thoughts on the reading for Sept 5, 2006

I thoroughly enjoyed the reading for this week.  I’m not trying to be the class kiss ass, but  I’m also tackling a book for the “Study and Writing of History” that makes farm equipment seem interesting.  “Digital History” was a breath of fresh air, to say the least.  I am feeling slightly sheepish about my initial reaction to the reading though.  Despite the numerous items I could discuss from this week’s reading that would probably sound more “grad school-like,” my thoughts are more along the lines of “middle school-like.”  Where do MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, Friendster, etc, etc, fit into the world of web hosting so readily discussed in “Getting Started-Naming Your Site and Presenting It to the World?  I assume that Rosenzweig and Cohen left these quickly growing on-line communities out because 98% of their content has little to nothing to do with scholarship, let alone history.  As I have both a Bebo and MySpace account though, I don’t see why they couldn’t.  This got me to thinking.  With the insane popularity of on-line communities, could MySpace and the like be an up-and-coming outlet for historical scholarship?

 I can definitely see the differences between the web hosting possibilities discussed in Digital History and on-line communities.  Internet communities are just that…communities.  You see the faces of the people whose thoughts and comments you read through a variety of different formats.  You can also randomly find multitudes of new people to talk to, something not usually done in typically hosted sites. I can also see similarities between the different web hosting options discussed in this chapter of Digital History and on-line communities, which is why I was so surprised they weren’t mentioned.  In more advanced on-line communities like MySpace, those savvy enough with the technology can manipulate the HTML, DHTML or CSS to control the look of their webpage, versus picking one of the canned designs provided by the host site.  You may never have full control of the site, but the same could be said some ISP hosted sites.  My URL’s are my name, or the name of my particular page .myspace.com or .bebo.com.  If I had a page on Mason’s site, I could make it’s URL my name or the name of my site, but it would be .gmu.edu 

I’ve actually had this idea about using MySpace as a medium to present historical scholarship since April when I attended the American Association of Museum’s Conference in Boston.  I attended a session while at the conference entitled “Catching the Buzz: The Next Generation of Museum Patrons.”  During the session, a new museum buzz word was introduced by the session moderator.  “YoCos,” short for “Young Cosmopolitans” is what firms researching museum audiences say is the next generation of visitors to cultural institutions.  YoCos are between the ages of 25 and 40 (roughly), are well educated, make middle to high five digit and low six digit salaries, are technologically savvy and inquisitive individuals.  They also visit cultural institutions and museum double the amount other demographics do.  According to one of the panelists from New Yorker magazine, YoCos make up approx. 8% of the U.S. population.  LaPlaca Cohen, a cultural arts marketing firm based out of New York, (and another panelist at this AAM session) cites there are 30+million YoCos are on MySpace and 20+ million are on Friendster (I assume that’s the total internationally.)  You can find this particular AAM presentation at http://www.laplacacohen.com/.

I work at a history museum, and more then that, I’m responsible for the museum’s visitation.  I can’t really say that we’ve got YoCos right now (WWII vets and baby boomers are not a problem), and I’m fairly certain it’s because our traditional methods of luring visitor’s to the museum (advertising, institutional webpage, etc) isn’t enticing this technologically advanced, on-line community-oriented demographic.  Why not get them interested by bringing the Navy’s history to them in a format they’re plugged into…MySpace?  A MySpace page’s content can be whatever its creator wishes it to me.  Production companies and record labels are using MySpace to promote films and new albums.  There’s no rule say the historical community couldn’t use MySpace to reach a more varied audience.

I suppose that I’d have to put myself in the YoCo category.  I’m the right age, have a BA, love visiting cultural institutions and museums, have a cell phone that could probably make coffee from me, and I managed to network our TiVo into our home wireless network without the help of the Geek Squad (not to mention being a member of two on-line communities-a total guilty pleasure.)  And I have to say, if Mr. Brown I read about in Digital History had the exact same website on both Comcast and MySpace, I’d hit the MySpace site first, knowing that after I was done looking through the material on his site, I could quickly jump into my own page to make a blog entry, e-mail a friend, or upload new media. 

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