Users – Who Are They?

Areti Galani: (University of Newcastle) We’ve been talking this morning about users quite a lot. I guess it’s really difficult to separate the two. My idea for this section was to try to focus a little bit more on the user because in museums we either over-categorize them or treat them as a very general kind of group.

So I think it would be quite interesting actually to think about users and who they are and who they might be, depending on what approach we want to take. Also, I guess, from my own perspective, my interest is to try to unpack a little bit the potential changes to user content.

Our discussion needs to depend on what approach we want to take. We could try to sort of second guess who the users are. We can try to reflect on how users have been using social networking applications with the help of the more technical among us; how long people have used semantic web applications, or what we currently have that is nearly there. I think this will give us a good avenue to think about what is appropriate, what fits, what is relevant to what we want to do.

I’m still reflecting on the topic myself. I want to put these ideas on the table at this stage so that we can discuss and explore them or even change them.

So I was thinking on the one hand we want to reflect on social networking and have a discussion about managing personal space, and also personal opinion and personal expression. I think we have touched on the emotional and cultural differences of the users.

But also where social networking applications have succeeded is that they offer a platform to negotiate and manage personal space and also at the same time manage public conversations and I think this is what happens in blogs and in tagging sometimes in conversation, sometimes implicit and sometimes explicit.

Also something that Jeremy (Jeremy Keith, Clear Left) was saying about people wanting to find something funny, and tag as funny, then they will remember that that was funny and they will go back. Social networking applications have facilitated remembering and the need for people to remember things.

That’s why taxonomies can be personal and unexpected. But also on the other hand they might be sort of ephemeral, evolving a very classical use of content and I was wondering, also it can be quite pragmatic, it can be conversations over and over different media. On the other hand it looks like semantic web applications affect managing data rather than personal space.

Jeremy Keith: We often talk about users are one amorphous mass and obviously that isn’t the case there are different kinds of users. Some get their own benefit just from helping out. Big social networks are doomed to failure. Lots of small networks could work.

Mike Ellis: (Science Museum) Historically we are really bad at users. We don’t understand what their motivations are. I think we’re getting better at it but I think this is part of the process. The next step was thinking about our users and now we have realised that they also have something to say. It’s all factoring into the same thing – This should be about the end user – full stop – I think.

Ross Parry: We have to get real about who our users are, and how they will encounter and discover, sometimes unintentionally, museum content and we have to move away from (and this is a bizarre metaphor but bear with me) – from the Miss Havisham model to the Fagin model.

The Miss Havisham model is sitting there in its wedding dress waiting for people to turn up to the party having gone to all this trouble and there are cobwebs over the table. Angry and bitter. Destined to go up in flames! And the Fagin model is to be a bit more clever about it and have lots of urchins running around the city, slipping into all sorts of content, being discovered, not being discovered, moving things around, being exciting and being prepared to review the situation.

Jon Pratty: We’re not really talking about semantics here, we’re talking about how RSS culture has reviewed our content and has exported it to many different places that we can’t actually define, and that means we have a dislocation between our production place and our consumer.

It’s a completely different model and it makes the old model of publishing to certain key audiences outmoded, in some cases. RSS culture means that we have to stop worrying about user demands because we have a billion users and we don’t know what they’re going to do with it or where they’re doing it and why they’re doing it. We have a completely different user relationship.

Jeremy K: The most successful sites out there just build frameworks. The most daring is when you let people build frameworks outside your domain.

Dan Zambonini: Thinking about the users is step two. Step one is about getting the infrastructure in place. The users will worry about what they want to do with that.

Jeremy Keith: In some ways the users really don’t matter. Let me explain – When Tim Berners-Lee came up with the World Wide Web he created HTML, HTTP and URL’s, very broad, very open ways of describing something. On the few occasions when he thought about the users he got it wrong and added elements to HTML that are pretty useless, that nobody uses.

When he just thought about semantics it worked amazingly well. He didn’t think, How can this be used?’ he thought ‘how can we describe stuff?’ and that’s what we should be thinking about.

Angelina Russo: I suppose the key thing that has come out of our research through discussions with our partners over the past year, is that the idea of user has come back for us to the whole notion of what has happened to broadcasting in general.

That broadcasting, as we understand it, for television, could reach a general audience, and that what we now have with YouTube, and Flickr and Del.ici.ous, is this idea of narrow casting, that we can target specific users, specific types of audiences, and we can enable the types of interaction that are of value and that will evolve because of the social networks that around them.

For us, this means that we are very specific about how we are targeting particular types of content to enable particular users to have certain types of experiences. There are two examples which are probably very good ones to have a look at – Ross mentioned that some of you have talked about Powerhouse this morning.

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