Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Levels of participation / community

April 19th, 2007 by Seb Chan

I’m still waiting for the actual Hitwise figures to be released but Red Herring reports on Bill Tancer’s presentation at the Web2.0 conference/expo.

A tiny 0.16 percent of visits to Google’s top video-sharing site, YouTube, are by users seeking to upload video for others to watch, according to a study of online surfing data by Bill Tancer, an analyst with Web audience measurement firm Hitwise.

Similarly, only two-tenths of 1 percent of visits to Flickr, a popular photo-editing site owned by Yahoo, are to upload new photos, the Hitwise study found.

The vast majority of visitors are the Internet equivalent of the television generation’s couch potatoes―voyeurs who like to watch rather than create, Mr. Tancer’s statistics show.

We already knew this.

What is interesting is that the popularity of these sites and similar is not reliant on content upload-style participation. Indeed, the report continues,

Visits by web users to the category of participatory Web 2.0 sites account for 12 percent of U.S. web activity, up from only 2 percent two years ago, the study showed.

Web 2.0 photo-sharing sites now account for 56 percent of visits to all online photo sites. Of that, Photobucket alone accounts for 41 percent of the traffic, Hitwise data shows.

An older, first generation of sites, now in the minority, are photo-finishing sites that give users the ability to store, share, and print photos.

This reaffirms the importance of having different levels of content participation – and the primacy of content, the truism that has been around since the birth of the web. Most of your userbase will be lurkers, viewers – they won’t contribute – but if you can leverage and re-present the proportionally small amount of user-generated content you do get, then you are likely to be able to ride a wave of interest in your site.

At Museums & the Web this year everyone was floored by the efforts of the Brooklyn Museum who have managed to build a strong user community around their online presence (they even have a top level navigation called ‘Community’). Whilst a superficial look at the Brooklyn Museum might suggest that this is because of their use of technology – Flickr groups in particular, I’d suggest their success is a result of their existing strong ties with the local community, of which the Flickr groups and image upload participation is a logical extension of their mission. What Flickr offers the museum is many-fold. Firstly there is new traffic – leveraging the existing Flickr audience (much in the same way Ideum’s work with the Maxwell has); secondly Flickr’s API makes for easy presentation and integration on the Brooklyn’s own website.

Does that mean when I visit I will be uploading my photos? Probably not. Whilst I have a Flickr account (first barrier to participation overcome) and have a comfort level with Flickr (second barrier to participation overcome), I am not a part of the Brooklyn Museum community, I am just a casual visitor. As a result the incentive for me to participate is low. I am more than happy to lend my eyeballs to their site and browse at their pre-existing Flickr galleries though which results in the Brooklyn getting more of my attention and traffic (along with Flickr). Brooklyn is leveraging Flickr for Flickr’s community.

So, again I come back to the point that museums need to find ways of effectively optimising the network effects of what little traffic we get. One user contribution should spark the interest of one thousand lurkers, rather than requiring one thousand contributions from other users. This shouldn’t be surprising, but it is more difficult than you think. How can you make one Flickr image on your site be more powerful than an online forum on your site with just one singular post in it?

Tags: 3 Comments

3 responses so far ↓

  • I would like to question the assertion in the report that “the vast majority of visitors are the Internet equivalent of the television generation’s couch potatoes―voyeurs who like to watch rather than create”. A lot of pictorial content is being put up for re-use in blogs or in marketplaces like eBay or to share photos with family, friends, peers or special interest groups. Hits may also be generated when the content is just turning up in generated pages on another site. Museums may want to target couch potato voyeurs as a potential user group, but the real reasons for using museum content, including user-generated content, may prove to be as diverse as for Flickr and Photobucket.

  • These are really interesting findings, Seb–and they correlate with the research conducted in the Matthew Barney and Anselm Kiefer Learning Lounges at SFMOMA that showed the vast majority of visitors opting for more passive,”consumer-oriented” video and wall graphics than sitting down to tuck into an interactive kiosk–or a book, for that matter. Most people seem to prefer the low commitment “sure thing” that comes their way without effort rather than something that requires active engagement on their part. That said, as with flickr and other Web 2.0 sites, visitors who get more directly involved can get quite immersed, and rate those experiences highly. It requires a change to a different kind of mindspace: after using the kiosks, people were then more likely to read the books. These activities slow people down, make them more reflective.

    In the meantime, I agree that “This reaffirms the importance of having different levels of content participation – and the primacy of content.” Yea!

  • Interesting post – no suprise as you say that the readers far outweigh the contributors, and although the balance will probably change as people become more familiar with the approaches and tools, most will never spend anywhere near a majority of their time *producing* content. Probably a blessing, I guess: If 90% of people contributed, there would be an unfeasible amount of terrible **** out there!

    From the institution side of the equation I think the best approach is to deal with the “selfish” needs of the individual first, and provide community tools as a secondary add-on. BUT – important, this – do content-sharing stuff as part of the process *anyway* – make your content available via an API/RSS, stick it on Flickr, upload it to YouTube, give people the means to borrow your images with “embed on your site” code, etc etc.

    One of the main advantages: there’s nothing worse than a community site with no community – far less embarassing to have a site which fulfills its core goals and just happens to have an API or RSS feed that no-one uses…