Well Larissa that would be fine – put the Cd/Book in your bookshelf and leave it there- but that would first be closing off the period of history to further development or contestation by groups that may have been marginalised, and second it would be not making it accessable worldwide instantly – which is surely the greatest value computers offer.
    You can of course publish books in a way that they cannot be altered while still allowing healthy debate on chat boards below them.
    Of course we should dismiss books if there is an easier option! Would you rather assault an enemy head on or flank them? Attack the front wall of a castle or use a side gate?
    Anyone that believes history is a progressive subject which does change over time must agree that online forums to discuss subjects are valuable. Lets remember many forums actually require professional credentials to contribute.

    Posted July 21, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink
  39. Barbara

    Jason, I share some of your concerns about the digital world and how it excludes some people (but not so many as you might think), and I do agree about the difficulty of reading from a computer screen, and how it can be easy to skim around and not retain any information.
    But there are reliable, peer-reviewed sources of information online. As History students we can use JSTOR to read scholarly journals and get information without having to wait for them to be available in the library,and we can read them any time, any place.

    Posted July 21, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Permalink
  40. Larissa

    Scott, of course debates (of any form whether in a review of a book or in a forum online) are good, and a healthy, necessary part to any historical research. However, what you are suggesting is the entire transmission from books to digital history. This is an absolutely ridiculous motion to make. Firstly, the internet is such a new form of technology, and as I have been debating, it is too early to trust such a form fully enough to transfer all history to the internet. As Barbara stated, there are things like JSTOR, which makes history study and research so much easier. However, JSTOR is a search engine to find WRITTEN material which has been made available on the internet, rather than pure digital forms of history. What you are proposing is absurd, and though I agree that sourcing scholarly articles, for example, on the internet is a good thing, going fully digital because it is the “easier” option, is certainly not a good thing for the future of our academic study.

    Posted July 21, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Permalink
  41. Nicole

    Larissa, you make an excellent point. On top of this, going fully digital is currently unfeasible anyway. Moving the research we already have to a digital format is costly, and computer science hasn’t always created the most appropriate software to turn finding such research into an easy, participatory experience. An example of this is the Niupepa website, which at one point only allowed users to search Maori language newspapers via their English language abstracts, instead of searching the text itself in Maori or in an English translation. In this instance, it would almost have been easier to go straight to the source documents.

    Posted July 21, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Permalink
  42. Marissa

    Nicole, I believe that we are already on our way to going fully digital. It is not something that would happen overnight, it would take far to long. I agree with Scott. I believe this is happening whether we like it or not and sure you may rise up in protest against digitalisation, but even the government is taking an interest in this process. Their intentions may not be the greatest ones such as commercial and economical, but their presence in this process will no doubt have a massive impact.
    Scott mentions how more convenient the internet is in terms of space and storage and people are constantly pointing out that the internet is unreliable and that we may lose all information etc. Well if the internet crashes tomorrow we still have the books to fall back on, I do not think that books would be burnt and destroyed entirely anywhere in the future as they are such great sources. Though my point here is that as technology is growing, it is constantly developing. Defenses against such unreliability are constantly being researched and studied and it has become an emergent field in scholarship.

    Posted July 22, 2011 at 5:04 am | Permalink
  43. jimi

    @Jason: I agree with Jason, I have found this online book very difficult to navigate through and I find myself not really reading things that may be very important. However the good news for the Technophiles is that technology will progress and with our ‘participation’ these problems will be solved over time for example our criticism of it will ultimately force Nina to update her website which she speaks about in her preface. However I am a true luddite in every sense that Gertrude Himmelfarb alluded to such as “the internet does not distinguish between the true and the false, the important and the trivial, the enduring and the ephemeral”as cited in Cohen & Rosenzweig Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the past on the Web (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006) p.1. I am a neo-luddite in many other senses that I have alluded to throughout the chapter 3 from Me-We blogspot. Jason I think it is important to take a position and not sit on the fence in this situation because any argument along the lines of ‘reform luddism’ i.e. harbouring fear of technological progression but just going along with the inevitability of it all is really just another way doing what you are told, and since the technofiles seem to have all the power and will for progress, that means you are accepting defeat. However there are very good reasons why historians especially should at least lead the charge of the opposition. We have the skills to interpret the past and our job is to communicate it to the people of the present so that they have the information at hand to not make the same mistakes again. Put simply that message ought to be the people of the past who lived and died in harmony with the natural environment did not cause prolific destruction of their environment for example Indigenous Aboriginals or first nation peoples if you will. The people’s who embraced the most advanced technology of the day used it to make war and marginalise the people who just wanted to live in a state of nature, think about the difference between the bow and arrow vs gunpowder. The argument throughout history has really been between people who desire sustainability and natural/ spiritual living vs. people who think the Earth is a means for their own ends. Is history really telling us that it is inevitable that humans will never be able to get along and technological progress is the key to being the king of the castle? I don’t believe that the profession of history can legitimately or ethically embrace this technological revolution because we know the outcome of progress by using our hindsight, for example the effects of the industrial revolution on people and the environment. Now is the time to discard the myth of ‘teleology’ human history is not linear moving from bad to good it is the opposite, we are ever progressing away from nature and reality and currently technology is expanding this divide at a frighteningly accelerated rate.
    Ps. sorry for the length but I am trying to enlist your full support I believe that your thinking is inline with mine so I just wanted to try and convince you to fully embrace the Neo-luddite position and help me to fight for it.

    Posted July 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  44. Scott

    Jimi have you ever sat down for five minutes and thought about how shit your life would be without technology?

    Posted July 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  45. @Jimi and @Jason, if you find the book hard to read online, you can always buy a lovely paperback copy.

    To me this is not an “or” but an “and.” We’re opening up more choices, more opportunities. Nothing’s getting thrown away yet.

    Posted July 22, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink
  46. Tony

    A question, how do we retreive this? The digital medium. I could survive the end of a digital revolution, if it was to happen. With no cellphone (yes people like me do exist), no online profile (ignoring this), the transition would be easy. I do go online to find out information for assignments. I also write all my assignments out longhand, on paper before typing them up.

    I have read and am still reading a large number of books for FUN, over a vast range of topics. I cannot build a computer, or even the components to create one. I know about programming, the same way I know about fashion. They both have an industry devoted to them, yet I wouldn’t build a web page, the same way I would enter the Milan fashion show.

    Posted July 24, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink
  47. Sarah

    In regards to Jimi’s comment, The Printing Press was seen as revolutionary and it’s effects vast. Gertrude Himmelfarb points out that Print enabled scientific writings as well as distinctive national culture. It stimulated scholarship which led to the era of enlightenment of which ideas we now live in as a result. Therefore, how much more will digital media provide society with in regards to culture and scholarship. Whether we like it or not, this is a digital revolution – embrace it!

    Posted July 24, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink
  48. jimi

    @Scott: Scott yes, but I always come to the same conclusion, Indiginous peoples lived in a state of nature for thousands of years and did not require technological expansion or exploitation of the Earth, I believe they did not think their life was shit. They are not to blame for the current problems humanity as a collective are facieng. Secondly the majority of the earths population live in situation that is shit by your standard of technology, which is a shit standard. Humanities problems of inequality and an increasing risk of extinction will not be solved by self interested people who think their standard of living is a result of ‘hardwork’. It is not, because it is a result of marginalisation and exploitation. In the case of my country NZ it is a result of colonialism and marginalisation. Just because life may be shit within our current Eurocentric understandings does not mean it would not be greatly enhanced in many other ways e.g love and compassion or simply bieng in touch with nature rather than a touching a keyboard. if we effect a controlled regression to a point of sustainable egalitarianism, life would be better for all humans and the earth that we are equally dependant on, it just means we have to redistribute some of our wealth and power, it does not mean that no technology is possible. I would happily see this happen and yes i would accept a lower standard of living if it means that we all have better chance in this world. technological expansion has always been the root cause of inequality between humanity, and since we are not able to sustain a technologically egalitarian world collective, because technological expansion has usustainable impacts on our fragile existence i.e. we are totally dependant on the Earth for our collective physical survival. then a technological regression is really the only legitimate way to solve two of the most pressing problems we are facieng today, which means that if we are to claim that we all have equal rights then we need to act in ways that actually bring about this state of affairs. Jason if you have studied history and can apply it to the current situation on earth can you honestly say that technological expansion has been a good thing for humanity or the Earth? Historians should be the strongest opposition to technological advancements because we study the past, if we ignore the ultimate message then what kind of profession are we a part of? can we really claim to be professionals or leaders if we just simply embrace whatever system the dominant status quo tells us to? compete, expand or fall behind us, us the ones who are able and never mind the consequence does not make me feel comfortable it makes me feel like shit.

    Posted July 24, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Permalink
  49. Paul

    The problem with the Me to We approach I feel is that because it is driven by people collectively like google is, with the most searched queries automatically being prompted in the search box, it may lose sight of an objective that provides any real answers or may be lost in novelty. This customisation already influences people perhaps not immediately but that prompt may be the next thing they search out of curiousity. When things get customised to audiences it also distorts what information is readily shown to them, viewpoints can be marginialised for others that are more compatible with your own creating a false reality or atleast a lopsided one and so with content that changes the more people use it, some things are may get more attention because of the novelty attached with them and the more traditional exhibits get less attention. If a young person had the choice of examining an ancient vase first hand or through high tech virtual reality I would guess most would chose the virtual version simply because of this novelty factor which would take away from the real reason the exhibition was created in the first place.

    Posted July 24, 2011 at 9:50 pm | Permalink
  50. Nicole

    Paul, good points, but I think one of the most key aspects of the Me to We approach is that exhibitions are designed so visitors are operating within certain appropriate constraints. Unlike Google, where whatever other users have deemed most relevant comes up first, a good museum will ensure their interactive exhibitions still maintain some objectivity.

    Sure, a novel display will attract some people purely because it is novel, but isn’t the point of participatory exhibitions to attract and engage a wide audience? If young people learn the same things from a virtual representation of a vase as they would from the real thing, but with that extra incentive to engage with something new to them, I feel that the display would be a success.

    Posted July 24, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Permalink
  51. Larissa

    Nicole, I really like your observation about the difference between google where any information could be received when searching, and a museum exhibition where the information given to the audience, even in interactive exhibitions, is “constrained”. I have really enjoyed your ideas on participation Nina. And I think that these ideas will work well in museums where the participatory experiences can be controlled and designed in a way which means the audience gets the best results, an enjoyable experience and most of all receives the right information about our past.
    However, I am still not totally convinced on how some of the people commenting here believe that these participatory experiences can also be used in digital form, because that control over information and constraint process is not the same.

    Posted July 25, 2011 at 2:29 am | Permalink
  52. Barbara

    Nicole, excellent point about engaging a young audience. Nnfortunately, some of them will now want to engage only with online experiences, ignoring the possibilities in the real world.
    I hope that we can trust museums to exercise some editorial control over information , but it is very important to understand that there is a heap of information which is NOT there. Stephanie Lambert has talked about the constraints on using Maori resources stored at the Te Awamutu museum. We must respect the wishes of those who own the information,

    Posted July 25, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink
  53. Tony

    There is a paper by Werner Schweibenz (URL at end) that explores how the internet is a tool that will allow for the expansion of the digital museum. It does allow for a non linear perspective of history. It also means that space used to store things by the museum is alot less, in pronciple all you need is a moniter, a web broswer, and possible a keyboard and mouse. Schweibenz belives that it may stop what Heiner Treinen calles “active dozing”, loooking at an object/exhibit but not seeing it for what it is.

    Yet the short attention span of the viewers might also mean that instead of Treinen’s “active dozing”, we will end up with “detailed insesitivity” (Copyright Anthony Marris 2011). We will see alot of images, sounds, and text but will retain little of it, and become numb to it. References to Sept 11 have become so common place, that we think nothing of a building being struck by a plane, and subconciously ignore not only the aftermath of it, but also the precurser to it. Terrosirms did not start in 2001, but it recieved a new poster child.

    NB (Highly irrelevant): Godwins Law suggests that after any lenght of time, an internet discussion will refernce WW2, Hitler etc. Prehaps an ammendment to it would be ‘the 911 amendment’. Principle’s the same, words used differ.

    Posted July 25, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  54. Jason

    Digitilization is a great quantitative tool for historians I will admit but it is left wanting in qualitative areas. When people add their thoughts on topics in regards to history they have lost the essence of the historical narrative that books have. I read a encyclopedia year book (1950) the other day and the language is indicative of the period, this language describing a point in linear time is lost when I look at internet sites describing the same topic ( the topic was the NHL final and the US/Canada games). As more people become heavily dependent on the internet for their pursuit of some form of intelligence a question has to be asked ‘will we be able to still write with pen and paper, undertake maths problems with out the use of a electronic device that does it for us’. Some people even now can’t write in script and for that matter read it. What would happen if a terrorist that learnt how to contruct a nuclear bomb on the internet detonated it and the EMP knocked out the world wide web? How will people be able to learn, computers won’t work and it will create a generation that might in the future be referred to as the ‘missing link’. As Gertrude points out in her article how can any one read the works of philosophers such as Hegel on a screen when truly reading it is the easy bit the understanding and the personnel contemplation of the ideas is the key. Try reading Hobbes’s Leviathen on the computer and understand a page without the screen going into sleep mode. Yes search engines and the like aid the speed that research can be gained but the thing that takes the time is sorting out the crap that is not based on fact or is other wise useless. Searching libraries in person opens ones eyes to other possibilities and subjects, the duey decimal system works although some people are beginning to falter in how to use it.
    Nina why don’t you send me a complimenary copy of your book and I will read it.

    Posted July 25, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Permalink
  55. Barbara

    Tony, thanks for the phrases “detailed insensitivity” and “active dozing”. It’s just been demonstrated to me – I had to look back at your post to see what the phrases were! Even though I’d thought they were so apt when I read them, I couldn’t recall them 10 seconds later. (or perhaps it’s just that my brain is getting old)
    Images seem to be more potent in engaging the participant than words are, and I can’t resist mentioning the film footage of WW2 compared with a book on the subject..

    Posted July 25, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Permalink
  56. Mitch

    Realistically, the internet is like many mediums of education; it can be both good and bad. The incessant analysis that has gone on in this chapter’s discussion page is what is often termed by psychologists as “analysis paralysis” ( So much analysing goes on that an individual ultimately forgets to take any sort of action.

    If one is investigating a historical topic, a large range of sources need to be investigated. This investigating may be conducted by reading books, articles, listening to oral history, conducting interviews, source analysis and of course, use of the internet. Throughout the time of research, an individual will come across all kinds of sources, both good and bad, across all mediums. It is up to the researcher to make informed, meaningful conclusions based upon a wide range of research and research materials. The internet does allow for an incredible rate of information sharing across the whole world but obviously, the information is not always helpful. With a little bit of diligence, however, valid conclusions can always be drawn.

    Posted July 25, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Permalink
  57. Paul

    @Jason: Digitisation certainly is not perfect but considering that this move away from from physical into the realm of the digital is relatively new I feel that these problems are merely wrinkles that will be ironed out in time.
    Already with the recent emergence of e-readers like the Kindle which is designed to combat the usual complaints that stem from staring at a screen we can see that the line between book and computer is becoming increasingly blurred and not too soon I think we will have digital interfaces that are basically books but that can have a capacity of many libraries and this capacity is one of the strong points of digital information with the other being a far greater search functionality.

    Becoming too dependant on technology is of course always a danger and I for one think that there should always be a physical copy somewhere at all times. Give me a book over a screen anyday but this may just be a generational preference, I am not old by any stretch of the imagination but I can remember getting internet (just) while now people are born into the information age and grow up looking constantly at computer screens, smart phones and television and I would not be surprised if this turned into the preferred form.

    Posted July 25, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Permalink
  58. Paul

    @Barbara: The issue of ownership of information is an important one and especially pertinent in New Zealand society, I believe that to access some Maori resources you must be a tohunga as the information is deemed sacred and not to be in unqualified hands or people not in the tribe/hapu/iwi. This may present an obstacle to collecting knowledge in some areas of culture and may see the knowledge being lost as, however with digital information and modes of information it could provide a cultural revival not just for Maori but for other people also.
    The researching of family trees and descendants has become a very popular topic for many, almost as a hobbie and the internet has become a great tool for this and for people not just the young, who are daunted by the thought of researching through the depths of libraries and archives.

    Posted July 25, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Permalink
  59. Rhi

    I agree with Nina’s earlier comment, if people have trouble reading online sources, why not read it in hard copy? I am yet to see an argument that has actually suggested replacing hard copy sources, my interpretation of this chapter was that online, digital and participatory exhibitions are in short another viable option. Online information is an alternative historical source, I don’t think we need to be worried that our world is going to go all matrix on us (and I’m not mocking anyones opinion by saying this) I honestly just think that data and information being online is just natural progression. I acknowledge what others have said about technology driven countries living outside their own sustainability, but I feel like those sentiments should be directed more to big dog corporations, and not so much people who wish to retrieve info off the net. I think it is up to the individual’s own preference and taste, as to where they choose to do their research. From my own experiences I just know that I find online resources and digital media convenient and accessible. 

    Posted July 25, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Permalink
  60. Gina

    I completly agree with you Rhi, books and written sources are still very valuable to the resarching process, and a way to get your name out there as an accommplished academic. As Larissa has popinted out, articles generally starts as written sources and then be transfered into an online source. But will that change completly in the near future? Will academic works go straight to the internet? I personally don’t think they should a lot of people would still prefer to read a hard copy book as opposed to sitting at the computer reading pages and pages of work, and as others have already noted books and written sources are percieved as being more trustworthy than online sources. I think written sources should still be available to those who want them. But also agreeing with Paul I think written sources still have their place, they should’t be removed they should be transfered to an online site for ease of access as an electronic source but not as a replacement for books altogether. Written sources still have their value, however as a quick reference an online source is more convenient via searching key words than trying to sift through an entire book.

    Posted July 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink
  61. Tony

    Cohen and Rosenzweig (2006, pp. 1,2) cite two authors, Louis Rossetto and David Noble. Rossetto called the digital revolution as amazing as the discovery of fire. Noble said that with the internet, higher education would suffer. Rossetto is right. I can visit the Mona Lisa in Paris, the Great Wall in China and the Titanic in seconds. Mere seconds. With one of the larger (if not the largest Internet giant) I can wander around Madrid at street level, and look at the shops. Noble is also right. The internet has meant higher education is and will continue to suffer.

    We can say “but surely professionals and students would know not to go to untrustworthy sites”. Why not, how can you tell what sites are trustworthy. We might look at a site and think, ‘well that lines up with what I know’. Fair point. But what if you are new to the topic, and so would have no idea intially. Yes, I do concede that further research will confirm or deny your findings.

    The Avalon Project has a host of documents. Actual text, transcribed into digital format. Without it, it would have been more difficult to do assignments. Sure, secondary sources talk about documents, but it is easier to have the primary source to work off. Not to mention that language barriers and clarity issues that you may have had to overcome.

    I concede there is a place for dH. Cohen and Rosenzweig (2006, p.38) mention that despite the range of material now, and the medium that is used, history is till written in the same manner as it was beore. So what has dH done, but just create more information to use. For it to be totally new, a revolution, would it not have it take a different approach.

    Posted July 26, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Permalink
  62. Jason

    Here are a couple of websites. One has even listed the pros and cons of each. In hindsight I’ve become a hipprocrit. Just for today.…/

    Posted July 26, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Permalink
  63. Drusilla

    I say, that a good participatory museum experience is like the anecdote of the Japaneses artist and the bird. The anecdote involves some rich guy, we will imagine he is American for the sake of the story, who has comissioned a work of art from a Japanese artist. The artist draws a beautiful, delicate bird in the bottom right hand corner of the page and gives it to the American. The American is perplexed by the white space left untouched on the remainder of the page and asks the artist if he could add some extra stuff to fill up all that white space. The artist responds, that if he were to fill up the white space on the page, then the bird would have nowhere to fly. Good exhibition, or website, or digital history design, provides the framework, but leaves space for users to interact freely. I think there needs to be the illusion (if not the reality) of freedom for participants even when there are tight constraints within the design of the project. In theory, the bird from the story, has more room to fly on the internet than in the real world, making digital content/aspects the best way to achieve free-flight… ??

    Posted July 26, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Permalink
  64. Paul

    @Tony: I agree with the sentiment that higher learning would suffer because the internet gives us such a vast amount of information at our fingertips we are less likely to be involved in deep thought on the subject, compared to if one had to look for sources physically and read through text to uncover the relevant parts instead of instantaneous targeting of words and phrases amongst text. However I think the revolution that you might speak of Tony, could lie in the accessible and instantaneous nature of the net with regard to Digital history. The ability to record by photograph or video or words and upload this to the net available for millions may prove to be an important shift for history. The likes of social media such as twitter and facebook have already proved to be useful tools for people to show alternative viewpoints of events in recent history and with every second person having a smart phone its provides an interesting turn in the field of history along with cctv perhaps the future of history will be a completely digital one.

    Posted July 27, 2011 at 1:43 am | Permalink
  65. jimi

    @Scott: Scott, simply touting the benefits of technological expansion with phrase like “of course” we need it and believing that expansion is the way forward is in direct contradiction to everything the historical record is pointing to. What was the good that came out of the industrial revolution? I hear you say “exiting” new innovations that were designed to make life easier for humanity. However Scott that was not the reality, the result was nothing but class stratification, marginalisation oh and of course now the scientists you are leaning on are telling us that we have a planet on the brink of environmental collapse, and it turns out we are accelerating it via our thirst and lust for technological expansion. I am sure that the arguments for the industrial revolution were very similar to yours. The difference between that technological revolution and the current one is that the industrialist capitalists were not as well informed of the consequences of their actions, however I am sure that regardless of their knowledge base they would have surged ahead embracing it all the way, because technology in the hands of self-interested rational maximises= profit and increased comfort for the wealthy etcetera.
    What is the sustainable medium you are speaking of? A computer is filled with components that ultimately form e-waste (just Google it), yes it can be recycled but it is more likely that it will be built new…this is because it is controlled by global corporations who care only for profit. Digital mediums will never be sustainable; all of their components are made from finite resources many of which are rapidly being depleted and all of which are found in different localities all over the globe. Plant a tree and help mitigate the effects of global climate change, use the resource sustainably and the ultimate effect is that the book you create if you have anything valuable to contribute has been ethically produced.Produce only valuable contributions and reduce the amount of rubbish both intellectual and physical.
    Your argument is out-dated as it is the same one that is always used. This argument must transcend mere concerns over historical methods and ease to historians or the benefits to recording/ storing of history. Unless you have no conscience, if that is the case then the historical profession will be worse for wear. The profession cannot hide behind the jones’ theory because a failure to honestly interpret the past mistakes and their impacts on culture and the environment today would be detrimental to our professionalism, future generations would say you knew the effects of technological expansion and yet you said nothing and embraced it just like everyone else. Would professional historians have supported the industrial revolution if they knew what the future was? I am sure that many elitist amateur historians of the day did and that is really my point. Professionalism demands ethical considerations and historians have no excuse especially as we pride ourselves on providing accurate interpretations of the past, ignoring perfectly good historical examples of the detrimental effects of human expansion in order to embrace a new revolution without reservation in my opinion is negligent. It is time that the profession actually stood up and helped to fight against human expansion. In 200 hundred years we have managed to get ourselves into a position of trouble on all fronts and you cannot ignore the fact that it has all been brought about by varrious manifestations of human expansion. Finally yes painting in caves was a culturally valuable method of communication and it never did any harm. First nation peoples lived within their means for thousands of years and never caused any harm, what was so wrong with their methods? Scott unfortunately the argument does boil down to Nature vs Technology and their can only be one winner, I know what side of this debate I will fight for but have you really thought out about what side you are on?

    Posted July 27, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink
  66. Marissa

    @Tony: I read for fun Tony and I understand many of my friends do as well, I cannot build a computer nor understand programming. There are many like us who love to physically visit museums. What is the point to this?
    If you are stating you will not join the digital world that is fine. But can you say the same for future generations? It is my understanding that children as young as 10 have facebook and consistently visit youtube. Who are we to stop this? We cannot stop billions of children form doing these things. And although this generation may be considering whether digitilsation is a good thing or a bad thing, it is already seeping its way through to the younger generations.

    Posted July 27, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Permalink
  67. Tony

    The point is simple, what happens when all the digital material goes away? We all have a viewpoint of the digital being good or bad. Irregardless of your individual stance, it is the reliance in technology that is the worry. Going to a physical musuem encourages interactions. A physical-digital museum would also do that, and allow for a much broader scope of topics to view. A purely digital musuem would limit the social interactions on a person to person scale, which would have a detrimental effect on society. Museums are products of the society that created them. Granted, most are of the Euro-centric scale of time model.

    Just because people all do it, doesnt make it a good thing. It is the reliance on the digital that needs to be addresses. Looking at a map, as opposed to GPS unit. One requires a power source, more suceptiable to weather and needs a clear reception. The other, light, and a basic undestanding of how to read. A socitey that has everythiong instantly, relies on speed, and demands it also. Fast food was 20 minutes, now it is 60 seconds. Text messaging means everyone is on call instantly. Work productivity is down due to that. You spend mental time thinking of the text, sending it and waiting for a reply before deciding your next step.

    History use to be fragments of material, now there is to much. It is arguable that it is a good thing or a bad thing. US Civil War, photographs became more common. Prior it was official documents, the odd diary, artwork and oral tales. Now history is being recorded on a meduim that might be the most stable thing that humans have ever created, and I might live to regret my words. This will prove it. If the digital medium survives, in 50 years time, you can write that I was wrong, and provide this a proof.

    Posted July 27, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink
  68. Barbara

    I wonder if there was the same kind of debate as we are having after the printing press was invented. Should anyone have access to books or only people who could be trusted with reading them responsibly? Could young impressionable minds be trusted with words and images when they lacked the ability to critically evaluate the reliability of authors? Should anyone be able to publish anything in a book?
    I suspect there were such debates, and we are just re-living history with our concerns over digital sources and participatory museums. censorship

    Posted July 27, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Permalink
  69. Mitch

    @Tony: You say that:

    “Going to a physical musuem encourages interactions. A physical-digital museum would also do that, and allow for a much broader scope of topics to view. A purely digital musuem would limit the social interactions on a person to person scale, which would have a detrimental effect on society.”

    Is it not obvious to you that digital museums, or digital resources that have discussion boards like this very one we are using now support interaction, discussion, debate and learning to a huge extent? Look at the wide range of opinions expressed in this comments section by people from all over the world, that without a resource such as this, would never have the oppurtunity to come into contact with one another.

    Perhaps if you browse through the comments, you will also discover various links to other sites and other sources that, if you had the time, might actually be of importance to you. From your above comment I take it that you are interesrted in the subject of history, so I’ll provide you with another website: This page has specific resources on slavery as it is a subject of personal interest to me. However, if you perouse the site you may find other topics of more interest to you.

    Posted July 27, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink
  70. Nicole

    Good point, Barbara. I’m sure much the same debate went on in regards to the introduction of print media. It definitely did for radio, still does to some degree for television. I’m sure the argument for digital media will sound just as silly one day!

    Posted July 27, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink
  71. Gina

    Tony, you acknowledge that a digital museum would lose all social interaction and this would be a bad thing, but its not just the social interaction one would lose when entering an online digital museum, we would also be losing a piece of history and society. We would be losing the excitement of learning something new about a place, event or time, we would be losing the entire atmosphere of the musesm experience, for me personally I get excited about learning something new in a museum, and almost feeling like I was there at that time, as opposed to reading something on a website, no matter how offical the site is. With a digital museum you would still be able to learn everything that you could from a physical museum, but you lack the actual artifacts and being able to see things from all angles, not just those that the camera can provide for you. Digital cannot entirely take over the world, not yet atleast, there are still those, that many have noted, do not have access to a computer let alone the internet, so where can these lower class people get their history from if not at museums? Sure third world countries most likely don’t have access to museums, but then again they don’t have access to the internet either. Historical artifacts are still stored and made available to the public. Yes official documents were written down on paper, and i dont think they should stop writing things on paper, or atleast print off the important documents to catalog and store elsewhere. Because, just think what happens if the entire network, the entire internet crashed, would all our history be lost forever? Because we didn’t think it was necessary to have any backup? Because we relied too hevily on computers and the internet for storing and keeping our history safe.

    Posted July 27, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Permalink
  72. Sarah

    Tony – With regards to your comment suggesting that there is a place for digital history, I would disagree in that typically digital history allows for a range of archival forms, such as sound media, written record, visual record and photographic record. Therefore, digital media has the potential to be used in a variety of ways in many different settings.

    I agree with Barbara and Nicole in that people most likely had this argument with the invention of the printing press as that was particularly revolutionary of the time.

    Gina, I disagree with your position that digital media takes away the excitement of visiting a physical museum. Personally, I have visited a few museums recently and was bored by the lack of physical artefacts and vast amount of written word to read. Not only that, I got tired and sore legs from standing reading for several hours in the museum (and I enjoy history). I would have preferred to explore the museum online as I could have done this from the comfort of my own home, without the $15 entry fee. Also in regards to your statement about whether it is wise to place important documents on the internet, I think that the internet is not only a good place to store information, it is also readily accessible. Natural disasters, fire and other disasters can easily destroy significant historical record. Therefore hard copies are not necessarily a better way to store information and archives.

    Posted July 27, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink
  73. Isobel

    -Great chapter. Lots of good examples where the me-to-we approach can and does work. One of my initial thoughts when reading this chapter was to do with Free2Choose in Amsterdam (which I am disappointed to have missed, having visited the city myself earlier this year). I see now that my reaction is not unique- feeling the same as Regan Forrest above (and several of your reviewers, it seems). While I might appreciate an attempt to get strangers involved in discussion, I’m not sure that during the voting would be an appropriate time. You suggested perhaps having people move to each end of the room depending on your vote- imagine how awkward/ostracised you might feel if you are the only one, or one of few to vote a certain way… I’m not sure how this could be resolved. It’s always tricky launching into a conversation with strangers, especially over potentially sensitive issues and across foreign cultures- although this could be incredibly valuable at the same time…

    -When you talked about ranking comments on comment boards by date added or quality, I immediately thought of the facebook “like” button. If there was some way of allowing people to “like” (agree with, vote for) comments as well as writing their own- all comments could be ranked by “most liked” (and then by date, if several have the same number of “likes”). This approach would be both practical as a sorting system and familiar to participants.

    -I think in the end you make 3 excellent points:
    1. That the amount of input an audience has into a product will determine its success and how much the audience enjoys it.
    2. That well-structured and well-designed exhibits and activities will be the most successful
    3. That participation does not compromise the importance of museum staff/authority, who are, in the end, those who design and manage platforms (therefore determining their success).

    Posted July 27, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Permalink
  74. Paul

    @Gina: I do not see why scholarly historical writing can not go straight online. Credibility of course is an issue in such an environment as the internet where information is freely made and taken but this does not mean that sites can not enjoy the same recognition and respect as established journals and the like. I think the difference may be that it takes more effort and resources for books to be published so the content is perceived as being more trustworthy because once it is published you can not change it as you can a digital source and that would demand a more rigourous selection process or effort in writing. There is of course the obstacle of tradition as well with books being a symbol of knowledge and learning it adds to the attachment to the physical source.

    This perception is entirely valid but there is no reason for a site to employ the same rigour in choosing articles and works for publication online, and once this trust is seen as being able to be transferred into the online realm it would allow for more access to peer reviewed and scholarly views on subjects whereas before you had to trust what you read absent of footnotes and criticism.

    Posted July 28, 2011 at 4:55 am | Permalink
  75. Ross W

    Jimi, jimi, jimi – you tell Scott what side you would take in this battle of human technological advancement because it’s ‘ Nature vs Technology ‘ and sure their can only be one winner.. and I somehow doubt that it’s going to be human civilization. If things never changed the way they have over the last 200 or so years don’t you think maybe the human race as a species would not exist?, I mean it has only been through the advancement of human technology in all fields that we as a specie have been able to survive for as long as we have….. and sure not all human advancements have corrected all the wrongs civilizations have endured or suffered because of this. Jimi you initially have to ask yourself ‘ were would we as a people be today if not for technological advancements of any kind…..?’

    Posted July 28, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink
  76. Barbara

    Re visiting a real rather than a digital museum: I think that viewing a digital collection is usually a second-best option, but sometimes it is the only way we can see things without expensive travel costs.
    In the olden days (1989) you could sometimes have a different kind of interaction going on – a conversation with other visitors. I spent an interesting hour in the Museum of London looking at an exhibition about the Blitz in WW2. An elderly couple introduced themselves as “real Eastenders, not like them on the telly”, and explained to me in detail how the model air-raid shelter on display was not quite like the real one they had spent hours in during the 1940s. I wish they could have recorded their comments, in their accent.
    Now we have the chance to record information like theirs.

    Posted July 28, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink
  77. Nicole

    Isobel: Good points about Free2Choose. I’ve been thinking about how to get strangers to talk to each other in this sort of context as well. One idea I had was to add keyboards to the voting stations, and have a two minute live chat on screen, with people who voted yes highlighted one colour and people who voted no in another colour. Participants could be given a narrow constraint for the chat, then be encouraged to move to a seated area to talk more once the two minutes were up. I think this would get the conversation started, and overcome the initial awkwardness of being ‘outed’ for differing opinions. What do you think? I’m also intrigued by your Facebook ‘like’ button idea for ranking comments. However, maybe something other than a ‘like’ button alone would work better in this context. I remember seeing very shocking, moving videos of destruction caused by the Japan tsunami earlier this year, which hundreds of people apparently ‘liked’: maybe not the response they had in mind!

    Paul: I agree with you about credible scholarly data being plausibly made available online. JSTOR is a good example of this, although they admittedly mostly collect articles from hard copy journals. However, if an article was released directly onto JSTOR, these days I think most academics would deem it credible.

    Ross: One word: Skynet :)

    Barbara: Interesting story! This is one of the reasons I like how digital media ‘democratises’ media usually controlled by few. Digital media allows personal stories and experiences such as these to be preserved.

    Posted July 28, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Permalink
  78. Nicole A

    As one who is only just joining the conversation on chapter 3 i will start a point again that has probably been discussed however its always good to argue at someone else your point of view. Clearly there are pros and cons to technology as many of you have pointed out such as the infinite quantity of information on the internet. Yes there are some dodgy people who spend their life (apparently they don’t have much of one) putting up false information and making an annoyance of themselves on good sites that can help to provide information on interesting information. Websites like Wikipedia can allow, to an extent, participation on differing information. People who have witnessed or were involved in wars, battles, fires or other natural disasters can give detailed information to a site that will allow people to have a complete understanding of what happened. I think that digital history is not absolutely amazing it has its negatives and its positives but ultimately as the world keeps moving forward at the rate that it does, how are we going to change this view that digitization of everything is going to help?
    Sorry its so long.

    Posted July 29, 2011 at 2:40 am | Permalink
  79. jimi

    @Ross W: ross, no,no,no I think you should remain on chapter 1, im not sure if your ready to enter this debate. shame on you for ignoring the full historical record of human civilisation. It is only the elite Eurocentric proeples who would not have survived very long without technological expansion, this is because they moved away from nature and thought they could control it and use this control to enslave the people who just wanted to live in peace. We would be in a state of nature without technology just like the indiginous first nation peoples, this state would be truely egalitarian and in adhearance with universal justice. Sustainable technological advantage provided humanity with everything it needed to survive, yet unsustainable process like digitalisation have been created by people who are scared of natural living, they are lazy and something less of a human due to their lack of campassion for the effects of our post-modern refusal to yield our psuedo control of this planet e.g. embrace it because it means we can really really do great in depth historical research, quickly and be damned about the consequences. When we speak of the detrimintel effects of development on culture, what we mean is it effects every single person on the planet, most don’t have any say in the matter whilst their culture is either homogenised or destroyed…recently it is called colonialism. now I shall redifine the term post-modern cultural colonisation…however just like the old term the colonisers did not actually care enough about the culture or the environments they helped destroy i.e. they were ignorant and arrogant, that is what I fear has already become of our rapidly homoginising collective cultural human civilisation. I want to make one last point, it was the inane desire for progress that led to the fall of great civilisations, they developed to a point that their environment could no longer sustain them. Why would informed peoples make the same mistakes? if we believe it is all inevitable then we are living in a negitve and defeatist culture. why not just accept the facts of our surrounding environment and live in accordance with it. It worked for indiginous peoples for thousands of years until the “we as a people” you speak of came along and obliterated it.

    Posted July 29, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink
  80. jimi

    @Sarah: Hi Sarah, I agree with most of what you say except that the national culture of which you speak of as growing out of the enlightenment was then spread around the world, often with disastrous results to all the ‘other’ cultures that existed. What rights did Eurocentric nations have to use their new found knowledge to cause irrevocable damage to foreign culture and the environment? None they just took the rights because of their knowledge and their interpretations of the rights it gave them and the power of the printed word to communicate their justifications. Sure it enabled a voice to the other as well, but when you view the discourse that surrounds historical events rather than just focusing on the positives from a dominant ideological perspective, different pictures emerge for example was the first Maori printing press really a good thing as it is always touted to be, or was it a case of having to keep up with progress out of fear of marginalisation? Once a movement accelerates people must either keep up or fall by the wayside this is progress as post-modern societies apply it, because it is technologically advanced nations who are developing exponentially faster than developing nations whose resources we need to create the new techno rev. As historians embracing this revolution without voicing fear and concern for the detrimental effects on collective human culture as evidenced by the effects of past revolutions would be negligence.
    Further it is now impossible to ignore the past or construct it into a favourable light, everyone is watching and criticising everything we say, especially the multitude of amateur historians and critics who have so called equal access to the revolutionary technology. The Cohen and Rosenzweig article makes this point accurately where they mention how the web is not capable of drawing the distinction between amateur and professional via Google, yet they reach the same conclusion you have that the profession must stay one step ahead of the pack, could this be out of fear of marginalisation? So upon my interpretation of the past, I think this revolution will ultimately be unsustainable and it will cause more damage to culture and the environment than the printing press ever dreamt of. It is now time to slow the progress down, the real revolution that is taking place is the cultural and environmental revolution, both of which can be spread by human to human contact within a real tangible community, and they do not require a homogenisation of culture via digital methods. Professional historians have an obligation to provide the information necessary to correct the injustices of the past and this would be a better environment in which to get our voice across, perhaps we could even speak real words to real people. If you embrace that then you will feel better in the long run.

    Posted July 29, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  81. jimi

    @Jason: I agree Jason, and add further to the problem the fact that all humanity is equally subjected to the negative impacts of technological expansion but not all are contributing to it makes it all seem repulsively unjust.

    Posted July 29, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Permalink
  82. Gina

    Paul, I’m sure scholarly article will eventually make it straight to an online site. They will be accumulated together in an easy to manage collection on an official database moderated by academic officials where they analyse the texts before they are published online. It will be seen as a credible site, it will be no different than those of JSTOR or any other academic databases. This probably will be the future of academic works; I’m just saying I think they shouldn’t wipe out written, published works entirely. It’s a better way of cataloging your own individual works, being able to see the work you have accomplished. Or perhaps that’s just me, I catalog and store all my work and assignments in folders and if I was to publish an article or a book I would want a hard copy, a published piece of work to be able to see and acknowledge the work I put into it. Before a book is published it is read by their peers, so why couldn’t they include their reviews or criticisms there at the end. Also I think a lot of people would rather read a hard copy written source as opposed to an online document, it’s easier to read and retain the information, and you’re less likely to get sidetracked as opposed to reading from the computer screen, but again that could just be a personal preference. I can definitely see the positives to viewing online articles, less time involved and pretty accessible. However unless you belong to a university as we do and pay for these resources in our fees these databases such as JSTOR are extremely expensive to access. The library pays over 2million dollars each year to have access to these online databases, while book are also expensive it’s not a continuous fee you need to pay, just the once than you have it forever to store in the library.

    Posted July 31, 2011 at 12:29 am | Permalink
  83. Ross W

    @Jimi; whoa jimi cuz are you that insecure about what you have said that the moment someone challenges your ideas or just takes you for a ride you come back with and tellingme im not ready for this debate and should rather stick to chapter 1. Jimi I do agree with you that elite Eurocentric people have benefited from nature and the new uses of technology man has invented to try further our existence. I don’t think man really wanted to enslave people who lived in nature in peace I beleave they just wanted to provide them with a better alternative by giving them a bigger range of tools to live that free and peaceful life as you put it. Sure we would have been in a state of nature and pure freedom from technology, but seriously do you honestly think civilization would have progressed to the state it is in now without technology.
    Jimi I think you are missing the point by making a bold statement like “ Digitalisation has been created by people scared of natural living”, people have created this new wave of digital history to try and preserve our past and all its trail and tribulations mankind has experienced throughout time. You make a valid point about early colonizers who never cared about nature or the environments they destroyed in the processes of taking over to make life easier and better for them in this new place they discovered. You speak of the mistakes civilization has made with its all its unnecessary advancements in technology, but if not for these advancements civilization would have not had the power for any sort of advancement beyond the realm it found itself in. Jimi as for it working for indigenous people for thousands of years does not really ring true because it was Neanderthal man who first discovered the wheel and what changes it brought that society was the beginning of technological advancement for the human race……like it or not we humans are probably doomed by technology.!!, but who is to say whether are or not,!!!!!.

    Posted July 31, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  84. Isobel

    Nicole, the facebook “like” button is no longer just a way of saying that you LIKE something… you may like it, you may love it, you may just be voting for someone/a page to win a competition, you may have to “like” a product/company page in order to find out more information about it, you may “like” something just to be able to UNLIKE it (as facebook doesnt have that option)… and in the same way, people watching these horrible videos about Japan are probably “liking” it to show that they have watched it and it has moved them, rather than that they “like” what is shown in the video.

    But in terms of your free2choose comments, sounds like a better plan, perhaps!

    Posted July 31, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  85. Jason

    It is clear to see that Jimmi and I are on the same page. Perhaps every one should go and pick up a book and attempt to enjoy the reading experience.

    Posted July 31, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink
  86. Nicole A

    But what if the book is REALLY long…. and its a boring subject?????
    Some how having something on the internet in a scroll down format makes it easier (for me) to read i forget that i’m reading a chapter and think its just an internet page. It makes reading it easier.

    Posted July 31, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Permalink
  87. Amanda

    Another great chapter, and I agree with Isobel that it has lots of great examples of the successes of the me-to-we process. Getting people to get involved in participatory exercises is a great way of getting people to get together and interact with each other for the benefit of learning. I agree with Sarah when she said that the benefits of this would be richer in a digital format. But I also agree that nothing could replace actually going to a museum. An example of this is the Pompeii exhibition at Te Papa last year. I really wanted to go and see it, but I had to go onto Te Papa’s website and take the virtual tour of it instead. While going on said virtual tour was better than nothing, it would never have replaced the experience of seeing it in real life.

    Posted July 31, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Permalink
  88. Amanda

    @Isobel: Off topic, but I just wanted to point out that Facebook actually DOES have an unlike button; it’s at the bottom of the column on the left.

    Posted July 31, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Permalink
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    Posted April 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink
  90. Kurt

    I loved your case study in the book about the museums that do interactive internet arm wrestling. I have never seen this is in real life, however, I feel that it is a GREAT idea! It not only involves the visitor, but it involves them with other people, that they otherwise would have never been acquainted with. It also creates a healthy amount of competition because after all, human beings are strongly motivated when they feel they are in competition. This case study reminded me of chatroulette, the internet chat room where people can talk with strangers. Ignoring the vulgarity and nudity that is sometimes found on this site, the site overall is an interesting idea, giving people from all over the world the ability to interact and learn cultures all over the world through the lens of their webcams and talking to people, not reading a text book.

    Posted April 25, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  91. Mindy Reeder

    “Google gets smarter every time someone makes a link on the Web. Google gets smarter every time someone makes a search. It gets smarter every time someone clicks on an ad. And it immediately acts on that information to improve the experience for everyone else.”…That being said, is Google in actuality making our younger generations less intelligent which could ultimately result in their complete lack of interest in visiting cultural institutions to engage further in learning? Why go to a museum to investigate further when I can just “Google It”? I may be cynical in thinking this way, but as technology becomes more a part of everyday activities, actual learning and engagement seems to be becoming obsolete. How long will participatory activities such as internet arm wrestling last if we can’t even get people to institutions as they would rather sit at home on the web?

    Posted April 25, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink
  92. Kelsey Milner

    I found some of the case studies in this chapter incredibly fascinating. I am taking a history of museums course, and we discussed the reality that many museums have difficultly discussing controversial topics. The Human Library and Anne Frank examples seem to be a bold way to address the immense differences in the opinions people have. I’m not sure if this was mentioned in this chapter, but the Apartheid museum example suggests an uncomfortable—yet powerful—way to address its subject matter. I’m curious as to whether there is any push-back from the community or visitors on these examples, and similar ones. While I would argue that facing the reality of human differences and encouraging discussion is the best route, some people truly do not wish to have their assumptions or beliefs challenged so openly. Some unfortunately see museums as a place where their version of history can be protected and maintained, not debated with other people. It is refreshing to see instances where the latter has been encouraged.

    Posted April 17, 2014 at 3:51 am | Permalink
  93. Merfat Bassi, Brittany Garison, & Danielle Naylor

    I believe technology is a double-edged sword, which means using this tool can be positive or negative. We cannot say a technology is bad or good since it is depends on the users of technology. Displaying interactive technologies in museums will help visitors to participate in activities and to enhance their experiences and performances. The interactive technology can provide more realistic learning and entertainment, which is not less than traditional learning. However, some children like to use technology in a passive way when they think it is a game just for play.

    Posted September 28, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Permalink
  94. Jake Mangum

    Merfat, Brittany, & Danielle –
    I absolutely agree with you that technology has the potential to be a double edge sword, and this any form of technology… even the ones that we no longer consider technologically advanced. Books, for example, can do the exact same thing. They could be used to educated and entertain or just be used as a passive form of relaxation. I think that technology has been very successfully utilized by various types of museums, especially science and history museums and one of the biggest challenges facing the art museum is getting the same level of engagement. I remember being a kid and learning locations of internal organs by lighting up specific parts of a clear acrylic mannequin. I think of that from the early 1980s and imagine all of the ways it could be made even more engaging with the technology of today. So, why couldn’t an art museum allow a user to choose particular points in the museum they are interested in visiting on a tablet, based on patron tags of the art, and then allow them to print out their own dossier that would include all of the desired pieces mapped out for them?

    Posted September 30, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

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