The internet provides a unique space and unprecedented opportunity for individuals to speak with each other and to form groups around specific topics of interest. I’ve identified an “Expert Web” where knowledgeable people are collaborating and coming together online in complex discussions about specific topics on social news, social media and forum sites. Museums, despite offering content on their institutional Web pages and social media accounts, generally haven’t been active participants with this wider Expert Web. They stick to their own channels, even online. My research raises the following questions: Is it possible that museums could recognize, acknowledge, and participate in the conversations that are already occurring online, within online expert communities, away from the museum’s established platforms and accounts? How could institutions leverage the knowledge of internet users? Will more direct interpersonal connections provide an opportunity for education, engagement, or outreach? And does the openness of the internet embrace a museum’s entry into topic-specific conversations?
The research was conducted across American museums with diverse curatorial interests and within active Expert Web communities with corresponding interests:
- New York Botanical Garden // plant id & photo communities on Instagram and Facebook
- Strong Museum of Play // gamer & My Little Pony communities on Twitch and private forums
- MIT Museum // robotics, slide-rule, and wooden boat communities on Reddit and private forums
- Museum of the Moving Image // meme & political (alt-right) communities on Reddit and 4chan
- Field Museum // taxidermy communities on YouTube and private forums
The data demonstrates that the Expert Web does come in contact with Museums, though the extent of the interactions varies widely and has vastly different results. Both the Expert Web and Museums must navigate and negotiate exchanges of control and knowledge while recognizing that their interactions have very different motivations.
(Estimated completion is Summer 2021)