University of Leicester
2022MoskowitzB_PhD.pdf (42.82 MB)

Exploring the Expert Web Understanding Interactions Between Museums and Online Communities

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posted on 2023-02-08, 11:18 authored by Blaire Melissa Moskowitz

Museums have experienced and interacted with the ‘Expert Web’, a distinct niche of online communities full of knowledgeable and passionate people who spend time talking about the subjects they love most. The communities are eclectic, the participants are well-informed, and, most importantly, they know all about museums dedicated to their interests. 

The thesis first identifies the Expert Web: its value as an inherently social space, its distinct components (people, processes, and platforms), and its success with museums nearly three decades ago. Through a series of ‘episodes’ taken from a range of online communities, it evidences that some museums have recently recognised,  acknowledged, and participated in these communities, but of these, only a few are confident in their interactions – and this confidence can wane depending on a variety of circumstances. The research illustrates how identities presented by the museum affect how online communities react and respond, platforms influence the type of person attracted to the conversation and resulting discourse, and that conversations can be categorised as exchanges of information or negotiations of control.

The research demonstrates how the sector will benefit from a new awareness and literacy when interacting with such communities in order to stay relevant online and that entering the Expert Web demands a cultural shift for museums. Ultimately, the thesis recommends that museums: become aware of the range of communities discussing their topics and why participants are attracted to them; recognise their options in communication style and identify who is best positioned to understand the discourse; and with this knowledge, decide if and how it is appropriate to join. The research also proposes that perceiving these individuals as fans of a subject matter (as opposed to ‘audiences’) might prove a more pertinent way to describe community members, enabling museums to re-evaluate how they perceive both the notion of community and the wider online world.



Ross Parry; Giasemi Vavoula,

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Museum Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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