I was reading Mia Ridge‘s blog post on the resistance to the participatory web from within the cultural heritage sector, and combined with my planning a trip to Cornwall where I plan to see some megalithic monuments, it really started me thinking.
Where would be best to get some good, practical information about visiting stone circles, for example, in the Penzance region? Let’s start off where most people do, a Google search. Here’s my query: “stone circles penzance“. The first result is Andy Burnham‘s old website giving lots of useful information on good sites to visit in the Penzance area. It provides links to the Megalithic Portal, which has its own community of users and contributors.
The second result (at the time of writing) is from The Modern Antiquarian. There I can find thousands of user-submitted photos, forum postings, practical tips on visiting from people who actually visited, and I can get involved myself and ask some questions.
Nowhere on the first few pages of results were any “official” organisations. That’s a shame. So, getting curious, I tried searching for some specific sites. I’d love to visit the fabulous Iron Age and Roman site of Carn Euny again. It’s custodian’s website, English Heritage, comes a sad 10th, only just on the first page of results. What comes first?
Heritage websites which incorporate social networking, of course! Right up there at the top is Wikipedia (which certainly has social aspects to it), then we have The Modern Antiquarian, Stone Pages (which has been around since the web began and incorporates forums), and the Megalithic Portal.
People like to talk about ancient sites, they like to share their photos and experiences. These websites are all great examples of the vibrancy of feeling about our ancient past.
So where am I going with this post? As ‘official’ heritage bodies such as museums and archaeology units begin to adopt social networking techniques and technologies into their own websites, as Mia suggests, they ought to get “…familiar with the environments in which their content might appear”. There’s a lot to be learned from what is already being done, and there’s a lot we (talking as a heritage professional) can do to help make the online heritage ‘scene’ a lot more interesting for everyone.