The recent Nielson Report entitled Global Faces and Networked Places (2009) is attracting a lot of comment from bloggers and others in the area of museums and the web. I'm not going to talk about it in a great deal of detail, because others have explored its implications better than I can: I'd recommend this blog post by the ever reliable Nina Simon and this article by Jim Richardson in The Art Newspaper as two of the better offerings. However, if you are at all interested in the future of web-based museum and collections access I would urge you 1) to read the report yourself (c'mon people, it's only 14 pages long) and 2) circulate it to any one of your museum colleagues who's sceptical about the impact of social networking.
Nielson are primarily looking at this from the perspective of advertisers, who are still scrambling to catch up with the explosive growth of this sector. But you don't have to be in advertising to grasp the implications of some of the staggering statistics numbers cited in the report. Two thirds of the world's internet population are visiting social networks or blogging sites. The growth of member communities over the last year (5.4%) is twice that of email (2.7%). The total amount of time spent on Facebook in 2008 was 20.5 billion minutes, a 566% increase since December 2007. In the coveted 35-49 year age group, Facebook added 24.1 million new users last year. Thats's a huge potential audience to engage with. Remember that the next time someone tells you this is all a big waste of time - if people are going to "waste" their time, you should be encouraging them to waste it with your museum.