Since 2009 I have been undertaking research for OCLC Research (formally known as the Research Library Group RLG). Library and archive professionals from partner institutions around the world contribute to research groups that focus on topics of interest to the information community. There are currently around 50 research activities in progress.
I am a member of the group called ‘sharing and aggregating social metadata’. This group is quite large and there are 21 of us from different institutions in 5 countries. It has been great to work with other professionals from institutions such as Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, and Getty. In the normal course of my day job I have a high level of contact with other national libraries, and institutions at the cutting edge of digital technology, but to have this opportunity to research a specific topic in detail and have ongoing discussions with the group over 2 years was really rewarding.
The group started by setting itself questions to answer for example:
- What are the objectives for social metadata and how do we measure success?
- What user contributions would most enrich existing metadata created by libraries, archives, and museums?
- What are examples of successful social media sites and what factors contribute to their success?
- What best practices currently exist, or need to be developed, that can guide institutions in managing user contributions and various related issues?
- To what extent is moderation necessary or desirable?
- How are cultural institutions integrating social metadata into formal taxonomies?
The research was divided up into chunks and mini groups formed. We quickly realised we had to establish agreed terminology and definitions of what we were researching. These were:
Social media/networking: Ways for people to communicate online with each other e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Blogs.
User Generated Content (UGC): Things produced by users rather than owners of the site e.g. image, video, text AND metadata – tags, comments, notes.
Social Metadata: Additional information about a resource given by online users e.g. tags, comments.
Social Media Features: Interactive features added to a site that enable virtual groups to build and communicate with each other and social metadata to be added.
Social Engagement: User interaction online e.g. communication between users, from users to site owners, from users with objects/resources.
Web 2.0: Online applications that facilitate interactive rather than passive experiences.
We used Basecamp project management software to work together. Most of us never met other members of the group face-to-face, just online or by telephone. I would certainly enjoy meeting the whole group face to face sometime in the future.
The research activity of the group and the volume of output was much larger than expected, so rather than ending up with a single report we have written three. I am writing this blog post now because the first two reports have recently been published and the third is expected to be released next month (February 2012).
Our second report Social Metadata for Libraries, Archives, and Museums, Part 2: Survey Analysis is our analysis of the results from a social metadata survey of site managers conducted from October to November 2009. In here we find that engaging new or existing audiences is used as a success criteria more frequently than any other criteria; only a small minority of survey respondents are concerned about the way the site’s content is used or repurposed outside the site; spam and abusive user behavior are sporadic and easily managed; engagement is best measured by quality, not quantity.
The upcoming third report Social Metadata for Libraries, Archives and Museums, Part 3: Recommendations and Readings and the Executive Summary for which I gave my final edits last week provides recommendations on application of social metadata features for libraries, archives, and museums and factors which contribute to success. It also contains an annotated bibliography. I will blog more on the recommendations once it is published but in the meantime I have two things to share:
1. The social metadata research group believes it is riskier to do nothing and become irrelevant to your user communities than to start using social media features. A major question to consider before you start is ‘What are your objectives for using social media?’
2. Whilst sharing our experiences within the group and also analysing the results of the survey we realised there is often a tension between the organizational desire to have “one voice” in the media, with social media as an important marketing tool, and the information specialists drive to communicate - in both directions with multiple voices - in various channels. We thought that distinguishing between using social media to create community around your organization (the province of public relations offices) and using social media to create community around collections was important. Publicity and participation are at different ends of the spectrum. Although it is important to develop the patron base for the institution through good use of social media publicity tools, it is equally important to give those patrons a voice - and therefore a sense of ownership - in the materials and content curated by the institution.
Now that our research is over there is an empty space for me. I miss the share of information amongst the group and particularly the emails titled ‘you must read or watch this!’ Having being the person responsible for compiling the bibliography in the third report I know that we all read or watched over 200 items of interest in a 12 month period. Many of these were blog posts. My favourite YouTube videos that were shared in the group happen to be both the first and last items we sent: ‘you must watch this!’
The Machine is Us/ing us (1.4 million views)
Gotta Share: The Musical (1.5 million views)