Participation, Databases & Museums

This time last year, I was interning at Connecticut’s Old State House and developing a new education program called “Choosing to Participate.” The program goals involved using the narratives of historical figures associated with the Old State House, such as P.T. Barnum and the Africans of The Amistad, to inspire students to become civically involved in their schools and communities. I wondered how to get students participating in the museum environment, and how that could get students participating in a civic environment. This brought me to Nina Simon’s blog, a source explicitly related to this week’s topic.

Simon effectively merges Web and Museum 2.0, a concept that emphasizes engagement, participation, and user-defined meaning. As innovative as Simon is in defining 2.0 and arguing its strengths, it is clear that the Manovich database underlies all functions that Simon recommends as advantages of 2.0.

Visitor-authored content, as described by Simon, is a different iteration of object data structure described by Manovich. Tagging, upheld as an important Web and Museum 2.0 practice by Simon, is an example of object data that exists within a specific organization and recall algorithm. And user-created profiles are truly just customizable, variable collections of object data.

Simon says (ha-ha) that the best Museum 2.0 practice lets visitors choose how much they want to particpate in an exhibit, which compliments the Manovich web structure. By individually discovering how digital and exhibition environments function (through an algorithm), users and visitors may participate with the web/physical interface as little or as much as desired. In summation, Web 2.0 and Museum 2.0 must allow variable levels of user involvement, and the theory of a database structure can scaffold this variability.

The Manovich database underlies Simon’s hierarchy of needs by engaging individuals and fostering potential for interaction. This can lend itself to a digital or exhibition narrative, though it does not need to. More importantly, organization of data in variable, accessible forms lends itself to the narrative of user experience, ideally creating an opportunity for engagement, curiosity, and perhaps networking. A program like “Choosing to Participate,” then, would need opportunities for contemplation or hands-on participation, with equal access to the content and alogrithm of the program itself.

– Lauren Ericson

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