Thursday, 19 June 2008


I haven't blogged for quite a while now about my dissertation because I've been writing up the boring chapters - lit review, background etc - yawn! - and they weren't much fun.

This week though, my experiences at both the NaMu and the UK Museums on the Web Conferences have got my brain juices flowing a bit more and last night, in my little student hall of residence room (quite a change from the luxury of the Belmont Hotel during NaMu), I got to thinking a bit about my data analysis chapter which I started writing at the start of June.

I was writing my section on the quality of the contributions that we have received on the BPMA Wiki and got to discussing why it is that we have had lots of page views on the philatelic glossary, but very few edits. Those people that have edited have also tended to add terms and definitions rather than correcting or improving existing entries.

I came up with a number of reasons why this might be. The first is that the philatelic community thinks that the glossary doesn't need improving. I don't agree with this assumption but it's possible that that's what they think. The second thought was that maybe the lack of transparency on our wiki as to what others had already added meant people did not have the confidence to contribute themselves.

One reason, however, piqued my interest and I began to explore it further but I'm still not too sure about it. This was prompted by all the discussions about authority and trust at NaMu. People trust museums. They go to them to find out 'the truth'. Could it be that an organisation like BPMA, presenting an extensive philatelic glossary, and then asking people to help to improve it goes against people's understanding and perception of what museums are trying to do? Does the presentation of the glossary within the framework of the BPMA website mean that people are unable to see the wood for the trees, i.e. can't see how to improve it?

Perhaps Wikipedia, with its widespread audience, and its transparency about what other people have added, works because people feel that they are equal to the others that have already contributed. They feel able to express their own knowledge and contradict others because they feel on a level with them.

Is it anathema to suggest to an audience that a museum, after all, the source of 'the truth', should ask for help in creating something like a philatelic glossary? This opens up into the broader question of whether a wiki, by definition about democracy and equality of contributions, can ever achieve widespread contributions if it's 'lead' by an authoritative organisation.

This would appear to be disproved by the Science Museum Object Wiki which has had numerous contributions correcting and adding information about each of the objects. Is it possible, however, that the minimal Science Museum branding, the fact that this wiki is a separate site and the fact that the Science Museum haven't needed to actively promote it because people have found it through Google all contribute to the user not really realising that it is in a wiki run by the Science Museum? Or is it simply that the objects in the Science Museum Wiki are more everyday than philatelic terms and therefore attract an audience that feels more confident to make edits?

What do people think? Interested to hear other people's comments!

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