Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Museums: To Flickr or Not To Flickr

The Brooklyn Museum has done a fantastic job of late leveraging some of their internal images while also enabling users' to upload and tag images of the Museum. They have leveraged the Flickr platform to give an inside look both into the creation and experience of their exhibitions - most recently the critically acclaimed Ron Mueck show. Though this feature has now been taken off the Museum's home page (it still lives on here, along with their other blogs) - the exploration into image serving and tagging provides a great insight into how Museums might serve cultural content on Web 2.0 platforms.

This is a topic worth discussing. Below is a short review of two image tagging sites. One commercial, (Flickr) the other, a joint museum research project called Steve.

Flickr

Flickr is a fully integrated platform whose primary purpose is not a folksonomy or image catalog, but the more basic storage and sharing of images amongst a diverse community of users. Social tagging is a by-product in all this. Tagging, from a functional perspective, is one of many ways in which friends and guests can comment on an image – tagging here is analogous to “comments-light” – a deprecated form of user feedback and dialogue.

What I find most intriguing about Flickr is that it points to a velvet revolution for the semantic web. The emergence of a descriptive, meta-data driven web will emerge not through killer app’s but ‘smart platforms’ that allow people to choose, create, share, comment and interact with content. Clearly, with 5.5 Million registered users and 20 Million monthly visitors - the sheer size of the network insures the platform's relevancy - but its power lies in replicating users' "natural" interactions on the web.

This is exactly the model that Museums need. Though the platform may be proprietary, the social content model leaves plenty of room for the cultural sector to define its own space and requirements.


Steve


Steve is a joint research project of technology practicioners of SFMoMA, the Met, Indianapolis Museum of Art, LACMA and Guggenheim. It is an interactive tool designed for Museum researchers, curators, technology practitioners and librarians. Steve is based on the concept of folksonomy. According to Wikipedia, a folksonomy– antithetical to taxonomy – is a labeling system created and maintained by the end-users, not a class of outside experts. In theory, a folksonomy creates more natural and user-centric search and aggregation systems.

I recently had a great discussion with a technology developer at a major art Museum regarding the life of information in peoples' actual lives. He pointed out that tagging, bookmarking and information storage is personal. With sites like Del.icio.us , part of the user's value is the
ability to choose and create networks of personally relevant resources and references - remarkably similar to the personal value of Museums. Yet, the experience of Steve is far from personal. I greatly admire the goal but the execution leaves something to be desired.

2/7/2007 UPDATE: I recently caught up with a contributor to Steve and he mentioned that the project has received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences and would soon be unveiling a site update. This is a great development and demonstrates the sheer possibility of this project. It is certainly worth following. I'll check back on Steve after that redesign has gone live with some further thoughts, perhaps even an interview (fingers-crossed).

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I am going to visit the Brooklyn Museum because I heard that there is a new exhibition of images in the museum

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