Virtual Visitors: A Community of Clickers and Commentators

The virtual revolution will not be televised.... although you'll probably get a tweet about it.

The virtual revolution will not be televised.... although you'll probably get a tweet about it.

Isn’t it fascinating how quickly (or maybe it’s not that quickly) our technology has advanced, increasing our sense of interconnectedness? I must admit, for awhile I assumed there might be a backlash of sorts where people would start to feel too consumed and overwhelmed by the extent of such connections. Alas, we are probably safe from all that, at least for the time being.

Innovative web and application programs make it possible for local communities to become more connected as well as the formation and cultivation of new virtual communities which extend beyond geographic borders to encompass individuals with similar interests and values.

Threadless is a “community-based tee shirt company with an ongoing, open call for design submissions.” Participants can create tee shirt designs, solicit feedback, and ultimately win a cash prize if your design is selected. At first I thought to myself, who is the community in “community-based tee shirt company.” To answer my own question, in this case it is the community who rates and comments on the participant’s idea. Anyone checking out the website can score designs. What I love about this is that there are numerous entry points to participating and becoming part of this community. The website also allows for designers who are not sure if their design is “ready” to have a preview of sorts which can be reviewed by the greater community. I know you may be asking…. why is Val talking about tee-shirts anyway…. To respond and to affirm, we can look beyond museums for inspiration.

Such opportunities to submit and evaluate works of art, brings to mind the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s 2008, Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibit (side note: inspiration for this exhibit actually came from a book). The museum encouraged museum visitors, artists, and the general public to participate in this co-created exhibit experience with web-access to forums for discussing submitted photos, a virtual tour of the exhibit,  a “blurb book,” and a link to the results of the evaluation process (as the selected images were chosen by this community of participants). What was really neat about this exhibit was that the selected works on display were sized based on their votes (i.e. the more votes you got, the bigger your photo).

This notion reminds me of my previous post about the Partners in Preservation project in the Greater Boston area where participants could vote for a historic site to receive funding and another post regarding the Smithsonian’s NMAAHC asking participants to help select the winning design of the new museum. Creating a virtual community by asking others to vote or make a decision empowers individuals, sparks a desire to participate, and allows them to contribute thoughts and ideas. A likely side effect: people will surely buzz about this to their friends.

In another previous post, I asked if/what museums are doing to talk about all these great changes happening within the museum and if the outside word is aware of all the buzz…. perhaps the Smithsonian was listening to me? Check-out the their Call to Action, “Voice Your Vision” YouTube video:

What a creative way to start a lot of buzz about the museum’s (new) outlook and also solicit ideas and thoughts from the public!

From Facebook to Twitter, social networks also offer plenty of opportunities to reach out to, expand, and engage your virtual community (and if you’re wondering why we should care, check out Nina Simon’s recent blog post). With opportunities to create your own social network and emerging Web 4.0 applications such as Thwonk (a pretty wild “platform and community….giving you full access to manipulate and change the social rules of email list communication”) we should challenge ourselves to effectively and authentically engage our virtual communities while embracing all these innovative (and constantly changing) technological advancements.

I recently heard about the New York Hall of Science’s social network called MySci where their program participants receive usernames from the museum to access and interact with fellow museum program participants, contribute to blogs, and dish science. The network is only available for out-of-school-time program participants; a sort of members only approach with a safe space for kids to share openly. What’s really cool is that even after you grow-out-of or leave the out-of-school-time  programs your account remains active.

New website collectives also offer virtual space to grow, inform, and involve community groups about any range of topics. While at AAM, I attended a session entitled, Places and Stories That Matter: Digital Experiments and Community Involvement where presenters discussed ways they are using digital technology to engage audiences and bridge differences. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania plans to launch (in September 2009) PhilaPlace, an interactive “multi-ethnic web-based resource” that explores the history, culture, and neighborhoods of Philadelphia, PA. The goal of this collaborative project is to “bridge disciplines, media, and audiences by creating a new model for connecting audiences.”  Throughout the planning and development stages, the Historical Society collaborated with community partners and individuals to obtain stories, memories, photos and experiences.  The sneak peek we got during the session was an eye full; Google maps meets Twitter meets Flickr meets YouTube meets established historic archives meets…. well you get the picture.

Similarly, City Lore, is a New York-based non-profit that specializes “in the creation of programs and materials for public education and enjoyment.” One of their many initiatives, in collaboration with the Municipal Arts Society,  is Place Matters “a city-wide initiative to identify, celebrate, interpret and protect places that tell the history and anchor the traditions of New York’s many communities.” Places are nominated by New Yorkers through a Census of Places that Matter and for the sites highlighted on the website, viewers have access to read stories, advocate for these places of importance, and learn about upcoming events and programs.  Another City Lore program, City of Memory, also provides access and opportunities for people to share stories and experiences “that happened forty years ago or something that happened this morning” which are mapped out (so virtual visitors can pin-point these locations and  become actual visitors). I definitely plan on doing a bit of my own research to see if my grandfather’s butcher shop is included among the wonderful stories already shared!

These are just a few of the buzz-worthy, web-based resources that connect, cultivate, and engage folks to grow community interest, involvement, and interaction. Of course the question remains, what if you’re being savvy with technology and no one responds!?

  • Well first things first, reach out to your local and virtual communities using a variety of mainstream and creative methods to build an interest in developing technology-based programs.
  • Secondly, use programs that work for you (you don’t need to have a Twitter feed for the sake of it, I actually follow a couple of museums who hardly ever update their twitter- kind of pointless). Think about ways to virtually engage the public beyond your website, but also consider the time and resources you will need to maintain a presence on the Internet. In considering the time constraints  posed on visitors as contributors, check out this interesting Museum 3.0 post by Monika Lechner.
  • And of course, try new things and look beyond museums for inspiration. Depending on your resources and availability, such applications can be just what you need to revitalize your programs and brand while expanding your reach in serving your community.

To my community of readers: Are you vritually connected to your community, if so how? What are some projects or thoughts you’d like to share about connecting with your local community virtually and growing a virtual community? Do you feel virtually connected to museums, do you care to be? Are you an active member of online communities, when do you participate, how?


Survival of the Fittest? More Like a Dose of Healthy Competition!

I recently received an email from a Bostonian friend, urging me to “vote” for my favorite (Boston) historic site. With me and my New York state of mind, I was a bit confused and so I visited the program’s website to understand exactly what’s going on in Beantown….. and what I found is pretty cool!

American Express partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation a few years ago and launched the Partners in Preservation, a program committed to contributing over $5 million dollars over a five-year period. With a focus on preserving historic places throughout the United States, the program has already funded historic places in San Francisco, Chicago, and New Orleans with it’s latest program recently launched in the Greater Boston, Massachusetts area.

A few really cool things to point out:

  • I mentioned voting before…. basically the public will help decide what historic site should receive the allotted funds by voting online. This is a really great way to get all  (who have access to the internet) involved in contributing to this “community-oriented” initiative. With Boston being such a large tourist magnet, it’s great to see that individuals not living in the area can also participate (or in my case, those of us who used to live in the Greater Boston area).
  • While the winner of the public vote is guaranteed funds, additional sites will be selected by a committee to receive funds too!
  • The website includes an easy way to get some basic information, click by click, about each site which can be a useful tool beyond the actual competition and also provides information on how you can help spread the word.

It’s interesting to see where some of the museums part of the competition are currently ranked compared to other neighborhood sites. To check out the current top 10 sites and vote for your own, click here. Voting will conclude on May 17th so get a move on!

Design Competition for NMAAHC Heats Up!

I received via email a link to the Smithsonian’s Blog, highlighting the current buzz about the design competition involving a handful of world renown architects for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). A poll on the blog asks viewers to choose which design should win the bid. I’m not sure how great of an impact the poll will have on deciding the winning design; the final decision will be announced on Tuesday, April 14 (um…. yep that’s tomorrow). Regardless, it’s really neat that the museum seeks the participation and involvement among their public and those interested in this process. With a tentative opening date slated for November 18, 2015 (a few years after the 2012 groundbreaking) it’s never too early to get started! It’s also never too late to get involved, check out the designs and vote today!

On a personal note, having worked at Amaze Design Inc., the Boston-based exhibit deisgn firm part of the fantastic team responsible for the Interpretive Master Plan for the NMAAHC, I am very happy to see this project progress and I definitely plan to stay updated on the latest news.

Kickin’ Off The Weekend Right

I recently received an email from one of our regular readers informing me of an upcoming event at the American Museum of Natural History, a first-Friday of the month program with live music, drinks, dancing and extended museum hours. You’ve probably read about such events in the New York Times and a quick Google search provides a list of similar events at neighboring museums, vying for your dollars and dancing feet. Rather than highlight one, I’m going to list a few that I came across and let you decide how you’ll spend your next Friday night!

If you come across any other programs in the NYC area, please do comment!

Tales to America, A Call to Share Your Story

Ellis Island Immigration Museum makes dishing family stories cool! The Museum is interested in gathering and sharing stories of immigration . Stories are available on the Museum’s website and will eventually be added to their People of America® Center.

Whether this immigration story is that of your ancestors arriving through Ellis Island years ago or  your own recent tale of coming to America, the museum wants to know! With an added treat of a certificate to commemorate your contribution to the museum, why not become part of history and tell your story?

Get the conversation started, have fun and share!

Penny For Your Thoughts: Do You Dare Lincolnize Yourself?

Abraham Lincoln would be 200 years old this year…what better way to celebrate than uploading a personal photo and superimposing one of his trademark looks onto your face! Do you dare “Lincolnize” yourself?

That’s exactly what the Chicago History Museum wants you to do! The museum’s website has an online  photo contest to “Lincolnize” yourself which corresponds to a series of exhibits and programs to celebrate Lincoln’s Bicentennial.


(that’s me being all Abe Lincoln “The President”)

Props to the museum for:

  • Including interactive web-activities that extend and enhance the museum visit experience. This photo contest also serves as a great entry-point for virtual visitors to learn about the museum and explore!
  • Coming up with a great incentive: a family membership grand-prize! With a less than fab economy, such a prize enables at least 1 family to benefit from the museum’s services. It also creates positive buzz and  gets families involved!
  • Getting all 2.0 and showcasing our beloved Lincoln-wannabes on Flickr.
  • Combining creative self-expression (yes, you can have a pink beard) with a user-friendly application (click and upload, simple as that) and learning  for a pretty neat experience!

Kudos to the Chicago History Museum, Abe would be proud!