Thursday morning’s session on building web communities featured three speakers who contributed research findings, identified existing resources, and pinpointed areas for improvement when considering how to build an online community.
Jennifer Borland (Rockman et al) started the discussion with a report on current Open Exhibits web traffic, and a snapshot of the online community as a whole. Borland’s research tells us that 120 days into the project, the data is suggesting that visitors are focused on exploration of the environment and not yet modeling a community. Educators appear to be looking for ways to extend this technology into classrooms, either directly, as a teaching tool, or as a technology to review with advanced design students.
Analysis of Open Exhibits site traffic places most members into 4 categories: Education-oriented institutions, visitor-oriented institutions, design and tech firms, and other (general interest). A recent member survey analyzed members’ level of participation, technical backgrounds, geographic location, and reasons for using the site.
Results of Borland’s analysis are available in this pdf of her presentation:
Kathleen McLean (ExhibitFiles) drew on insights from her work on the ExhibitFiles project. ExhibitFiles is a community resource aimed at saving museums from the repeated task of reinventing the wheel, much like Open Exhibits wants to do with digital exhibits.
Both projects share the big idea, as McLean says, “How can we create a community where people can talk and add their own things?” When you have done that… it is about improving the wheel.
Jim Spadaccini indicated that the key to ExhibitFiles was “ripping things out and making it as simple as possible.” They now have a community of almost 2,000 members sharing case studies, reviews, and creating conversations around museum exhibits.
In closing, McLean emphasized her belief that the keys to the success of a community site and its resources are simplicity and ease of accessibility. The audience needs to feel comfortable with a visit, and that their time spent online was worthwhile. Remember, museum staff doesn’t typically live online. They live on the museum floor, talking to the public.
Christian Moore (NUI Group) has created a global research community focused on the open discovery of natural user interface (NUI). Since its inception, the NUI Group has grown to 12,000 members and 70,000 discussions. Starting with a brief description of NUI as a natural gesture, “almost organic” Christian sealed his introduction with a quote from Allessandro Valli that sums up the passion of this quest:
“As technology becomes invisible at all such levels, from a perceptual and cognitive point of view, interaction becomes completely natural and spontaneous.”
Moore reported his insights from the point of view of growing an Open Source community. His observation is that “if your end product is food, you can’t just focus on the food, despite demands from customers… At the end of the day, people want to eat the food,” but Moore cautions, “but you need those farmers.”
Moore expressed that he feels the Open Exhibits site is on the right track, but would benefit from a few changes. He expressed the importance of having a strong, visible leader, working to gain the trust of users and developers, simplifying the site for usabilty, and using it to encourage participation.
Focusing on the open source community, Moore argues that Open Exhibits may need to refine its mission statement and open channels of communication on additional levels. “Keep the drama low and the output high,” Moore says. Ignore the trolls, focus on productivity.
Slides from Christian Moore’s presentation can be viewed here:
by Chad Person on March 11, 2011