Audio, the primary “document” in oral history, is easy to publish in web-based media and it is now common to disseminate and access these materials online. But how are these used? What sort of value do they have for their users? Who are the users? Oral history materials are often very local; how are these relevant in a global and international context such as the web?
“Local Voices, Worldwide Conversations” is an ongoing research project that examines local resources within the context of a global audience, and asks how the value of niche projects can be assessed in a meaningful way.
The Cork Folklore Project (CFP) is an Irish community-based oral history organisation that was set up as a collaboration between university and community and has been collecting everyday stories of life in Cork city since 1996. It is an archiving and collecting centre with multiple outlets, digital and analogue. One online initiative is the Cork Memory Map (corkmemorymap.org). Embedded audio and images are used to explore the narratives and stories associated with the landscape and “culturescape” of Cork city (see O’Carroll 2011, 184). Projects such as the Cork Memory Map have a local appeal, but how are these received in a global forum such as the web?
Statistics from Google Analytics indicate a clear dichotomy in the way that users from Ireland interact with the Cork Memory Map, as opposed to users from overseas. This is particularly evident in bounce rates (when someone enters the site and then leaves immediately). The aim is to reduce the bounce rates over time. Already the website metrics suggest some success in this amongst visitors to the site who come from Ireland. Amongst visitors from further afield (very low visitor numbers) the bounce rates remain high. As no changes are currently being made to the website this suggests that changes in use are driven by something else, very likely face-to-face engagement and public outreach, as CFP increased outreach activities during the months captured in these statistics.
Researchers at CFP are interested in getting to know their digital audience better: they are aware that the digital projects need work/revision. They want to look at how their projects are working at the moment, and the steps they need to take to make them more effective. This work should also inform ideas about how the CFP collection can be disseminated in the future.
Local V Global
Anthropologists have suggests that, in the internet age, ideas such as “locality” are no longer bounded by territory, but instead are “something that people carry with them” (Lewellen 2002, 191). This is not reflected in use of the Cork Memory Map, where users are primarily local. What does this tell us about digital “locality”? Does it mean that local resources only have a niche audience? Or if the website metrics are changing as a response to public engagement, does it mean that these activities have to target and reach a wider group of people? A short questionnaire has been designed to look at how local projects are perceived in an international context. Please tell us your thoughts – all feedback is welcome!
Lewellen, T. C. (2002). The Anthropology of Globalization: Cultural Anthropology Enters the 21st Century. Greenwood Publishing Group.
O’Carroll, C. (2011). The Cork Memory Map. Béascna Journal of Folklore and Ethnology, 7, 184–188.