Image: screen grab from Smithsonian Commons Prototype Story 2: Visitor
The Smithsonian Commons Prototype is now public. Check it out and help us move forward by leaving us a comment on this blog or with the simple vote and comment form.[Commenting is closed, but you can see all the comments we received via our wiki. Thanks!]
The Smithsonian Institution Strategic Plan (.pdf) describes four grand challenges:
- unlocking the mysteries of the universe
- understanding and sustaining a biodiverse planet
- valuing world cultures
- understanding the American experience
This is urgent and important work. Difficult work! And work that requires us to find new ways to collaborate, form partnerships, engage with the public, and develop our global network of ideas, resources, and expertise. This job requires something new.
Thus, the centerpiece of the Smithsonian’s Web and New Media Strategy is the creation of the Smithsonian Commons—a new part of our digital presence dedicated to stimulating learning, creation, and innovation through open access to Smithsonian research, collections and communities.
This project is just starting, and depending on who you are and how much you follow digital culture, the idea of a digital commons, let alone an institutional strategy based on building one, can be hard to grasp. What is this commons? What will it look like and do? How will it help us achieve our goals? What needs to change in order to do this?
To understand and address these questions we decided to build a prototype in the form of four animated vignettes—four stories to show the attributes and benefits of the Smithsonian Commons as seen through the eyes of our users. We built the prototype through a rapid research-and-development process this winter, and in the months since then I’ve been meeting with colleagues inside and outside the Institution to understand what the Smithsonian Commons means to people and how to move it forward.
We think there are four things that, together, will make the Smithsonian Commons a unique and powerful tool. The Smithsonian Commons will be vast, findable, shareable, and free.
Anyone in the world can have access to the whole Smithsonian, including access to deep collections and the vitality, curiosity, and creativity of our staff, visitors, partners, and our extended global community. The Smithsonian is shown at the center of an amazing network of ideas, collections, and people.
Vastness and findability go hand-in-hand. The vastness of the Smithsonian can be discovered because search, navigation, and overall user experience design enables people to find the content they’re interested in, in the ways they expect to find it, including through recommendations and comments by staff and visitors, external search sites, and social networks.
Sharing is the foundation of collaboration and learning. The Smithsonian’s impact can be greatly amplified if what we have and what we do is easy to share. The Smithsonian Commons will encourage use and re-use for work and pleasure, in social networks, on mobile devices, and in the classroom, workshop, and laboratory.
The Smithsonian is built on the idea that the tools of discovery and knowledge creation should be available to all. The Smithsonian Commons will be built on the premise that free, high-quality resources will spread farther and create more opportunities for discovery and creation than those that are restricted by unnecessary fees and licenses. Free does not have to mean unprofitable: a popular and thriving Smithsonian Commons, built with revenue-generation in mind, will open up new business opportunities and drive increased traffic to our core e-commerce and membership offerings.
From the feedback we’ve gotten so far, “vast, findable, shareable, and free” seems to resonate with people’s expectations of the Smithsonian in the digital age. The commons concept also seems to successfully embody many of the goals and values articulated in the Smithsonian Web and New Media Strategy:
- the importance of search, findability, and community engagement across the Institution’s websites
- the enormous thirst for the Smithsonian’s trusted content and expertise
- the benefits to be gained by balancing expert opinion with crowdsourcing and user generated content
- the potential of the Smithsonian as a platform for knowledge creation, invention, and learning
At this point in the process we would love to get more feedback from outside the Institution to validate or adjust our assumptions, figure out what we’ve missed, and learn what to emphasize. Do you want to see the Smithsonian build a commons? What would you want to find there? What should we do first? How can the Smithsonian Commons help you succeed in your work, for pleasure, or in your lifelong learning journey?
Do you like the Smithsonian Commons concept?
Check out the Smithsonian Commons Prototype and make a comment on this blog post or with the simple vote and comment form. [Commenting is closed, but you can see all the comments we received via our wiki. Thanks!]