Customization. It’s almost implied these days. My go-to example is the cellphone/smartphone. You can choose the color, the case, the wallpaper, the ringtone. It’s not that you have a unique phone– anyone can buy one (at a price). It’s that it’s customized– by you. It’s uniquely, personally, and perfectly yours.
The “design-your-own” trend over the past few years, has taken off in all directions– from Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars to skin creme; from beef jerky to hotel amenities and ear phones. It seems there’s no limit to the range and scope of customization. We like to make things our own. And then we like to show them off.
How can we allow– even encourage– customization in our museums?
If visitors customize, what could it look like– and how could they share it?
At first my mind went to the maybe-obvious…
Museum visitors could use a website or app to input their interests and get customized recommendations for what to see and do (i like… museums-style, or like the cool stuff they’re doing at the Eiffel Tower). Or museums could use the concierge model (which several do) and point visitors to exhibits or paths of interest based on visitor motivation typology or self-identified personality traits.
We’ve seen great examples of customization happening through consumer-curation and crowd-sourcing, both in the cultural sector as well as the commercial. (I really like Morgans Hotel Group with their free, location-specific music downloads, Wizard Istanbul’s up-to-the-minute city guide, Gogobot‘s travel advice and Storify’s social media storyboarding.) But to me there’s always a “so now what” moment that comes toward the end– even in the coolest, best-intentioned community and participatory projects…
It’s like, “I made something/did something/took part in something. It was cool. It was meaningful. It was part of something bigger than just me. You made something/did something/took part in something too. It was cool. It was meaningful….” Blah blah blah. So now what?!
This week, I think I found the “now what.”Springwise recently covered the UK’s Kaiser Chiefs‘ innovative version of fan-sourcing. The indie rock band’s fans can visit their website and create their own mix of the band’s latest album– from selecting the order of the songs to mashing up the available artwork into a customized album cover. When they’re done, users can register and pay GBP 7.50 for their custom album. They also get a fan page so others can learn about and purchase the version they created. For each copy sold, the creator earns GBP 1.
This pushes ‘have it your way’ customization to the next level– to a social platform where fans truly co-create and co-curate. Not only does this generate buzz, it shows that the traditional ‘experts’ (in this example, the Kaiser Chiefs and/or the producers and label) value their fans’ perspectives, expertise, and abilities. They give the fans a platform… then get out of the way.
It’s a risk. The band is giving away control they’d usually take for granted. It’s a cost/benefit trade off many wouldn’t take. In doing so a really powerful thing happens… there’s this equitable, shared space where ‘us’ and ‘them’ coexist. Springwise seems to get this at some level. They write: ‘In not so very long, it may just become unthinkable for a band to create a new album without the involvement of its biggest fans.’
Who are your biggest fans and how do you involve them to create?
What could customization look like in your space?
How might you balance what’s personal with what can be shared?
Are you willing to take the risk?
A few post scripts:
1. I feel absolutely ok using the word ‘curate‘ in ways that reach beyond the museum field. In fact, I like it.
2. For related musings, check out Nina Simon’s June 22, 2011 post. Perhaps customization is the antidote to the sometimes-unauthentic “You Can Be a (fill in the blank).”
3. For more on using assumed identities to customize in museums, check out this Nina Simon blog post from about a year or so ago… Who Am I? Internal vs. External Role-Playing in Museums, along with an excellent counter-point in the comments from Beverly Serrell.)
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