Clay Shirky at Smithsonian 2.0

Below are my notes from watching the video of Clay Shirky at the Smithsonian 2.0 event on YouTube. I figure they might be useful to someone, though I'm sure I missed interesting points, and I didn't take notes on bits that sounded like his talk in London a little while later.

[I've been thinking generally about the Smithsonian 2.0 event, and realised that it doesn't matter that from the outside, the outcomes weren't groundbreaking – a lot of what they were saying seemed self-evident, or least what is generally seen as The Right Thing to do in cultural heritage tech circles – the process was the important part.

It's not so much what they're saying, it's the fact they're having the conversation. Their institution made room, literal as well as metaphoric, for the conversation, and they (presumably) invited people from all over their organisations to participate in those conversations. It's the importance of the visibility of the project, the big name guests, the resources invested – that's the groundbreaking part.]

Anyway, onto the talk.   There were some good soundbits – for ten years we had 'new media capabilities but old media messages'. In the days of super-distribution, 'the critical moment for media isn't production, it's distribution'.

[This next paragraph (or 16'50" – 19' in the video) is transcribed a bit more closely as I wanted to quote it in an article]
'Look at what Flickr's done. They've reversed the usual pattern of interest groups. Usually it's 'let's get everybody who cares about High Dynamic Range photography in a room, and then we'll share what we know'. Gather, then share. On Flickr, the pattern is 'share, then gather'. The artifact itself has created the surface to which the people adhere. It's created the environment for the conversation. Every artifact is a latent community. Which is to say, every artifact, in addition to being interesting to the people who come to look at it, or read it or watch it or what have you, has additional potential value in that all the people who are looking at it might also be interested in talking to each other. You can imagine a hub and spoke system, where the artifact is at the hub… the group that assembled here didn't have to know in advance they cared about High Dynamic Range photography, all they had to know about was that they liked that picture. If you think of the artifact as a hub, and there are spokes leading into it, which are the people who care about it, you can draw the line now going in both directions, it's not just that the artifact goes outwards and people can view it, people can talk back. Everybody sort of gets that hub and spoke model.  What's really astonishing is the lateral lines, the lines you can draw among the spokes, because there are many more of those lines to be drawn than there are [of] the hub and spoke. So if every artifact is a latent community, much of social value comes from having these kinds of convening platforms available for people to start sharing value in communities of practice.'

The enormous cost of professionally managed artefacts… Library of Congress project on preserving digital artefacts… metadata in cataloguing system not about managing ideas, about managing artefacts. (Ontologies) force organisations to be mind readers and fortune tellers.

What could go wrong? People take digital assets, repurpose them. It's already happened.  [So it's ok.]  So if repurposing already happens, how do we get value out of it?

Fear of being expected to control everything with your name on it; society has internalised idea that you're not.  [So it's really ok.]  As well as the kinds of uses you don't have to expect, you get the kinds of uses you don't have to feel responsible for.

If taking tax dollars, should do something for the public. When implement new forms of sharing, it also changes the way things happen in the institution. It would be easier for a curator to find something from one of the Smithsonian museums because of the Commons.

Question – if it's good, will they always come? Ans: no. Qu: how do you deal with that? Ans: the effect of failure on an institution is likelihood times cost. Spend more time discussing whether something is a good idea than would have spent just trying it (yes!). It's easy digitally to fail fast, cheaply, easy to learn from failure.

If you want to have something spread to the public, try it a few different ways. Don't make one perfect system then assume it will pass on to the public, be propagated. Have a few different ways of trying things. On average, the stuff that interests people propagates; you can't treat it as a distributed media buy. Have an economic structure where you can afford prizes cos haven't put all eggs in one basket.

Question – following up on tagging on Flickr – reactions to when moustaches were being tagged – people felt it degraded the value of the content.  Ans: aggregate value of tag is high, create cross-cutting collection. But it's always possible to find the banal stuff. Objection is not that people are saying these things, it's that "we have to hear it now". Previously separated spheres of expert and public discourse…

Question – how do you measure value – two different ways of measuring it, how do you bring them together?  Ans: so many different kinds of value, no institution can create them all, but they can host them. So, how much is this costing us and is there any reason to stop it from happening?  (But was the qu about digitisation and other things with up-front costs?)

If you think value is only things that you buy and manage and control… being a platform increases value for and the loyalty of the people who go there.