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?
I have chosen to conduct my research across American museums with diverse curatorial interests and within active Expert Web communities with similar 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 & dinosaur communities on Youtube and Twitter