Social Networking and Heritage

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.

A search for the beautiful Boscawen-Un stone circle even has on the first page of results a video on YouTube complete with music inspired by a visit to the monument.

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.

3 Responses to Social Networking and Heritage

  1. Andy Burnham 28 February, 2008 at 12:19 pm #

    For a new social networking site to take off you first need to have compelling content, which in turn leads to enough momentum of visitors to sustain social networking. Without this social networking will not take off.

    I don’t see this compelling content from the ‘official’ heritage sites. Get more of your collections available properly online, so you can view photographs rather than just indexes that photos exist.

    The other heritage related social networking hubs out there are the Time Team forum (obvious what the compelling content is there) and the BBC history fora (same again)

    The other reason the sites you mention appear at the top of the Google listings is because they link to each other, and are linked to by other sites.

    ‘Official’ heritage sites are in my experience very sniffy about linking to the popular web resources such as the Megalithic Portal. http://www.megalithic.co.uk

    Another factor is that the database generated web pages they create for possible indexing by Google are also not at all Google friendly.
    Incoming and outgoing Links = popularity in Google…

    You also need to engage your visitors to make them active contributors, something that is not easy to do. Despite all the user generated content, according to my stats the vast majority of visitors are casual and don’t contribute.

  2. Bridget McKenzie 17 March, 2009 at 11:37 am #

    This is a useful story & comment from Andy. Your main focus here is on institutions incorporating social networking approaches into their own websites. But do you have any views on how bodies like EH could have a better presence across other sites? Did you find EH links or contributions on any of the sites that came higher in Google?

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