Interactive Media

Video games turn 40

Over at 1up there is a good article on the very first video games. A lovely addition are the hand concept sketches for Pong which are at the end of the article.

In 1967, a bold engineer with a vision led a small team to create the world’s first electronic games to use an ordinary television set as a medium. Wary of naysayers from within, the video mavericks sequestered themselves behind closed doors, and for good reason: They worked under the payroll of Sanders Associates, a giant Cold War defense contractor. As hippies on the streets of San Francisco stuck flowers in the barrels of guns, three men in snowy New Hampshire crafted the future of electronic entertainment deep in the heart of a commercial war machine. In May of 1967, the world’s first videogames — as we know them today — made their quiet, humble entrance into the world.

Web 2.0

Pew Internet’s typology of ICT users and the need to map these against museum audiences

The latest long form Pew Internet report came out about a week ago. It is a long read.

This one breaks down ICT users into ten categories in a similar way to the Social Technographics report from Foresters I blogged about recently.

Again this report reinforces the view that change in the mainstream for social technologies is far slower than the media hype implies. If you add up some of the percentages then for the time being there is 41% who are disconnected and not interested, 10% who prefer mobile technologies and rarely use the Internet, 18% who are well connected but still not interested. That leaves a current potential audience of about 31%.

I’d be extremely interested in a museum or arts/cultural sector study that was of a similar magnitude but asked everyone not only about ICT habits but also whether they were regular, infrequent or non-users of cultural sector services like museums and galleries. Looking at figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics report looking at 2002, the % of over 18s who had visited a museum (including art museums) in the past 12 months was (only) around 35%. (Full report from the ABS – see pages 53-54). These figures are for 2,049 sites classified as ‘museums’ for the purposes of the survey.

Four groups of information technology users occupy the elite end of the spectrum. Collectively, 80% of users in these four groups have high-speed internet at home, roughly twice the national average. They are (with each group’s share in the adult population in parentheses):

Omnivores (8%): They have the most information gadgets and services, which they use voraciously to participate in cyberspace, express themselves online, and do a range of Web 2.0 activities. Most in this group are men in their mid- to late twenties.

Connectors (7%): Between featured-packed cell phones and frequent online use, they connect to people and manage digital content using ICTs – with high levels of satisfaction about how ICTs let them work with community groups and pursue hobbies.

Lackluster Veterans (8%): They are frequent users of the internet and less avid about cell phones. They are not thrilled with ICT-enabled connectivity and don’t see them as tools for additional productivity. They were among the internet’s early adopters.

Productivity Enhancers (8%): They have strongly positive views about how technology lets them keep up with others, do their jobs, and learn new things. They are frequent and happy ICT users whose main focus is personal and professional communication.

Two groups make up the middle range of technology users:

Mobile Centrics (10%): They fully embrace the functionality of their cell phones. They use the internet, but not often, and like how ICTs connect them to others. 37% have high-speed internet connections at home. The group contains a large share of African Americans.

Connected But Hassled (10%): They have invested in a lot of technology (80% have broadband at home), but they find the connectivity intrusive and information something of a burden.

Some 49% of all Americans have relatively few technology assets, and they make up the final four groups of the typology. Just 14% of members of the first three groups listed below have broadband at home.

Inexperienced Experimenters (8%): They occasionally take advantage of interactivity, but if they had more experience and connectivity, they might do more with ICTs. They are late adopters of the internet. Few have high-speed connections at home.

Light But Satisfied (15%): They have some technology, but it does not play a central role in their daily lives. They are satisfied with what ICTs do for them. They like how information technology makes them more available to others and helps them learn new things.

Indifferents (11%): Despite having either cell phones or online access, these users use ICTs only intermittently and find connectivity annoying. Few would miss a beat if they had to give these things up.

Off the Network (15%): Those with neither cell phones nor internet connectivity tend to be older adults. A few of them have computers or digital cameras, but they are content with old media.

Interactive Media Social networking Web 2.0

Visualising your social network

Fidg’t’s Visualiser built using Processing is so cool even in its current early form. What it does is show the relationship of your ‘friends’ to particular tags and maps their ‘proximity’. From there you can browse content which is all pulled in via feeds.

What is even cooler is that you don’t even need to set up a Fidg’t account to use it and you just enter your Flickr and profiles names.

Museum blogging Other museum blogs (from Powerhouse Museum websites Young people & museums

What to do when it comes time to retire a museum blog? The end of Dragon & the Pearl

‘What to do when it comes time to retire a museum blog?’ has been a question that has been bouncing around for a few weeks.

Our Great Wall of China exhibition closed a few months ago and with it our Dragon & The Pearl blog. The dragon blog was always conceived of as an experiment in ‘public programme’ blogging – a blog attached to a time-specific, audience-specific event series. The problem, we discovered, was that once you start a blog like that the audience isn’t always just confined to those who are aware of the ‘public programme’ aspect – and we guess that a fairly large proportion of its readership may never have seem the dragon at the Museum. Of course, those who did see the dragon at the Museum were all told to go home and keep track of its progress on the blog and it is also likely that the children reading the blog may not have been aware of the time-limited nature of the project (I doubt many of them even thought of the dragon as ‘a project’ – judging from the ‘live’ appearances it was very real to a lot of them).

So how to let them down gently?

Well, after a few more public comments and questions came in over the past week or two, the Education and Visitor Services department have made their final concluding post to the blog.

We used the Comment Timeout plugin for WordPress to bulk-close commenting on all the old posts.

Collection databases Web 2.0

A practical model for analyzing long tails / Kalevi Kilkki in First Monday

Kalevi Kilkki from Nokia writes an interesting essay titled A practical model for analyzing long tails over at First Monday. For those anaysing how visitors dig into their websites, use their collections, this is useful reading.

This essay offers a dozen of examples of phenomenon, from books to square kilometers, that manifest themselves with a long tail of popularity. The long tail distributions are so similar that there is an obvious opportunity to model them by a single function. The main requirement for the function is that the cumulative distribution should generate a smooth S–shape when the x–axis is logarithmic.

As to the accuracy of the model, in many cases there are discrepancies that call for explanations. First, some anomalies could be explained by pure random variations, particularly with the objects with the highest ranks. Secondly, the abrupt end of the tail often is caused by the fact that in reality the size of the object is finite (e.g., one book), while the long tail function continues to eternity with ever smaller objects. Thirdly, the current environment may artificially shorten the tail. For instance, the business model of movie theaters significantly favors the most popular movies compared to an ideal distribution channel that can effectively distribute movies with a small audience. Fourthly, the effect of minorities (e.g. languages other than English) may considerably lengthen the end of the tail but are invisible in the base of the tail. Finally, in some cases there is no apparent explanation for the difference. To explain those unclear cases, we need more studies and better understanding.

Web metrics

The new Google Analytics

Avinash Kaushik writes a very detailed post about the new-look Google Analytics that is rolling out across accounts right now.

Now, more than ever web analytics are essential. In my experience, web analytics at museums have been the last thing on people’s busy timetables. Most organisations report the most basic level of statistics to their funding bodies and leave it at that, yet they offer the best and most immediate opportunity to see exactly what users are doing on your site and how they are using it.

Google Analytics is free. And because of this, the new version is going to put a lot of pressure on vendors whose commercial solutions are charged on usage or fixed fee models. Also, it puts a lot of pressure on the slightly underdone open source solutions which, whilst also ‘free’, don’t offer the level of detail and analysis that the new look Google Analytics does.

The question for some organisations will be – do you want all your usage data to be held by Google?

But if you have a site where adding the necessary tracking code to a common sitewide page element is relatively easy then I’d suggest the new look version is certainly worth trialling – even if in tandem with your existing package to compare accuracy.

Google’s official announcement post also available.

Social networking Web 2.0

Exhibit Files – social networking for museums pros?

Exhibit Files is a community site for museum professionals to post their exhibition development case studies and or others to comment and review exhibitions. Whilst developed specifically for the ATSC, Exhibit Files has wide application for history and art museums as well. At one level Exhibit Files operates as a repository of information about exhibitions past and their development processes, but at another level Exhibit Files is like a LinkedIn for those working with exhibitions – allowing social networking and information exchange.

I am going to be encouraging our exhibition developers and designers to join and experiment with the site as I think that the potential opportunities and knowledge exchange are enormous. Of course, these kind of sites rely on a critical mass of users being reached relatively quickly and I can understand that some organisations may be hesitant about releasing information about their internal development processes (or actively opening up their exhibitions for peer review), but I’d encourage others to look seriously at experimenting with the site.

UPDATE – Nina Simon has posted an excellent interview with the crew behind Exhibit Files.

Other museum blogs (from Powerhouse Museum websites

Free Radicals interviews World Without Oil

Over on one of our other Powerhouse Museum blogs, Free Radicals interviews the makers of the interactive storytelling game World Without Oil.

Although short, the interview contains this –

FR: How do you suspect that the game nature of WWO will effect its ability to speak to the population at large?

Ken: Not very much. It’s a very accessible game. It’s very easy to play. People can participate by phone or email. The barrier to participation is deliberately very low.

This harks back to the key message of one of our recent workshops was strategy first, technology second. WWO is much less like a game than I had expected having read some of the pre-release media, and in many ways its low barriers to entry is what makes it work. That said, it is also what makes it more diffuse than expected – more like collaborative multi-threaded and distributed story generation actually – and I’ll be interested to see how it is tracking over the next few weeks.