UGame ULearn: Michael Edson

Michael EdsonMichael Edson is the Smithsonian Institution’s Director of Web and New Media Strategy, and spoke about change and different cultures within organizations, and gave ideas of how to bridge the gap between the two. Here are my rather random notes from his talk:

Empowering citizen scholars – goal at the Smithsonian

What environments will we need to make new ideas happen?

Cultural institutions have millennials, and have older, more traditional staff – …

Chris Anderson – he’s received two strong reactions to his book “Free” – Huh? and Duh! Younger people had the Duh moment – of course that makes sense. Older people had almost a hostile reaction – they didn’t get it.

There’s tension there, and we need to move past it.


  • complacency. We have existed for hundreds of years…
  • Urgency – we need to build a sense of urgency in these complacent institutions in order to grow a sense of change

We need to find a model that helps us drive change

the most interesting ecosystems are in border habitats between technology and content – we should not treat them separately

What is our work, and how should we do it? At those discussions should be things like mobile internet issues, 2.0 stuff, continually growing and adapting, etc.

Asked visitors to the Smithsonian if they have ever used the Smithsonian’s website – no, they haven’t.

Ex – Google search on oceans – wikipedia,, discovery education (discovery channel), NASA of all things, etc all come up in the first page of search results. But the Smithsonian is more like result #66 – even though they do a ton of ocean research.

point – Smithsonian doesn’t have a big reach with something they think is important to them.

talked about – the Smithsonian is way down on the list

compared two pages about an aircraft in the air & space museum. Their page (spaceship one) vs wikipedia, flickr, youtube videos, etc – other sites win hands-down. hyperlinks, music, video, better pictures, etc. vs a curatorial explanation with one pic.

“We’re competing with … everybody!”

Their content is now only one chunk of the greater content on any one thing.

quote – “the Smithsonian is not an organization that understands me” – used to be the other way around.

So – they are being very transparent as they develop social media strategy – they’re using a wiki, allowing people to add stuff (I think)

new media strategy structure:

three themes –

  • update the Smithsonian digital experience – act as if the digital experience is just as important as the physical experiences
  • update the SI learning model
  • balance autonomy and control within SI

eight goals – things like mission, brand, etc.

Creating a digital commons is a goal they have.

A commons should be free, findable, vast, and shareable

showing a video prototype of what the commons should look like. Walked through how an amateur astronomer can use content from SI to share his own stuff – nice.

Seth Godin’s Good Advice

I recently read Is It Too Late to Catch Up? at Seth Godin’s blog. The post is great – it includes ideas on how to “catch up” if you haven’t really done much in the web & social media world for the last 14 years.

But the one point that interested me the most was this: “Refuse to cede the work to consultants. You don’t outsource your drill press or your bookkeeping or your product design. If you’re going to catch up, you must (all of you) get good at this, and you only accomplish that by doing it.”

His point? You don’t outsource your main stuff.

Now think about the web for a sec. I can name more than one library that hasn’t done a whole lot with their website, but has “woken up,” so to speak, and wants to create a strong, dynamic web presence. For that matter, I know of more than one library association that has done the same thing.

I think Seth’s point, and I’d agree pretty strongly with it, is this – you need to create your web presence yourself. Especially if you want that web presence to reflect your library’s values, be truly dynamic on an ongoing basis, and be one of your major service points.

“But David, we can’t do that – here’s why:”

  • “We don’t have any money” – most of the tools and services on the web are free, and training (especially if self-led) can be, too. It’s a start, anyway.
  • “We have a web dude, but he/she isn’t up to snuff” – train them (or re-hire).
  • “No one in our library knows much about building websites/interacting on the web” – set up a learning program.
  • “Our library director/administrators don’t understand the importance of the website” – Talk to other library directors that DO get it, and ask them how to convince your administrators. Also, show your own leaders strategy and goals – not shiny cool tools.
  • “Our IT staff won’t let us do this stuff” – who’s in charge again? Do some strategic planning for the library, then make sure your managers enact it.
  • “Our city/county attorney won’t let us” – lots of other city/county/university/etc libraries ARE doing this, so call them up and figure out a convincing strategy that will fly with your attorney.