Twitter Opera & Tagging the Smithsonian: Arts Innovation in Social Media

Last week I blogged about Vancouver arts groups who are using Twitter to deepen their relationships with new and existing audiences, and I'd like to point to a couple more intriguing examples of social media tools finding new and wildly creative uses in the hands of arts organizations.

The first is an iPhone application I discovered recently, called The Extraordinaries. The Extraordinaries is a micro-volunteering application that enables iPhone users like myself to spend a couple of minutes here and there (I use it when I'm waiting at bus stops, or standing in line at the sandwich shop) tagging images for art galleries and libraries. (The current list of organizations who are benefiting from the service includes the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, and the Brooklyn Museum, as well as groups from New Zealand, France, Portugal, Australia and Holland.)

Tagging -- which is all I've been able to do via the app so far -- is actually only the tip of the iceberg. The Extraordinaries' website lists the following possibilities for future development:

  • Translating a nonprofit’s Website into a foreign language
  • Recording the GPS location of potholes and city infrastructure issues for municipalities
  • Identifying birds for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • Tagging images for the Smithsonian
  • Transcribing ancient texts for ReCaptcha
  • Reviewing congressional bills for hidden pork
  • Fact checking for reporters

I'm really excited about where this could go. I encourage my fellow iPhone users to check it out -- and if your organization could benefit from this kind of micro-volunteering, why not apply to be a pilot partner?

The second story I want to share may already be familiar to those of you in the classical music community, but for the rest of you: Did you know there's an opera being composed on Twitter?

Yes, you read that right. So far there are 7 acts, and the entire libretto has been written in 140-character bursts by Twitter users. From what I can make out, the plot is rather serpentine, but holy heck is this a fun project! Talk about crowdsourcing your content! Anyone can tweet a line of the opera by using the hashtag #youropera, or sending their tweet to @youropera.

The whole thing is a project of the Royal Opera House in London, rather a grande dame of the classical scene, known as a fancy-pants venue for ballet & opera. The Twitter opera is part of their Deloitte Ignite series, a 3-day festival that's a smidge more avant-garde than the Opera House's usual fare -- but still, I have to give them props for going out on a limb. A Twitter opera might seem a risky venture for far smaller, edgier companies, and I applaud the ROH for stepping up and giving it a shot.

And you know, even if your company isn't ready to let your Twitter followers write your next show, you can always follow the example of Next to Normal, the Broadway musical whose rise to success seems to have been at least partially fuelled by its clever use of Twitter.

What's next? All I know is that the arts community is sure to keep uncovering innovative ways to use social media to create, connect and inspire. More news as it happens…