Link Dump Sunday: Special Request Edition

It’s been a while since I’ve had a non-tumultuous week. This week’s tumult was, at least, the most positive of any in recent memory. Specifically, the book pitch that I made a couple of months ago, which has been lying in a state of dormancy that I thought was near death, has been refined into something with a lot more life. For the next phase of it, I’ll be researching citizen science projects. So if you’re involved in any and are interested in talking to me, leave a comment. I’m especially though not exclusively looking for projects that have partnered with libraries in some way.

Anyhow, on to the link dump:

Via the Chicago Sun-Times, an article about a volunteer at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (Yep, that’s where I volunteer, and no, it’s not me) who is starting a butterfly farm/nature education site.

Another local one: From Explore Chicago, a behind-the-scenes look at how the Field Museum virtually “unwrapped” Peruvian mummies for a new exhibit.

From Museum 2.0, a Pinterest application that I hadn’t considered: Using it as a collaboration tool, with the side-effect of giving the public a view of the process. It seems a sound idea to me: Pinterest is a decent platform for the idea-sharing functions of collaboration, and transparency is generally a positive.

And a couple of music-related selections to round it out. From FailBlog, the eminently successful GuiTARDIS. And from the Behance Network, fantastic photos of musical instruments… from the inside.

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A Duty to be Cool

I’ve noticed myself using “cool” a lot on this blog, especially in the link dumps. It’s a bit of a tic, I’ll admit, but I think there’s a bit of justification.

I think being cool is part of a museum’s responsibility.

When I say that, I don’t mean that being “cool” is part of a museum’s responsibility. I’m not advocating pandering to the young, and I’m especially not advocating pandering to a vision of what the young are that is formed without actually knowing any of them. (In my day job, I’ve come across people who genuinely argued that it was process of downloading that attracted kids to technology, rather than the using it for anything, a position that remains mind-boggling to me.)

I’m also not exactly demanding stylishness, although that’s a bit closer. An exhibit/article/whatever where thought has been given to presentation has a better chance of sparking the imagination than something with the same content presented badly.

It’s that spark that I truly think is the museum’s responsibility. A museum should inspire people to think and do, and to think and do better.

Different people will be inspired by different things, and that’s fine; a painting that moves some people is not a failure simply because of the people it didn’t.

The idea of inspiring people feels wonderful, but there’s a pragmatic reason for it too. Most people don’t forget their inspirations, and they are a lot more likely to support a place with their attendance and membership if every time they go they come out uplifted in some way. Crass as it is to describe it this way, inspiration is something valuable that museums can provide, and can provide in a unique way. A sort of a product, and one that can be sold because it is very good, rather than because it has a catchy jingle or cute mascot.

In part, the Link Dumps on this blog are an effort to reorient my own thinking, and to actively seek out and take joy in amazing things. I appreciate the need for the mundane and the practical, and I understand that sometimes you have to deal with the petty, but I don’t want to devote excess time or effort to them. Hopefully hunting the remarkable is a skill, and with practice it will become easier to find the amazing and inspiring in more and more things.

I hope that’s cool.

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Pinterest for Museums, Part 4: Links-a-Go-Go

This is the last section of my series on Pinterest for museums. Part 1 covered the basics of the site; Part 2 examined what some museums are currently doing on the site, and Part 3 looked at the site’s potential for museums.

This part will just be a collection of links to what other people have written.

Museum Diary goes over the basics, and muses about potential copyright issues on the site. It also has a very good listing of museums currently using Pinterest.

BlueGlass offers “everything you need to know” from a brand standpoint. While not modestly titled, the write-up is quite thorough.

ReadWriteWeb‘s take, which is that if you haven’t heard of Pinterest, “You’re a big dork.”

SproutSocial offers well-thought conditions that might make Pinterest not suitable for your museum.

Mashable‘s very large collection of Pinterest-related articles.

QuickSprout offers a marketer’s guide to Pinterest. Goes over the basics, but it also discusses topics like content-finding tools, reasons to be on the site, brands that are and aren’t fit for Pinterest, SEO optimization, and strategies.

Another collection of Pinterest-related links at Muse21.

Ideas for Usage

The Museum of the Future offers five ideas for Pinterest usage for museums.

ArchivesInfo has a few observations of how museums can use Pinterest, with examples.

Entrepreneur magazine‘s article on Pinterest has a few ideas. From a for-profit perspective, but reasonably adaptable for museums as well.

Personal experiences

The following posts detail the authors’ personal experiences with the site, each with a museum angle:
Best of 3

The National Burns Collection in Scotland.
Lspurdle’s Posterous
New England Museum Association

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Link Dump Sunday: There is a Small Mailbox Here

I discovered yesterday, via Fresh & New(er), that Inform7 is out. Inform is a language for writing text adventure games (think Zork). A few years ago, I experimented with Inform6 and created a mostly functional game, complete with storyline and puzzles and all. (Including a surprisingly lethal version of the theater warm-up Zip Zap Zop.) It was not overly difficult–I managed it with no more programming experience than a year of Java.

According to the blog, Inform7 is a few steps simpler. Fresh & New(er) author Seb Chan whipped up a quick game set at WebWise, with the idea that a similar game might be well adaptable to a museum setting. I’m interested to try, and this morning the beginnings of a game set at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum‘s butterfly haven came into my head. No doubt I’ll have some time to tackle that project Real Soon Now.

Some other cool stuff I saw this week:

The Smithsonian is building an archive of printable 3D scans of its collection. At least, starting to. While there are no plans yet to make them available to the public, it’s a neat start. (Via BoingBoing).

Rejection Therapy, a game with the goal of getting over the fear of rejection by trying to be rejected daily. An interesting idea, at least.

More interesting thoughts, these ones about how to succeed at making stuff in new media, from Transom.org.

And from LibraryGamer, a neat infographic about how education is adapting gaming concepts.

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Pinterest for Museums, Part 3: The Potential

Part 1 of this post covers the basics of Pinterest. Part 2 examines how museums are currently using the site.

And this part, for all intents and purposes, will analyze some issues related to whether a museum should get on Pinterest. Spoiler: The answer is it depends, and we don’t know yet, but read on for some analysis that can hopefully guide you to the right answer for your institution.

First: It doesn’t matter that Pinterest is currently blowing up. Lots of things on the internet have gotten big, only to get small again once people tried them out and realized that the sites didn’t do much for them. (Second Life, I’m looking in your general vicinity.)

Second: There will be a backlash against Pinterest, because it’s a thing on the internet that’s getting big. That also doesn’t matter. Facebook gets backlashes about once a week and people still use it. A lot.

Third: Predicting the future, particularly for something like this, is naturally a fool’s task. I don’t think anyone outside of the creators know how Pinterest intends to evolve, and no one knows how the site’s users will ultimately use the site. But those are what will ultimately determine if Pinterest remains a Big Thing or fades away.

With those provisos out of the way, here’s what I would be asking if I were responsible for evaluating whether my institution should use Pinterest.

  1. Can I use it for something worthwhile?In many instances, this is a clear yes. Sharing artifacts and ideas related to the museum’s mission online should, I think, be a part of most museums’ missions. Promoting the museum as an event location and promoting the items the museum sells in its store are perhaps not directly part of the mission, but they do provide funding for the mission in a way that certainly does not impede it.
  2. Will the site use my time effectively? A qualified yes here as well. The site is really pretty simple to use; creating an online exhibit or a gallery of products is probably a sub-1-hour task. One would, of course, need to consider whether this would become a living initiative of the museum, and therefore require an ongoing time commitment. Also there’s the simple fact that even one hour is too much time to spend if the answer to:
  3. Can it attract an audience?is “No.” And this is the sticky question. While I’ve been using the site, I can’t say that I’ve incorporated it into my daily routine, nor do I think I will. Will Pinterest become something as widespread and as integral to online lives as Facebook? My hunch is no. But it probably doesn’t have to.Browsing Pinterest feels to me a lot like browsing a book of stock photography. (Possibly more universal examples include browsing a stack of wedding magazines or upholstery sample book.) None of those activities are among my hobbies, but I can understand the situations where each would be valuable.

Pinterest’s target seems to be people who are seeking practical ideas, rather than facts. So I think that museum usages that align with that goal–boards that showcase museum wedding possibilities, children’s craft projects, and the like–have the strongest chance of success.

It will (hopefully) be interesting to watch.

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Pinterest for Museums, Part 2: Museums Currently on Pinterest

See part 1 of this series for Pinterest basics.

While Pinterest has gotten plenty of buzz lately, it’s still relatively new in the consciousness of the vast majority of people. The majority of museums aren’t there, at least not yet.

But there are a decent selection of museums using the site, and from them we can categorize museum usage in several broad categories, as well as a few more unique projects.

Probably the most obvious usage is to share artifacts. See the Columbus Museum of Art or the Indianapolis Museum of Art for examples. Closely related to this would be using Pinterest as a virtual storefront, sharing items that are sold in museum stores. The Field Museum gets a bonus grin from me for including a board dedicated to its Mold-a-Rama offerings alongside its other stores.

Some museums use Pinterest to promote the museum and its grounds as a destination, particularly as a wedding venue. This is particularly in line with the site’s stated purpose — “planning weddings” is the very first suggested usage in Pinterest’s own help files. The Florence Griswold Museum’s “In Our Gardens” board doesn’t explicitly suggest weddings, although a couple of the photos present scenes tailor-made for such an event. The Chicago History Museum does, although many of the pictures come from outside sources, and many of the pictures fill an idea-sharing role, rather than simply being self-promotion.

Children’s museums in particular seem fond of taking a mission-based approach, sharing ideas for craft projects, fun foods, or other activities. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art offers art, food, clothing, and party ideas based on children’s literature. The Zimmer Children’s Museum has a number of creative play activities for kids, and the Iowa Children’s Museum hits a bunch of different activity-related topics, and the American Museum of Science and Energy offers home science experiments. Suitable for both children and adults, the National Museum of Natural History has a (thus far small) listing of citizen science projects.

The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology takes a curatorial approach: Most if not all of its pins come from other sources, but they’re well-organized by era to form a true online exhibit of fashion history.

A few museums use Pinterest to give behind-the-scenes views of the operation. These include the Field Museum’s Meet the Buyers board and the Chicago History Museum’s Behind the Scenes board.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is targeting teens with its Pinterest site, and it seems to be looking to use its boards as at least part of an online teen community. Its boards also do a very good job of telling a story about some topic.

Finally, a few museums use their Pinterest site to promote some ancillary museum projects. The Columbus Museum of Art promotes its blogs by pinning images from them, thus creating a link. The National Museum of Natural History does the same with its podcasts, and the UNLV Museum gives a shout-out to Las Vegas landmarks and artists.

Coming next will be a look at Pinterest’s potential. I’ll also be linking to a bunch of resources later on, but this post requires credit to Jenni Fuchs, who has created and maintains a Google spreadsheet of museums on Pinterest. While that wasn’t where I started my hunt for museums using the site, it is where I finished it.

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Pinterest for Museums, Part 1: The Basics

Having noticed Pinterest making a dent in my social media streams, I’ve been exploring the site over the past couple of weeks. Is it something of value for museums? There’s certainly some potential. So this is the first in a series of posts about the site. Part 2 will cover what museums are currently doing, Part 3 will examine the potential future of Pinterest for museums, and Part 4 will be some link love to what others have written.

Pinterest is an online pinboard. That’s all well and good, as far as it goes, but to me it doesn’t really get to what the site is. So to get a bit deeper, it’s a sharing mechanism that’s heavily graphics-focused. Everything posted to the site is a picture or video, albeit with descriptions attached.

Those who post pins can and do organize them into boards by topic or concept. (Mine are “Museums” “Funny Stuff,” and “Butterflies and other Animals“, at least to start.) It is possible to follow boards that you’re interested in, or all of a user’s boards. You can also repin someone else’s pin onto one of your boards; doing so makes the picture and info show up on your board, but it links back to the original pinner as well as the original source.

Letter vs. Spirit
And there we reach one bit of site culture that’s worth being aware of. It’s possible to load a photo from your computer to one of your boards, but it’s also easy to pin a photo from a website. The latter seems to be somewhat encouraged–as the “What is Pinterest?” page says, “Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.” The site’s etiquette guidelines also ask users not to make it a tool purely for self-promotion.

On the other hand, the site also welcomes business accounts, and there’s even a function where stores can pin one of their products and add a price to it. So Pinterest obviously doesn’t intend to exist completely outside the world of commerce.

So while the letter of the rules discourages self-promotion, the spirit allows it under certain circumstances–most of which museums would fall under. The site’s spirit really seems to be about shared interests and visualizations of ideas for them. So while sharing a museum artifact or a product from the museum’s store might have the ultimate goal of promoting the museum, it also probably meets the site’s mission because of the inherent interestingness of that item.

Using the site
What’s it like using Pinterest? It’s a bit overwhelming, really. The site is a bit more meanderable than searchable. Searching “museum exhibits,” for example, gives a few exhibits, some museum logos, and a bunch of pictures of museums. Some very specific searches that I’ve tried are better, although they don’t capture everything. There are also some categories for boards, but they’re quite broad and have the same issues as the search function.

But is it that big an issue? Pinterest’s format makes it pretty easy to scroll through a bunch of content and quickly find what you want and skip over what you don’t want. A search for “butterflies” brings up models with butterflies, butterfly art, butterfly shapes on cake, pinned butterfly specimens, and not a whole lot of the pictures of actual live butterflies that I actually wanted. But when I do find one–which takes under a minute, even though it’s a full 12 scrolls down the page, the real finding starts.

That’s because the board that has one pin of an item you’re looking for is pretty commonly devoted to that item. And if that’s the case, people who repin from the board usually have more of what you want on their boards. And so on and so on.

The site gets repinning right. It’s easy (a total of four clicks: one to bring up the repinning menu, one to bring up the menu of which board you want to repin to, one to select the board, and one to actually repin) and encouraged. My first batch of uploaded butterfly photos had 17 repins before I had even finished loading, and that’s without having followers yet.

So it’s a place where it’s possible to reach people. The next installment in this series will examine how museums are doing so.

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