Let me say right away, I commend the Brooklyn Museum for their foray into social media and An Xiao for using Twitter as her artistic medium.
My last post talked about the Museum monetizing Twitter with their members-only program, 1stFans. I'm also curious to look at the expectations inherent in paying for access to a protected Twitter feed. Since I signed up as a 1stfans member, I was granted access to the @1stfans Twitter feed and private Flickr and Facebook groups. But what exactly did that mean? What was I going to get for my membership? The answer was not entirely clear.
The first few tweets from @1stfans reminded me of a Swoon event and gave a general welcome to the community. Then they announced that they would have a guest twitterer (like a guest blogger I guess) for the month of January. The artist An Xiao submitted a proposal to the Museum about a conceptual art piece comparing Morse code, one of the first instant messaging technologies, to Twitter.
A guest twitterer? That seems odd to me. In researching for this post, I read the "About" on the1stfans info page, which said they'll connect online "with access to artist-created content on our 1stfans Twitter Art Feed." Aha! A Twitter art feed, not an informational twitter feed. Two very different things. But what the heck is a Twitter art feed? Apparently, I'm not the only one asking this question.
Conceptually I understand the comparison between Twitter and Morse code but keeping up with the 1stfans tweets was cumbersome for me. I had to cut and paste the instant communication of Morse code into a translator to discover what Xiao wanted to say. In no way, shape or form was the communication instant, which seemed strange. Also, the tweets didn't strike me as particularly thought provoking. Things like:
WOW SWOON PRINT GREAT TO MEET EVERYONE =AX
COFFEE POT EMPTY. PLEASE ADVISE.
COFFEE POT EMPTY. PLEASE ADVISE.
In some ways, it felt like an alternate reality game (ARG). Except without an AR or a G. But it wasn't an ARG, it was art. Here's an artist's statement and a video.
So for a while, I just ignored the tweets and moved 1stfans from my "must read" group in TweetDeck to my "meh...when I get to it" group. That seemed like a missed opportunity on the part of the Museum. There I was, an excited member, ignoring this year-long program within the first week. I reached out to the artist and the Museum, who repeated Xiao's statement and said:
"not every visitor to the museum enjoys every show we do here or every painting on the wall...that is perhaps true for the @1stfans feed as well."
True enough. But this is the perfect opportunity to do what social media does so well, start a conversation. What is Twitter art? What is art? Perhaps @1stfans isn't the place to have it, maybe we could move to Facebook or even the @BrooklynMuseum Twitter feed. But the conversation should be started.
So what does it all mean? Frankly, I'm not sure. It definitely means that the social media waters are murky (even in the museum world), but they're worth playing around with. The Brooklyn Museum has gotten a lot of press. And they've been doing a great job to visitor concerns. While transparency is important, there are some social norms that develop with each of these technologies as well. Does the fact that the feed is monetized change anything? For me, I expected the 1stfans Twitter feed to give me information about art and about the Museum's activities. Perhaps it's my fault for jumping to conclusions.
Something to Think About: More than ever, it's not about the message, it's about the conversation. There are still lots of confusing conversations going on via Twitter, where people are YELLING, disclosing TMI or even talking in Morse code. How do you want to start a conversation?