Hawai‘i Technology

Thinking Ulukau and Social Networks

I spent two days in strategic planning meetings with Keiki Kawai‘ae‘a, the director of our Hawaiian Language Center and Bob Stauffer, the manager of Ulukau, our Hawaiian language digital library. Ulukau really started out as a skunkworks project, modeled after the M?ori N?pepa program. It has since passed that site in size and scope. It started several years ago with 50 hits per month and now serves over 6,000,000 documents a year.

As we were talking about the site, Keiki compared the site to a traditional library, and says she wanted and atmosphere that felt more like Borders. I suggested that we needed something equivalent to the Starbuck’s that inhabit a corner or Ulukau – a place where users can hang out, get to know each other, and interact with us in a meaningful way. Using the terms that are thrown around the net in regards to social networking, Ulukau is very much a silo where we want a coral reef. The process for content selection is not transparent, and very few Ulukau users even know who runs the site. We discussed setting up a blog, discussion board or some other mechanism, as all we have now is a simple email link for users to provide feedback. Instead, right before leaving the office, I set up a Facebook group for Ulukau users. By the time I got home it had two users besides myself.

We also discussed the possibility of setting up what Bob dubbed “The People’s Wing of Ulukau”, a place where users can contribute their own content. I explained that while many adults view MySpace as a menace, our children are really documenting their young lives there. The current model here is for us to wait until someone had lived their life, then send in someone to ask questions, collect their writings, if any exist, and create an oral history for that person. Our children are documenting their own lives now, their thoughts, in their own way. We need to encourage them to continue that throughout their lives, and provide the mechanism for them to do it in such a way that it is preserved and make it a part of Ulukau.

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