It is genuinely hard to think of a world without the internet, so enmeshed has it become in the very fabric of our daily lives, yet it is barely 20 years since CERN scientist Tim Berners-Lee wrote the protocol for the World Wide Web. Even more remarkable, perhaps, is the speed with which the Web has diversified and grown around the world to reach its current pre-eminence as the dominant vehicle of communication in the 21st Century. For the overwhelming majority of organisations, participation in and exploitation of the Web’s astonishing potential is no longer optional.
With the advent, in 2002, of so-called Web 2 models for information sharing and exchange, including Weblogs, RSS and social-networking sites, the capacity for user-generated and edited websites was massively enhanced, leading to what some have called the greater democratisation of the Web.
The challenge for us, as botanic garden educators, is to find ways of harnessing the Web’s immense power to get our own messages out to those we want to influence and inform. One way is to develop new and exciting initiatives ourselves. Another is to look around and see what’s already out there in our global community, in terms of good and best practice. The corollary of this, of course, is that we shouldn’t be shy of telling our colleagues and the wider world about what we’re up to.
In our own back garden, as it were, BGCI’s use of the internet has radically re-ordered the way we work, transforming our capacity as a networking organisation to communicate with our membership and other interest groups. BGCI’s GardenSearch database is just one example, incorporating a webpage for all 2654 botanic gardens in the world, with links wherever possible to the gardens’ own websites.
Many other examples of good practice exist, with botanic gardens worldwide using websites to engage and interact with their public through podcasts, blogs, image uploading (using Flickr and other file-sharing platforms), on-line education programmes and video conferencing. So if you look up January’s issue of E-update www.bgci.org/education/article/0558
you’ll see some superb illustrations of gardens using podcasting and blogging strategies to raise awareness and expand their education message.
A fascinating new trend sees gardens exploiting the Web’s potential for individualising relationships with visitors by enabling them to customise garden tours online. Having organised the tour to meet their own requirements, visitors are able to download the relevant information to their ipods or mp3 players before visiting the garden. Characteristically the concept is already being refined and developed, with podcasters making their own alternative tours and providing them online – see http://rodeworks.com//learn/make-your-own-podcast-museum-tour/
The virtual world of the Web remains a restless and dynamic organism, with a seemingly limitless capacity to innovate new communications opportunities.
As educators with a vested interest in communicating it's our responsibility to keep abreast of the latest developments, looking always to see how we can exploit them to our advantage and all the while sharing our experience with others.