It seems clear that the most popular social media platforms are for profit initiatives as explained in our former article on Second Life and art museums. Unfortunately or not, social does not mean gratis. However, and as a result of the twist to a more commercial strategy from social media companies, we have noticed an increasing will for establishing “quality differences” among user generated content.
The New York Times’ article, “YouTube Awards the Top of Its Heap” by Virginia Heffernan underlines the consequences of those changes implemented by YouTube. This online community is not any more about “no judgments, no hierarchies, big bandwidth and lots of freedom” but about competition for popularity. In other words, the most voted video, the best one.
We can bet that never a museum related video will win any award at YouTube. But do not panic, although we would love it, being popular is not the same as being prestigious. Prestige is about being important to the ones you really (your museum) care. Should museums care about everyone’s opinion? Ideally, yes because we are institutions opened to everyone. But if our standard is everyone’s opinion, how should we understand the fact that most of people do not care about museums? Is everyone’s opinion really meaningful to us? Let us assume it: we are a minority’s subject, we talk to a minority, and we have to live with that fact in the world of social media “the most voted” competitions.
As it is our belief that museums should be primarily prestigious and if so, popular as well, being a minority should not mean any problem. The problem comes when the idea of prestige is twisted to elitism because of a commercial strategy. Apparently, “being different” is becoming the most important value among online community members. Should be social media about establishing differences inside communities, or about sharing? The answer is not easy because what museums really do is establishing quality differences by proposing selected exhibitions and collections. We are lost…
Video waterrandi: The Museum of Lost Wonder, 2006. Posted on October 2.
Although we adore the abstract idea of expanding the presence of art museums in all Social Software, we have the feeling that art museums in SL are facing basic problems of definition. So, for the sake of art museums -not only in SL but also in this first one- let us try to better focus their role in this virtual platform by starting a wish list that you can pass around to add more wishes.
1. Quality Graphics
The poor definition of SL images is an obstacle to really experience the sensorial aspects of certain kind of art works. Despite SL’s efforts of to be as much realistic as possible, the truth is that the graphics do still lack compelling quality. This fact makes difficult to appreciate certain art forms based on the quality of the materials, the technique and the detail of the finishing. In other words, those who used to go to art museums to enjoy Rembrandt, Goya or Rubens probably will not be interested in visiting art museums in SL.
Although we have experiences engaging art works in SL, this wish just want to underline that certain kinds of art expressions need a better definition of the graphics for having a room in SL.
2. Improved Technical Service
Being in a SL Art Museum is an incessant back and forth of logins and getting backs because of the continuous interruptions users have to suffer even using broad band high speed internet connections. At any moment the system might crash your trip and boot you off to the real world. Then you would have to log back on and try to recover your latter experience. It is as if in RL (which in the SL lingo means, Real Life) we had to visit museums with the permanent expectation of being asked to leave them at any moment.
In addition to this, some newcomers complain about the demanding learning curve of SL in comparison with real museums, as Leslie Madsen-Brooks certainly remarks at Museum Blogging.
Although anyone could expect from SL to be a truly revolutionary tool to overcome the current struggles of art museums in RL, the truth is that most museums are surprisingly imitating the worst part of reality, such as the restrictions imposed to visitors in museums regarding the care and conservation of the pieces. “Do not touch” labels, bureaucratic organizational systems, copyrights, admissions, etc.; are posted in the same style of any RL museum. Why, again, so many restrictions?
At the moment SL Art Museums seem to impose the same constraints to visitors/users than the ones of the real world. What if we take this second opportunity to overcome all these problems? Avoiding elements such as surveillance cameras or security staff, unavoidably necessary in real museums but not in SL ones, should be the beginning of a friendlier visitor experience in virtual museums.
4. Originality and Innovation
Imitation of reality seems to be a must in SL. Despite the pretended goal of being an alternative environment, SL is in general terms one of the best efforts recently implemented of recreating realism. This idea reinforces our suspicions about being currently living in a deeply Baroque period, in which the senses tend to be led till extreme sensorial experiences. Not in vain, our society remarkably relies on appearance, which is one of the reasons of SL’s success. This behavior is also present in some art museums in SL, which try to imitate the current displays of art works in RL (distribution of the art works; pedestals; use of archaic aesthetic evoking the times of Roman, Egyptian, and Greek antique cultural empires; etc.)
Is not SL able to produce a different and original concept of art museum or are we the ones who behave limited by our own conventions? Regarding this the always intriguing Richard Urban commented some months ago at Musematic,
I’ve also been interested to see how people are modeling the real world in Second Life, even when it’s not necessary (e.g. I really don’t need a wall to hang that painting. But I’ve put one there anyway). I’m looking forward to seeing how museums adapt to this new environment and whether we make some of the same choices (OK, kiddie avatars, lets line up in a group and listen to the nice docent avatar.) I’ll also be looking for ways that SL frees us from some of the first life limitations.
Like the best tradition of Science-fiction movies, SL seems to be constrained by the limits of the human social behavior and the restrictions of the capitalist mental structure behind this product. The common rule is; if you want to become different from the standard possibilities, you have to pay to do so. To improve your body, to own a land, to have a different standard; you have to pay. At the end, this virtual environment seems to follow the same economic rules as RL. Not in vain we should remember that behind SL there are real people making real money. In fact, we wanted to create a group of Art Museums in SL but even creating a group is expensive, not to mention a whole museum as Tom Goskar comments at the Museums Computer Group mailing list.
If it is necessary to pay only for gathering a group of people, we could easily conclude that SL is fostering a kind of economical elitism. So, instead of ‘Social Software,’ SL is more about ‘Club Software.’ Although the policy of ‘exclusivity’ is worthy of respect, it does not match very well with the essence of Social Software.
At the end, SL rules seem to be the same of the real life: Money.
One of the shameful consequences of the cruelest side of capitalism sustained in SL is that it also has homeless individuals. The Spanish nonprofit organization Mensajeros de la Paz created two months ago a homeless avatar “warning the residents that many people still need help and everybody can do something against poverty, injustice and abandon”. Consequently, and very smartly, this organization asked for donations.
Fundraising is in SL, as in RL, the main issue to create and support any museum. Regarding SL’s commercial nature, our expectations about finding there a context for art museums relieving from RL budget constraints, appears to be a far fetched dream. However, we will always appeal to generosity and that is why we want to take this opportunity to mention here some individuals and nonprofits which are doing it very well, such as InfoIsland, The New Media Consortium, or TechSoup. You could find most of them at Better World Island.
7. Cultural Diversity
Just this note to raise awareness about how are art museums in SL shaping the diversity of cultural conceptions about art. Is SL representative of the rich cultural diversity of the world? We would not like SL adding another cultural filter to the already globalized online presence of culture :(
Why ‘integrity’ for art museums in SL? Just because we like this value in any organization :)
Second Life is a great opportunity to rethink and assess art museums’ role in the current times. By asking what art museums should be in SL we are asking indeed about their role in this first life. About the nature and current role of museums, we find very interesting Tom Scheinfeldt’s reflections on Foundhistory and Bridget McKenzie’s comment in the Museums Computer Group mailing list
Is there anything different to expect from art museums in SL after all those replication efforts? What is the impact of SL Art Museums in RL? Leslie Madsen-Brooks provides some insights about this in “What can participating on Second Life do for your museum?” Do not miss her final list of advantages and disadvantages for museums in SL at the end of her article.
An interesting example of art museum in SL is the Aho Museum, depicted in the picture above. (You will find more photos about it at e-artcasting Photoproject.)
However, RL art museums have to deeply evaluate a possible involvement in SL. Regarding these concerns, Seb Chan describes at Fresh + New the thoughts of Powerhouse Museum,
My team here at the Powerhouse Museum has been toying with the idea of a Second Life trial too – we’ve had quite a bit of experience with 3D environments and reconstructions in the past. But a museum is unlikely to have the resources of a Dell or IBM to do a media friendly product launch type event quickly enough in SL to make a significant splash – these things in the museum sector take months (if not years) to develop properly and by the time they are done (maybe) the hype will have moved on.
In the comments to this article, a good suggestion by Richard Urban was,
“Another approach that museums may need to look at is not doing this alone as individual institutions. The New Media Consortium is creating a shared campus for educational institutions, and a collective of librarians has created Information Island (I & II). But who from the museum world is willing to play in a shared sandbox?”
However, some other people just say, “Get a First Life“
Finally, our wish is your opinion. Do not be shy about adding your wishes and passing your list around…