The dark matter of the internet

What can libraries and museums learn from the new creators and sharers of content and inspiration?

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In 1967 astronomy graduate Vera Rubin made an astonishing observation which led to the discovery of dark matter in the universe.  Her findings suggested that "... at least ninety percent of the mass in galaxies, and therefore in the observable universe, is invisible and unidentified".

Speaking at Internet Librarian International Michael Edson of the Smithsonian Institution and a Presidential Distinguished Fellow at the Council on Library and Information Resources (USA) believes that established knowledge institutions such as libraries and museums should focus themselves on 'the dark matter of the web'.  There are masses of people creating, sharing and learning from web content which is bypassing established creators and institutions.  It is up to museums and libraries to embrace and acknowledge this content; to support and encourage creators and to broaden and celebrate participation.

What does the dark matter look like?

In 2007 two brothers decided to stop 'text based communicating' for a year.  They began to send videos to each other instead.  This simple, nerdy and personal experiment has developed into a spontaneous and social 'movement' that includes YouTube channels with 8.4 million subscribers; a vast educational community; charitable giving (including the opportunity to donate nothing if you want to support a cause but cannot afford to) and a celebration of geeky 'awesomeness'.  And all of it without a strategy or a business plan.

Permissionless innovation

Other grassroot examples of 'dark matter' include Museomix – a movement for 'the public' to imagine and create new museum experiences and #svegliamuseo – a project to 'wake up [Italian] museums' to the best use of social media to improve their digital strategies. And then there’s MOMA unadulterated – an unofficial audio trail of the Museum of Modern Art in New York – created for children by children. 

The Rock and Roll Public Library

In 2009 Mick Jones celebrated the opening of his Rock and Roll Public Library by picking up his guitar and singing an acoustic version of one of his great Clash songs. Although the library made no plans to record the event, members of the public did capture the performance.  This charming, amateur video captures the joy of the occasion – and has been viewed by over 250,000 people.

We should be prepared to see thousands more of these movements, projects and resources and libraries and museums should embrace and support this 'big conversation about meaning'.

Michael Edson on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Lars Lundqvist, CC-BY.