Tuesday, August 26, 2008

the adapters: from archive to blog

I keep encountering clients and potential clients who have trouble envisioning how to integrate new media and social networking tools into their current array of communications efforts. So here, we'll start a series called "The Adapters," highlighting communications case studies that reinvent old approaches using the best features of new technology. And what better place to start with George Orwell's diaries? Written 70 years ago, my guess is these are little-read adjuncts to his more famous works...until now, when his diaries have been recast as a day-by-day blog. The impetus is described in coverage this week in the New York Times:
“I think he would have been a blogger,” said Jean Seaton, a professor at the University of Westminster in London who administers the Orwell writing prize and thought up the idea of the blog. Though as prolific as any blogger (his collected writings occupy some 20 volumes), Orwell, who died in 1950, never had the chance to spontaneously publish his thoughts to a waiting public. Now — with some lag time — they are being made available that way at orwelldiaries.wordpress.com.

The blog, begun earlier this month, already has had 50,000 page views and enough material to publish until 2010. The blog's strong appeal: It brings the pages of history alive. From the Times, Professor Seaton again:
“You do know how this story is going to end,” she said, “but one of the brilliant things is that Orwell doesn’t know how it is going to end.”
We know, for example, that these 1938 diaries began to observe the disturbances that became World War II. That adds drama and suspense, and gives viewers a reason to keep checking back and participating--they can leave comments, pose questions, and learn more by clicking the links that offer more explanations of terms and phrases in the diaries...or offer corrections.

How would you adapt archival material? Nonprofits might use historic collections as ways to engage alumni or older supporters, and collect oral histories alongside their archival blog posts. Corporations--particularly product manufacturers--can show off packaging and products of yore, creating, in effect, a factory tour online. Research universities might catalog historic discoveries from their campus labs, and journals from their pages of the past. And if your business is history, start posting on behalf of some of the people I imagine would be fantastic bloggers: great letter-writers like Jane Austen or Abigail Adams, or great speakers like Abraham Lincoln. Got more good examples? Share them in the comments.

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