Somehow in the space of almost 2 months, I’ve gone from having no blogs on WordPress, and no collaborative blogs anywhere, to having no less than three.  As someone who is undoubtedly a solo person, this amuses me greatly, and causes no little bit of reflection. They’re very different blogs with a different level of autonomy and collaboration.

The Liar Game: This is a fandom blog, for a pretty obscure manga (Japanese comic). I write it with someone who goes by the handle Quantula. It’s the first collaborative blog I’ve done, and the one that has the widest audience.

My original purpose for joining the blog (Quan is the official owner, as well as the blog admin) was to finally find and create a place where I could express my enthusiasm for this particular series.

If I had to describe my role, I’d call myself a content producer. Quantula is really the one who owns the blog, structures it, and promotes it via various bulletin-board services. I tend to write most of the posts, and dig up most of the news, since I have an elementary understanding of Japanese.

Stranger Museum. This blog is a class effort/meeting place for a class on participatory design that I’m taking as part of my Museum Studies curriculum.  Since the instructor for this course, Nina Simon, looks at social technology and Web 2.0 as a model for participatory design, and since the class only ever meets as a whole and in person for six times over the enter quarter, a blog is a natural way of keeping the content flowing.

I would call this blog largely internal. The blog’s primary audience and users are the members of the class. While others, likely readers of Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 blog, may take a look at our blog, it’s really more about communication among blog participants than a reach out to social technology or museum exhibit developers.

Social Issues @ AAM. This blog is an experiment for an academic journal that I’m doing work for during this quarter: Museums and Social Issues. The external purpose of this blog is to identify sessions at the American Association of Museum’s 2009 conference that are relevant to social issues or social activism in a museum setting, and then to create a place where those interested can discuss them.

The internal purpose of this blog is to experiment with creating a web presence for the Museum and Social Issues journal, and more importantly to create an online space where we can focus on social activism in a museum arena.

So, I’ve been thinking about these three different blogs, and what purpose each of them actually serves, and what I’m learning for each one of them.  In short, what would I consider to be a success for these blogs?

For the Liar Game Blog: First, I want the blog to be a source of information. Second, I want it to be a place where two seemingly separate halves of the readers can find something worthwhile (for some, the draw is the puzzles, for the other’s it’s the story). Third, I want this to be just part of the fandom, that is, just one part of the buzz that revolves around this manga.

For the Stranger Museum: I admit, I’m not so much involved in the creation or maintenance of this blog as I am with the others, and so my goals aren’t so much my own, but my perceptions of Nina’s.

The blog is a success if it’s something the class uses. If class participants make posts, make comments, and start using it as a place to consider issues relevant to participatory design in museums, and new ways of thinking about social technology in museums then it’s successful.

For the MSI @ AAM blog: Success is learning. I admit, I’m skeptical of how many people are going to use our little blog as a resource while the AAM conference is going on, and the short time frame that we put everything together won’t do much to help it’s success as a measure of views or comments recieved, but I prefer to think of this as an experiment.

If I could go back and do this over, we would have started the framework for this blog back in February or March, drafted the blog policy, and began promoting this blog on mailing lists and forums throughout March and April. Possibly, I would have had the content live in advance, so people could discuss it beforehand.

Surely, the others involved in creating this blog have their own lessons they learned. So as long as no one walks away thinking this was a useless exercise, and instead walks away with an idea of how we can do this better, I call that a success.

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Tropes as Platform

April 19, 2009

Where’s the power?

For those who have been fortunate enough to not encounter it TV Tropes, it’s a wiki that indexes storytelling devices as they apply to just about everything ranging from all forms of pop-culture to real life. Unlike the other wiki as Wikipedia is referred to there, they admit that they are much more informal.

What makes this interesting to think about is that the TV Tropes site seems to actively go against the grain of having any authority, at least publicly. They don’t  promote or feature content, nor do they actively moderate what does or doesn’t count as notability, depending on Wiki Magic to fix pages that lack or let them get deleted.

Nor do they seem to have much in the way of rules; claiming them to be more like guidelines. Their guide to good style can be summed up in the opening quote, “Be aware of these conventions, even if you choose to ignore them.” TV Tropes seems to be more strict on what makes a good or bad example (as that is the content of their site), but even then, they leave it up to users and readers to edit the pages.

Their use of user-provided content seems limited to the site itself. This isn’t a popular website with a book-deal. They use generated content to make their site and have content.

Mostly, their authority comes in the rules used to define user/visitor interaction, and even then they’re much looser than a normal internet online forum. For one thing, “becoming known” on the wiki requires a user name and a password. No email-address provided. And the general guideline seems to be, keep the personal interaction and commentary to the forum and discussion page, and the examples on the example page. So while social interactions are “defined” they’re really not controlled or governed.

I’ve also been thinking about how the Trope model applies to museums and other informal learning institutions. What would an “Exhibit Tropes” site look like?

First, it would be user or visitor centered. This can’t be the insititutional voice of any single institution or even a single organization (such as the American Association of Museum). Not only would the lack of control be unfeasible for an institution, but Exhibit Tropes would likely serve the purposes of visitors or scholars outside individual museums than employees within the museum, or a museum itself. Even if it did become a resource in the museum industry, the model would push most of the power and responsibility to the contributors instead of a higher administrative authority.

Second, and what makes this interesting for me, it would start allowing for the creation of Meta around exhibits. How are natural history museums and science centers presenting the story of dinosaurs? What are common threads, and what makes every exhibit unique? What techniques are becoming “tropes” in the museum world, techniques that frequent museum visitors could identify in several exhibits? What if visitors came together to create a central index of ‘exhibits’?

Obviously, this would be much harder to create than TV Tropes, simply because pop-culture/fandom and story-telling in general inspire very passionate pepole, whereas museums do not seem to invite the same sort of dedication, but still… the idea dances around.