The Art Museum Social Tagging Project is a group of art museums is looking at integrating folksonomies into the museum Web by developing a working prototype for tagging and term collection, and outlining directions for future development and research that could benefit the entire museum community.
The project uses a tool named STEVE, an open-source tool for enabling social tagging of museum object images to create folksonomies. I first heard about this project last November and thought I might check in on it.
A new proof of concept paper was just presented.
Why social tagging could be useful in a museum context:
Museums want audiences to engage with their collections and ideas, but recognize that traditional methods of unidirectional on-line and in-gallery communications have limited access and dialog. Supporting social tagging of museum collections, and providing access based on the resulting folksonomy, opens museum collections to new interpretations that reflect visitors’ perspectives rather than institutional ones. This co-operation between museums and visitors bridges the gap between the professional language of the curator and the popular language of the museum visitor, and helps individuals see their personal meanings and perspectives in public collections.
This is the part of the paper that I found most interesting:
Museums want their communities to connect with their collections. Projects that explore this challenge, encourage users to interpret works of art by placing them in their personal narrative. Built on constructivist educational theory, that emphasizes personal meaning-making and a user-centered focus in the development on-line and in-gallery experiences, these projects strive to provide a unique and compelling engagement with works of art. S
ocial tagging appeals to museums because it embodies these self-directed learning philosophies: tagging is a dialog between the viewer and the work, and the viewerand the museum. A tag is a user’s assertion that a work of art is about something. Tagging offers a way for people to connect directly with works of art, to own them by labeling or naming them – one of the aspects of sensemaking.
Tagging also lets users assert personal perspectives and associations between objects. Small individual efforts aggregate into unique pathways through a complex context. Embracing these alternative perspectives is a significant departure for museums, reflecting a growing understanding of museums’ places in a diverse community, and a desire to enable social engagement.
Tagging in a museum context may differ from social bookmarking because of pre-existing types of social relationships. Tagging projects could help foster and maintain links with specialized groups like volunteers and docents, or support the work of teachers and students. Rather than being motivated by personal gain, a socialaltruism kicks in. This is reflected in the way the Cleveland Museum of Art links to its on-line tagging tool: “Help others find this object”.
Tagging is a personal investment in the museum’s collection. The visitor adds value for the museum, for themselves, and for other visitors by revealing distinct perspectives and communities. Museums can use analysis of tags to learn more about their visitors and to support their use of collections. We readily imagine tag-powered visualizations that exploit relationships between tags and existing museum documentation, or more ‘fun’ tools (like flickr Tag Fight. Sharing common tags, or pushing a “feed” of works of art based on tag subscriptions, could also facilitate the personal exploration of collections and offer more active connections between museums and users.