blog: Participatory knowledge: Julia Noordegraaf & John Ellis

Julia Noordegraaf’s talk on using audio visual heritage as a means to understand 9/11 was entitled The New Role of the Creator. She suggested that users can make sense of material and take back a curatorial role by making use of social media. In the last few years, the “social web” as it is called, where users can add tags, comment, and otherwise leave their mark on online content, has started to be used by broadcasters and corporations. Some of these, such as The Internet Archive and the National Museum of American History, have started projects to collect news broadcasts about 9/11. The Internet Archive also has essays describing specific reports and themes that have come about in the news reports. Both of these institutions give reliability to their content, vouching that it is trustworthy. Noordegraaf argues that the people choosing the content and writing the descriptions of the sites, their curators, ought to explain themselves and the limitations of their websites a bit more, so users know that what is there, isn’t everything that was broadcast about 9/11 and that the content has its own news-bias. Noordegraaf emphasized that content without a context, that is, without understanding where it came from or what was happening that spawned its creation, doesn’t mean very much and can be misunderstood. The future of the archive, Noordegraaf concluded, is to be the one that creates context with the help of users.

The theme of ‘participatory knowledge’ under laid Noordegraaf’s talk. Participatory knowledge is the idea that users’ contribution of information is useful. Together, users know far more than any individual. The adage ‘two heads are better than one’ describes the goal of participatory knowledge well. In the examples Noordegraaf gives, users can add to descriptions, making them better.

John Ellis’ response to Noordegraaf’s talk brought up some of the problems with making use of user contribution. Ellis pointed out that because of copyright, making content available for users in the first place can be difficult. Some institutions won’t do it out of fear of being sued. If users can’t see material, though, they can’t add any information to it to make it richer and more meaningful. Noordegraaf’s examples of making content available were for content that to creators allowed them to publish online.

Ellis reminded us that nowadays, video is as common as the written word as a way to get our information. It is also just as subtle and requires a lot more time and effort to understand. Describing audio-visual material is a big task that users can help with. For users to help though, they need to have access. Current copyright law means that restricted material won’t be available for at least 70 years, but if we wait that long, no one will remember what something meant when it was made. The crux of participatory knowledge is time sensitive. People have to know about something to be able to contribute.

by Krista Jamieson

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