Social Media goes to the Museum, Part I

The Brooklyn Museum, just a few miles from Naaman’s new residence, has gone all “social media” on us all of the sudden. Yay, museum! Dog bless! Ayman, can you send some of your magic blessings over to them? They’ll need them. Two different activities are in place, both of them present some issues of judgment regarding applications of social media.

First, the museum announced its participation in the Flickr commons project.

The project’s stated goals (from Flickr) are:

firstly give you a taste of the hidden treasures in the world’s public photography archives, and secondly to show how your input and knowledge can help make these collections even richer.

One problem with that second part though: I, Naaman, predict that no significant contribution will be made.

A sample image from the collection - who doesn't like cute dogs? Other than Ayman that is

This dog may remain lonely. Sample image from the collection (no rights reserved!)

Why not? It’s easy: the incentives and support mechanism for participation are lacking. For one, the usual set of motivations in tagging Flickr photos (summarized in our research paper – see the good old Y!RB blog) are driven by personal benefit and feedback. The various motivations combine being able to search my own photos and recall their context; getting public attention to my photos; and explaining my photos context/content to known others. None of these motivations exist when I tag other people’s photographs, and thus we have seen very little such activity – less than 1% of the tags last time we counted (pdf).

There are other reasons for contribution. In Wikipedia, the authors can follow the articles to which they contributed, and are recognized and identified for the edits they make. In Flickr, there is very little in ways of tracking your own or other people’s edits (your own comments, perhaps, in a limited way). The comments are at least identified as coming from the user who left them, but tags are not. This anonymous tagging presents a double problem: first, no accountability. There is no way for anyway to verify the correctness of each tag or the expertise of the person that added it (worse, only the owner of the photograph can delete a tag). Second, as there is no identification of the tagger, there is no “pride” or social capital in adding a tag, and very little personal benefit. One hope is that some users, like art scholars researching the collection for their own work, will find it useful to add comments and tags.

Incidentally, Wikipedia is thriving because of the significant set of user motivations it generates, summarized here. It is not clear that this set of motivations will exist on the Flickr Commons. Indeed, even the featured set of photos on the Brooklyn Museum’s page have seen little commenting and tagging activity to date.

What do to? Well, for example, either Flickr or the Brooklyn Museum could create a system that recognizes the contribution of users around the the Commons collection and provides feedback to the users. If I add a tag to a photo, I would be nice to know how many people found that photo as a result of my tag, and how many of those users found the picture helpful in some way. It would be great to be recognized as the person who added that tag, and perhaps on some page I can be recognized as the top contributor for photos of Paris, or for Decisive Moment photographs, or whatever.

In addition, to give other examples, adding personal mechanism that help me keep track on my activity on others’ photos would be great. Where are all the photos I tagged “Decisive Moment”? What’s the last image I added a tag to? What Commons images I commented on? These are tasks not easily performed in the current Flickr interface.

Still, simply making the images available is a brave step that even without further contribution will be super-super useful for art scholars, artists (like Ayman, at least that’s what he says), art enthusiasts, and others – even art-want-to-be-enthusiasts like Naaman. Only it can be even better, with the correct mechanisms built around the system.

OK, this is getting long. More about the other social media endeavor of the Brooklyn Museum and why does that make Naaman’s Mediterranean blood boil, next time.

p.s. Polar Rose, this all goes for you too.

[update: Forgot to mention that while I employed by Yahoo!, the text above does not represents the views and attitudes of my kind employer or anyone other than the author – not even Ayman’s!]

6 thoughts on “Social Media goes to the Museum, Part I

  1. Shelley Bernstein

    Hi naaman,

    Regarding the interface, you bring up some really great points here and something we’ve been thinking about for a long time. For us, this means publicly thanking the Flickr folks who tag or contribute information. It’s a little hard to do this publicly with the tagging, so we send private messages or comment on the Flickr peeps photos with a note of thanks. Not perfect, but this is the interface as it stands for now and how we are working with it (and maintaining the social aspects, which we all know is what Flickr is about).

    Regarding activity, we’ve been sharing photos on Flickr for two years now, but The Commons is a whole other way to get out there. By contrast to our non-Commons Flickr uploads, we’ve seen a great deal of activity and tagging (in a variety of languages) and learned some wonderful information from some Flickrites who’ve cared to contribute. I think if you read George’s post, you’ll see the LC has been integrating the information into their records – it’s a great two way conversation, much like the one we are having now.

  2. naaman Post author

    Hey Shelley, thanks for stopping by. First of all, let me congratulate you – I think what you (and Flickr) are doing is absolutely wonderful. Plus, _any_ piece of new information we get for your incredible collection (or LC’s, or other future partners) is great.

    I guess my post wants to say: there’s more that can be done, in an ideal world where you and/or Flickr are not strapped for resources 🙂

    BTW, good job on that cheese cake, my sources report pleasure…

    Keep up the great work (next post: “wisdom of the crowds” and the museum…)

  3. Shelley

    I couldn’t agree with you more – have a project launching soon I think you may like (can talk about that more offline if you wish). I’ve been saying the same things many times for years and I’m soooo close on a project that would be awesome to talk about.

    I’m a little nervous about your next post if it makes your blood boil, but getting ready…constructive crit is always good, while often not easy to take 🙂

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