Debra, Rachel, and I are on vacation in Amsterdam and we visited the Anne Frank House today. We read her diary when we were young, as so many students around the world do. It was an incredibly touching experience to see the Secret Annex in person and will make this Rosh Hashanah an especially memorable one to us.
Given the focus of my current business, I immediately contrasted Anne Frank's diary to our current age of citizen journalism, user-generated content, or, simply, blogging. The main difference between a blog and a diary is that one is a public medium while the other is a private one. However, both beg to be read although their agendas may be different. I wonder how Anne Frank's diary would have been different had it been a blog. Would it express the same intense human condition that made her diary so famous? It certainly would be more widely read immediately (and commented on in real-time as the events unfolded). How would the world have reacted to it at that time? How would her father, who was so surprised to learn about the private side of Anne that he never knew? Would the Holocaust have even been possible in this age of the Internet and blogging? My guess on that last question is no – for the connected world. But, unfortunately, for the less connected, it happens all too frequently (as we currently see in Darfur).
At the end of the tour, there are two modern exhibits which evoked a sense of community.
The first is called "Freedom2Choose" and showed controversial media from all over the world about homosexuality, public marches, freedom of the press, and other current examples of issues. You then voted on your stance on the issue. The community part: everyone in the room voted with you and then the results were shown in real-time and compared with all previous visitors. On many of the issues, people were close to evenly divided and it made you realize how diverse the viewpoints were of everyone in the room. I searched for a Web component to this (wondering how they used the votes to further educate), but haven't been able to find it yet.
The second, the Anne Frank Tree, is Web-connected. Anne could view the chestnut tree from the attic window of the Secret Annex. This is an interactive tree that encourages visitors of the museum to leave their leaf, as well as a video message, that they can forward to their friends and family. Click around on the tree and you may be able to find our leaf. When leaving a leaf, you can also subscribe to receive emails from the Anne Frank Museum. This is a smart way to both connect visitors to the museum and also to spark word-of-mouth for others to learn about the museum. It also is a very tasteful way to do so (for example, the email is double opt-in).
Further visiting online, I found that the Anne Frank organization has recently become very modern and connected. Check out their photo contest, "Sources of Inspiration", with the accompanying MSN Spaces page. I was glad to see this as young readers from around the world (read the "IM Generation") will expect this kind of interactivity, and it will encourage them to further engage and learn.
Anne Frank, who died at 15 in a concentration camp (one month before the liberation), would be amazed to see the impact her diary has had on so many millions of people. It is currently available in over 60 languages. I think she would also applaud the way her message is being delivered at the Museum as well as online.
"Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don't know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!"
– Anne Frank, 1929-1945