I manage most of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s social media outreach and I’d like to pitch a session to talk through the issues of commenting on different social media channels in order to think about how the Museum can serve its memorial and education functions effectively through different interfaces and different cultures of use.
For instance, Flickr’s comments (which appear below photos) and notes (which appear on top of photos) have raised some flags for us. There are plenty of good reasons to put the Museum’s photographs on Flickr or any other photo-sharing site (access, collective knowledge, etc.), but since the Museum is primarily responsible for safe-guarding the memory of Holocaust victims, is Flickr an okay place to do that? I’m interested here in the point that when we put photographs of the Holocaust on the web, we’re arguably putting artifacts out there. (Yes, these are “digital surrogates,” but not in content—the image is the same whether it’s printed on paper or composed out of bits.) If artifacts bear witness to the lives and suffering of people, can we put them on Flickr and let people mark them up with tags, and comments and notes, with the latter actually amounting to a defacement of the photo since it appears on the image? Can we put stuff on Flickr and turn off all the conduits for communication, even if it’s a violation of the culture of the space? If you have to turn off the commenting features in a social media space, is it better to opt out?
I’d also like to talk a little bit about how we can handle the comments we do get in more useful ways. First, I want to think about why we save all of them in these spaces. We don’t record idle chatter in gallery spaces (at least, not without appropriate signage), so why should we record it online? Is it appropriate to save everything people contribute to social media spaces? If not, then can we just delete all comments wholesale after a proclaimed period of time—90 days, or whatever? (I’m not huge on this, but I want to play devil’s advocate.) If it is appropriate, can we acknowledge the limitations of the interfaces and ask: should we archive comments after certain time periods and start fresh so people don’t have to scroll through 90 pages of commentary?
My point here is to think through preserving all of these comments and if we’re going to save them, how to make them useful. Can we create ways to sort and tag them so people looking for meaningful threads of dialogue or researchers or museum staff trying to track interactions can cut through the content in more efficient ways than scrolling? (Note: I think I’m proposing this a bit as a reaction against the way social media sites privilege “most recent” activity. While I think it’s important to be able to know what’s happening “right now,” or tomorrow, sometimes what I’m interested in happened 6 months or 6 years ago.)
I’d be curious to know from the more tech-savvy than I how feasible it would be to take comments from social media spaces and drop them into a digital archive that would allow searching and categorizing by platform, content, content type, etc. And I’m curious to know if people think this is worth doing. Thanks for reading.