This is part 2 of a conversation I had with Gail Durbin from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
arkh: Do you have a particular strategy for approaching Web 2.0?
gd: "I’m not sure we have a great strategy, but we certainly have a philosophy. We want to make our stuff as accessible as possible and build a relationship with our users that draws in their expertise. The web is a wonderful tool for doing this. So we have for example asked people to send in their memories of buying fashion in the 1960s and their contributions have brought a sense of excitement and enthusiasm to the website.
We are always looking for opportunities to add web.2 to the website and its important to do it in an experiential way. We just have to try it and see what happens.
Museum staff have variable levels of web awareness. The Director is enthusiastic and supportive. Age is not always the key divider and interestingly, we sometimes have expectations of younger people that prove inaccurate. For example, the V&A runs a joint MA course with the Royal College of Art and I was surprised to find only one of the 30 or so students had any interest in blogging. While many younger people use some aspects of social media, it’s a false assumption that they use all of them."
A few of the many V&A projects:
What it is: Artist-in-residence Sue Lawty, who weaves tapestry and draws in stone was invited to put on an exhibition and asked to blog about it. Though at first very hostile to digital technology, she quickly became a very good and enthusiastic blogger. In the course of talking about her practice and the design process, she discovered a new audience, and new possibilities for doing things she’d never thought of.
She came up with the idea to invite people to go to their local beach and do their own drawings in stone. An interactive map was created where people could locate their beach, upload their pictures, and describe their experiences. Over 400 people have participated from all over the world and it is the ideal activity because it can be done by a young child or a sophisticated designer, each at their own level.
- Demonstrates the high quality of user generated content.
- Visual Moderation: - With visual content, it can be moderated quite quickly. (Everything the V&A does is moderated.)
- Continued interest and engagement of the artist even 18 months after the residency is over.
What it is: Users are invited to upload their non-garment knitting. The range of stuff is amazing. Things like “Sushi - hi fiber snack”
- User content enlivens the site enormously.
- While the V&A collects knitting and the history of knitting, they don’t necessarily delve deeply into what’s going on in knitting now.
- Extending perspective: Sometimes there are things that might not seem appropriate for curators to express, so you get a different perspective by inviting people from outside.
What it is: A template is designed with elements from the exhibits. You can create your custom version of it.
- The very best activities are the ones that can be done at any level, from the 5 year old to the graphic designer. Some people assume these are only for kids, but really it appeals to everyone.
What it is: Invites users to send in their pictures of where they’ve seen this ubiquitous photo.
Learnings: By asking people to make records of things they have developed a database that didn’t previously exist
Thomas Hope Room:
What it is: Develop your own Thomas Hope style room.
Learnings: Can’t judge the success of an experiment by the volume of responses. Just a few can enliven the site, and sometimes a lot doesn’t add more.
arkh: How do you measure success?
Volume and quality
gd: “Sometimes it’s appropriate to measure success through volume. We have one activity where people can design their own tiles which has drawn over 25,000 responses. But the activity can also be judged by the quality of designs. We have had some brilliant creative submissions including a portrait of Martin Luther King using only motifs from a William de Morgan design!”
“Liveliness is very important. How much does it add to the site? If we get interesting responses, I regard that as very satisfactory. If we ask people to tell us about their recollections of fashion and we get people who are very enthusiastic and articulate and can express their experience I would say that was successful.“
rkh: Other lessons learned?
gd: “Start slowly and small. Keep moderation as minimal as you can - one way is with visual responses. Take risks. Just do it. Observe what happens and build on it next time.
“I find lots of people talking about web2 but not doing it. They are losing out on a wonderful, interesting and exciting opportunity that can further the mission of their museum.“
What are your lessons learned?