Thursday, April 9, 2009 4/9/2009 1200pm

I talked to a Finn with stranger-chat. He was really nice.

Connecting to server...
You're now chatting with a random stranger. Say hi!
Stranger: Hey!
You: Hey man!
You: What's up?
Stranger: nothing much
Stranger: u?
You: the usual
Stranger: yeah
Stranger: from?
You: Seattle
Stranger: cool
You: how about you?
Stranger: Helsinki Finland, far away
You: Finland is awesome
Stranger: have u been here?
You: I really want to go
You: and I own a nokia
Stranger: u should, its nice
Stranger: cool
Stranger: i've always wanted to go to seattle
You: I studied scandinavia in college
Stranger: cool
You: seattle is real nice
You: lots of Finns
Stranger: wow, i did'nt know
Stranger: is it summer over there?
You: spring
Stranger: here its still cold
You: cloudy and a bit of rain
Stranger: we have still some snow
Stranger: :D
You: how do you feel about Karelia?
Stranger: well, its sad because it was part of our culture...but nothing you can do about it
You: yeah, it is sad
Stranger: we still want it back:D but its impossible
You: Russian would never give it back
Stranger: no they wont
Stranger: they've ruined it, they dumped nuclear waste there
You: oh really?
You: that is terrible
Stranger: yes, it was on the news
Stranger: long time ago but still
You: yeah, that is really awful
Stranger: the lakes are toxic now
Stranger: but we still have our beautiful nature over here
Stranger: thousanda of lakes
You: there is a river near seattle that had a nuclear power plant on it
Stranger: thousands
Stranger: oh?
You: and it got really contaminated
Stranger: thats sad
You: yeah, it was near an indian resevation too
Stranger: oh, that sucks
You: so what drove you to talk to strangers?
Stranger: i don't know...first time here, but it seems there are a lot of idiots here, you not of course
You: haha, yeah
You: its easy to be an idiot when its anonymous
Stranger: but i like to learn more about people and other countries
Stranger: true
You: I am really interested in why people talk to strangers
Stranger: yeah?so whats you theory?
You: I don't think people do so enough
You: I work in a museum
Stranger: true, they never do on the streets, but here it's so easy
You: and my job is to get people to interact with eachother
Stranger: its funny
You: I know!
Stranger: oh, cool
You: so this is like a safe place
Stranger: yeah, funny indeed
Stranger: imagine how the world would be if we would talk like this outside, face to face?
You: I think th world woould be a much better place
Stranger: thats so true
Stranger: we acctually have much in common with other people, it doesnt matter wat country, sex or culture
Stranger: what
You: I think talking to strangers is the best way to get new views, and at the same time understand how similar we all really are
You: exactly
Stranger: but in our country it would be considered strange and weird to talk to some stranger
You: Same in the US
Stranger: yes, i get your point
Stranger: this is a good idea
You: The only people who really talk to strangers on the street are considered "crazy"
Stranger: this website
Stranger: true, how has that happened?
You: I think people are just nervous about interacting with others
You: especially outside
You: it is different in a bar, or at a party
Stranger: yeah, its funny that we need alcohol to talk to people
Stranger: ridiculous if you think about it
You: it is!
You: When I meet someone friendly on the street and have a conversation it makes me feel so good
You: but at a bar, it feels forced until you're both drunk
Stranger: thats happens so rarely nowadays, but thats makes it even more special
Stranger: true
Stranger: sorry abouy my english, its not so perfect:D
Stranger: about
You: its really good, actually
Stranger: have you met any finns before?
You: A few, yeah
You: I work with some
Stranger: i've met a couple, and also someone from australia
Stranger: oh cool
You: and lots come to my museum
Stranger: so you know some finnish already
You: hah, no way
Stranger: :D
You: but I read the kalevala
Stranger: cool
You: Okay man, I need to go to work
Stranger: i hate when people start with asl, and then disconnect after that:D
You: thanks for talking to me!
Stranger: ok, no problem, seetake care
Stranger: Buy
You: Talk to someone on the street for me
You: :)
Stranger: i will
Stranger: :D

Monday, April 6, 2009

Something a bit different: The quarters game

I am talking a class with Nina Simon of Museum 2.0 through the University of Washington's Department of Museology. On Sunday we met for the first time at the Woodland Park Zoo and were tasked with creating circumstances in which strangers would talk to each other.

I joined forces with Kelly and Katie and devised a scavenger hunt style game based on a pile of Canadian and American currency. The game was extremely simple: we set a pile of Canadian and American coins on the ground near the Northern Trails exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo with the following four instructions:

  1. Take a coin.
  2. Find the animal.
  3. Ask for help (if you need it)
  4. Give the coin to someone else!

Some people were confused by the game and asked those around them if they knew what the game was all about and who set it up. Others, particularly children, were totally into reading the rules and selecting a coin to explore the zoo with.

I am still battling with the value of this game. I know it accomplished a few things like helping people explore the Zoo, and prompting social interaction, but it didn't do much for the Zoo's mission: saving animals and their habitats through conservation leadership and engaging experiences, inspiring people to learn, care and act.

We have been talking a great deal about social objects as things that draw individuals together, which is great, but I feel like something is missing. So, let me try to fill this gap by introducing a new concept: the focus object. A focus object is something that gives an individual a reason to do something; the object focuses the individual's attention toward a specific task or activity, like finding an animal or talking to someone else.

In the quarters game the coin itself wasn't inherently social (although currency is a part of many social interactions). Rather, the coin focused the players on a specific objective (find the caribou) which may have allowed for a richer, more potent zoo experience. The social aspects of the game (ask for help, give the coin to another) were secondary to finding the animal. The coin itself is a small prize for achieving the objective, but what is more important is that the player found the animal and (hopefully) learned something because they were focused on completing the game.

Before we set up the quarters game at the Northern Trails exhibit, we tried it out with a family near the Raptor Center. The Raptor Center is basically a fenced-off field in which Zoo keepers handle predatory birds before an audience. We approached a family of four with the new Idaho state quarter and asked if they would help us figure out what kind of bird was on it. We gave the quarter to a young boy who approached a neighboring family to ask if they could identify the bird. Unsuccessful, the boy returned to us and we suggested that he ask a nearby zoo keeper. The boy was nervous, but his parents were really into the game at that point and led him up to te front of the crowd to ask his question. It turned out that the zoo keeper knew about the idaho quarter, and that the bird she was holding, a peregrin falcon, was the bird featured on the quarter. The boy was really excited by his discovery and the parents thought the game was pretty cool. We told the boy that he could keep the quarter and distributed stickers. Everyone seemed to come away from the game really happy.

In this situation, the boy was given a specific task with a variety of avenues for completion. He chose to ask other visitors for the information that he needed, but he could have looked around for signs or looked the answer up on dad's iphone. Once the task was completed, the boy recieved a prize. While the experience could have occurred without the coin, the quarter focused the boy on a specific goal and gave him a reason to interact with others.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


This study by the Pew Internet & American Life project shows that as of December 2008, 11% of American adults on-line use the micro-blogging service Twitter. But as Twitter grows, how will it turn itself into a viable, profitable business. Yesterday was April Fools Day and Wired Magazine tweeted about Twitter Inc.'s plan to make money. Har. But it cuts to the relevant issue that these services, not just limited to Twitter, which we all use and take for granted, are not generating huge revenue, nor are they operating sustainably. An astute individual would understand that Twitter will not be around forever. It is a potent tool to use right now, but it will drop off at some point, and some newer, better, more innovating tool will emerge. Our job is to know what to adopt, and what to drop it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Strategic Goal for NHM

Effectively engage with current and new audiences using new social systems and technologies.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Home Broadband Adoption

This study by Pew Internet is extremely interesting. According to Pew, the number of American homes with a broadband Internet connection has risen to 55% from 47% in 2007. Growth in this area is important for a number of reasons, but what is unsettling about the report is the indication that low-income Americans are not purchasing broadband subscriptions. Indeed, according to this study only 25% of Americans earning less than $20,000 annually have broadband access at home, down from 28% in 2007.

A heartening figure is that half of Americans between the age of 50 and 65 have broadband in their home, and this group seems to be seeing the most growth among all web 2 platforms recently.

Finally, 27% of Americans do not have any Internet access in their homes. These people tend to be both older (over 65) and poorer (earning less than $20,000 annually).

What does all of this mean? Well, two things:
  1. Some of the hardest people for museums to reach are those with small household incomes. While museums tend to be inexpensive and welcoming to everyone, even those who cannot pay (See the Seattle Art Museum's recent ad campaign - "Pay what you can"), most visitors do not fall into this category. So if they don't come, and they don't have Internet access, how do we talk to them? How do we serve them?
  2. The highest rate of growth is seen among middle income, middle aged individuals. Museums already do a good job of reaching these people through traditional means: direct mail, advertising, e-mail; but this group is also quickly engaging with new social technologies such as Facebook, Myspace and Twitter, meaning they want to be exposed to more people, they want to be more connected to their interests, and they want to have a more intense experience online.

If a museum communicator were to take the path of least resistance, they would spend a great deal of their time building engaging web content for those people who really want that intense experience, and who are really vocal about it. But as quickly as this group is adopting these systems and seeking out ways to be engaged, and as glamorous as the projects created to please them are, they are a minority group who are probably already engaged. Would it not be more useful to spend those resources on under-served audiences?

What we really need to do is do both. We need to develop the fantastic, award winning, glamorous online content that the growing Internet-using public wants. But we also need to find ways to effectively reach people who don't use the Internet, don't visit museums, and don't have the resources to financially support the organization.

Part 1: Introductions

In "The Temple and the Forum" Les Harrison discusses two competing notions of the identity of museums: the Temple, in which the status-quo is preserved and a/the state has the greatest investment and control in the stories that are told; and the Forum, in which everything is questioned and debated by competing social groups. These two categories, which Harrison sees as opposites on a spectrum, reach their goals and achieve their missions by communicating ideas to their audience, and by allowing their audiences to communicate with each other about specific topics. 

If the function of a museum, regardless of its place on the Temple-Forum continuum, can be understood as that of a communicator, it is critically important for that museum (and the professionals working in it) to understand why people communicate, and through what means. If this understanding is pursued in a strategic and intentional fashion, the museum will be in a position to more effective achieve its mission and realize its vision.

Individuals communicate in a variety of different ways, the oldest of which is oral communication, followed by physical, visual and written communication.  Today, multiple communication methods have been combined, mediated by technology, into a new form of multimedia communication. No one method of communication is superior to the others, and the development of new methods of communication does not coincide with the death of others.  Rather, new methods of communication allow us to communicate with more people, more often, and to a more intimate degree than before (Briggs Chapter 2).

There are three characteristics of all types of communication: permanency, immediacy and interactivity. These characteristics are valued to different degrees by different people under different circumstances, but together they are an effective objective way to evaluate different communication methods. Different communication methods typically have different ratios of permanency:immediacy:interactivity. Consider the following examples:

There are 350 caves in France and Spain that contain prehistoric paintings of animals.  These paintings are widely studied and their content and age debated. What we know for certain is that they are old, with the youngest estimates placing them at 10,000 years old. The artist who created the paintings could have communicated a variety of ideas to his peers, but modern scientists and scholars learn a variety of things from the paints. The significance of these paintings demonstrates their considerable permanency, yet the variety of potential meanings gleaned from the painting demonstrate its weakness in immediacy and interactivity.

Historians consider the year 1450 as the beginning of the modern age, in no small part due to the invention that year of the moveable-type printing press by Johann Gutenberg in Mainz. Gutenberg catalyzed what is known as the "print revolution" whereby printing spread throughout Europe and produced 27,000 editions by 1500 (Briggs 13).  The printing press allowed for the greatest dissemination of knowledge and thought in Europe, the books produced by these presses allowed thinkers to rapidly ready and respond to their contemporaries, creating the philosophical foundation for the "Age of Revolution" beginning in 1789. Printed books were precious commodities in the 16th century, yet they were nonetheless less permanent than the vellum manuscripts that predated them, but the ease and inexpense of creation made the communication via the book more immediate and more interactive.

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the first practical telephone in 1875, he did not usher in a new way of communication. Rather, he developed a system in which the oral communication was possible without regard to distance. Likewise, the development of the United States Postal Service was established in 1775, it provided a system in which people could safely and effectively effect interactive communication over long distances. Rather than vessels of communication, these systems lay the foundation for traditional mode of communication: oral, written, to be more effective and more responsive to contemporary needs. 

The cave paintings at Lascaux, the printing press invented by Johann Gutenberg, Einstein's telegram to President Roosevelt and this blog posting all have different capacities for permanency, immediacy and interactivity. The cave paintings at Lascaux demonstrate the importance of permanency, as the author continues to communicate with us today, but there painting has no interactivity: there is no way to respond to the author.  In fact, the value gained in its extreme permanency presupposes any value gained form immediacy and interactivity. The printing press and a national postal system built around the letter demonstrate a balance between permanency, immediacy and interactivity; there are few original Gutenberg volumes available, but the printing press allowed for the dissemination of knowledge previously unknown, and the national postage system of the United States is a structure that allowed interactive communication that, while not immediate, was certainly more expedient than previous systems.

The culmination of these technologies and systems can be seen in the emergence of a system that has radically changed our expectations and methods of communication: the Internet. 


This is what I've been reading over the past couple of months. I'm sure there is a lot more out there.
  • Daniel, John S. “Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education.” London: Kogan Page, 1999.
  • Briggs, Asa and Peter Burke. “A Social History of the Media.” Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005.
  • Lytras, Miltiadis D., Meir Russ, Ronald Maier, and Ambjorn Naeve. “Knowledge Management Strategies: A Handbook of Applied Technology. Hershey, PA: IGI Publishing, 2008.
  • Shuen, Amy. “Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide.” Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2008.
  • Falk, John H. and Beverly K. Sheppard. “Thriving in the Knowledge Age: New Business Models for Museums and Other Cultural Insitituions.” Oxford: AltaMira Press, 2006.
  • Jenkins, Henry. “Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.” New York, NY: New York University Press, 2006.
  • Leuf, Bo and Ward Cunningham. “The Wiki Way: Quick Collaboration on the Web.” Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley, 2001.
  • Cameron, Fiona and Sarah Kenderdine. “Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse.” Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2007.
  • Harrison, Les. “The Temple and the Forum: The American Museum and Cultural Authority in Hawthorne, Melville, Stowe and Whitman.” Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2007.
  • Ebersbach, Anja, Markus Glaser and Richard Heigl. “Wiki: Web Collaboration.” Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2006.
  • Okin, J. R.. “The Information Revolution.” Winter Harbor, ME: Ironbound Press, 2005.
  • Dougherty, Meghan. “Archiving the Web: Collection, Documentation, Display and Shifting Knowledge Production Paradigms.” Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2007.
  • Marty, Paul F.. Factors Influencing the Co-Evolution of Computer-Mediated Collaborative Practices and Systems: A Museum Case Study. The Journal of Computer Mediated Communication 10 (4), 2005.
  • Korn, Randi. "The Case for Holistic Intentionality". Curator : a Quarterly Publication of the American Museum of Natural History. 50 (2): 255.
  • Cho, H.-K., Trier, M., and Kim, E. (2005). The use of instant messaging in working relationship development: A case study. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10(4), article 17.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


The title of this blog is a bit misleading: I am not interested in how museums communicate but, rather, how museum professionals communicate, educate and inspire everyone else based on the mission, vision and program of their museum. I am going to go out on a (rather short, I think) limb and say that everything, everything, we have and do is a product of communication. 

The main thrust of this forthcoming essay is toward communication technologies. We are all caught up in technology right now, especially this web 2.0 business, but we need to remember that this blog, that tweet, those facebook and myspace pages, all those wikis and the innumerable photos posted to flickr are only the most recent expression of our collective drive to make our communication more permanent, more immediate, and more interactive.

The cave paintings in Lascaux, France are a 32,000 year old communique to someone. They are definitely permanent, but not so immediate or interactive:

Einstein's letter to President Roosevelt demonstrates a more immediate and interactive form of communication, but letters are not very permanent (unless you're Einstein).

My Twitter feed (which you can check out in the sidebar) is immediate and somewhat interactive, but its hardly permanent.  

Each method of communication is valuable for a different reason, and people will certainly prefer one method to the exclusion of others.  It is important to recognize that all communication technologies work toward the same goal, but achieve that impact in different ways.

Both of the images used in this post are in the public domain, accessed via