User-Generated Content: Where’s the Opportunity for Mobile?
I’ve spent a fair few hours at various conferences over the last couple of months and in recent days I’ve been thinking about what I heard and how that might impact our work. Two presentations stood out for me. Neither were about mobile but I feel they might be important nevertheless. Both had user-generated content at their heart.
Now I confess that I have often ranted on this very subject – I have little patience for the idea that we will soon dispense with professional content producers – frankly I don’t want to hear fatuous nonsense from random strangers. I love expertise. And while I have integrated polling and other similar devices into my productions and enjoy the professional community I’ve found on Twitter I remain at heart a sceptic. But these two speakers really challenged my thinking.
The first was Phil Gyford speaking at The Story (http://thestory.org.uk) about www.pepysdiary.com – a day-by-day presentation of the diaries of Samuel Pepys. This site presents an original and un-edited historic source – the diaries – and combines it with in-depth and expert analysis and context for readers provided by a largely amateur community.
The second presentation was Kevin Sumption from the NMM speaking at the MA event Creating Effective Digital Content (follow the conversations on twitter #digitalmuseum). Kevin’s talk focussed on two projects that you can find here http://solarstormwatch.com and here http://www.oldweather.org
Both of Kevin’s projects rely on amateurs being actively involved in the doing of science – getting members of the public to review scientific data or to transcribe historic records – just as Phil’s site seems to me to get people involved in the doing of history.
And for me this was the important bit: involving amateurs didn’t mean letting go of standards or expertise. While the projects were profoundly different Phil and Kevin both spoke about the need to guide their participants to deliver quality. I was particularly struck by Phil’s description of the impact made by changing the standard heading ‘comments’ to ‘annotations’ and the way in which Kevin had created pleasurable online activities that in effect ‘trained’ participants.
But what has this got to do with mobile? Well, I’m not sure yet. Perhaps there are mobile projects out there already doing something similar and if you know about them do please let me know. In the meantime, questions and ideas are already forming…
Kevin warned us to be careful making assumptions about what is boring – clearly there is a committed and enthusiastic audience out there with time on their hands that enjoys the process of transcribing historic records. What’s this got to do with mobile? Well, we know there are people out there killing time at the bus stop or on the tube with their mobile device – how can we hijack this time? How can we reach these very particular and passionate audiences? What would the activity be?
The projects described are aimed at niche audiences something organisations feel uncomfortable about particularly in these financially challenging times. But these projects have found a way to make their core academic activities cheaper and faster and – just as importantly – to harness the passion of the ‘niche’ to deliver to a wider audience. What projects do you have that could benefit from putting fans to work? What would it look like on a mobile device and how would it feel?
Sometimes we need to dive in deep rather than dabbling our toes. Engaging amateurs in the very stuff of our work – in the data and facts – seems to produce something really profound. Opinion and response are driven by informed debate and content is rigorously researched. How can we connect with users on mobile in this deep and active way rather than just dabbling on the edges?
None of these projects are situated in a gallery of museum building but they deliver on organisational mission nonetheless. What needs to be done outside your walls that mobile could support? Is their evidence in the environment that needs to be gathered? Are there documents in your archives that will provide an insight into your collection?