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Museums and Wikipedia

Posted by Amanda Gustin on January 29, 2011 in forum not temple |

Nina Simon’s recent post at Museum 2.0 about museums using Wikipedia reminds me that I had meant to post about a recent interview with Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikipedia Foundation.

Gardner, who spoke on NPR’s On the Media last weekend, addressed some of the challenges that Wikipedia faces for the future: increasing the diversity of its editing group, sustaining peak activity, increasing the quality of articles’ scholarship, and reaching new audiences.

Any of those sound like familiar challenges?

Here’s one of the most interesting bits:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: So how do you stop the plateau from becoming a decline?

SUE GARDNER: The first thing that you need to do is figure out what are the impediments to people’s editing that have no benefit and you just want to get rid of them. Wikipedia was started in 2001. At that time, everything you did on the Internet was difficult. Now, ten years later, it’s really easy, right? Flickr is easy. Twitter is easy. Facebook is easy. Editing Wikipedia is not as easy.

So the first thing that we did was kick off a project to increase the user friendliness of Wikipedia. And then the second thing that we’re doing is trying to create invitations and persuasive messages to people about why we think they should edit.

Gardner’s questions can and should be applied to any and all parts of a museum, from exhibit design to participatory experiences to fundraising to visiting. They signal a user-friendly attitude, which museums haven’t always had. To answer those questions, you have to think like a visitor, not like a staffer.

What do we most want people to do? How do we make it easier for them? Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.

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