Friday, 7 December 2007

Second museums

Over on Museum 2.0 Nina Simon asks, "What Might Bring You to Second Life?", not a bad question as such though I prefer the emphasis on the "what is possible?" than the "what is stopping us?".

In his comments in response to the entry, Mike Ellis is quite skeptical about Second Life as a truly social experience:
I don't particularly like SL as an experience because I don't feel it actually adds much to my life: it's actually pretty lonely in there, not terribly sociable, and I find myself continually asking "why?"... on the other hand is completely compelling to me because it is about social contact, immediate gratification (meeting different people) as well as visually beautiful. So the question inevitably comes back to "why a 3d environment?" rather than "why this particular 3d environment?"
I tend to disagree. SL is as social an experience as you want to make it, either by explicit design (e.g. attending or running a meeting in a subject area of your choosing) or by accident (e.g. going to a club or other area and seeing who you meet) though I would agree that the latter is not always as easy as it might be, in terms of finding the right kinds of places.

But Mike is absolutely right to say that we should focus firstly on the generic aspects of 3-D virtual worlds rather than the specifics of one particular technology (Second Life), and secondly on the immersive and social aspects of the experience.

What does that mean for museums as they enter 3-D environments? Well firstly, museums need to conceptualise themselves primarily as social spaces rather than collections of artefacts - I'm not saying that they don't do that already you understand... just that they need to be in that frame of mind before thinking about what they do in virtual worlds. Then they need to think about how 3-D environments might expand that aspect of their role virtually - bringing global participants to a virtual or hybrid discussion forum being one obvious example.

Such an approach doesn't rule out recreating virtual artefacts in the new environment - but doing so is absolutely not the end of the story.

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