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Flickr: A Case Study Pt. 2--The MoMA

The long overdue second installment in this series has finally arrived! I know you've all been waiting with bated breath. I think part of the reason it's taken me so long to write it is because part of me wonders what the point is. Will anyone care? And do I even have the know-how to write about this from an authoritative standpoint? I've certainly never launched a successful Flickr page or group. Who am I to critique?

I finally decided that it doesn't matter. I'm learning so much just by getting my thoughts down on paper and doing this case study, that whether or not anyone reads it or finds it useful is beside the point. Of course, that is still my ultimate goal for this blog--to be useful and helpful and to be read--but if the insight and authority doesn't happen with this post, at the very least this post can help lay the foundation for better, more insightful posts in the future. And so, with that rambling intro, here goes.

The MoMA:

The MoMA's Flickr presence puts The Met to shame. (As it should, because the Met's Flickr presence, as we have seen, is downright shameful.) Their primary group pool boasts a robust 524 members and 3,058 photos, all of which seem to be user-submitted. There are a host of ancillary groups, too: MoMA (Unlimited), MoMA Monday Nights, MoMA Teens, and MoMA Stairs, a group dedicated solely to photographs of the MoMA's famous staircase, which at 91 members trumps the Met's efforts all on its own.

Part of me wonders if the MoMA's success can be attributed to external factors, like for example, that its' collection appeals to a younger audience, one that might be more web-savvy and socially networked. It's a possibility, certainly, but I feel like given the scope of both of these museums' international popularity, that factor should be pretty much negligible. Still, not having any sort of data for comparison's sake about their demographics, attendance numbers, web traffic, etc., it seemed like a worthwhile point to at least consider.

In any case, all the groups seemed to be on the right track but even the most successful pool was largely inactive. Discussion threads were a barren wasteland, nobody seemed to be interacting on these pages, and even when users posted questions asking for help identifying works of art or inquiring about a lighting effect they had seen at a recent exhibition, their questions received no response from the museum staff. I was getting ready to call it a night and give the MoMA a C+ for their efforts when I came across this group: theMoMAproject [NYC].

Holy crap! I seem to have hit the jackpot with this one. Or, rather, the MoMA seems to have hit the jackpot. [Ed Note: Post has been amended after a comment by the Brooklyn Museum's Shelley Bernstein (below) brought to my attention that the MoMA does not, in fact, run this group. The group is community driven. Good for the community. Bad for MoMA? Guess that all depends on how you look at it. Upon re-examination, I can't find any definitive evidence of official MoMA presence participating in the group page/threads, which, in my opinion, is a major oversight on their part. Their score has been amended accordingly.] In comparison to the other group pools I've reviewed, this one is a behemoth: 4,217 members, 28,014 photos and 17 discussion threads (with actual replies! one thread had as many as 836 replies to it!).

So, what exactly makes this group such a rousing successful? Well, for one thing, it seems to be more than just a Flickr pool, but rather a collection portal for another MoMA project called photomoma.org. Like the other groups, it's a place for users to post pictures of art works in the museum, but beyond just contributing their photos to the pool, users are participating in the creation of "a virtual museum" to be called iMoMA (Impressions of MoMA) [Ed Note: iMoMA seems to have been renamed to Photomoma since. The Photomoma site features the same text found on the Flickr page but with "Photomoma" as the name of the project].

You see, it's all very meta.

For each item in MoMA’s collection, iMoMA will have a website displaying photographs visitors to MoMA have taken of that item, capturing their own unique impression of the art MoMA has on display.

The result will be a pastiche of images that will force the viewer to critique their own relationship to the artwork in the photographs. Furthermore, the viewer will have to question whether or not the photographs themselves are works of art. In this way, iMoMA is designed to educate viewers not only about the artwork in the photographs, but about art in general.

And the response has been incredible. Why? Well, for one thing, people love the idea that they are contributing to a project--and for that matter, to an art project, a virtual museum no less! Their little snapshot will be immortalized in an online gallery organized by the MoMA itself, adding an air of importance and credibility. Not only that, but the museum project promises to have all the pictures link back to the user's Flickr profiles, thereby increasing their visibility. And after all, isn't that what it's all about? The motivating factor here is: How can participating in this project help me gain more notoriety and increase the viewership for my own work and "impressions"?

Maybe that last part is a bit cynical, but I think what I'm really trying to get at here is that this project is successful because it provides users with an incentive. It's not a tangible incentive and it's not one that's going to cost the museum the Photomoma project anything, except for maybe the costs of building the website. They're not giving anything away and they're not bribing people, they're just offering them yet another place to display their photos, but in a legitimized space with a lofty, philosophical mission that will allow users to "critique their own relationship to the artwork." People will do a lot for their 15 seconds of fame, and this project gets that and leverages it very well.

So, my final grade for the MoMA: A+ C+, grade changed for reasons noted above and below.     

The Photomoma project is indeed an excellent campaign, but unfortunately, seems to be run by someone other than the MoMA. It seems to be effective and doing well. Plus, I genuinely do like the mission of the project and am an advocate of more museum's having their collections up online--getting patrons to upload pictures of the works seems like an interesting, fun and egaging way to do so. Well done, MoMA!

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Reader Comments (6)

Hi Julia!

This is very insightful! We could learn a lot from MoMA, especially when we compare it against the MMA. Both museums set up an online presence to reach their fans, but only MoMA created an online presence explicitly for its fans to reach each other. In other words, its created a place for its fan to create a community.

I think the whole idea of a virtual museum is an immense testament to the trust and appreciation that the MoMA has for its fans. Even if it weeds out bad pictures, the virtual museum will still present views of the Museum and its works that you would never find in its official brochures or website. This activity transcends the idea that just "listening" is the purpose of social media. It sets the bar way higher and says that you have to listen, share, create a space for your stakeholders to share with each other, and take their best ideas and incorporate it into your business.

I love your blog and so far I think your content is top-notch. Of course it would be since you're trained in journalism :). Making art more accessible through social media is a great topic and I look forward to reading more!

December 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJulian Jones

By the way, you violated copyright law by using that picture of the MoMA, I'm going to have my lawyer serve you papers tomorrow. I'LL SEE YOU IN COURT! :)

December 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJulian Jones

The interesting thing - the great thing, really - is that very few of the MoMA groups are actually run by MoMA itself. The most popular ones you mention (iMoMA), in fact, are successful because they are run by the community (not the institution) and that's the powerful thing about it.

December 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterShelley

@Shelley--Wow, that's really interesting and impressive! Thanks for pointing that out. I will be sure to make the correction in my post. I wonder if the MoMA has interacted with the owners of the iMoMA group at all. I also wonder if the success of this user-run group is the result for MoMA's hands-off approach to Flickr. Maybe they're letting other people do the work for them?

December 29, 2008 | Registered CommenterJulia Kaganskiy

Wow, I love theMOMAproject group and the whole idea of photomoma.org - Julia, thanks for highlighting these examples!

I noticed that a recent thread started on theMOMAproject is about copyright infringement - flickr has removed this user's image of a Brancusi piece. Do you know how photomoma is dealing with this issue? As of now, no one has replied to the thread.

Anyway, great work, Julia!


January 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaryann Devine

Don't know what is wrong what is rite but i know that every one has there own point of view and same goes to this one walxeg walxeg - mulberry handbags.

October 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterzuvdge zuvdge

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