Smithsonian 2.0

For the next two days (Friday-Saturday, 23-24 January 2009) I’ll be at the Smithsonian 2.0 meeting in Washington, D.C. From the description:

Smithsonian 2.0 is a two-day interactive gathering exploring how the Smithsonian can better and more effectively reach the younger generation (teenage through college students) with its collections, materials, and expertise through the web and web/new media-based interactive strategies. The focus is on SI resources—and how to make them accessible, engaging, useful, and valuable to the younger generation who will largely experience them digitally. The gathering brings over 30 active creative people—digerati—from the web/digital/new media world to the Smithsonian. Chosen because of their engagement of large audiences, including youth, and the thoughtfulness and educational consequences of their work, they will join 30 Smithsonian staff at the forefront of efforts to digitally expand the Institution’s reach and impact.

Together the group will explore the Smithsonian’s current work through discussions, electronic and actual visits behind the scenes with collections and staff. The gathering will generate an initial, but informed vision of what the new, digital Smithsonian—”Smithsonian 2.0″—might look like in the years ahead. The results of the gathering will be integrated into the Smithsonian’s Strategic Planning process and forthcoming National Campaign.

Unfortunately the meeting is closed to the public, but I will try to provide a live feed of some of what’s going on via Twitter (follow me @dancohen, where I’ll also be gathering questions and comments), and I’ll blog my standard wrap-up afterwards.

For the record, a month ago I asked my very helpful followers on Twitter to envision what Smithsonian 2.0 would emphasize. The top five answers:

  • Mobile. The Smithsonian needs to think beyond the desktop/laptop computer and onto the mobile platforms that are becoming central to online interaction.
  • High-Density, Image-Focused Design. When I asked which websites the Smithsonian should emulate, a lot of respondents mentioned sites like Etsy and technologies like Seadragon, which pack a lot of images onto the page (without seeming overstuffed) in a way that encourages browsing and exploration.
  • Back-end Standardization. Not as sexy as the first two, but many responses mentioned that the first two can only be enabled by standardizing and making interoperable (and web serviceable) all of the many (often creaky) legacy databases that the Smithsonian undoubtedly runs.
  • APIs. Don’t think that the Smithsonian can do it all. Provide application programming interfaces to those databases so that others can reuse, remix, and reenvision the riches of the Smithsonian.
  • Social Media. Make it easy to share and connect Smithsonian holdings with social media like Twitter and Facebook.


Sheila Brennan says:

Please ask about the possibilities of offering more free wifi hotspots around the museums. The Kogod courtyard at SAAM and NPG is a great example of how to make it work. But, if anyone wants to experiment with mobile content, having wifi available will encourage folks to use their Androids and iPhones–or allow them to more easily program Touch’s that they pass out to visitors.

Looking forward to reading your Tweets.


Eric Johnson says:

Nothing new in what I’m about to say, but: building on your point about APIs, I have to figure the Smithsonian should be interested in making it easy for people to yank their digital objects for use in their own projects. And, almost more importantly, they should make it easy to yank the metadata so users can easily remix content. I’m finding that what I want more and more is a way to make not just the object but its context easily understood and shared.

Nicole Osier says:

I think that the ability to pull objects from the Smithsonian’s collection into your own exhibit/collection would be a great education tool. It would be useful for teachers who want to create exhibits using objects from different museums to address one topic/theme. They could then provide their own text that would be grade level/state standards appropriate. I understand the concern that objects might be miss used, but there is great potential for educators to create multimedia lessons using the images, further more these objects belong to the American public.

james says:

any plans to create infrastructure to support/archive virtual engagement/participation?

so much museum work is about maintaining scholarly input in backroom files, to validate collections, as storehouses of collected, well-studied observations, in selecting objects, etc. etc. once you necessarily open the floodgates, how do you archive the vox populi?

Thanks for the summary of the event! You might be interested in a lively discussion which has begun on our network!

Whitworth says:

As per mention of an image centric website, I agree! As part of a school project I have developed an interface for the Cross Catalog Search Center for SIRIS. Flash demonstration will soon be complete. To see an screen shot check out my wiki where I have been documenting the project.

[…] a follow-up to earlier discussions of Smithsonian 2.0, the Digital Campus crew tackle the thorny question of how to bring […]

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