Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

Fresh & New(er) header image 2

NZ National Digital Forum 2006 – Wellington, Te Papa (updated)

December 2nd, 2006 by Seb Chan

(updated 29/12/06 with streaming media of all presentations)

Jim Spadaccini from Ideum has blogged extensively about the NDF and the presentations so I’m just going to add a few comments of my own rather than recap the whole event.

Day one

Jim started proceedings with the opening keynote address that gave a broad overview of how museums are adapting and implementing the core ideas of web 2.0. It was a dynamic presentation and offered a lot of food for thought for the audience and there was an audible gasp when he posed the problem of “if you don’t then they will” – referring to the plethora of ‘intelligent design’/Creationism web 2.0-enabled sites. Jim focussed on the easy to do things – museum blogging and its continuing rise – as well as what smaller organisations without web or IT teams can do, namely colonise existing sites and services. Although this can be problematic, Jim made a strong case for doing so when appropriate, especially for organisations targetting youth audiences. He used the example of the LA Museum of Contemporary Art’s MySpace page which taps into the existing audience for their night-time musical activities which are barely visible on their main website. It is not surprising that amongst their featured ‘friends’ are Z-Trip and Crystal Method. The lure to these existing social networks and online communities is that they represent, on the whole, a demographic that is otherwise absent from many museum websites. Further, the more particular communities such as MySpace with their walled garden approach monpolise the times and attention of this demographic, the less opportunity there is for other sites.

Sometimes, as with a photographic collection from the Maxwell Museum, Ideum has found technical solutions in existing services. The project with the Maxwell uses Flickr and their open API to store and present images in a way that would have been well beyond the project budget for such a small museum. Ideum has built a Flickr mashup to complete the project. Interestingly, even before the project launches, but because they have started seeding the photographic collection images to Flickr, other Flickr users have already been discovering the collection and interacting with it, commenting and recommending. In so doing, Ideum has managed not only to solve the issue of a limited project budget, but also reached out to a large community of users through the solution (Flickr) that otherwise would have been unlikely to have come across the finished site at Maxwell.

Jim cautioned that out of every hundred 2.0 startups perhaps as few as 2 will survive – and if you make the wrong choice then your data will disappear when they do.

I’ve had the good fortune to spend some considerable time with Jim whilst in NZ, over the fine cakes, hot chocolates and coffee of Wellington – discussing the world of museums and technology. We are conducting a joint survey on museum blogging (more on that shortly) but most interestingly he has been pushing the idea of museum widgets. Jim is a strong advocate of museum widgets and Ideum has been a pioneer in the museum world. Widgets are micro-applications that can run on desktops and on web pages, and simply provide a browser-less interface to data. These can be very simple – Ideum’s solar image of the day widget draws in an image from NASA; or an RSS feed – or they can be far more complicated including micro-games. Ideum’s current work with widgets has seen over 100,000 downloads and substantial referring traffic from important catalogue sites such as Apple’s widget gallery. Whilst some widgets are little more than gimmicks, others provide extremely useful or interesting services. The Rijiksmuseum in Amsterdam has had an ‘image of the day’ widget on their site for a long time now and it is one of the most popular widgets on the scene. Any museum or collection could and probably should be emulating them – if only for exposure.

Day two

Day two opened with Toby Travis from the V&A. It has also been great to meet Toby – one off two developers at the V&A. Their online work often seems buried on their site and tends to surface only around promotional activities. There have been some fascinating projects around user-generated content at the V&A and many have had developed communities beyond the expectations of the museum. So much so that later in the year they will be launching a MyGallery-style site which will allow users to aggregate their own and others’ user-generated content from the V&A site into a Flickr-style interface. I’ll be very interested to see how much this is used. Jim covers Toby’s talk in detail in his blog posts.

Also on day two, Joanna Ransom from the Horowhenua Library Trust presented on their Kete project. This is really amazing stuff – an open source community cultural wiki built from the community upwards. It was very inspiring and I think there is a lot to be said for this approach. That it has been done on the smell of an oily rag, and done so well is a testament to the trust they have from their community. The site launches publically in March 2007 and when completed will seriously challenge similar projects set up by infinitely larger organisations and companies. This is perhaps on of the first broadsides in Community 2.0.

My presentation

My presentation on emerging technologies and the Powerhouse Museum’s collection database, along with all the others is streamable from the NDF.

Apologies for the lack of photos – I had intended to finish my presentation with a pic of the audience taken form the stage but foolishly left my camera on the table!

Thank you to Te Papa and the NDF team for making this event possible. It really was a marvellous gathering, full of interesting people (about 400!) from the NZ museums, libraries, archives and galleries sector, and with high calibre presentations from all involved. New Zealand is very forward thinking and proactive holding this event annually.

Tags: 4 Comments

4 responses so far ↓

  • Hey Seb,

    Thanks for the positive words you have written on your blog regarding the ndf. It was a real pleasure hosting you, Jim, Toby, Susan and our other wonderful speakers, I only wish you were here longer! I know many people who mentioned how inspired they were by hearing your presentations and I myself was humbled by what I saw from your presentations. Now all we need to do at Te Papa is be as progressive as you all are!

    Let’s keep in touch and see if we can collaborate.

    Belinda

    P.S I hope you enjoyed you time here in Wellington and I haven’t forgotten about the gumboots! ;-)

  • Hiya Seb,

    Really inspiring meeting you in Wgtn and thank for sharing so freely your knowledge and experience. I was particularly interested in the frictionless tagging and your behind the scenes search term tracking… I would love to know more about the mechanics of that.

    The Kete project is something I have been living and breathing and dreaming about for nearly a year now and I know I get a bit too excited whenever I talk about it to people! I consciously try to downplay it in my mind now, so it is really motivating to hear supportive feedback from people like you, and the dozens of others who kindly stopped and said positive things.

    cheers Jo.

  • hi,
    I was a first time attendee at the NDF, coming from a computer background rather than a library / museum background, and was impressed by the whole conference and speakers.
    I took away from the conference the feeling that Web 2.0 is going to be the great enabler for the public in allowing them to better inter-act with public institutions.
    Web 2.0 seems to have that ‘serendipity’ quality in that the contribution by the individual is going to lead to previously undiscovered library / museum uses – whether it be tile painting at the V&A, page hits on the red dress modelled by Delta Goodrem or the quantitative data obtained from the PSP’s used in Japanese museums.
    And I also agreed with Jo Ransom’s comment that public input is ‘freespace’ and should not necessarily be overly controlled by the institution custodians who seek absolute and full documented clarity of contributions (that is, in Web 2.0 we are seeing creativity which may not yet have or need a label).

    Phil C

  • Thanks for the report, Seb. I would have liked to attend that one so now I’m less disappointed (vicarious experience is better than none), though more envious. PS Your Rijkswidget link has a typo at the end that makes it fail.