Interactive Media

Using VOIP to visit the past

Back in the pre-internet days, then back even further to my first computer, a Commodore 64 (of course!), I used to dial in to BBSes (bulletin board systems) on a 300 baud modem. For a moment I got excited when 1200/75 connections were possible to a commercial BBS-meets-teletex news system called Viatel here in Australia. That excitement was shortlived when I realised that it was content and not speed that mattered – and Viatel had content I really had little interest in – especially when private BBS systems held so much other material.

What happened to all of this?

Over at Vintage Computing there is a fascinating story of using VOIP to connect to some of the very few remaining ‘live’ BBS systems still up and running in America. I wonder if anyone is now trying to do this in Australia and whether any of the old boards are still running?

Here’s an excerpt but drop over and read the whole piece –

All this makes me wonder why the Sysops who own these BBSes keep them running with such little traffic. Did they just forget to turn off their machines in 1998 as the Internet finally swept away the traditional US BBS scene? Did the old Sysops die and nobody noticed that the automated machines were still running, undetected, in a dusty back room somewhere? The possibilities are incredibly compelling; they really stir the imagination. That’s why finding such forgotten realms elicits a sense of discovery in me, like being an explorer discovering a long-lost temple in the overgrown jungles of Peru — all the more reason to give the old places a visit.

Social networking Web 2.0

Simple example of Web 2.0 in a museum

One of the best examples at the Powerhouse Museum of Web 2.0 thinking across the museum (not just the web services team) is in fact our Preservation Department’s use of

This was such a simple idea – but with profound impacts on internal processes.

Preservation get a lot of enquiries from the general public and also from small regional museums about preservation techniques. We needed quick and low-tech, dial-up friendly solution to offering the best and up-to-date information on preservation methods.

Traditionally this sort of issue would have been resolved with fact sheets and perhaps a static set of links. Both of these solutions would be time consuming but worst of all, ‘finished’ when they went online – and probably not updated for several years.

Using a account communally shared amongst the Preservation Department staff, staff can all bookmark websites of use to the public in answer questions about ‘how do I preserve . . . ‘. Each site is tagged with the type of object that it refers to.

Shortly the Museum will be presenting these aggregated links on the Museum’s website under a ‘recommended preservation resources’ section.

Rather than build our own bookmarking system Preservation opted to use because of its ease-of-use and social features. All the resources dedicated to the project have been from the Preservation Department who can work incrementally and add or edit a few resources at a time in an ongoing, continuous project requiring micro-efforts rather than a singular focussed time-limited effort.

Rather than fact sheets – which still may be produced from time to time – by pointing to other online resources we save reinventing the wheel.

And, as is all text based it is great for those in regional areas with slow internet connectivity.

Web 2.0

Radical trust & Web 2.0

Cath Styles from the National Archives of Australia has a nice succinct summary of Web 2.0 presented as a paper to the Australian Historical Association online at Assembly. It is a easy read and another straightforward overview of the range of technologies Web 2.0 embodies as well as some of the more relevant examples from the libraries, archives, museums and galleries sector (and it is Australian!).

Like Jim Spadaccini from Ideum I picked up on her use of the term ‘radical trust’ which emerged from the library sector earlier this year. Radical trust means trusting users not to muck things up (and rewarding them with control in return). This is a nice way of describing the promise of Web 2.0 but as Benkler continually reminds us, this promise is only going to be achieved with appropriate legislative support and change – not least of all in terms of intellectual property law. It should also be stressed that most ‘systems’ of trust in Web 2.0 applications are specifically constructed to encourage and protect, through safeguards and small but not insignificant ‘barriers to participation’ (Wikipedia’s login and lock controls, Slashdot’s reputation system, Google’s continual tweaking of PageRank etc) what is being described as ‘trust’.

I’ve been re-reading Eric Davis’ Techgnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Information Age from 1999 and Davis neatly (and rather floridly) examines the underlying spiritual and mystical qualities that us as humans, have been applying to technology since the earliest days. Drawing on examples from electricity and the telephone through to the post-bust Dot Com era, it is again a timely reminder that there is a certain attraction in technological promise that is far from rational.

As much as I like the term and the idea, part of the appeal of the term ‘radical trust’ is its quasi-moralistic/spiritiual/revolutionary tone.

Imaging Interactive Media Web 2.0

Flickr and geotagging

I’m a little late on this but Flickr has implemented geotagging which is very nifty. I hope this means a widescale uptake of this feature.

Folksonomies Web 2.0

OPAC2.0 Quick log charting of object popularity

A few weeks back I posted an initial chart showing distributions of object usage on our OPAC2.0.

Here’s a quick updated chart but done with logarhythmic scales on both axes.

MS Excel seems to only cope with 32,000 values on one axis so it cuts off artificially at 32,000 (out of 55,134 objects viewed of the total 61,780 currently available)

Some other useful data:
Total object views to date = 1,776,259
Max views for single object = 2104 (Delta Goodrem dress)
Average views per object = 28.751
Standard deviation = 40.819
Median views = 19

Popularity drops below 10 views at rank 39,313 (not shown on graph as a result of Excel limitations)

Already there is a clear line emerging which droops around the 20K rank point – which indicates that there is still some way to go with driving traffic down to the more obscure objects in the tail. The bump at the head is the result of objects that are receiving abnormally large amounts of traffic – the Delta Goodrem dress, the Nu-U bra (the one from 1957) – as a result of time-specific cultural factors.

Web 2.0 Web metrics

Reviewing web metrics

Evan Williams (one of the makers of Blogger) posts a strong argument for why organisations should be moving away from using page views as a metric much in the same way we all moved away from hits in the late 90s.

Looking at MySpace he compares page views with ‘reach’ (effectively uniqiue visitors) and maps the results against the same for MySpace suddenly doesn’t look as far ahead as it did when based solely on page views. He draws on Mike Davidson‘s argument that MySpace has such enormous metrics largely as a result of poor architecture – requiring the user to go through refresh pages many more times than necessary if MySpace was redesigned from the ground up with usability in mind.

Ajax is only part of the reason pageviews are obsolete. Another one is RSS. About half the readers of this blog do so via RSS. I can know how many subscribers I have to my feed, thanks to Feedburner. And I can know how many times my feed is downloaded, if I wanted to dig into my server logs. But I don’t get to count pageviews for every view in Google Reader or Bloglines or LiveJournal or anywhere else I’m syndicated.

Another reason: Widgets. The web is becoming increasingly widgetized—little bits of functionality from one site are displayed on many others. The purveyors of a widget can track how many times their javascript of flash file is loaded elsewhere—but what does that mean? If you get a widget loaded in a sidebar of a blog without anyone paying attention to it, that’s not worth anything. But if you’re YouTube, and someone’s watching a whole video and perhaps even an ad you’re getting paid for, that’s something else entirely. But is it a pageview?

Pageviews were never a great measure of popularity. A simple javascript form validation can easily cut down on pageviews (and save users time), while a useless frameset can pump up your numbers. But with the proliferation of Ajax, RSS, and widgets, pageviews are even more silly to pay much attention to—even as we’re all obsessed with them.

Metadata Web 2.0

Pay-for-answers : AQA and paid research

AQA (Any Questions Answered)offers a pretty unique service where uses can text (SMS) a question to a group of researchers. How it works is detailed in an interview with its founder Colly Myers in The Register by web realist/skeptic Andrew Orlowski. Colly Myers offers his views on the future of general web searching (falling away as it succumbs to data entropy), Wikipedia, and virtual sweatshops.

AQA served its 3 millionth answer recently, notching up the last million in four months. The previous million took seven months, and the first million took 19 months, which gives some indication of its growth ramp.

AQA’s owner IssueBits has been profitable since last October, says Myers, and he thinks the market is young and there’s plenty of opportunity to grow. AQA doesn’t have the field to itself – 82ask also caters to the curious texter – but it is in pole position.
Myers seems particularly proud of the infrastructure: AQA uses around 500 researchers to answer double the volume of queries it did before (the actual composition of the research staff varies, as they drop in and out of work)..

If AQA is correct and the value of Google and other general search tools drops markedly as users move to silo-searches (as the article describes teenagers are doing within MySpace) and entropy sets in, then there is a returning role for specialist research done by professional researchers in libraries and museums. And it is a role that if AQA indicates anything, is willingly paid for if the price is low enough and the requests broken down into simply separate questions.

Folksonomies Web 2.0

OPAC2.0 More on tag clouds

Lynda Kelly at the Australian Museum has relayed some reporting on tagging from a recent Web Usability seminar. (Lynda is part of an ARC project we are collaborating on.)

Roger Hudson took us through a brief history of classification and taxonomy(Linnaeus I think, Dewey, etc etc), making mention of an interesting Indian historical figure who had introduced the idea of classifying by “facets”. This idea was not widely taken up but is now highly relevant to the ways that tags are used. He also presented some *very* preliminary research with punters about tags – what they were and how they were being and could be used. The messages for me from his talk were (with apologies in advance to Roger as I am just outlining my impressions which could be wrong!):

1. Little understanding of the concept of tagging

2. Little understanding of why some words were larger in a tag cloud that others

3. A wide variety in the ways that people could potentially tag something. For example a picture of a redback spider was tagged as a spider (obviously); redback (also obviously); however other tags were Slim Dusty and dunny (think about it…) which i thought were pretty cool

4. The potential that as tag clouds make the “popular” tags the biggest, there could be “expert” tags that are lost (as in the above example where only 3 or so people used the word “arachnology” as a tag which is something that other experts may seach on)

When it comes to collections we are noticing some different trends emerging – mainly because tags on our site are combined with controlled vocabularies and are thus enhanced in this way, the end result for users is better/broader.

The stats we are accumulating are now showing a clear preference for tag as entry point, but interestingly enough, NOT necessarily tagged content as end point. Thus a user might click on the big tag MODEL TRAIN but then not view an actual OBJECT tagged as model train, but one of the results from a free text search for the term.

(I’ll be presenting some statistical evidence on these trends in future presentations and perhpas in a future post)

Unlike a lot of other sites that use tags we are not JUST using tags as a folksonomic classification system, we are also using them as search entry points. The use of tags as search entry points means that we are increasing the likelihood of users widening rather than narrowing their search.

Lynda has posted links to two excellent introductory pieces on folksonomies as well.

Interactive Media

Kapor on Second Life

3pointd presents his very comprehensive notes and outline of (Linden Labs board member and IT pioneer) Mitch Kapor’s talk on Second Life at the Second Life Community convention. There is some really fascinating talk contained within – about innovation, about paradigm shifts, about disruptive technologies.

“Today’s skepticism about Second Life, and I hear this not in this room or in the 40,000 people a day who are logging on, but in the next concentric circle of people reading Business Week, is that this is not for regular people. ‘I’d never use this.’ It reminds me of other things I’ve heard people say. In 1995 I was showing people Amazon, and they would say I will never put my credit card information on the Internet. Well, we got over that one.”

“It’s all about imagination. When people say, I just don’t know what I’d use it for, the gap between their imagination about what they might do and their perception of what goes on isn’t sufficiently close.”

“Two things are happening. There’s an enormous explosion of new stuff going on in Second Life. The number of possibilities becoming real on a daily basis is exploding and expanding, and the kind of knowledge and understanding people have of it is also growing dramatically. So, ‘this is not for regular people,’ that’s going to go away. It only looks like it’s not going to go away to some people. So my experience says, in the battle between faith and skepticism on these kinds of things, you don’t have to take on faith that faith is going to win. There’s lots of good empirical evidence from past waves to give you confidence that the early stage that we’re in now is in fact an early stage and we’re going to see maturation, growth and further change.”

“One thing that’s very important to keep in mind is something called Macromyopia. For people who are inside a new phenomenon like Second Life, we tend to overestimate the short-term effects. We think more great things are going to happen sooner than they typically do. Conversely, we underestimate the long-term impact. People are not especially good at forecasting this. What I would say is, certain situations that may be problematic in the short term may well take longer than anyone would like to fully resolve. On the other hand, it’s very diffcult to fully grasp and imagine what the long-term impact of Second Life and things like it are going to be. We have to stretch to think about that.”

“In particular, in the short term, right now there’s still a chasm between the power users and the clueless newbies. Those are slightly provcative terms, they’re not the best, it is just a fact, there’s still a significant number of people who come in, try it and leave. It’s not ready for prime time. I don’t believe it’s going to change overnight. It’s going to change in stages. It’s hard to know how long it’s going to take, and how long before it’s mainstream. It’s not tomorrow, it’s not next year, but it’s coming.”

Young people & museums

Notions of class and ‘digital natives’

Norm Friesen from Simon Fraser University questions the whole notion of a ‘net generation’ (or as we might say, drawing on Marc Prensky, ‘digital natives’), drawing to the fore issues of class rather than age.

This is the first in his E-Learning Myths series where he aims to dispel, or at least, challenge many of the ideas which he sees as underpinning ideas of e-learning.

Recent sociological and governmental studies paint quite a different picture of this same generation. Often focusing specifically on the Internet, they report –similar to the sources above– that “children and young people [are generally] claiming greater online self-efficacy and skills than…their parents” (Livingstone, Bober & Helsper, 2005; 3: emphasis added). However, they do not take these claims at face value, and universalize them to youth in general. Instead, this research emphasizes, for example, that the complex skills needed to effectively utilize the Internet are distributed not only by age, but also by “gender and socio-economic status” (Livingstone, Bober & Helsper, 2005; 3). One of the most important predictors for these differences is class –with middle class children more “likely to experience the Internet as a rich, if risky, medium than less priveged children (Livingston, & Bober, 2004; 415).

Friesen’s site contains a lot of his academic publications including an interesting contestation of the idea of ‘learning objects’.