Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Starting my dissertation on Museum Wikis

I have submitted a dissertation proposal for the final stage of my MA in Museum Studies by Distance Learning. It's going to be broadly about museum wikis. For those of you that don't know, a Wiki is defined on Sandy Berger's Techionary as 'From a Hawaiian word that means "quick", a wiki is a website that can be edited quickly by Web visitors'. At The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) where I work, we've just launched a new Wiki which I am in charge of. This puts me in quite a strong position to talk about the practical issues that face museums wanting to use Wiki technology.

I had discussed this with my personal tutor and as a result submitted a proposal based around comparing a Museum Wiki experience with a real-world museum experience, and discussing issues about authority etc. I had identified certain key research questions:
  • Is interactivity and web 2.0 technology the future for the process of meaning-making and storytelling in museums?
  • Can wiki technology help audiences learn and engage with a museum and its website by getting them actively involved in creating content?
  • In a broader context, how does interactivity in museums benefit visitors?
  • How are wikis and other Web 2.0 technologies changing the face of modern museums?
  • Does interactivity have implications for the ‘authoritative’ nature of the museum?
  • Is this wider cultural context of audience participation really what audiences want?
These were quite general questions and had strayed slightly from my original conception of a dissertation basically about the BPMA Wiki.

An encouraging conversation with Ross Parry on the phone last week in fact confirmed that I could do just that. It was great to discuss some ideas with Ross and hear his enthusiasm about our Wiki and my dissertation proposal.

He suggested that I treat it as a story of how the BPMA have got to the position we are currently at with the Wiki and the issues that have arisen. He suggestedI start by taking stock of web 2.0 in general and the stage it is at. I could then write about 2,000 words specifically about Wikis generally both inside and outside the museum and heritage sector. Following on from this, he thought I could talk about the constraints and pressures that face museums wanting to work with Wikis and how Wikis work with museological ambition. This might encompass issues like authority, content and digital assets.

The next chapter could then say 'ok, if a museum wanted to build one of these Wikis, how would they do so? Why might they do so? What rules would they need to apply? What precedents are there. This would bring in the practical examples of the BPMA Wiki and the issues that we have tackled and are tackling.

I'm waiting now for Ross's official write up on my proposal and now I'm itching to get started. I've just got to finish my final essay this weekend and then I can really get my teeth into it. I'm starting to build up a bookmark list of all the articles out there that I want to read - there are so many of them! I'm also starting to keep an eye on key blogs that seem to regularly comment on Museums and the Web, particularly Web 2.0 and Wikis.

The ones I am currently looking at are:

Frankie Roberto's blog
Open Objects
Foe Romeo

and a few others. I'd be interested to know of any others I should be keeping an eye on.

The next stage will be receiving Ross's comments and official sanction to begin my research. I'm on tenterhooks now until that arrives! Watch this space!

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