Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Picnic08 – Open Museum part two

September 29th, 2008 by Seb Chan

Picnic is a large ‘creativity’ conference held annually in Amsterdam. I’ve been here as a guest of n8 talking about the notion of ‘open museums’.

Here is the next set of notes (with only a minor cleanup for the sake of timeliness) which were taken during the Open Museum sessions on Day Two. (More notes on the rest of Picnic still to follow)

Following my presentation, Fiona Romeo from the National Maritime Museum in London spoke. Fiona began by reminding us that often by themselves museums (outside of the art museum world) often hold incredibly banal and mundane objects whose significance is only apparent when placed into a particular context. This poses enormous challenges for museums in a digital environment that offers the user/visitor the opportunity to actively decontextulise objects (especially when browsing collection databases etc).

Fiona then detailed her recent work mapping some of the NMM collections to draw out the stories associated with objects – something that works incredibly well when the objects collected pertain to navigation and voyages of discovery.

For the NMM, the opportunities for collaboration lie in working with ‘data artisans’ outside of the sector to reveal new stories and ways of seeing our data. To this end she discussed the NMM’s work with Stamen in visualising the language of memorials – a quite poetic and revealing presentation of otherwise rather dull data; and also some of the object licensing to game developers Six To Start who make alternate reality games (and for whom some of the NMM’s maps and objects were a fantastic and uptapped resource).

Fiona emphasised that we under estimate the worth of our own data – we should ‘love our data’. It is rich and interesting even if we see it as incomplete – and by connecting with such ‘data artisans’ in the commercial and creative sector, we may begin to see for ourselves, new opportunities.

Paul Keller from Kennisland talked about ‘museums, fans and Copyright’, arguing that one of the things that is currently paralysing museums in taking advantage of the new collaborative opportunities of digital is this perception that ‘new business models of unimaginable wealth’ are just around the corner. Of course this is totally unrealistic – the bags of money don’t exist – and as a result we get a situation of ‘rights stagnation’ where the museums digital assets are locked up.

Of course, fans are already bypassing museums to take advantage of digital. Paul gave the example of Bittorrent communities whose collective collections of Dutch documentary films are more complete, more accessible, and of a higher quality that those preserved (and inaccessible online) by the Dutch National Film archives. The official film archives are paralysed by ‘getting permission’ while those who want access now just bypass them completely.

Stepping back from the obvious IP issues here, Paul gave another example of an amazing searchable video archive made by two Germans. 0xdb uses the data from video torrents along with their subtitles (sometimes fansubbed) to create a wonderful full text search of around 6000 movies. Whilst downloading is not allowed the metadata and rich content is astounding.

Jelmer Boomsma from n8 gave an excellent run down of the collaborative audience development strategies of the Amsterdam Museum Night. The Museumnacht is a good example of making museums more accessible to wider audiences and Boomsma’s presentation looked at how, in just 3 years they have transformed their strategies to make the Museumnacht reach even wider audiences and build strong participatory cultures around them.

In 2005 Museumnacht was seemingly successful. 26,000 visitors across all the museums in the one night, and a 94% ‘very satisfied’ audience. But there was one problem, the average age of attendee was 37 years old. Now n8 new that young people were interested in museums and culture, just that the event wasn’t appearing on their radars, so rather than take shortcuts and underestimate the intelligence of the audience (a dance party in every museum, or free beer etc), they focussed on redefining what the Museumnacht event was and who it was for.

Over 2006 and 2007 the print campaign began to be supplemented with an extensive and diverse online campaign where they gave the audience the tools to become ‘an ambassador’ for the event itself. They instituted competitions to design the campaign materials, design a Museumnacht t-short, as well as ways to build your own programme for the night and then share it with your friends and even make your own audiotour.

They worked with Hyves, the largest social networking site in the Netherlands (well outranking Facebook and MySpace), and trialled a customised banner advert. This failed and despite 160,000 page impressions it only generated 80 click throughs! So instead they worked with Hyves to set up a Hyves Group to enable 2 way communication, perks and discounts and importantly the tools to share with other Hyves users. In 2006 2% of their traffic came through Hyves, and in 2007 this was up to 8% and capturing 20% of visitors aged 16-24.

Now the new Museumnacht site is incorporating an Opensocial-style set of logins whereby many of the social networking and sharing functions will be available to any network user and also remove the requirement of a separate Museumnacht website login.

Tags: 1 Comment

  • Excellent report so far, and thank you very much for the kind words. Open Museum was a hugely inspiring event for us and we will use it to our benefit. Hopefully we can plan a follow up in ’09.