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Designing for Diverse Participatory Audiences


      While it's true that not everyone wants to participate, the range of ways that visitors might participate with museums is much more extensive than many people think. There's more to participation than self-expression. In 2008, along with the release of the book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, Forrester Research released a “social technographics” profile tool to help businesses understand the way different audiences engage with social media online. [MK - I think the relevance/transferability of online behavior to behaviour in physical museums could use a sentence or two of explanation here.] The researchers grouped participatory online audiences into six categories by activity:

    1.    creators (people who produce content, upload videos, write blogs)

    2.    critics (people who submit reviews, rate content, and comment on social media sites)

    3.    collectors (people who collect links and aggregate content for personal or social consumption)

    4.    joiners (people who join social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn)

    5.    spectators (people who read blogs, watch Youtube videos, and visit social sites)

    6.    inactives (people who don't visit social sites)

    As of October of 2009, in the US, 24% of adults over 18 were found to be creators, 37% participated as critics, 21% acted as collectors, 51% were joiners, 73% spectated, and 18% were inactive. These percentages add up to more than 100% because the categorizations are fluid and many people fall into several categories at once. For example, I fall into all of the first five categories, expressing myself as a creator when I blog, a critic when I make comments on others' sites, a collector when I assemble "favorites," a joiner on many social networks, and a spectator when I consume social media. The percentages keep changing (and are different for every country, gender, and age group), but one thing holds constant: creators are a small part of the landscape. You are far more likely to join a social network, watch a video on YouTube, send a link to a friend, make a collection of things you’d like on Amazon, or review a book than you are to produce a movie, write a blog, or post photos online.

    And while 24% of people who engage in the social web are creators in some capacity, on any given participatory site, the representation of creators is much smaller. Only 0.16% of visitors to YouTube will ever upload a video.  Only 0.2% of visitors to Flickr will ever post a photo. (http://www.90-9-1.com/) In 2006, researcher Jakob Nielsen wrote a lauded paper on participation inequality, introducing the “90-9-1” principle. This principle states: “In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.” (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/participation_inequality.html)

    YouTube is an extraordinary example of a participatory platform that carefully and deliberately caters to all kinds of social media participants. At first glance, YouTube looks like it is made primarily for two audiences: creators, who make and upload videos, and spectators, who watch them. YouTube's tagline--"Broadcast Yourself"--is targeted to the creator audience. Even though only 0.16% of visitors to the site will ever upload a video, YouTube's designers know that the participation of these creators drives the content and the experience of everyone else who visits the site. That's why, despite the fact that the vast majority of their audience are spectators, YouTube's tagline is not "watch funny videos of cats."

    A deeper look at the homepage reveals the ways that other types of participation are encouraged as well. Critiquing is a major activity on YouTube, and critics can comment on videos, rate them, and post follow-up video responses if desired. These ratings are shown on the homepage, which means that critics and their opinions get top billing alongside the video creators themselves. You can also join YouTube (and significant space on the homepage is dedicated to convincing you that joining will provide you with value) and collect favorite videos across the site. Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, YouTube displays the number of times every video has been viewed. This is not a secondary or private statistic; it is the main statistic of YouTube and drives a number of algorithms that elevate videos to featured status. If you think about it, this is incredibly strange. Who cares how many times a video has been viewed?  The point is that spectators, just by showing up, are counted. Your participation as a viewer affects the status of each video in the system. Just by watching, you are important.

    Interestingly, YouTube and other participatory platforms spend more time trying to shift spectators to become joiners, collectors, and critics than they do trying to encourage more people to become creators. Why focus energy on these "intermediate" participatory behaviors? First, adoption of these behaviors is easier than overcoming the high barriers to become a creator; it's much easier to rate a video than it is to make one. But the other reason is that participatory platforms’ value is more closely tied to the number of active critics, collectors, and joiners than the number of creators. YouTube doesn't necessarily need 10% or even 2% of their audience to make and upload videos. Maybe the overall YouTube experience would be worse for spectators if the service was glutted with millions more crappy videos. The more people critique and comment on videos, the more they improve the experience for everyone by altering the ecosystem of what is considered popular or high-quality. This isn't true of making videos.  The more content there is, the more content there is. The more interpretation and discussion there is around the content, the more people can get the content (and the conversations) that are most valuable to them.

    Despite demonstrations of participant inequality and the diversity of popular and valuable participatory activities, many museums are fixated on creators. I show colleagues Forrester’s statistics and then they say, “yeah, but we really want people to share their own stories about fly-swatters,” or, “we think our visitors can make amazing videos about justice.” Museums see open-ended self-expression as the be-all of participatory experiences. Allowing visitors to select their favorite exhibits in a gallery or comment on the content of the labels isn’t seen as valuable a participatory learning experience as producing their own content. [MK - Any ideas on why this may be? Is it because museums want visitors to interact with the Object (instead of with other visitors) for validation, control, something else?] [it's seen as the holy grail because it's hard evidence that the visitor had a thoughtful interaction with the object itself. When visitors feel inspired to create something new, that is taken as proof that the interaction was profound (something valued by most museum colleagues), and that object now has a tangible mark of current, 'meaningful' relevance to someone's life. I actually think it's 'meaningful' just to tag something because you like it, but many colleagues would still put inspiring a creative response way higher up on the 'meaningful' ladder - LG]


    This is a problem for two reasons. First, exhibits that invite self-expression appeal to a tiny percentage of museum audiences. Less than 1% of the users of most social Web platform create original content. Would you design an interactive exhibit that only 1% of visitors would want to use? Maybe—but only if it was complemented by other exhibits with wider appeal.  When I encounter a video talkback kiosk in a museum as a visitor, I never want to make my own video. I don’t choose to be a creator in those environments, and thus my only other option is to be a spectator. But I would love to rate the videos on display (critic) or group them (collector). Unfortunately, those potentially rich participatory experiences—ones which would develop my ability to detect patterns, compare and contrast items, and express my opinion—are not available to me in most museum settings.   

    The second problem with focusing on creators is that open-ended self-expression requires self-directed creativity. You have to have an idea of what you’d like to say, and then you have to say it in a way that satisfies your standards of quality. In other words, it’s hard, and it’s especially hard on the spot in the context of a casual museum visit. What if I walked up to you on the street and assigned you to make a video about your ideas of justice? Does that sound like a fun and rewarding casual activity to you?[great analogy - you could have more of these, it really makes your point well! LG]


Continue to the next section, or return to the outline.


Comments (6)

claire@claireantrobus.com said

at 1:42 pm on Nov 9, 2009

This section reads very well - the spectrum of use is clear and the example of Youtube illustrates this well.

heidi@marketearlyamerica.com said

at 6:05 am on Nov 10, 2009

I agree - you make great points that I hadn't considered before.

phillippa.pitts@gmail.com said

at 9:41 am on Nov 13, 2009

I'm agreeing too. The YouTube example works perfectly and its great for non-museum professionals. My only tiny quibble would be the sentence "There's more to participation than self-expression" at the beginning. It makes me think you're going to go in a different direction. I know it links in again at the end and makes sense, but I'm questioning using it until you get there.

Also, have you thought about section titles. See for me, this page would be called "The YouTube Example" and if I wanted to reference back to it later in the book, I'd be looking for the keyword YouTube. "Designing for Diverse Participatory Audiences" is so general it seems like it would fit most of the book, maybe try "Diverse Participatory Audience: The YouTube example" to get the best of both worlds. It would also make your table of contents much more engaging for a reader flipping through!

phillippa.pitts@gmail.com said

at 9:42 am on Nov 13, 2009

*that should have been Audiences in the last suggestion. Sorry, its going to bug me if I don't correct myself!

Susan E Edwards said

at 6:39 pm on Nov 14, 2009

Me four. This is great. And the YouTube analogy perfect. Though I am not convinced that this is the "YouTube example."

Agree that the title of this section is vague. I suggest focusing on the main points here: there are different types of interaction behaviors + creators are rare
Alternate idea for this section's title: Defining Audience Types by Interactivity (or Action); Creators, Critics, Collectors, Joiners (oh my!); Defining Different Participatory Audiences; Participation Models
These are not so great - sorry, titles are hard!

Susan E Edwards said

at 6:41 pm on Nov 14, 2009

One more thing. I have to quibble with this > "Who cares how many times a video has been viewed?" I think a lot of people do care. when you see a video has been viewed by millions, you may be more likely to watch - or at the least be curious about why so many have watched.

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