Social networking

Social networking academic research summary

danah boyd has posted a very useful starting summary of academic articles related to social networking and internet communications.

danah’s work in this area has been very useful in considering and bringing some sense of rationality to the hyped media interpretations of the MySpace phenomenon. Others, particularly Stutzman and Ellison who focus on the more ‘confined’ and ‘purpose-specific’ Facebook are also worth investigating.

I’m of two minds when it comes to applications of social networking tools within museum and gallery environments. On one hand, such tools could feasibly allow museums to become the nodal point for specific community interactions around their collections – for example, at the Powerhouse Museum, it would be logical to set up a system to facilitate online interactions between railway enthusiasts and our substantial actual locomotive and also model railway collections. On the other hand, though, my research and theorising leads me to agree with boyd (2006) and others that the primary function of social networking tools is communicative, not informational. If this is the case, then with regard to railway enthusiasts, we would be more likely to end up having to manage and maintain a communication nexus for such audiences with little return to the museum in terms of information sharing and acquisition etc.

The other issue for museums setting up their own systems is that of promotion. How does someone choose which, of many, social networking services to use? The answer, I think, lies in a mixture of application, geography, and existing real world networks. Facebook works because it is very specific in application (keeping track of friends) and geography (your college or high school) and it draws on the real world networks of these to pull you in – if your friends weren’t already on Facebook then you would be less predisposed to join (and you couldn’t join if you weren’t at college).

MySpace works because of the massive-scale subcultural promotion of the resource combined with the even more massive mainstream media hysteria over it (see Thornton’s classic work on moral panics and subcultures in Club Cultures, Routledge, 1996 – actually I see a lot of parallels between acid house and rave moral panics and the current moral panics around MySpace). MySpace has very broad application and geography, but it is more than likely that your friends are already there so peer pressure draws you in.

It needs to be noted that even with MySpace there are significant differences between UK MySpace users and US MySpace users. US MySpace is inhabited by teens and is, at the moment, dominated by their internal communications where as in the UK it seems that MySpace is more used by music labels and bands to communicate with their fanbase. Taking a long shot, could it be that this is in part a result of differences in the availability, especially in the late 1990s, of cheap and plentiful webhosting in the UK. UK bands and labels have taken up MySpace primarily for its hosting and promotional facilities, whereas in the USA for pure hosting there were (and are) a vastly different and cheaper range of alternatives for simple band hosting.

AV Related Copyright/OCL

Channel fragmentation

Those museum staff who came to my presentations earlier this year on Web 2.0 would remember that I talked a bit about the idea of ‘channel fragmentation’ in relation to traditional media. I used the example of cinema releases, DVD sales, cable TV licenses, traditional TV licenses, as well as competition from Copyright infringing distributions (P2P, DVDRs, pirate copies etc).

Here is another great example of channel fragmentation – ‘Giveaways killing DVD cash cow’ – from The Australian that has nothing to do with Copyright infringement.

British newspapers are now giving away free as many DVDs as are being purchased in stores, revealing a silent factor contributing to the decline of Hollywood’s cash cow format.

The cover-mounted DVD giveaways, which have included Prizzi’s Honour and Donnie Darko, devalue the format in the eyes of consumers, one-quarter of whom said they would have bought the same title if they had seen it in shops for a reasonable price, according to a report released on Thursday.


Although most of the major Hollywood studios oppose the newspaper giveaways, the smaller local distributors who have licensed the films are opportunistically doing deals with publishers for short-term gains that can generate as much as £250,000 for a film.

“The argument in favor of this is that the majority of these films have reached the end of their commercial cycle,” Ms Jayalath said. “In many cases, they’re no longer stocked because traditional retailers have a limited amount of space. For the rights holder, it can be the last bite of the cherry.”

Digitisation Interactive Media Web 2.0

Collections Council Australia – Digital Collections Summit presentation (17/8/06)

Yesterday at the Digital Collection Summit in Adelaide I presented a short 5 minute overview of our OPAC2.0 and Design Hub projects followed by Dr Fiona Cameron introducing the upcoming theoretical research into Design Hub impacts.

Quite a few people have asked for a copy of the presentation – so here it is. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the witty banter and arm-waving/finger-pointing that accompanied the ‘real life’ version.

If you would like more information on these projects then please get in touch.

There are several other posts here that cover some of the current and emerging trends in usgae of our OPAC2.0 which provide some extra reading.

Download Powerpoint show

Folksonomies Interactive Media Web 2.0

OPAC2.0 Effects of tag clouds on search term usage

Rob Stein from Indianapolis Museum of Art asked me on the STEVE list –

Do you have a feel[ing] for how many people are actually entering the collection through the tag cloud you have on your page versus how many are using the category listings? I’ve often wondered if the nature of a tag cloud naturally bias’ big terms to get bigger, and smaller terms to disappear. Presenting a cloud like this side-by-side with the categorical hierarchy seems like an interesting comparison.

Since launch we’ve had nearly 1500 user classifications. Interestingly there seems to be no immediate pattern in the way in which objects are user classified and the rationale for classification is unsurprisingly very mixed (as is our collection). Most of the larger user classifications such as ‘bowling club‘ is the result of a single user classifying multiple objects in one go. (Bowling club were all tagged on the same day and none added since).

Whilst we don’t specifically track category listing use we do track tag cloud use. Here’s the figures for the last 7 days.

Date | Total successful searches | Subset of searches using tag cloud

13/08/2006 (11,665) (4,006)
12/08/2006 (12,165) (4,847)
11/08/2006 (13,613) (1,352)
10/08/2006 (5,572) (569)
09/08/2006 (6,782) (318)
08/08/2006 (4,530) (564)
07/08/2006 (9,605) (1,638)

At its lowest tag cloud searches represent 4.68% of searches, and its highest 39.84%. That is a pretty large difference but I have a feeling that the reason for the recent few days generating both more total searches and a higher percentage of tag cloud searches is that Google has again spidered the site and picks up the tag cloud words as keywords.

Because tag cloud words are user-generated there is a greater chance that they will be ‘more used’ than words from our official taxonomies. This means not only will they be more used on the site, but that they are probably also going to be words that are more often searched for in Google as well.

Now when a user clicks a tag cloud word they get TWO sets of search results. The first set of results is a simple tag search, the second is a general free text search for that keyword.

Rather than necessarily biasing the ‘tagged’ objects what we are actually observing is that a tag cloud click more frequently results in the viewing of an untagged object which appears in the later free text results. I’ll have to keep an eye on this and see if this trend continues as more objects are tagged.

As for the categorical hierarchies, we are seeing very little usage of them. The vast majority of users are using direct search terms or clicking the tag cloud, or, more often than not, getting to objects or search results via a Google search.

What has changed recently is that we have added ‘subject terms’. These are slightly looser taxonomic classifications which address particular ‘themes’. An example of this is the term ‘federation’ which is used to refer to object related to the period of Australian federation. These subject terms don’t describe the actual object but are related to its provenance and significance – and thus are particularly useful to high school teachers and students. A small portion of our total objects have subject terms attached currently and they tend to be those relatively recently acquired.

What I am noticing is a very marked appearance of subject terms in the search terms indicating that they are being used as navigation devices to discover ‘related’ objects. In the next week or two we will be making the subject terms much more prominent as it seems that they are perhaps more useful to the user than our broad object categories despite their limitations.

Digitisation Interactive Media Web 2.0

GoogleMaps gaming

GoogleMaps plus gaming –

Goggles : a flight simulator using GoogleMaps as the terrain!
Endgame : real-time strategy wargaming using GoogleMaps

Imaging Interactive Media Web 2.0

Relational Flickr search

Flickr Storm is a fantastic and fast new tag search tool for Flickr.

Unlike other good Flickr browsers like Airtight’s tag browser, Flickr Storm also searches ‘related words’.

For example – a search for Japan also pulls in, and accurately identifies, images tagged as sakura, kyoto, and even autumn leaves!

Another nice feature is its ‘advanced search’ which allows filtering by license conditions, great if you are looking for Creative Commons licensed or public domain images.

Interactive Media Web 2.0

Design Hub launches

Today we launched Design Hub.

Design Hub represents another of the Powerhouse Museum’s next generation approaches to exploring museum collections integrating a magazine format with a detailed collection search (based on the museum’s recently launched OPAC2.0 project).

Design Hub aims to become the first place to look for design related resources – for designers, design students, and design enthusiasts. The project is the result of a 3 year Australian Research Council grant with the University of Western Sydney and University of Technology, and seeks to make accessible and meaningful the design collections of the world’s great design museums. The first museum design collection to be searchable is the Powerhouse Museum’s own and others will be progressively added over the next two years.

The collection search currently utilises the same backend as OPAC2.0 but you will notice that it has a few features that are not yet implemented in the OPAC2.0 search (but will be shortly). The first of these is the ‘related searches’ which appears in the top right pane when search results are shown. ‘Related searches’ are search terms which retuen similar results, based on popularity.

The second feature is the ‘related objects’ which I am considering re-titling as ‘popular objects’. This displays the most popular object for that search term – which may not actually be amongst the first 5 or 10 object displayed in the main search result area.

We are still optimising the display of these features, but they are working reasonably well and will only get better and more ‘accurate’ as more searches are performed and more objects browsed.

Interactive Media Web 2.0

Initial impacts of OPAC2.0 on Powerhouse Museum online visitation

In mid June 2006 the Powerhouse Museum launched the new online collection database. Internally referred to as OPAC2.0, the project put online nearly 62,000 object records, and 30,000 images, opening access to these records with intelligent search tools, serendipity tools and the ability for users to self-classify using folksonomies.

In just six weeks visitiation to the Museum’s website increased over 100% (excluding spiders and bots). In the 6 weeks from June 14-July 31 OPAC2.0 on its own received 239,001 visitors (excluding internal museum users) who performed a total of 386,199 successful searches leading to object views (we currently track anonymous data on search terms linked to object views to provide the necessary data for our recommendation engine) and over 1.2 million individual object views.

This post looks at some of the initial trends that are being observed.

1) The ‘long tail’ of collections

The long tail theory when applied to museums goes that museums have limited space to exhibit their objects so they gather together what they consider to be the most popular and most important from their collections, put them in showcases with labels, and exhibit them. The rest, or in the Powerhouse Museum’s case, 96% of the collection, sits in a warehouse in storage being preserved for some future time (at not insignificant cost). With the advent of the web, it was thought that at last these unseen collections could at last be brought to the public gaze – activating the ‘long tail’ of geographically spread niche interests that exist out in the community.

However there are two major obstacles to be overcome.

The first of these which remains a huge obstacle for many institutions is that of digitisation. Digitisation is expensive, time consuming, and needs to be justified for reasons other that just being an end in itself. Digitisation policies and procedures, formats and outputs, storage and documentation all differ from organisation to organisation. Digitisation doesn’t just refer to the act of imaging (2D or 3D) but also of digital storing and preserving, collection research and records – which in the Powerhouse Museum’s case date back over 100 years. And what of those objects like computer software that are ‘born digital’?

The second, which we have been working hard to find solutions to, is ‘exposure’. Once a collection is online how does one make sure that it is exposed to all those geographically dispersed niche audiences that ‘long tail’ theories assume want to access them? There have been many noble attempts at federated collection searches across institutions, and at making individual collections available in novel ways. But the main problem has remained that usually the audiences for these niche collections are in the main, researchers – and that as a result the raw traffic that these sites receive is quite small and narrow.

Popular objects are the first indicator of the long tail.

[graph of top 200 objects by number of views]

The top 10 most popular objects (as of the date of this post) are –

(the number in brackets represents total views)

1 – (1274) 88/4 Steam locomotive, No. 3830, iron/steel/brass, New South Wales Government Railways, Eveleigh Rai …
2 – (873) 94/129/1 Evening dress, womens, `Chocolate box’, plastic/fabric, Jenny Bannister for Chai, Australia …
3 – (791) 2005/1/1 Evening dress, beaded pink chiffon trimmed with charms, designed by Lisa Ho and made in the …
4 – (788) 88/5 Locomotive, full size, steam, No.1243, metal/glass, Davy and Company, Atlas Engineering Works, …
5 – (754) B1495 Aircraft, flying boat, Catalina, PB2B-2, “Frigate Bird II”, VH-ASA, metal / fabric, Boeing Air …
6 – (606) 95/23/1 Dress, evening, silk / polyester, designed by Jenny Bannister, Melbourne, Victoria, Australi …
7 – (550) 97/208/1 Shoes, pair, womens, ‘Super elevated gillies’, leather/ cork/ silk, Autumn/ Winter collecti …
8 – (471) 92/305 Food safe (bush pantry), wood/ metal, unknown maker, [Queensland], Australia, c. 1925 …
9 – (444) 2005/127/1 Clothing (9), boys, cotton / wool / metal / mother-of-pearl / plastic / paper / cardboard …
10 – (432) 90/816 Aircraft, full-size, helicopter, Bell 206B Jetranger III, “Dick Smith Australian Explorer”, V …

Now from our total object view figures we can determine that even the most popular object – the steam locomotive no 3830 – represents only 0.1% of all views. Because OPAC2.0 has only be online for 7 weeks we are yet to reach a point where ALL possible objects have been viewed at least once – but we are already at 75%.

What is particularly interesting is the sheer diversity of objects viewed, and that once past the top 10 or 20 objects, the curve flattens right out and by the time we reach the 109th most popular object, the next 46,000 objects have under 200 object views – but still have been viewed at least once.

2. Serendipitous exploration

One of the key elements of OPAC2.0 is its serendipity features. Although only in its most basic first iteration at the moment, almost every object view ‘suggests’ other objects to view. For example viewing a piece of 1940s medical equipment also displays links to other similar equipment. The impact of this is not so pronounced for users that come in via the front door but for users coming in directly to object records via Google or other searches this actively encourages them to stay and look around (at least within their area of interest).

The average number of successful searches per visit is 1.62.
The average number of objects viewed per visit is 5.02.

Contrast this with the single view per visit that objects on our previous ‘packaged collection’ received and the change is particularly marked.

The serendipity engine currently mines the Museum’s object thesaurus. This allows users to browse other objects that belong to the same object ‘category’ as the object they are looking at. Users can also browse ‘up’ a branch to explore other related categories without leaving the object page.

We have recently turned on the displaying of ‘subject’ associations for object views. These subjects are entered at time of acquisition by registrars at the Museum, and added to by curators as research is undertaken.This adds extra metadata to each object classifying recent acquisitions by a thematic subject terms or terms.

For example, 97/278/1 Mirror, glass/metal, part of Narrabri Stellar Interferometer, designed by Robert Hanbury Brown and Richard Twiss, Officine Galileo, Italy, 1960-1961 calls up associations ‘optical astronomy’ and ‘School of Physics, University of Sydney’ – both of which allow further exploration for similar objects.

The next stage which will be implemented on OPAC2.0 in the coming weeks is ‘popularity’-based recommendations. These are currently being tested on Design Hub. Popularity based recommendations work at the search level and make two different recommendations to the user.

The first of these popularity recommendations is ‘similar searches’. Similar searches looks at the search terms entered by the user and compares the results with other terms that have resulted in ‘clicks’ for similar objects. This is very useful in revealing, for example, that the search term ‘chair’ is ‘similar’ to a search for ‘Marc Newson’ of ‘Frank Gehry’.

The second popularity-based recommendation is that of ‘popular objects’. This is a much simpler lookup which examines the search results and ranks them by past usage for that particular term. Through this method we can cut through a rather meaningless free text search for ‘chair’ and reasonably return the Wiggle Chair as most popular (but not necessarily, by algorithm, ‘most relevant’).

3. Search terms, folksonomies & Google

What complicates matters considerably is an examination of ‘search terms’ used on the site.

Here are the top 20 terms for July.

88-4, 99-9-1, 98-2, ring, suit, female, 1934, fashion, mineral, nylon, shoe, bowls, human, camera, birmingham, costume, cap, shell, bag, satin

The first three of these correspond directly to 3 objects that are being redirected from our old catalogue – so they can be discounted. The other 17, though, interestingly enough are terms that have been entered as ‘user keywords’ and appear on the home page as part of our tag cloud. Coupled with the serendipity features described earlier, what seems to be happening in this early stage is two fold.

Firstly, Google is picking up the folksonomy keywords and associated objects. It is also picking up every object in our collection – very nicely. We are not quite certain yet as to the impact here but overall our Google-originating traffic has increased by roughly the same margin as overall site visitation. Our ability to replicate traffic patterns ourselves in Google is at best unreliable although we do know that doing a search for ‘Delta Goodrem dress’ in Google explains the sudden popularity of a particular Goodrem-related object. However searching for any of the above 17 terms doesn’t, by themselves, get any Powerhouse results in the first few pages.

Secondly, we think that single word search terms will always win out over phrase searching – despite the best efforts of library folk to educate users to make ‘more accurate’ searches. This explains the popularity of these rather odd single words to some degree. The other major factor with single words is that the prominence of the tag cloud encourages first-time users to start their browsing of our collection through those entry points. Certainly usability testing tells us that the average user is more likely to click a word in a big font rather than type something.

OPAC 2.0 was developed by Sebastian Chan and Giv Parvaneh with collection assistance from Lynne McNairn. OPAC 2.0 is a project wholly developed by the Powerhouse Museum using internal staff resources and creativity. It is written in PHP, runs off a large Microsoft SQL database and uses some AJAX for display purposes. The collection database that it searches and displays runs Emu by kEmu as a collection management system.

OPAC 2.0’s success to date rests on the high quality content written and produced over many years by the research and collection staff at the Powerhouse Museum. Without their expertise, there would be no collection to search.

Interactive Media Web 2.0

A simple introduction to ‘web mashups’

IBM provides a very simple introductory article by Duane Merrill on web mashups which is good and easy reading for those new to the concept. It introduces the basic technical ideas and provides a solid set of linkages to further explore.

Mashups are certainly an exciting new genre of Web applications. The combination of data modeling technologies stemming from the Semantic Web domain and the maturation of loosely-coupled, service-oriented, platform-agnostic communication protocols is finally providing the infrastructure needed to start developing applications that can leverage and integrate the massive amount of information that is available on the Web. As mashup applications gain higher visibility, it will be interesting to see how the genre impacts social issues such as fair-use and intellectual property as well as other application domains that integrate data across organizational boundaries, such as grid computing and business-to-business workflow management.

Interactive Media Web 2.0

Impacts of blogging on Powerhouse Museum online visitation

The Powerhouse Museum has been doing quite a few new online experiments this year and the simplest of these – so simple that any other museum large or small could do too – is public facing blogging. I’m not talking about this blog, Fresh+New, which itself is getting around 10,000 visitors each month but is more of a specialist museum-professional blog; but informational blogs that communicate generalist information directly to the public.

Currently we have two such blogs with another two on their way in coming weeks – Design Hub which is a combination collection portal and design blog, and Free Radicals which extends the museum’s public sustainability-related talks series into a current affairs and science blog.

The first public facing blog is Walking The Wall, a blog that tracks the travels of Brendan Fletcher and Emma Nicholas, two amateur walkers who approached the museum with an offer to document their walk of the Great Wall of China. Brendan and Emma had heard about the museum’s upcoming Great Wall of China exhibition, and wanted to contribute in some way. The museum met with them and my team suggested that might wish to document their walk by writing a blog as they walked the route of the wall. We trained them quickly on WordPress which they quickly picked up and they were off. Both Emma and Brendan had previous writing credentials, good photography skills, and we had confidence that they would do a good job – we also pointed them to a few popular travel blogs to show them the style of writing and content we were after.

The second is Observations which is written by the staff at the Sydney Observatory. Observations allows the Sydney Observatory to contribute regularly updated content to their website in a manner which can address the immediate interests and questions of the general public, as well as help promote their specialist events, and the research undertaken at the Observatory and by associated amateur astronomy groups. The Observatory staff were briefed on the ways in which blogging operated in terms of a communication method and general protocols. They also got a quick introduction to WordPress – but that was it.

So, what impact have these blogs had on interactions with the museum? And have they contributed to online visitation?

In July 2006 Walking The Wall received 6,739 visitors, and the Observations blog 3,698 visitors. It is fair to say that a large proportion of the visitors are new visitors – and the overall increase in site visitation, especially at the Sydney Observatory indicates that. Excluding spam, the Walking The Wall blog has logged 186 visitor comments (for 28 posts) and Observations 43 comments (for 25 posts).

Walking The Wall has received media attention and has is featured regularly on national radio (ABC Radio National and 702) as people around the country follow the journey. In many ways, Walking The Wall is operating as a good travel blog should – allowing readers to live vicariously through our intrepid adventurers.

Observations is allowing the Sydney Observatory to respond to current events such as the August 27 Mars hoax email – a post that has already attracted 30 comments to date – in a manner that was previously impossible to achieve quickly and easily on the main Observatory website.