The Museum's Profile

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Image: The Brooklyn Museum's iPhone Application

As another major American art museum joins the Twitter-verse this past month (@Guggenheim), it begs the question: how can institutions and the public they serve better benefit from participation in Web2.0? Currently, many museums utilize the major social networking sites in the same manner they use their websites—to promote current and upcoming exhibits, special events, display works, and post the rare job opportunity. And while we can all benefit from multiple reminders, it's beginning to feel as if these institutions are not truly adapting to the opportunities opened up by social networking. The goal is to use these sites as they were intended, as a tool for conversation and relationship building between individuals, and not as an avenue for a one-way transmission of information.

The fear, of course, is that once museums begin actively participating in Web2.0 environments, they will have to give up some control over both content and message. As museum professionals Nina Simon and Gail Durbin both point out, in a world where all knowledge is at one's fingertips, visitors expect to be able to respond to their experience, therefore museums should develop platforms that allow for a diversity of voices. One New York institution in particular, The Brooklyn Museum, has successfully adopted Web2.0 endeavors, with two blogs on the website documenting installation and artist processes, an iPhone application to view and search the museum's collection, and 1stfans, a $20 museum membership with exclusively social network-based content and features, such as the Twitter Art Feed (@1stfans), which allows followers to pick a different artist to create work for the feed each month. Another example of an organization which has expanded its 2.0 reach is the Victoria and Albert Museum, which uses its Flickr stream to display user-generated exhibits, such as artistic photography of tattoo and body art, and documentary materials of period weddings, which are currently being studied by the museum's genealogical research team. By creating platforms that allow for a constant feedback and participation between the institution and visitors, these museums have been better able to expose their content to an audience outside of the traditional brick and mortar model.