Ignite:MCN | Museum Computer Network 2012 | Seattle, Washington | Opening Party-EMP Museum
1: Over the past few years I’ve followed along as museums first became terrified of the idea of “the crowd” - with predictions running rampant about the death of the curator….and now, slowly but surely, we’ve begun to embrace the crowd.
2: But, at this point it’s more like we have the tiger by its tail. User-generated content, crowdsourcing, open platforms - these are all the cool new things- but there are still fears about what that means for museum authority.
3: So I began to form my master’s research around the question: How can museums best integrate visitor insights and interests, and still maintain our authority and established reputations as experts.
4: As I began my research I already had a foundation: which was Duncan Cameron’s classic 1971 article, “The Museum: A Temple or the Forum.” In my museum studies program “the temple and the forum” was pounded into our heads so much that it essentially became its own meme.
5. But it’s easy to forget that Cameron was not saying that museums shouldn’t be temples. It was that museums should be temples AND forums for dialogue. The two should be related but distinct. And remember, this was 1971! I’ve learned that museums aren’t slow to come UP with the big ideas, but they can sometimes be slow to implement them. (This was actually our class t-shirt.)
6: So what next? Well, my work with Wikipedia already had me considering where museums fit into the world of open, collaborative communities. So I decided to dig deeper into what made the open-source movement tick.
7: And it didn’t take me long to discover that the open-source movement had its OWN temple and forum metaphor — only it’s called the Cathedral and the Bazaar. I really was shocked by how closely these metaphors fit together, at first glance. And I was glad when these lessons from the cathedral and the bazaar really could be applied to our temple and forum.
8: Eric Raymond wrote The Cathedral and the Bazaar in 1997- and it compares the Cathedral - which is top-down software development (like Microsoft) - with the Bazaar (Linux), where everyone is free to adapt and improve open source software together.
9: Raymond’s most important point is that, “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” Or, The more people you have looking at a problem, the more quickly you’ll find a solution. I feel like that’s “crowdsourcing” before it was called “crowdsourcing.”
10: So we have temples and forums and cathedrals and bazaars. Things were getting a little crowded so I decided to moosh the two metaphors together. Museums should go one step beyond the forum, and embrace the collaborative bazaar, instead.
11: We can be temples and bazaars! But since it takes a lot to explain what I mean by “temple and bazaar,” I decided to cut to the chase and name this “Open Authority.” “Openness” is needed to remain relevant in our insanely collaborative world. “Authority” is needed to bring expertise to all of that user-generated content.
12: The curator is absolutely not dead. They’re needed more now than ever to make sense of the dialogue happening on open platforms. Maintaining authority and being open do not have to be mutually exclusive.
13: And that’s what Open Authority is: The coming together of museum expertise with meaningful contributions from our visitors. You combine the two.
14: A lot of very smart people talk about the public value of museums, the commons, sharing is caring! But sharing is also scary. I think that putting a name to something makes it less scary, and that’s really all that Open Authority is doing. Putting a name to the ideas you’ve already been discussing - and doing.
15: People keep asking me, “But what does Open Authority ACTUALLY look like?” The thing is, I don’t completely know. And it’s a thing I think we should be defining together. I do feel that there might be a sort of spectrum of open authority, but I don’t know what that looks like yet, either.
16: And I can say that the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History is definitely somewhere on that spectrum. Nina Simon calls her museum an “open platform” where all visitors can contribute their stories, ideas, and objects to exhibits.
17: In the end, we need to PRACTICE open authority, by collaborating together, in order to PRODUCE a more precise definition of it. We’ve already been discussing this new vision for the future. Now we just need to go out and put it into practice.
18: I hope you’ll join me in the discussion. You can use the #openauth hash tag. And I’m proud to say that Rob Stein made up that hashtag, which means it’s a real thing. Thank you.