April 13-17, 2010
Denver, Colorado, USA

Common Ground: A Community-Curated Meetup Case Study

Paula Bray, Powerhouse Museum, Australia, and Ryan Donahue, George Eastman House, USA


Why do institutions and on-line communities want to participate in face-to-face meetups such as Common Ground: a community curated meetup? Does this type of experience provide a deeper engagement with audiences and give institutions an opportunity to learn from these experiences? What are we finding in the process?

Keywords: participation, community, engagement, meetup, curation, collections, Flickr, Commons


Common Ground: a community-curated meetup has raised some questions about how institutions are going to place themselves in the future around community participation as the recent need of on-line communities wanting to engage with cultural organisations in the physical space is becoming evident. What should this level of engagement be and how do we connect to our on-line audiences in the physical space. Does meeting an on-line community face-to-face prove to be a deeper experience and if so what is it? As Simon identifies:

There is no"best" level of participation for museums and cultural institutions overall. Instead, I'm interested in the question of how to understand the diversity of options and determine which models and levels of engagement will be most valuable for different projects, at different institutions, at different times.

(Simon 2009)

Common Ground: a community-curated meetup is one example of the type of participation that has dealt with some of the needs of connecting an on-line audience to and in the physical location of cultural organisations. This global Flickr meetup held in several locations around the world in October 2009 was touted as a ‘thank you’ to the Flickr community for making richer the publicly held photographic collections, shared through the Commons on Flickr. Yet it was also a chance to speak with the on-line audience, engage in conversations at a deeper level, and provide the institutions an opportunity to learn from their on-line communities. Ten of the twenty-seven institutions in the Commons on Flickr at that time participated in the meetup held with their on-line community, and showed the same community curated slideshow on the 2nd and 3rd of October 2009. The aim was to project the slideshow on to the institution’s building at night, or on toanother suitable location and experience the event together.

Figure 1

Fig 1: The Common Ground logo used to promote the event

The meetup has provided some valuable insights into how cultural organisations can be involved with an on-line community in a face-to-face experience. This meetup was an experiment in many ways:  its aim was to involve all of the institutions participating in the Commons in a meeting with their on-line audience in a personal setting. This meetup is one of only a few that institutions have participated in, and it is early days as to how they may progress in the future.

The relationships between on-line communities meeting with the staff of cultural organisations should be something that the sector experiments with because of the valuable relationships that can be developed at a one-on-one level. The sector needs to learn more about maintaining and developing new audiences through a number of experimental initiatives, such as meetups,  relatively new levels of engagement for cultural institutions in terms of taking an on-line experience and turning it into a face-to-face meeting.

This paper is set out in three main sections based on three questions as a result of analysing the Common Ground meetup: ‘why, how and what’ . The first section covers why  institutions and on-line communities feel they want to connect face-to-face and why participatory experiences are new ground for cultural institutions. The second section delves into how the meetup was organised, including the event planning, the slideshow image selection tool and the event itself. The concluding section covers what was learned in the process including the community feedback and the findings from this and overall.

‘Why’ Do A Meetup?

There is debate that cultural institutions are not continuing their on-line community openness, engagement and participation in the physical setting as they are doing in their on-line spaces. There is a distinct disconnect happening from the on-line engagement to the physical space, and the question of why needs to be addressed and evaluation of these audiences achieved with an understanding of the need for a more connected, participatory gallery/museum experience.

Digital technologies and Web 2.0 tools are allowing on-line audiences to participate with cultural organisations at a much deeper and more engaged level than ever before. As discussed by Russo and Peacock, ‘Arguably, these platforms and tools are creating new relationships between institutions and the public’ (Russo and Peacock 2009), but these on-line tools are rarely apparent in the physical space of a cultural organisation. The need for these new ways to engage in the gallery space, to create new relationships between community and institution, is new territory for audience/institution experiences and needs investigation.  Common Ground dealt with a portion of this new territory when an on-line community meets an institution face-to-face along with a small number of other recorded meetups.

The Ontario Science Centre’s 888 Toronto Meetup is another example. It was held on August 8, 2008.  It was one of the first meetups to be held and organised by a science museum, with a large number of participants, around 460, attending the museum in the physical space. Von Appen et al stated, “How could all this on-line activity drive physical visits and deeper engagements at, and with, our science center? How could we become a catalyst and partner in the rapidly-evolving social media activities of our publics?” (von Appen et al 2009).

The desire to get to know the on-line community better in the physical space was a critical driver for The Ontario Science Centre’s experience and also an important initiating reason for the Common Ground meetup. It was noted by von Appen that “hosting 888 wasn’t simple or cheap,” and that the cost per visitor was high -  arguably a cost worth experimenting with due to the value and findings these early types of on-line to on-site events can produce. The notion of getting to know the on-line museum/library/gallery social network representative and the communities  getting to know each other on another level is an interesting and responsive outcome for the physical meetups that happen in cultural spaces such as galleries, libraries and museums. These are also very different outcomes and drivers from traditional marketing communication, ones that can ultimately be event/exhibition-based promotion that often do not deal with community at the level that community requires because of to the one-way nature of the communication. The difference between the two is highlighted by the dissimilar objectives. The traditional form is not designed to support two-way conversations with the institution or community to each other: it is a broadcast method, not a dialogue. (Li and Bernhoff 2008)

On the 11th February 2009, the National Maritime Museum in London held a Flickr Commons meetup at the Royal Observatory. It was devised as a chance for community and institution staff to get together to meet and discuss interest around the collections in the Commons. Posted later on-line by McKenzie:

It was a perfect example of a 'community of interest', a group of people from different areas of work and expertise, united by their interest in the phenomenon of Flickr Commons. It was like a Flickr meetup as all of us had cameras, and we used them, but it wasn't quite like that because we were there to hear about the Museum's plans to develop its Commons presence and community.

(McKenzie 2009)

According to McKenzie it was beneficial to meet the Museum staff and discuss future plans held by the Museum; she also returned to the Museum on another day. This is one example of repeat visitation that organisations are trying to encourage, with on-line audiences converting to physical attendance, a metric that is hard to establish. Interesting about this quote is the emphasis on the Museum’s plan to develop its presence with the community - that was the outstanding point.

So why does the on-line community feel that they want to engage with the physical institution at this level, and vice versa for the staff of the organisation? Common Ground was touted as a “thank you” to the Flickr community because this on-line audience has given incredible hours of research, comments, tags, location identification and has produced innovative projects using the ‘no known copyright restriction’ content that is freely available for use. The collections in the Commons on Flickr have become more valuable due to the rich tagging and comments from the on-line communities ,and this has become an important driver for making photographic collections accessible and free to use. These collections have been given a new delivery mechanism and wider access point outside of the vaults of the institutions they have been held in for many years. These large collections of images are providing an on-line community with a new level of valuable historic information, most previously unavailable. They are then free to use and adapt it in any way whilst also improving the quality of information associated with the images. This process has similar benefits to those that open source software has provided for community and museums; as recognised by Spadaccini ,“existing open source projects continue to improve as their communities of both users and developers grow. All of this leads to better software, more features and innovation, and expanded options for museums” (Spadaccini 2008). The more institutions commit to participating with community in a similar manner, the better the outcome for understanding what community actually requires of these public-facing institutions.

Institutions have gained new information about their historic photographic collections , thanks to the Flickr community’s making them richer. The Common Ground meetup was conceived as a chance to get to know some of this community in the physical space. According to Simon, ‘People who engage deeply in any on-line community, whether a bulletin board or social networking site, want to meet in person’ (Simon 2008) .The experience provides opportunities to engage with new audiences and allows them to become familiar with museums in a comfortable setting that also provides an opportunity for follow-up on-line postings about the experience, as was noted with McKenzie.

Engaging new audiences is becoming critical to the development and growth of cultural institutions, particularly with the growing on-line audiences that they nurture through their Web sites and in accounts of third party, non-institution sites such as Flickr. Meetups are one example of this type of engagement with an on-line audience being acknowledged and experienced so that some form of evaluation and learning can take place whilst resulting in getting to know new audiences, their behaviour, expectations and need for a face-to-face encounter.

One participating institution in Common Ground, the Powerhouse Museum, has previously not been known for photographic collections supported through dedicated photographic exhibitions. The Commons on Flickr has allowed a new audience to be familiar with the photographic collections held in the institution but this has generally not led to new audiences visiting the Museum to engage with photographic collections on site, as there has been the disconnect with no particular exhibits available for this type of community. Common Ground provided an opportunity for evaluation of this new audience that the Museum wishes to target and engage with in the future for a chance to bridge the divide between the on-line photographic community and the physical museum experience.

During a participatory design workshop held by Nina Simon at the Powerhouse Museum, she revealed the notion of providing on-line tools, such as those used by the Flickr community, to comment, add tags, leave notes and add to groups are not apparent in the physical institution space and therefore the user experience is very different when viewing photographic content in a gallery setting (Simon 2009). The Commons on Flickr audience is passionate and prolific about engaging on-line with this historical set of photographic images and allowing others to freely see how they have participated with certain photographs. Flickr allows the institution to learn more about how the community is using and viewing its content beyond the walls of the institutions they are housed in. Taking some of these on-line tool concepts into the physical space could produce some interesting results for institutions and produce a very different onsite experience.

‘How’ Was The Global Meetup Organised?

The notion of the Common Ground meetup began as an idea through the private group on Flickr ‘The Commons’, where the institutions participating in the initiative discuss issues. This discussion topic consisted of an overall understanding of what the meetup was about, who would benefit from a potential meeting of on-line communities face-to-face, how it could be curated with on-line tools, issues, costs and date selection. The immediate response was supportive of the concept of meeting the on-line audience and engaging with them at a deeper level. Within this private discussion thread there were 78 replies; however only eleven of the institutions, out of twenty-seven, were engaged with the initial planning for the meetup.

So why did this conversation start in the private Commons group initially? Due to the large amount of coordinating, including finding suitable dates, each institution had the chance to be involved before announcing the event to the public. The concept was to be global and hold the meetup at the same time across as many of the institutions as possible. Therefore the initial idea was to give the institutions the opportunity to participate prior to announcement to the community. Once the logistics were discussed and a date was decided upon, the announcement was made in the public Flickr group ‘Flickr Commons’. Largely the institutions and Flickr staff members dominated this discussion topic. Overall, the participating institution numbers were low considering the number that could have been involved -  problematic for a global meetup uniting the community and all the collections in the Commons. So why was this so?

Reasons why some Institutions didn’t participate

All non-participating institutions were asked questions via Flickr mail as to why they chose not to participate in the meetup. The following are extracts from some of the responses. Springer from the Library of Congress states:

The initial proposal was for an outdoor projection space, and we didn't have a viable site at our buildings given our urban setting and proximity to the U.S. Capitol. The Library also had several special events already scheduled near the date, including the National Book Festival, which claimed attention and resources.

(Springer 2009)

Donnachie from the National Maritime Museum states:

To put on such an event to the level that we would wish to do it and market it was too short notice. The Museum has a lot of operational considerations to take into account when opening late, such as extra man power, and as we would have liked to project the images on to the exterior of the Museum, technical equipment would also have had to been arranged. To take part would have therefore presented the Museum with a large unforeseen expense. There is a second, more practical issue; it wasn't very dark outside here in Greenwich until quite late in the evening which would affect projection quality. We were very honoured to have our pictures included and it was wonderful to see which ones the public voted for, so much so we blogged about it!

(Donnachie 2009)

Kapsalis from the Smithsonian Institute states:

It was hard to find space on short notice. The Smithsonian is on the National Mall and museum space is booked months/years in advance. Plus, the Smithsonian Flickr Commons Account is a partnership of 12 different museums, libraries, and archives. We banded together so we could highlight the diversity in the collections, however it has its drawbacks. Perhaps less feeling of ownership may be one effect. Plus, the main technical team is part of offices - SI Photography Initiative and the Smithsonian’s central technology office- that don’t have public space.

(Kapsalis 2010)

Johnston from the National Library NZ states:

Bad timing, mostly. I do all the Flickr-related work for the Library, and was out of Wellington on leave at the time of the meetup. Plus, the Library was getting started on a rebuilding project, which meant that it was hard to secure a space for the projection.

(Johnston 2010)

One institution revealed that the Flickr Commons is not core to the principles of their mission and that participation with a community at such a level would be difficult to sustain, organise and encourage. It is to be noted that not all of the non-participating institutions responded to the request for feedback.

The importance of community curation for the slideshow

Common Ground was a global meetup engaging with an audience that is passionate about historic photographic collections. This audience had been engaged with the images available in the Commons on Flickr for many months, and this community is united by these collections across the world. Comments, tags, research and innovation have all happened with these historic photographic collections so the meetup audience was connected through this one initiative, The Commons. The on-line community is passionate about the content and has become familiar with many of these images, in some cases providing more information than was previously available by the institution.

The Commons on Flickr audience is committed and in high regard of these historic photographs; therefore it was crucial to involve this audience in the development and building of the slideshow that was the feature of the meetups, shown at every participating institution.  The on-line community was foremost as the centre for the curation of the slideshow. It was established that the community needed to have ownership of the image selection and should not leave this to the once-traditional method of the institutional voice dictating what was to be curated. As Bernstein reveals when discussing the building of on-line communities at the Brooklyn Museum and how important it is to provide projects that resonate with the community involved and enable ownership of that content.

The museum must fully commit to being in the community and offer content that people care about. When creating a platform for discussion, it must be sure to listen to what visitors have to say and respond when necessary. As much as possible, it must create projects that really mean something, both to the institution and to the participants; give visitors ownership over content; and allow visitors to use content in any way they see fit.

(Bernstein 2008)

During development it became apparent that this meetup needed to be a participatory experience from the beginning, and that could be achieved partly through community selection of the slideshow images. Common Ground was allowing a process of enabling the community to have ownership of this content through the curation, acknowledging that the selection would be sufficient, interesting, engaging and important to the community and this helps towards developing trust in your community. The community was not passive in the lead up to the event, they were active participants in the process.

Figure 2

Fig 2: The Common Ground home page

Participation is more accessible from a Web context, particularly when interactivity and involvement are encouraged (Durbin 2003) such as the case in the Commons on Flickr, where as in the museum space this type of participation and interactivity can produce problems, one of which is expertise. Allowing the visitor to be the voice of authority can be problematic for the traditional institution yet pivotal for a more ‘open’ institution. Allowing the Flickr community to select the images for the Common Ground slideshow was challenging the traditional methods of the institutional ‘voice of authority’ pre-determining what the Flickr community was going to view in the physical setting. This is fairly new territory for cultural institutions that are traditionally the interpreters of content for their publics and can be problematic for some professionals (Carey and Jeffrey 2006). “However, it is valid to consider that a visitor may re-interpret an artefact with a new meaning. It may not be the official, traditional meaning, but it will be valid for that person and possibly other people in the same demographic.” As stated by Carey and Jeffrey, it was applicable for this non-institution interpretation which Common Ground was attempting to achieve.

The community was involved in the process and rewarded for the experience of doing so through the connected slideshow and event where they could see the selected images. The aim was to allow the slideshow beyond the event, and it is still available on Flickr for use. (Flickr 2009)

The slideshow image selection tool

One of the components necessary to the success of the Common Ground meet up was the photo selection tool built for the slideshow.  Requirements for the selection process quickly formed at the conclusion of the initial discussions about the shared slideshow experience.

Challenge 1: Even Selections among Participants

At the onset, the most significant issue facing the selection process was even representation of institutions in the selections. The distribution of images per institution varied significantly. At the time of this writing, the Library of Congress collection comprises almost 25% of Commons photos (Flickr API 2010) and the distribution was not much different at the time of the tool’s design.

Figure 3

Fig 3: Percentages of images in the Commons per institution

Given the notion that multiple institutions would host the shared slideshow experience, we quickly realized that the number of images per institution should be roughly equal, to give institutions with smaller collections (often the newer institutions) a chance to be represented in the slide show.

We accomplished this by requiring a specific sequence to selecting images. We initially estimated the ideal slideshow would contain a small handful of images per institution. The tool started a user off with a pseudo-random Commons institution, and proceeded to direct the user through each institution (in order of their joining The Commons), preventing a user from easily voting for just one institution multiple times.

When the results were tabulated, each institution had 150 ± 20 votes. While the results were not as even as we hoped, they were not so skewed as to be unusable, or even noticeably askew. Other factors, such as establishing a selection number cut-off, proved to be more influential in the final slideshow than the initial selection distribution.  The reasoning for the selection differential can be mainly attributed to small sample size - approximately 3,200 selections cast and a poor random function.

Challenge 2: Authentication

Authentication for the photograph selection tool was one of the easier decisions to make with respect to developing the tool. Given the Commons close association with Flickr, it was a natural fit to require Flickr user authentication for the selection process. This did cause some difficulty, even with cross-site authentication steadily rising; some users were still confused as to why they needed to authorize the selection application to use their Flickr accounts. As time moves on, this type of authentication will become less and less surprising to users, especially as many sites like Flickr move towards increasing cross application authentication (Flickr App Garden 10).

Challenge 3: Encouragement & Language

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Flickr’s user experience is the friendly and personal tone the site takes with users. Flickr’s voice was part of the inspiration for the selection tool’s own language choices, what little voice it had.

A point of contention with the selection tool was the choice of words used to describe the act of selecting. As typical with museum collaborations, language was a point of contention and debate. Throughout its development and first iteration, the selection tool characterized the selection process as ‘voting’. This metaphor, while not entirely appropriate, was chosen for its strength and clear meaning.

Additionally, we had neither time nor money to internationalize the site. While the site was not language-heavy, it would have been great to have the interface translated into a few different languages, notably Spanish, Swedish, French ,etc. We hope that with more lead-time and a selection tool that will not need large parts re-worked, this will be an attainable goal for a Common Ground 2010 event.

Challenge 4: Pagination

Perhaps the biggest area for improvement with the selection tool is initial image selection and pagination. The first iteration of the tool selected 30, the API maximum, images, sequentially starting with the first image uploaded. This yielded voting in favour of the oldest material uploaded, and not necessarily the best.

After this discovery, we wanted a random set of images to appear on each page;  however that proved to be frustrating if a user was searching for a specific image to select, and taxed the Flickr API more than a simple sort. Given the Flickr API exposure to their ‘Interestingness’ score, it was a good compromise between random and ordered, and afforded stability throughout pagination.  With a random sort, we would need to get all the results (in some cases, thousands of images), store them locally, and paginate manually. Using ‘Interestingness’ as the default sort allowed us to use Flickr’s own pagination implementation, which afforded the benefit of always returning the freshest data possible.

Basic pagination consisting of a ‘next’ button and a ‘previous’ button was implemented; however, no indication of page number or total number of pages was given. This is a painless modification and will be made for the next iteration of the selection tool. Combining competed pagination with a random start page should move the tool closer to eliminating any bias of the Flickr-supplied sort order to the selection process.

Challenge 5: Flickr API

The last of the development challenges was the Flickr API itself. While technically the Flickr API is one of the most mature, stable and usable Web site API’s around, it has its own fair share of use issues that proved troublesome. Interesting to note is that the majority of these issues were procedural, rather than technical.

The initial design was minimal; there was a site logo, an institution logo and name, and finally, the thumbnails to cast your selection with a larger image tool tip. As per the API usage agreement, any image has to link back to the page in which it was found. Since clicking was reserved for casting a vote, in order to be compliant we had to place a small graphic on the corner of the object to take the user back to Flickr. This complicated matters some, and gave the interface a slightly more cluttered appearance.

Ideally, the next iteration of the selection tool will deal with this requirement in a slightly different way. It was brought to our attention mid-development by our friends at Flickr, and we made our best attempt at fulfilling our part of the agreement.

Participating institutions and the event

There were ten institutions from a total of twenty-seven that participated in the meetup on the 2nd and 3rd October. The institutions included the Brooklyn Museum which teamed up with The New York Public Library, George Eastman House, Powerhouse Museum which teamed up with The State Library of NSW, State Library of Queensland, The Australian War Memorial, The State Archives of Florida, Oregon State University Archives and The Swedish National Heritage Board. Four institutions teamed up together to hold the meetup at the one location due to being in the same city; the others held their events individually either projected on to a screen on the building or held inside. The Swedish National Heritage Board held their meetup on an island of Gotland in a medieval church ruin in central Visby - a World Heritage site - and had over 140 visitors during the meetup, whilst The State Archives of Florida held two meetups in two different locations in Florida.

The Brooklyn Museum teamed up with New York Public Library and held their meetup during the Brooklyn Museum’s Target First Saturday night, an event that gets thousands of community members through the doors of the Museum every month. The slideshow was projected in the Museums foyer. The Brooklyn Museum, high participants in organising this meetup, produced a series of moo cards for their community members to take with them, gave away Flickr products, produced a series of short videos taken on the night that were loaded to Flickr, and held a specific talk about their collections and images in the Commons.

Figure 4

Fig 4: ‘Moooooo! Getting Ready for Common Ground 2009’ by Brooklyn Museum

Figure 5

Fig 5: ‘Common Ground 2009’ by Brooklyn Museum

The Powerhouse Museum, which teamed up with the State Library of NSW, had planned to project the historic images on to the front of the Museum’s building for an outdoor event, yet due to terrible weather the event was relocated to an indoor café. The event included staff presentations about working with the photographic collections, but also presentations by community members who are prolific in using, researching and creating innovative projects with the Museum’s images. There were archival quality print giveaways won through a qu,z and cupcakes with Commons images printed on top. The meetup was attended by over 60 people, but was predicted to have over 200 if the rain had not persisted and the meetup had been held on the forecourt.

Figure 6

Fig 6: Test slideshow projection at Powerhouse Museum

Figure 7

Fig 7: Flickr community member Paul Hagon presenting at Powerhouse Museum

The Flickr Commons group received forty-nine images and seven videos relating to the meetup, which is 9.57% of the total amount of content in this group dedicated to the Commons on Flickr. The meetup did receive some international media coverage, including the Gazzette Time, in which Woodward revealed that the setting up of the Oregon State University Archives slideshow allowed an unforseen opportunity to educate the students, unfamiliar with the Commons on Flickr, about the project and the Oregon State University Archives collection (Woodward 2009). The Powerhouse Museum event received coverage on the ABC Sydney Web site for the promotion of the event that included a slideshow of images from the Museum’s collection (ABC 2009), with the community-curated slideshow being described as an exhibition.

‘What’ Did The Community Think?

Some of the participating community members were sent a survey via Flickr mail or e-mail, and these questions were:

  • Why did you attend the global Flickr meetup Common Ground?
  • When staff and community meet, is the experience richer because of this opportunity?
  • Does bringing the on-line community into the physical cultural institution space change the values you place on these public institutions?
  • Was the voting application a positive or negative experience?
  • Did you find the voting application fair in terms of representing all the institutions?

It is not possible to include all of the responses in this paper, but the following are extracts from some community members. Hagon states:

feel that Flickr Commons is an important - could you say - institution. I've got some personal involvement with it in the work I've done, enhancing this collection through my mashups. It was also the first meetup of its kind and you need to support these things. If you don't support them, it's unlikely that the funds and effort will be made available again in the future. It needs support to grow. One reason I came was I was invited to speak at the event, but it's an event that I would have driven the 300km to attend anyway. It's a richer experience being within a physical space. In an on-line environment you only see what you want to see, it's harder to explore and discover things by accident. Seeing many great things together in one place and the passionate people in the space does change your attitude. It's special and you realise the importance of a space that holds these things. A logo on a webpage doesn't hold that same authority.

(Hagon 2010)

Kuriloff states:

I couldn’t pass up this Common Ground experience. I am a fan of the Flickr Commons group and find it an enriching and enjoyable experience to peruse the images from institutions that participate in Flickr Commons. Also, attending this event at the Brooklyn Museum was very easy for me, as I live in Brooklyn, New York. However, I would have attended this event if it occurred anywhere in New York City. Yes, the experience is richer when staff and community meet. It was especially nice to meet Shelley Bernstein who is very warm and friendly. Shelley was a very fine representative of the Museum; she made me feel as though the Brooklyn Museum itself is a friendly cultural institution that I would want to visit even more than I do. It makes me feel that these public institutions are genuinely interested in reaching out to the community, and are promoting art education.

(Kuriloff 2010)

Meade states:

There is no doubt that staff are able to make an especially informed contribution, particularly as programme speakers by dint of their training, experience, and professionalism. The staff did so on the night, and continue to do so every day. Although we live in this age of easy electronic communication it was nice to meet some people in person whom I had only corresponded or spoken with on the telephone before.

(Meade 2010)

Some of the community found the voting process cumbersome and revealed that it required quite a bit of time to finish the voting. Some only voted on the images of institutions that they were involved with. Foster states:

After three or four attempts I could not find the way through thousands of photos from other museums (most of them fascinating) and I gave up trying to vote. I was unable to find the Powerhouse Museum's pictures to vote for the photos I know and have come to love.

(Foster 2010)

Kuriloff states:

The voting application was both positive and negative. By “voting” I felt that I would influence the choice of images that would appear in the Common Ground event. I suppose it gave me a feeling of ‘ownership’ in the project. However, I felt it was a cumbersome process to actually be able to get to the point where I could vote.

(Kuriloff 2010)

Hagon states:

Listening to the curators on the night talk about the photos and hearing the passion that they have for the objects makes you appreciate them more. Having them on hand to have a one on one conversation is something that is different to an on-line conversation (the process of commenting, replying to comments etc is shallow compared to the ability to discuss something in a physical environment).

(Hagon 2010)


Common Ground has dealt with some new territory for cultural institutions, and the findings as a result of this meetup include:

Feedback from community members reveals that they valued the experience and the chance to meet and discuss photography and the Commons with staff and other community members. The type of experience does provide a deeper engagement in comparison to on-line communication. The meetup provided opportunities to engage in conversations that may not have happened on-line.

Organising the meetup did necessitate the staff of institutions to be involved at a level that required many hours of production and organisation to manage the event. But institutions reaped benefits when their communities turned up to meet them. The overall cost is generally higher for an on-site event in comparison to an on-line experience, and Common Ground did require many hours of work from the participating institutions to make the event happen.

Generally the community found the slideshow image selection tool cumbersome and difficult to use. The lessons learned from community feedback can be employed for the next application to make it an easier tool for the community to use. However, there was a sense of ownership in being able to select the content, and a sense of participation.

Having an additional focus on the night, such as presentations and giveaways, was beneficial to the overall experience. The Brooklyn Museum and Powerhouse Museum both held talks about the photographic collections. This was deemed successful by some community members, and a valuable lesson for any future meetups, as the audience had additional motivation to attend.  

The non-participating institutions had organisational difficulties in committing to the event due mainly to operational issues such as short-lead time and other event-based activities that were a priority. Feedback has revealed that given more time, they would be able to participate.

At the time Common Ground was happening in October 2009, many of the institutions and community members were asking whether this would be a yearly event. This was an encouraging outcome for an initial meetup that was celebrating community and institution meeting at a personal level on a global scale. Common Ground 2009 raised some difficult operational issues, but the mission of saying ‘thank you’ to the on-line community and getting to know them better on-site in a face-to-face setting was accomplished.


We would like to thank the Flickr community for participating in Common Ground and for their invaluable feedback for this paper, the institutions who participated, the staff of Flickr Commons and the non-participating institutions that provided valuable feedback. A big thank you to Shelley Bernstein, Brooklyn Museum, who was pivotal in the development and organisation of Common Ground: a community curated meetup.


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Johnston, C. (2010). Web Manager, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa. Survey response via Flickr mail. Consulted December 2010.

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Cite as:

Bray, P. and R. Donahue, Common Ground: A Community-Curated Meetup Case Study. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2010: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2010. Consulted