From Lee Rainie, Director, Pew Internet & American Life Project

At Saturday's plenary session, I read from a document that offered a shrewd critique of the current state of play at the Smithsonian and a vision for moving towards a "Smithsonian Commons." At the time, I said it was a document came from inside the Smithsonian staff. I didn't identify the author because I hadn't asked his permission. Now I have and I'm pleased to say that the analyst is Michael Edson.

Here is a somewhat longer excerpt than I read from his presentation and paper Imagining a Smithsonian Commons — a document that I understand has been circulating for some weeks in various external and internal forums:

"… with those 137 million objects, a dynamic and increasingly Web 2.0-savvy workforce, and the mission to increase and diffuse knowledge, we're leaving a lot of value on the table by working in silos.

"Search and findability across the Web properties are poor. Usability and branding are incoherent. Web 2.0 patterns underutilized. And the units can't afford to establish, maintain, and refine the platforms they want on their own, never mind that if they could, the repetition of effort or the devastating effect on end-users would be calamitous: Imagine 30 separate e-commerce, event ticketing, or personalization systems.

"Nobody would rationally design the online operations of a world-class Institution this way. The sum of the individual parts — the individual wildflowers — don't add up to more than the whole, and they should. And it's hurting us….

"I assert that reshaping our digital identity around the concept of a Smithsonian Commons is the way to move forward — it's the game changer: a low risk, high reward proposition that addresses the fundamental challenges of the Institution in terms of brand, audience, operations, speed, governance, integrity, education, research, revenue generation, leadership and legacy."

My point was that there is amazing wisdom and commitment inside the Smithsonian ready to implement all the ideas that the outside advisers were promoting — and then some.

4 thoughts on “From Lee Rainie, Director, Pew Internet & American Life Project

  1. I have been waiting to hear this. The Smithsonian’s more than 6,000 staff and over 5,000 volunteers are a force that have a vested interest in moving the Smithsonian into the 21st century. They are the Smithsonian’s best advertisers and want to be apart of the future success of a place that they love already. (or why else would they do what they do?)

  2. The sentiments attributed to Mr. Micheal Edson are very similar to the ones I espoused in a report as an intern at SI. I find it very interesting that two people with vastly different experiences at SI would come to near-same conclusions. Obviously, the writing is on the wall. As a devout SI supporter I hope there is enough time and money to take heed.

  3. Are there any independent reviews of the quality of flickr Commons user-generated data yet? How about independent cost/benefit analysis of institutional participation?
    SI should certainly evaluate those before rushing into development.

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