- A scavenger hunt application that many phones could "log in" to, so that a family could split up and everyone could look for examples of spooky artifacts, or their favorite stories, or the most boring object and aggregate them together for discussion later in the cafe. You could even make a museum version of the popular Apples to Apples game, in which visitors would find nearby artifacts they think best illustrate a particular word or idea (and then their companions would vote them up or down).
- A simple application that would help individuals blast out their location or suggest meeting places to stop for a snack. Have you ever watched people on ski mountains texting their buddies to schedule meetups? Imagine a version of this, superimposed over a facility map, to help families and tour groups find each other while onsite. It could help ameliorate the stress some people feel managing the variable amount of time some family members like to spend in particular exhibits (imagine an "I'm waiting in the cafe" button). It could also help family members split up without being nervous about losing each other.
- A recommendation application that helps groups create relative profiles. When I was a kid, we used to play a game called Yum/Yuck. My dad would say the name of a food (i.e. broccoli) and then my sister and I would immediately each say "yum" or "yuck." It was a silly way to point out the differences in our tastes. These kinds of relative personality tests can help families talk about their unique interests in a social context... and could also provide some fun surprises as the system tries to recommend experiences for everyone.
- A social tagging activity that uses one phone, shared across several people, for the group to make a story from the memories they shared onsite. Rather than capturing individual favorites, the group would record short audio snips or photos of themselves at the exhibits they liked most--and then the whole thing would be available to them online as a multi-media story later.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I felt highly conflicted watching this show. I understand the value of entertainment (and its positive impact on attentiveness), but the show’s level of silliness made me cringe with embarrassment. Three things in particular frustrated me:
- The show’s entertainment factor appeared to be used to apologize for science and turn it into something more "palatable." I felt it insulted my intelligence and my genuine interest in learning something about science. Does making science fun really require turning scientists into clowns? I can’t imagine seeing a show like this in any other cultural context. There’s no history museum doing a send-up of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. There’s no art museum where Picasso is portrayed as a boozy goofball on the make. Entertainment and comedy can be fabulous presentation devices, but I don’t think we need them to mask the fact that science is serious, complicated, often funny business.
- The show was geared solely towards children. I saw the show with a large group of adults at an evening event, and it was painfully clear that the content and the form were not made for us. We all knew the outcome of the experiment presented, and yet there was no way for the presenter to break from script and give us a more complex view on Galileo’s experiment. If I was watching the show with my kids or chaperoning a group of students, I would have been pleased that the kids had a good time. But the show would have also confirmed that the science center was for children, not for me. It might also have made me feel that the science center was a place for fun, not so much for learning. Adults typically make up half of science center audiences. Shouldn’t these shows satisfy their interests as well?
- The show’s strong personality overwhelmed other more nuanced aspects of the science center. Live demos are just one part of a visit, but shows like this can have a domineering personality that imprints the whole visit. This show presented a version of the science center that was loud, overwhelming, goofy, and one-dimensional. It overwhelmed the more understated tone used in exhibit labels and by docents. Even though I thought some of the exhibits in the Space Odyssey gallery were quite nuanced and good, I left the museum with the show having the biggest impact on my visit.
I’m still grappling with this experience. I know how wonderful it feels as a presenter to captivate your audience and give them a good time. And people are more likely to internalize content messages when they are attentive and eager to follow the narrative of a presentation. Maybe attention is at such a premium that these kinds of measures are worth it to connect kids to science in an enjoyable way. Maybe I'm out of touch and my expectations are inappropriate. But the show felt like candy. People like candy—but that doesn’t mean it’s what you have to give them all the time. Sometimes, it can make them sick.
What do you think?
Monday, April 19, 2010
"How often do we hear colleagues from museums and galleries stating as their fundamental reason for working co-creatively with audiences that they want to make a great piece of museum work, rather than primarily for reasons of social inclusion or democracy?"
If our primary aim in the work we co-create with the public is not to make great art, by which I mean high quality museum spaces which engage a wide range of people and create all sorts of different, interesting meanings, then I fear we will always limit this kind of work. Doubters will never see its potential, because the results may be a bit mediocre, and will therefore carry on being marginalised in community galleries rather than being highlighted in the central museum space. Also, it may not deliver what it might have done for participants: if our primary motivation wasn’t to make something spectacularly good, they may not have been involved in creating something of amazing quality, or have really developed their skills and confidence to be a creative voice to which others listened.
- What is the work of your institution?
- How can you design participatory structures that invite non-professionals to help you do your work better?
Thursday, April 08, 2010
- April 14-17 - Denver for Museums and the Web conference. I'm giving a workshop on design techniques for encouraging user participation (sorry, it's full). And then throughout the rest of the conference I'll be throwing frisbees, trying craft beer, and selling books out of my back pocket. Oh, and learning something--hopefully from you.
- April 22/23 - Washington DC. I'm giving a free talk at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on the evening of the 22nd, and then a free workshop on the 23rd at the National Postal Museum on designing better mechanisms for visitor feedback and response. The workshop requires an RSVP, the talk does not. Both are open to the public.
- April 29 - I'm heading to the Oakland Museum for the preview of its reopening. I'm psyched to see what their innovative team has done to make this community-focused institution better than ever. Note that they are having a free, public 31-hour reopening celebration on May 1-2.
- May 6 - Berkeley, CA. I'm giving a free talk about visitor participation in the evening at JFKU in association with the museum studies program and Cultural Connections. Cultural Connections members will get a $5 discount if you buy the book at the event.
- May 17 - NYC. I'll be part of the keynote panel at the NYC Museum Educator's Roundtable conference, and then doing a public talk that evening at the Whitney Museum about The Participatory Museum with Shelley Bernstein and Josh Greenberg ($5 entrance fee, details coming soon).
- May 23-27 - Los Angeles for the American Association of Museums conference. I'm chairing two sessions at AAM, one on design for participation (May 24) and the other on mission-driven approaches to technology development (May 26). I will also be doing a book signing at the AAM bookstore on the afternoon of the 24th.
- June 1-4 - I'll be working in Minneapolis and am scheduling a public talk at a local museum (likely the Walker Art Center or the Science Museum of Minnesota) during that week, details coming soon.
- June 9 - I'm doing a webinar with Stephanie Weaver of Experiencology fame. This is not free, but it will be awesome, and no one has to travel to attend. It's $35 and limited to 50 people.
- June 17 - I'm keynoting the Washington Museums Association conference in Gig Harbor, WA.
- Effusive, generic platitudes: "Great Museum!" "Nice art!"
- Wedding registry-style signatures: "Dina and Arthur Feldman, Lincoln, Nebraska"
- Specific complaints: "The bathrooms were dirty." "Better food in the cafeteria, please."
- Staff who are eager to learn from visitors (and have processes in place to support change).
- Designed systems in which visitors can see where their comments go and how they have impact.
Sometimes a hospital will contact us about a critical posting on our site. "Can you remove it?" they say, "and ask the patient to make a complaint instead?" We don't remove it (of course), but we will email the patient in confidence to ask if they would like to make a complaint. And in every case to date, the patient has replied: "No, I don't want to make a complaint. I'm not trying to get anyone into trouble. I just want the problem fixed so it doesn't happen to anyone else."
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Note: This post was also published as a review on ExhibitFiles here.
I love science centers. My first jobs were in science and children's museums. Where other adults cringe at the noise and insanity of your average whizzing, banging, zooming center, I (usually) revel in it.
Thursday, April 01, 2010
This posts explains why and how I self-published The Participatory Museum. While some aspects are quite technical and specific, it should be useful for anyone considering writing a book for a niche audience.
I decided to self-publish The Participatory Museum for four reasons:
- OPENNESS: I wanted the flexibility to license and distribute the book using an open structure to promote sharing. Few publishers was open to Creative Commons licensing and to giving away the content for free online.
- SPEED: I wanted to get the book out as quickly as possible. I didn't want to write a manuscript and then wait several months for it to be released.
- COST: Museum books tend to be expensive - because they are printed in small runs, the price for a 400-page paperback can be as high as $40. I figured I could give readers a more reasonable price ($25) if there wasn't a publisher to take a cut.
- VALUE: There are just a few small publishers who serve museum professionals. Because of the blog and the speaking I do, I felt I had the ability on my own to get the word out within the museum community about the book. For that reason, I was only really interested in a publisher who could expose the book to broader audiences beyond museums, and or a publisher with a significant marketing presence. I pursued one (O'Reilly) somewhat aggressively, but I was not a good fit for their market (technologists). I didn't feel that a small museum publisher could provide much for me that I wasn't willing to do myself.
Why Make it Open?
From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to license The Participatory Museum using Creative Commons and give away the content for free online. My primary goal is to get the ideas out there, not to make money, so if someone wants to read the book online for free, that's great.
Also, my whole career is predicated on a structure where I give away ideas on the blog and then people hire me for money. I figured the same system would work for the book, and so far, it seems to be bearing fruit. Few people want to read a 388-page book online, and I've received several notes from people who checked out the online version and then decided to buy a physical or ebook copy. People are also more likely to promote the book to their friends and colleagues when they can point to the content online. Several people referenced in the book saw their name mentioned in a Google Alert and then tweeted or shared the link with their colleagues and friends. I'm looking forward to examining the economics of this choice more in the future, but for now, I'm just thrilled that people are reading the book--at any cost.
The second part of the open structure is the Creative Commons license. There are four tiers of restriction possible with Creative Commons licenses: attribution (must credit author), noncommercial (can't make $$ off of reuse), no derivatives (can't cut, remix, adapt), and share alike (must redistribute with same license). I chose the Attribution Noncommercial license. I want everyone to be able to use the content and make derivative works. I didn't choose Share Alike because I know that many museums, universities, and organizations are not able to use CC licenses (and thus would not be able to redistribute the content). But I did choose Noncommercial because I don't want a publisher to snap up the book or a chapter, credit me as author, and sell the content.
The CC license is for the book text, not the images. Many of the images were provided under more restrictive licenses (and are marked as such in both the printed book and the online version). This means, however, that I couldn't release the book on Google Books with a CC license unless I stripped out most of the images. I also had to explain the license to the image contributors so they could decide whether to request a more restrictive credit for their work.
How Did I Do It?
Once I decided to self-publish, I set out to find the best option to do so. I needed two things:
- software to help me produce a beautiful set of files for printing
- a print-on-demand service that would make the books real and sell them
I used the following tools to write and produce the book:
- Scrivener, a Mac-based software that makes it easy to organize and write long manuscripts
- the book wiki, where I posted drafts for review and comment by others
- Adobe InDesign, to format the manuscript as a book and ebook
- Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, to format the images and diagrams in the book
But it was also incredibly exhausting. I've never used Adobe products seriously, and I had to learn a lot about how to format text and images as well as how to design a book overall. I would take good books off my shelf and measure their margins, scrutinize the heading fonts, and generally muddle my way through. Did you know that most non-fiction books have the page numbers at the top? Do you know what the numbers on the copyright page mean? I felt like I was preparing for a wedding, learning arcane information I would only use for a brief, intense window of time.
The good news is that the final book really looks like a book. I always suspected that a self-published book would give itself away, and I was ready for the result to look somewhat amateurish. But I think (and you're the real judge here) that it holds up. And that shocked me.
Two pieces of advice if you are thinking about making a book on your own:
- There are lots of tutorials--books, videos, etc.--available for free at your library and on the web. By the end of the process, I was ready to send flowers to the guy who made these videocasts about InDesign--they were a lifesaver.
- Writing an index is one of the most painful experiences I've ever had. I'm sure I did a lousy job. Be forewarned, and consider hiring someone else to do it.
"Print on demand" systems allow you to upload book files (usually PDFs), which are then used to print books to order. I don't have a huge basement full of books to sell; the print-on-demand system sells all the books automatically as they are purchased online. I wanted a print-on-demand system that would allow me to:
- sell books online, both on my own site and via major booksellers like Amazon (without me having to send anything out in the mail or manage transactions)
- buy large quantities in bulk to sell at events
- not in any way restrict my ability to use other printers or services to sell this book in both paperback and electronic versions
- make a reasonable return on books sold through all venues
Why does it matter that CreateSpace is owned by Amazon? This relationship translates to two benefits: faster availability on Amazon and a better cut on each sale. If I were to publish this book on Lulu.com (a popular print-on-demand service), it would have taken 6-8 weeks for the book to hit Amazon, instead of three days for CreateSpace. But this relationship is even more important in the long term when it comes to dollars and cents. Here's the cost comparison for my book (388-page black and white trade paperback, $25 retail) on CreateSpace vs. Lulu:
These numbers got even better when I purchased a "Pro Plan" from CreateSpace for $39 per year, which increased my cut of CreateSpace and Amazon sales to $14.50 and $9.50 respectively.
In hindsight this choice was obvious, but it took awhile to figure out. Every print-on-demand services uses a different pricing structure and it isn't easy to root out all the numbers... be prepared to unleash your sixth grade math skills regarding percentages as well as your deep internet search capabilities if you embark on such a comparison.
Beyond selecting CreateSpace, I did the following:
- bought my own ISBN number ($125), so that "Museum 2.0" could be listed as the publisher of the book instead of CreateSpace. I paid for the ISBN but made my own barcode for free.
- designed epub and Kindle versions of the book on my own (using Adobe InDesign) so I could sell ebooks directly instead of going through CreateSpace's costly digital books portal.
- set up the website for the book and uploaded all the content for people to read in HTML format (translating the formatting was a slog).
- bought a Wordpress estore plugin ($35) so I could sell the ebook directly through my website using PayPal. Interestingly, I've had several digital sales on my site, but no Kindle sales via Amazon so far.
- established a relationship with a local printer who I use to do bulk orders so I don't have to pay for shipping when buying books to sell at conferences and events.
Getting the book out the door was just the start of the publishing process. I was cheerfully negligent about marketing, tours, etc. before the release. I was completely overwhelmed by the experience of just completing the book and getting everything ready for sale.
Now, I'm just starting to think seriously about how to market and distribute the book, and I'd love your thoughts and help. It's selling well so far, but I'd like to find ways to do three things:
- open up dialogue and new relationships with readers
- help non-museum folks in related fields find and use the book
- support creative reuse of the content
I'm also hoping to find good ways to really hear from readers. I spent a year living with this book and a tight community of collaborators. It's a little surreal to imagine that there are hundreds (and soon hopefully thousands) of people purchasing and reading it. I'd like to know who you are, what you think, what you disagree with, what you're trying. Even just a simple "this made me think about X" helps me feel like all those thousands of hours at my kitchen table were worth it. You can write a review, comment on a chapter, or send me a note anytime with your thoughts.
Publishing The Participatory Museum is an ongoing process that will continue as long as the book is sold. I'd love your ideas on how to make that process as interesting and useful as possible--for everyone.