First impressions – to build it alone or with others

A great, engaging talk from Bran Ferren. One of his more provocative remarks was to challenge us to get out of the mindset of competing with Google and switch gears to take advantage of it. This hit a sweet spot in my heart, even though I come from years of schooling in the art of librarianship and have been party to that competition for many years. Yes, I think the idea is sound and more actionable than one might think.

So, here’s another layer – that Google or Wikipedia or their peers are not really the “knowledge” that we might think others think them to be. By that I mean that, they gather content – they are structures and vehicles purposed to gather and host content. The degree to which they have been successful is the result of content owners believing in the viability of Google/Wikipedia’s concept and structure and using those vehicles. Content seekers learn that these are places to find the content. And Google becomes a verb.

I think at the heart of this whole question is whether we are willing to let another entity “carry” our knowledge and expertise to the multi-generational bodies of today’s and tomorrow’s discoverers. One of the more popular sets of images SI posted to the Flickr Commons earlier this year was that of our dead scientists. Sure enough, those images were grabbed by others who attached them to Wikipedia entries. A demonstration of SI assets at work, but by others who see Wikipedia as this type of vehicle. Can we grab hold of this same mindset? Is this the right mindset? If it’s not spot on – I think it is – or it’s awfully close.

4 thoughts on “First impressions – to build it alone or with others

  1. Google or Wikipedia as competition?! Really? Those two 800 lb gorillas are my best friends and top referrers! Far from being competition, my website couldn’t survive without them.
    You are right Ricc: we should all be putting more resources into leveraging these sites’ clout. The obvious way is through search engine optimization and judicious, value-added Wikipedia edits (NOT link spamming) which would point researchers towards relevant, authoritative sources…just in case that is what they are looking for.

  2. Bran asked rhetorically is the Smithsonian a fad? The Smithsonian is a lot of things. One might as well ask is art a fad, is science of “blank” a fad? A more (im)pertinent question might be: Has SI become too much like Citigroup, a conglomerate with a brain unable to coordinate its body parts?
    I very much agree with Bran’s assertion that we need to tell stories and strive to be open and trusting – all SI units can have that in common. But, I hope Bran was being provocative in asserting that all SI does is “collect old stuff.”
    Just to stick to something I know about: a major function of the Natural History museum is to collect current biological specimens and information for use now and for posterity. The products include specimens, data and hypotheses. Collecting organisms in the absence of scientific questions would be a sterile exercise. We make available to the public for discussion all of the products, which does meet Bran’s aspiration of permitting dialogue – other people can examine the specimens and data and ask different questions or come up with different interpretations. But, the public end could benefit from a lot more 2.0, though Encyclopedia of Life is a good start.

  3. To follow on from Jon’s comment, a specimen (or object or a book) in a museum is more than “old stuff.” It is a gateway, and at the same time a grounding, for knowledge. Wikipedia and even Encyclopedia of Life wouldn’t exist if someone weren’t generating the knowledge, backed up by something tangible.
    Now both the knowledge and the tangibles can be much more widely exposed and recombined. The new knowledge that results (new fads?) is bound to breathe new life into some dusty collections. The value of those original tangibles increases, and new practices are inspired.
    The sheer pleasure of following hyperlinks to see how ideas connect or to discover bizarre factoids, and then sharing those with friends, is not that far removed from the excitement I’ve seen in groups of museum visitors when they first see vast arrays of colorful birds or beetles laid out in cases. The patterns of similarity, change, and sometimes bizarreness seem impossible but are hard to deny when you see the real objects.
    In this Darwin 200 year, consider the work that Darwin and Wallace did. It required fieldwork (observation of tangibles), solitary musing (blogging), communication with colleagues (social networking, collaborative content-building). It was always influenced by what others around them had done, not just in the field of biology (Googling and web-surfing).
    More people can now do these things, and faster. And the Smithsonian can be right in the middle of it.

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