When Bloggers Collide

I recently was invited to participate in a panel session on museum blogging at the 2012 Museum Computer Network (MCN) conference, which was luckily hosted in nearby Seattle. The session was pulled together by power blogger Ed Rodley (aka Senior Exhibit Developer at the Museum of Science in Boston) and moderated by what I would now consider the new James Brown of museum technology, Koven Smith (aka Director of Technology at the Denver Art Museum).  It was my first time attending MCN — which I had followed closely via Twitter during their last conference — and I was blown away at the energy and passion of this group of museum professionals that represented so many areas of museum work.

Since this conference has sparked a lot of thinking for me, I may end up writing a few MCN-related posts in the next week or so, but for now I wanted to focus on the reason I was there in Seattle this past week — the bringing together of a diverse group of active bloggers to dissect the how, why, and who of museum blogging.  For me, this was the first time meeting these other bloggers “in the flesh” or face-to-face — what would happen?  I could not help thinking about my favorite lines from the 1984 classic film Ghostbusters:

Egon: There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.
Peter: What?
Egon: Don’t cross the streams.
Peter: Why?
Egon: It would be bad.
Peter: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, “bad”?
Egon: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

Luckily, just as in the movie, that’s not what happened at all.  It turns out, when bloggers collide, you get some productive conversations about professional and personal (or offline and online) identity, the complex networks that these blogs build online, and the ways in which these online entities may even push museum thinking forward.  In this post, I would simply like to introduce those who came together for this MCN session, and then lay out three questions that I spent time thinking about before participating in the panel (and that we grappled with a bit during our conversations).

The Blog Roll

Here is a quick run down of the other bloggers/blogs represented at this exciting MCN session:

Ed Rodley, Eric Siegel, Me, & Suse Cairns

Suse Cairns blogs at Museum Geek, and is also currently a PhD candidate at the University of Newcastle, Australia. She holds a unique position as an emerging museum professional without a museum institutional affiliation, perhaps permitting her to strike up a bit more of a disruptive conversation (or maybe that’s her indie rockstar background). She contributed a guest post to ArtMuseumTeaching.com about “Getting Uncomfortable in Museums.”

Ed Rodley blogs at Thinking About Museums, and currently works as Senior Exhibit Developer for the Museum of Science, Boston. He also coordinates a series of conversations & explorations among the Boston museum community that he has dubbed “Drinking About Museums,” posted to his blog regularly (here is the most recent installment). Ed and I are in a similar boat in which we blog independently of the institutions we work for — making for a slightly more complex situation when it comes to our more ‘rebellious’ ideas or questions. I’m grateful that he pulled this panel together for MCN.

Eric Siegel blogs at The Works, a New York Hall of Science blog, and is currently that institution’s Director and Chief Content Officer. With 30 years of experience in museums, Eric writes about challenging aspects of innovative projects in exhibition, technology, and education as well as collaborations and current thinking in museum work. One of his great recent posts discusses the ReGeneration exhibition being developed at the New York Hall of Science that will bring together contemporary art and science. Not only does Eric blog about projects like this, but he also supports his staff creating their own blog content across the institution — see SciSpotlight.

Session Attendees — OK, this was the real fire power at the session. Almost everyone who attended the panel also blogs themselves, and some for longer than the entire panel combined.  During the session, we asked how many of them had their own blogs, and the photo on the right shows the sea of hands (as good as an iPhone can show it). In hindsight, we should have really thrown more questions out to the “audience” and had a richer conversation about blogging — and not just our blogs.  I wanted to give a shout out to everyone who submitted their blogs to our session’s Twitter feed, but I know there are more.

So that gives the long and short of who was there for the session, and it might also help many of you connect with more of the museum blogging community.  Now I wanted to quickly frame some of the issues I brought to the table during the session, and then I invite your feedback and comments below.

Museum Blogging Issue #1: Who Reads This Stuff?

After writing for and managing this blog for over 9 months, I have come to be quite fascinated by blog readership … or clicker-ship, as I’d rather call it (mostly because I can measure how many people click on the blog, but I can’t measure how closely they read it).  First of all, there is the actual number of people that museum blogs reach.  I estimate that across a few dozen museum blogs (17 of them are listed above), there are approximately 1-2 million people accessing these sites each year.  And I don’t think this figure is exaggerated — I recently met an art blogger who gets about 1.25 million hits a year, showing how widespread the reach of this form of content can be.  And I want to be clear here: I am not associating the number of hits or clicks with the value of a blog’s content or the blogger.  I frankly don’t care whether a blog gets 1 million hits a year, or 100 hits a year — if they both have thoughtful, quality content, then they both serve an important role in this online thinking space.

Beyond the sheer number of hits or clicks, I am way more interested in the organic web of interactions that can take place online after a blog post is published.  For example, a blogger can share their post via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, and their own circles of colleagues and peers.  Then, others share or retweet the post, and the ideas start to spread in unpredictable ways.  Search engines also direct people to the blog from Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. Then, people from across the world have the chance to add their thoughts and comments on the blog itself, or on Twitter and Facebook, and the conversation grows beyond the blog.  Furthermore, other bloggers can respond to your ideas through their own posts.  For instance, my recent post on teen engagement in museums has pingbacks from 4 other blogs — and each of those blogs has its own social media networks and clicker-ship.  The term ‘blog’ often seems so two-dimensional and self-directed when you consider the three-dimensional interactions, relationships, and ideating that can potentially ripple out from each post.  After hearing a great “Ignite” presentation at MCN from Lori Byrd Phillips on “open authority,” I think I am going with the term “BAZAAR” instead.  More to come on that idea in a future post.

Museum Blogging Issue #2: Do Blogs Really Have the Power to Create Communities?

Sometimes people can get quite cynical about blogs, thinking that it is just a bunch of people talking to themselves. Can these sites really create relationships among people and professionals?  Are blogs really a way for people to collaborate online and share ideas, questions, and processes?  Well, I would not have created this online forum (now with 14 authors) if I didn’t think that it had the potential to create an online community of practice in the field of art museum education. My experience thus far proves that people really do come together through a blog to exchange ideas, ask questions, and challenge each other.  Since us art museum educators only come together a couple times a year at conferences (and most museum educators are not able to even attend these conferences), I do find that online communities are finding a new role in the professional field. There is certainly more that sites like ArtMuseumTeaching could be doing to enhance peer engagement, and I hope to explore some of these in the upcoming months.

This whole question of how we build online communities is something that really interests me, and I will be partnering with some amazing colleagues (Dana Carlisle Kletchka and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl) to explore this through a session at next year’s National Art Education Association conference — a session that will have a rich online, digital presence before, during, and after the conference.  So I leave these questions open: how do we build communities of practice online, and what does that mean in terms of the way we work, interact, and play together?

Museum Blogging Issue #3: How Well Do We Play With Others?

My final thought simply opens up more questions about how we develop expansive, boundary-crossing communities online.  As bloggers, how well do we play with each other?  If you have your own museum blog, how many times have you invited other museum bloggers to write a guest post, commented on their blog, or added a link to their blog on your site?  Do bloggers reach out to make connections with other bloggers outside of their own national and cultural boundaries?  What about across types of museums and academic disciplines?  Even outside of the blogging circles — how well do we connect with other existing forms of online interaction (Google Hangout, Blog Talk Radio, or other online communities such as Digital Is)?  I, myself, have a lot of work to do in many of these categories, but I wanted to lay out these questions so that we can be thinking of them as we push forward in the blogosphere.

**********

So, I really enjoyed attending MCN, and it sparked all kinds of questions and thoughts in my mind about this site as well as large areas of my professional work.  I invite your thoughts and perspectives below, and I am open to all suggestions as to how to grow the community already forming around this online “bazaar” I call ArtMuseumTeaching.com.

During the conference, MCN publicized Twitter hashtags for each session, so I wanted to make available an archive of all of the tweets up to this point that used our hashtag: #mcn2012tale.  Here it is in PDF form, with lots of great questions and thoughts from those attending the session and beyond: TweetArchive_#mcn2012tale

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8 comments

  1. Thank you so much for the report, Mike! I will check out those blogs and see if I can link to them. We have one that is very simple, but it is amazing how international the readership. Your blog is very readable and I read all of it!

  2. Laura DiSciullo

    I am definitely closer to having 100 hits per year than 1 million. I may be talking to myself, but I figure that’s better than talking to no one at all! It’s helpful and gratifying to me personally to write out my ideas. I’m job hunting right now, and the one bright spot of being unemployed is my project to visit and blog about a new museum every week. This is something I can just *do* – I don’t have to convince anyone to hire me to do it – and it’s quite enjoyable.

    That said, while I find blogging personally beneficial, I also wonder to what extent it has potential to be beneficial to the field as a whole.

    Thanks for your three questions; they gave me something to think about!

  3. Another great post Mike. I really like your idea of a blog as a bazaar. I would like to encourage more comments and discussion on the posts I write for edgital but find it very difficult to encourage responses. Any tips on how to do this?

    Looking forward to your other MCN related posts. Sounds like it was a thought provoking conference.

  4. Gretchen Jennings

    Thanks for the good questions. Have been blogging for a bit more than a year at Museum Commons and the Ques are very relevant for me. Re community building I’ve found that the groups of educators I’ve joined on linked in have played a role. Bec I often write about mus Ed have found a ready group of readers and commentors there. Still wish there could be more of a discussion than serial comments. Also thru Ed’s blog I found you – I think this happens all the time. Look forward to reading more of your posts.

  5. Pingback: What were your takeaways from MCN2012? « museum geek

  6. Thanks for the great comments and follow-ups. In terms of creating more of a conversation (whether that’s getting comments, or something more), it is something I have struggled with. My goal for ArtMuseumTeaching.com at the beginning was to have 33% posts and 66% comments — right now, we’re at about 20% posts and 80% comments, which is fantastic.

    I think it is important to make a blog a very open place for all ideas and perspectives, and that can certainly be achieved in part through the tone, format, and content of the posts/writing. I also think more people add their comments & questions if they think someone is genuinely listening, and if it might add to an existing exchange. But, as I look back at the posts with the most ‘comments,’ it has primarily been connected to the issues that are more compelling and interesting to professionals across the field.

    But it is worth thinking beyond ‘comments.’ How could blogs — or bazaars — generate something that looks a bit more like dialogue and conversation. There are lots of ways to play with this, and I hope to experiment with a few in the next few months (stay tuned).

  7. Great post and comments all! My head’s abuzz.
    I’m very intrigued by how we determine when what we’ve got going on in a blog (or other online platform) is a dialogue or conversation, in contrast to ‘serial comments’ as Gretchen aptly calls them. I’m posting this as a comment; how does the interaction change were I to post this as a reply to Gretchen?

    I think back to some of the best online interactions I’ve had, with classmates using Blackbaud in college for courses. Sometimes you really did get a discussion going in the virtual realm instead of a stream of individual posts. I think Mike is right about openness being the key to an extent here. The professors I had who imposed the most rules or word counts or insisted on full sentences typically had the least interesting forums. When the students were free to use exclamation points or spit out ideas, questions and reactions in bulleted form or throw in links to webpages things just flowed better. Maybe because there was a certain safety in being online, a little buffer layer. If the platform feels free to its users, ideas and thus genuine discussion flows more freely.

    To be sure its different from in person discussion; but I feel so excited and lucky to get to ‘talk’ with people logistics would other keep me from interacting with through blogs and online communities.

  8. Pingback: Hangout with NAEA’s New Online Peer-to-Peer Initiative | Art Museum Teaching

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