Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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OpenSocial, social networking and museums

November 3rd, 2007 by Seb Chan

Google’s OpenSocial has finally gone live.

What it provides for the museum sector is a much easier way to seed content to social networks, where apparently our younger online audiences, like to spend a lot of their time. OpenSocial, as opposed to a Facebook application, promises to work across multiple social networking services – meaning the development effort expended results in an application that can theoretically be deployed on MySpace, Ning, Bebo, Linked In and all the other OpenSocial partners. It remains to be seen just how portable these applications are.

The benefit for developers, especially those in the museum world, is that the risk of ‘choosing the right’ social networking service is greatly reduced. Museums have been experimenting a lot with seeding content to social networks – mainly as a marketing and promotional tool; and to a lesser extent building professional communities either within existing social networks (the multitude of Facebook groups especially) or discrete services like Exhibit Files.

Where applications from museums sit in the mix is more complicated, especially when development needs to be outsourced or requires significant investment. Our sector is often slow to respond and by the time we do, the audiences we were targetting have sometimes moved on.

Looking at the professional networks for museum staff on Facebook, they currently are thriving because currently many museum staff have private accounts – and usage from work is generally not blocked. However once non-museum personal friends move on to the next site, I do wonder how long those professional networks on Facebook will be sustainable.

As Fred Stutzman points out,

Ego-centric social network sites all suffer from the “what’s next” problem. You log in, you find your friends, you connect, and then…what? Social networks solve this problem by being situationally relevant. On a college campus, where student real-world social networks are in unprecedented flux, Facebook is a social utility; the sheer amount of social information a student needs to manage as they mature their social networks makes Facebook invaluable. For the consultant or job seeker, LinkedIn maintains situational relevance by allowing one to activate weak ties in periods of need.

What happens when a social network is no longer situationally relevant? Use drops off. Social networks can combat this problem on a number of levels. Myspace dumped tons of exclusive media content into the site, so users would keep coming back once they negotiated their social networks. For non-SR users, Facebook developed the application platfom, betting that third party developers could make tools that would answer the varied needs of their userbase. Unfortunately, the gimmicky nature of the platform tools has undercut this approach somewhat, but this could very well change over time.

Try as they might, once ego-centric social networks lose situational relevance, its pretty much impossible for them to retain their status. Myspace users have exhausted the Myspace experience; they’ve done all they can do, they’ve found all the people they can find, so now its time to find a new context. We naturally migrate – we don’t hang out in the same bar or restaurant forever, so why would we assume behavior would be any different online?

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