Imperial War Museum Image of Social Interpretation Blog title

An Introduction to Social Interpretation

Squander Bug rifle target

Squander Bug (a cartoon character to persuade people to avoid waste) air rifle target, 1940s

Hello and welcome to the Social Interpretation blog.

Over the next year, the Social Intpretation team will be regularly posting our progress, experiences, success and, critically, failures in trying to integrate social media models into museums’ outputs. We hope that this will prove an invaluable resource for others planning on developing and integrating the types of technology we’re investigating. However, I’ve obviously not explained what we’re actually up to yet. That’s what the rest of this post is really about.

Museums’ objects have too often been seen as purely historical objects. They aren’t. Rather, they are social objects, inspiring emotional attachment, discussion, debate and action. This project is at the forefront of capturing and representing what audiences feel and say in response to our collections and subjects.

Social Interpretation aims to holistically represent the discussions about, and sharing of, our objects by audiences. We aim to do this seamlessly across all of our outputs (in-gallery, on-mobile and on-line). We are making museums objects truly social.

When the NESTA R&D funding was first announced, @article19 reviewed our idea on Twitter:

…IWM idea is any blogging platform…

It’s honestly quite an accurate (although incomplete) description of our aims. In essence, we’re enabling the same type of social interaction one expects on blogs, Facebook, google+, and the like, across our collections. This includes easy sharing, collecting, discussion, commenting and liking (or +1ing) of objects, no matter where you come across them. It aims to seamlessly link communication between online, mobile and in-gallery users. If successful, it will force the museum (and museums more generally) to consider and effectively evaluate modern forms of community management, like post-moderation.

It’s essentially applying the models and insight found in social networks, and successful interactions online generally, and applying them wholesale to museums.

In a future post, we’ll talk in more detail about the partners on the project. But briefly, IWM are leading, the test-bed, and providing design and some development; UCL are providing user-centred design, insight and mobile development services; and Knowledge Integration are augmenting our new Collections Online server-side technology to enable social interaction.

So, now is the beginning of a very exciting project.
Hopefully you can join us as we work through it.

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