While the museum profession has long engaged with issues of education and access in managing and displaying its collections, modes of cultural representation in museums are being challenged in the twenty-first century by social and technological changes, particularly by the global extent of digital information and the development of social media using internet and web-based technologies.
The Virtual Museum of the Pacific (VMP) is a social media platform for a Digital Ecosystem which is designed to enable a variety of user communities to engage with the Pacific Collection of the Australian Museum. While museums worldwide increasingly have a virtual presence, the VMP facilitates the development of culturally relevant folksonomies and provides user groups with invidualised ontological relationships for object discovery and annotation. Each user community may create its own specific annotations and may, in turn, be influenced by the annotations of other user communities. The aim is to facilitate on-line community interaction using social-media technologies to extend the annotation of objects to suit the stakeholder’s own needs. The success of the system depends on leveraging the diffusion of language and encouraging a conversation between on-line communities. This will enable the development of new visual presences and the creation of cultural knowledge via the contribution of creator communities.
In this paper, we outline a preliminary evaluation of the potential impact of this Digital Ecosystem on modes of knowledge creation and cultural representation for museums. We define the scope for the social tagging component of the information model and discuss how users might interact with objects in terms of their knowledge base as well as contribute to ongoing taxonomic definitions. Given its capacity to facilitate multi-directional E-learning using new technology, we demonstrate that the Virtual Museum of the Pacific is a significant model for online community interaction and learning in the contemporary museum environment.