April 15-18, 2009
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Out There: Museums and User Generated Content on Social Media Sites

Gail Durbin, Victoria and Albert Museum, UK


This workshop focuses on using social media sites to set tasks related to museum content or to support user generated activities. At the V&A the social networking sites are managed by the marketing department whilst social media sites, which draw people together over common interests, are used by the Web team and education to develop activities related to our collections. The aim of this workshop is to share ideas and experience and for people to go away with ideas for using social media sites to develop their own online projects.

Keywords: Web 2.0, participation, Flickr, activity, YouTube, “Creative Spaces”, task, user generated content


This is not a conventional conference paper because it accompanies a workshop. The purpose of the workshop is to develop and share ideas, so this short paper is more an introduction to what we might cover and a request for contributions. I would be grateful if workshop members could send me examples of any Web 2 activities about their museum collections that they have set up on other people’s sites or ways in which they have used other sites to support their activities. Also, I am interested in activities based on the use of postcards. My e-mail address is g.durbin @ .

I will come to the event with examples of tasks we have set up on our own site and others. In particular, I will document how we have used other sites to support a participative site on Wedding dresses 1840 to the present. The aim of the workshop is that participants should go away with ideas for using social media sites to develop their own on-line projects.

Despite having worked with user-generated content for more years that the term Web 2.0 has been about, I have only recently grasped some important distinctions between different types of Web activity. We have been working with a company called Fresh Networks to create a strategy for social media. One of the most useful distinctions is that between social networking and social media. Fresh Networks describes social networking as the ‘I’ sites. Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, for example, are all about the individual account holders who talk about their activities, their friends, their photographs, and their lifestyle. Social media sites such as Flickr, Creative Spaces, Ravalry are the ‘us’ sites where individuals cluster together because of shared interests in content.

Understanding this distinction has clarified roles in our museum. The marketing department deals with social networking sites so that they can be part of decisions about lifestyle choices. The Web team and education instead focus on social media site where we can make links to our content. We pick the sites that fit most appropriately with our current projects and we may choose to build a social media site for ourselves if what is out there does not fit with our needs.

By the time of the conference I hope to have some examples of people interacting with V&A objects and themes on a new social media site called Creative Spaces. Early in 2009 we will be launching Creative Spaces with our partners in the National Museums Online Learning Project (NMOLP). [The National Online Learning Project is funded by the Treasury under their Invest to Save scheme and is a partnership between the Victoria and Albert Museum as lead partner and the Natural History Museum, The British Museum, Sir John Soane’s Museum, Tate, The Wallace Collection the Imperial War Museum, the Royal Armouries and the National Portrait Gallery.]

On this site people can share their ideas on how to use our collections. They can create notebooks, which can be public or private and use them as a place to write, save text from our databases, and place images and video. There is the facility for searching across the object databases of the nine museums. Users can also form groups with others with similar interests.

We hope this site will become a hub for creative activity inspired by museum collections. At the V&A we plan to experiment to see if there are people who may not upload their own material to our user generated sites but who would want to discuss the issues. Perhaps people did not go out and create a work of art for the World Beach Project, but would like to discuss that project. Maybe they do not want to contribute a photograph of a wedding dress to our site, but have observed something they would like to share about the subject. Up to now many of our activities have asked for a visual response because we deal in the visual and also because visual responses are quicker to moderate. We are about to find out whether discussion is wanted in addition who it will attract and what it might add.

In preparation for this workshop, participants may like to look at some of the following sites if they are not already familiar with them. I hope we can add examples to this list in the course of the workshop.

Using Other Sites to Track Interest

Google alerts

Useful way of tracking references to your museum or activities on the web. Good on images as well as text. Very easy to use


Track references to you in blogs


A review site with a strong North American following


Reviews from travelers


In case you’re not signed up yet

Social Media Strategies, Purpose and Use


Editorial guidelines: Guidance on BBC use of Social Networking and other third party websites

2012 Olympics and Social Media

Very good slide show about why social media is being used for the 2012 Olympics containing a lot of current information on use of social media

Lynda Kelly Site on Museums With Emphasis on Social Media

Museum 3.0 Lynda Kelly’s Ning site

Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 blog

See especially

On the Use of Twitter by Museums

Beth’s Blog: How non-profits can use social media

Fresh Networks

They have a useful blog

that talks about issues for both the commercial and the not-for-profit sector.

Social Media or User Generated Sites

World Beach Project

Just in case you haven’t already seen this


Interesting art project also using stones


Make a confession on a homemade postcard

Writing A Biography on a Postcard Project

Michael Kimball’s site


Wonderful site where people demonstrate how to make things.

See Creative Spaces on the V&A site after launch in late February 2009.

Examples of Visual Interfaces


Interesting interface for visual browsing

Oskope Visual Search

Remarkable visual search facility for Ebay and Amazon amongst others


Cite as:

Durbin, G., Out There: Museums and User Generated Content on Social Media Sites. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2009: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2009. Consulted