Go back to article: Oramics to electronica: investigating lay understandings of the history of technology through a participatory project

Online audience 1: Facebook

Rather than creating a Facebook page under the name of the exhibition, the page was named after the Oramics Machine.[17] It was thought that this would give the project team the opportunity to have a more personal and open tone of voice. The intended audience for the Facebook page was electronic music enthusiasts, and it can be argued that the sense of ‘exclusivity’ emanating from this page name contributed to its success.

Facebook can generate detailed statistics about the reach of a page, daily likes, most popular posts and much more. Although these statistics can be useful, we believe they say little about how people engage with content. Here we describe how the Facebook page was used to gain some insight into the nature of online audience engagement. The exhibition team used Facebook as part of our policy of openness about the exhibition-making process and used several techniques to achieve this. We shared pictures of the co-creation workshops and visits to the stores, of the work that was done on gallery and of our Conservation Lab preparing objects for display. Pictures generally work well on Facebook; sharing the process and progress in this way meant that we could on the one hand aim to excite people about the exhibition, but on the other be clear and honest about its modest size.

We encouraged the 12 music enthusiasts who co-created part of the exhibition to write blog posts about their experiences. They published these on their own blogs and we linked to them from the Facebook page. The blogs provided a means for others who followed us on Facebook to find out more about the exhibition-making process. Discussions and questions from the co-creation workshop were shared with Facebook followers. The Museum also successfully sourced loan objects for the exhibition through Facebook, such as an early version of the home studio software Cubase for Atari.[18]

After the exhibition opened, people were encouraged to share their pictures and experiences of their visit. Many responses were positive, some less so. The team sought to acknowledge all contributions and learned to take time to craft an honest and open response. Our experience here was that the people who posted negative comments did so because they cared a great deal about what the Museum was doing. It is important to acknowledge that, and to take time to respond to their concerns. In one case we managed to build up a strong relationship with somebody who first seemed to be posting rather negative comments. In this case, it turned out that criticism was a form of close engagement, and this individual ended up providing an object on loan for the exhibition. He was invited to the opening and contributed to the remix competition, being very supportive of other contestants in addition to entering the competition himself.

Besides opening up the exhibition-making process we also wanted to create a space for knowledge-sharing. One of our volunteers wrote a blog post describing how to make a tape loop using an old cassette tape, a pair of scissors and sticky tape. This post, which included sounds of the tape loops he had made himself, proved to be particularly popular. We also shared content from our archives that would not necessarily interest the general Science Museum public, if there is such a thing, but that was potentially of great interest to subject enthusiasts. One example of this was a scan of a Science Museum Lecture Report of a talk given at the Museum in 1982 by Dr Robert A Moog, inventor of the Moog analogue synthesiser.

We were hoping that people who ‘liked’ the page, and had a shared love for the history of electronic music, would start interacting with each other on the page itself, without needing the persona of the Oramics Machine as a moderator. It was challenging to establish this, partly because of the design and nature of Facebook, but it did happen occasionally. For example, somebody posted a comment that started with an enthusiastic review, but also included a question about some technical details regarding the Oramics Machine. We were trying to formulate an answer to that question, but soon discovered the comment had received a response from Graham Wrench, the engineer who built the prototype of the Oramics Machine for Daphne Oram. This resulted in an engaged conversation between the enthusiast and the engineer.

Figure 11

Black and white photograph of engineer Graham Wrench writing notes as he works on constructing part of the Oramics Machine

Graham Wrench, the engineer who turned Daphne Oram's ideas into reality, working at his home on the important time-base unit that gave the Oramics Machine it's special generating flexibility.

We could not have grown this community of enthusiasts without Facebook, but using the services of an external party also means there is no control over the way these services evolve. Since the page was established, Facebook has altered the layout of pages. Comments made by others are no longer placed among the Museum’s content, but in a separate small box at the top. It is likely that these changes were made to accommodate companies who want to use Facebook as a more traditional marketing tool and who don’t want negative comments taking centre stage on their page, but the changes are limiting if you value content from others as much as (or more than) the content you’ve created yourself.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/140206/009