Web 2.0

Michele Martin on “Organizational Barriers to Using Web 2.0 Tools”

Echoing a conversation that was in the office this morning in which Jerry Watkins, Angelina Russo, Lynda Kelly and I were having – Michele Martin writes on Organizational Barriers to Using Web 2.0 Tools (via Beth Kanter)

Are these democratising tools of social media “evolutionary” or “disruptive”? It depends on who you are talking to.

This reminded me of an e-mail conversation I’ve been having with a nonprofit user in Australia. She pointed out to me that while she sees that social media tools make it easier for non-technical types to integrate technology into their workflow, at the same time there’s an ongoing organizational message that says “Leave the technology stuff to the IT department.”

I’m seeing a real tension developing between where various new tools are taking us and how organizations are responding. Most organizational cultures haven’t caught up to technology and institutional barriers are getting in the way of even experimenting with new technologies.

Digital storytelling Interactive Media Web 2.0 Young people & museums

Jenkins on ‘crud’ in participatory culture

There is an excellent recent post by Henry Jenkins titled ‘In Defense of Crud‘ in which he examines some of the recent debates around fan fiction, YouTube etc. Jenkins’ response to some of the criticisms of ‘participatory culture’ is wonderfully distilled into seven precepts which can be broadly applied.

1. We should not reduce the value of participatory culture to its products rather than its process.

2. All forms of art require a place where beginning artists can be bad, learn from their mistakes, and get better.

3. A world where there is a lot of bad art in circulation lowers the risks of experimentation and innovation.

4. Bad art inspires responses which push the culture to improve upon it over time.

5. Good and Bad, as artistic standards, are context specific.

6. Standards of good and bad are hard to define when the forms of expression being discussed are new and still evolving.

7. This is not a zero-sum game. It is not clear that the growth of participatory culture does, in fact, damage to professional media making.

What is the opportunity cost for museums of not engaging with participatory culture? I’d wager that the issues we face when we do engage are significantly less problematic than if we do not engage. Our audience are already engaging in a participatory culture – its very hard not to do so in a mainstream life – even our television shows are forcing us to vote or their outcomes.

Museum blogging Web metrics

Towards an ROI measure of museum blogging

Museum blogging is taking off.

Jim S and I have been talking a lot about how blogging is an efficient way of generating a buzz around your museum’s content. At the Powerhouse Museum our flagship blog is really the Sydney Observatory’s blog. It has been charting ludicrous traffic – it now represents over 60% of the Sydney Observatory’s traffic and has been responsible for a 300% rise in site visitation. Most excitingly though is the level of audience participation. So far for 111 posts there have been a mammoth 490 user comments after filtering and spam removal. One post on the Mars hoax email received 135 comments.

I’ve been reading Charlene Li at Forresters’ work on corporate blogging. Their reports propose a framework for measuring ROI on organisational blogging. She summarises the methodology as a chart –

(source: Forresters)

Within the non-profit sector brand visibility is the key benefit from blogging – brand awareness leads to potential future (real world visitation), and in terms of collecting museums and research centres, a general awareness of the nature of “what exactly it is you do other than exhibitions”.

The Sydney Observatory has always had a lower public profile than the Powerhouse Museum. Those Sydneysiders who are aware of its existence (and don’t get it confused with the Observatory Hotel) often don’t associate it with a place that they and their family could visit – let alone look through a telescope – each night.

Prior to the launch of the Sydney Observatory blog there was no way for the astronomers at the Observatory to publish sky-related news, let alone the discoveries of amateur astronomy groups affiliated with the Observatory, nor respond to sightings of fireballs in the sky. The previous website architecture didn’t allow for such ‘loose’ content, nor did workflows allow for such material to quickly edited and posted.

Now, though, Sydney Observatory features prominently in Google searches for related topic areas as a result of the content on the blog. It is also critical to understand that everyone who does a search for ‘Comet McNaught Sydney’ for example, and visits the blog (which ranks #2 for such a search), is now made aware of the existence of the Sydney Observatory, and its activities.

Here’s another excerpt from Li –

(from Charlene Li) Q: Is there a standard ROI for blogs? A: Nope – sorry, it isn’t that easy! Just as there isn’t a standard ROI for a Web site, there’s no standard for a blog. It depends on what the goal of the blog is and also how much investment the company (and the blogger) puts into it.

Q: What’s the best way to measure the effectiveness of a blog? A: Again, it starts with the goal of the blog. I strongly suggest that companies start with the goal, develop metrics that measure the attainment of that goal, and find ways to assign value to those metrics.

Q: But aren’t blogs risky? How do you take that into account? A: We definitely take risk into account by generating scenarios that show the impact of low-likelihood but high impact events — such as a lawsuit.

Q: Our CMO/CEO/CFO won’t let us have a blog until we can show him/her the definitive ROI of a blog. Help!! A: It’s not an unreasonable request — they don’t really understand the value of a blog and see just the potential cost and risk. By going through the exercise of defining and quantifying the benefits, costs, and risks of a blog, you’ll be educating your C-level executives while also demonstrating the discipline that they expect.

So, how does your organisation measure the success of its blogs?

Jim and I will present some answers shortly.

AV Related Digitisation Web 2.0

Testing podcast transcription – Casting Words

Audio transcription is an essential part of digitisation. Our curatorial researchers are recording thousands of hours of interviews with subjects onto a mix of analogue (tapes) and digital (MP3/WAV) media. These oral histories are filed away for preservation purposes but will remain almost unusable in any serious way until they are digitised – that is, transcribed into a searchable machine readable format.

Likewise, we record many events at the museum and in the last few years have begun offering them as podcasts on our websites.

Last week we tried out a service called Casting Words. Casting Words is a transcription service that offers to send back a transcription of any podcast or audio file, quickly and cheaply.

Generally transcribing podcasts, especially those of live talks and events, has been an arduous task, one that even with the best of intentions often doesn’t happen. Transcription has tended to be expensive and time consuming. It has also been typically inaccurate.

Yet without a transcription the contents of the podcast are rendered invisible to all but the most dedicated internet user – who already knows of the podcast’s existence. This is because a transcript not only serves the interests of vision-impaired users and those wanting to skim read before downloading, it also exposes the content of the podcast to search engines thus aiding discoverability.

Here are the results from our test of Casting Words.

TEST 1 – The Sydney Observatory February 2007 night sky guide – this recording runs for about 14 minutes and has one speaker talking throughout. Whilst not explicitly technical and aimed at a general audience it is about constellations and uses common astronomical terms. It is recorded in a quiet room with no background noise and is edited in post-production to a script.

Original MP3 – listen at the Sydney Observatory blog
Transcript – view online
Time taken to transcribe – 24 hours (from submission to receipt of finished product)
Cost of transcription – US$10.50

TEST 2 – The live recording of a D-Factory public talk titled “Pop-ups, fold-outs and other design adventures” – this recording runs for 61 minutes and consists of four individually microphoned speakers recorded into a single stationery video camera via a live mixing desk feed. The same audio feed is used as the signal to the PA system in the room. As a result of the room acoustics, mixdown and speaker behaviour each speaker’s voice is inconsistently recorded and the recording itself fluctuates in volume. The talk is set up in the manner of a studio interview – a little like a TV chat show – it is totally unscripted and the recordings have no post production editing. There is background noise present throughout.

Original MP3 – listen or view video online (3rd item, right column)
Transcript – read online at Design Hub
Time taken to transcribe – 48 hours
Cost of transcription – US$45.50

How accurate are the transcriptions?

Other than American spellings, the transcripts are very accurate. In the Sydney Observatory transcript there was one numerical error that has been corrected. The DFactory transcript is a little more difficult to check but there does not seem to be significant errors – which, given the original recording quality, is surprising. There is one instance where the transcriber has noted that all the speakers were speaking at once and thus no transcript was available for those few seconds.

How does Casting Words work and why is it so cheap?

Casting Words uses Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to divide complex work into a small tasks which are advertised for freelancers (turkers, as they are known) to perform – anywhere, anytime in the world. There are some tasks that humans perform better than machines and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk uses its machines to allocate these tasks more efficiently. The name ‘mechanical turk’ comes from a (in)famous hoax by Hungarian baron Wolfgang von Kempelen in the late 18th century.

Turkers who undertake Casting Words transcription tasks are not unqualified. Each has to undertake a small qualification task, and their rate of payment depends upon their qualification level. Also, each transcription is edited and checked as separate tasks. There seem to be about 10,000 qualified trascribers and 3500 qualified editors. did a report on Mechanical Turk mid last year which interviewed Casting Words who explain how it works.

With a little code, plus the turkers, it has succeeded in basically automating the process. The company charges its customers from 42 cents a minute for podcast transcription to 75 cents a minute for other audio. CastingWords pays Mechanical Turk workers as little as 19 cents a minute for transcription. If a transcription job is posted on Mechanical Turk for a couple of hours at the rate of 19 cents a minute, and no worker has taken on the project, the software simply assumes the price is too low and starts raising it.

After a transcription assignment is accepted by a worker, and completed, it goes back out on for quality assurance, where another worker is paid a few cents to verify that it’s a faithful transcript of the audio. Then, the transcript goes back on a third time for editing, and even a fourth time for a quality assurance check. “It’s been terribly useful for us,” says Nathan McFarland of Seattle, one of the co-founders of CastingWords. Transcription is the type of relatively steady task that keeps turkers with good ears who are fast typists coming back. “There are people who have been with us for months, and they’re not leaving,” says McFarland.

The article is essential reading as it also explores the criticisms of Mechanical Turk – the nature of labour allocated under this system, the pay rates and worker agreements, and the question raised by many people who do the work, “do they actually consider it as ‘work’?”. Much of the other tasks done by turkers are micro-tasks – very short, quick tasks such as image tagging, or trivia quiz answering.

The demand for transcription is only going to increase. Each month we are recording more and more in digital form, and the demand for it to be made searchable (which is one of the reasons we digitise in the first place) gets stronger and stronger. What other services have other museums tried to deal with this media overload?

Interactive Media Web 2.0

Brief report on Yahoo Pipes and RSS

Yahoo launched their Pipes application a few days ago. Traffic seems to have almost overwhelmed the site, but if you can get on to it you will find a very nice, and well featured visual tool for combining, manipulating and presenting different data sources.

This effectively allows you to build your own data mashup in a matter of minutes. Yahoo provides a range of data sources already but you can add your own RSS feeds, for example, or scrape data from web pages and then combine them with image searches, maps, and internet searches. As Stutzman has pointed out, Yahoo has realised the importance and potential of RSS and Pipes should reinforce this in the minds of other developers.

I built a quick Flickr results display based on an Opensearch feed from our collection search in 30 minutes by pulling apart and looking at the way in which others had built Pipes to display Flickr results from other RSS feed data such as the New York Times headlines. The Opensearch feed is not clean enough to get a ‘good’ Flickr result, but with a bit more time Pipes could clean up and improve the results.

Museum blogging Web 2.0

Museums & the Web 2007 – workshops, papers, and meetups

The Museums & the Web 2007 conference in San Francisco is rapidly approaching.

I was notified today that one of the workshops I am involved in, Planning social media for museums has already been booked out! And one of the reasons for the slowdown in new posts recently has been the furious paper writing involved in producing work for the M&W07 deadline – I have two other presentations this year, the report on the museum blogging survey with Jim Spadaccini, and another on the trends emerging from OPAC2.0.

There look to be some real gems lurking in the (always packed) programme this year and if you are going to be near San Francisco in early-mid April then it is certainly worth making it. These events are always larger than you expect and so if you are already attending M&W07 and would like to meet to discuss ideas, projects, methods, technologies, then drop me a line.

A museum blogger meetup has been proposed by several people already.

Interactive Media Young people & museums

Internet-connected plush toys

First, Snarkmarket reports on a wonderful dialogue on Metafilter about a prototype from the late 90s – an internet connected teddy bear that would tell children stories from a central server, contributed by parents.

I came up with the (again, patented, but the patent dropped) idea of an internet-connected teddy bear that contacts a web site to tell stories. People would tell stories to the web site, and in return for these stories, they would be paid per listener. Bear purchasers would pay a monthly subscription fee. The child would get access to every single story ever told via the breadth of the lazyweb, and the parents could configure the bear to tell only certain kinds of stories (e.g. nonviolent, child age 4-6, Jewish, with a moral message, etc. Stories would be reviewed and tagged.)

Then it is on to the Washington Post reporting on Webkinz. Semi-internet connected plush toys that have unique IDs activated via the Webkinz site.

“Play always reflects the adult world,” said Christopher Byrne, an independent toy analyst who goes by the Toy Guy. “It’s kids aspiring to have a MySpace page, but cognitively and developmentally, they’re not ready for that. This gives them the experience of sharing and connecting with friends.”

Except that the life of your real world Webkinz is revealed in the virtual world. Nothing happens to the toys in the real world – that would make them too expensive and put them out of the price range of their target market. But like the proposed Teddy Bear 2.0, it is only a matter of time.

Difficultly in achieving the right price point is probably the main reason why the Chumby is not here yet.

These activities all remind me a lot of two things.

The first is that these are like a children’s version of the quintessentially Australian, and very successful, Talking Boony toys that a beer company has been using during the last two summers of cricket down here. The Talking Boony picks up a frequencies in the live TV broadcast via a microphone. Those frequencies trigger pre-recorded patterns in its memory, which are meant to synchronise with the action on screen, or are time sensitive.

The second is the ever growing trend towards real-world/online interactivity.

Social networking Young people & museums

“Kids, the Internet and the End of Privacy” – New York Magazine

Nick Carr puts us on to this rather interesting and long article on the ‘younger generation’ and their interaction and identity shaping through emerging media forms.

Here’s a few pithy excerpts –

Younger people, one could point out, are the only ones for whom it seems to have sunk in that the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion. Every street in New York has a surveillance camera. Each time you swipe your debit card at Duane Reade or use your MetroCard, that transaction is tracked. Your employer owns your e-mails. The NSA owns your phone calls. Your life is being lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

So it may be time to consider the possibility that young people who behave as if privacy doesn’t exist are actually the sane people, not the insane ones. For someone like me, who grew up sealing my diary with a literal lock, this may be tough to accept. But under current circumstances, a defiant belief in holding things close to your chest might not be high-minded. It might be an artifact—quaint and naïve, like a determined faith that virginity keeps ladies pure. Or at least that might be true for someone who has grown up “putting themselves out there” and found that the benefits of being transparent make the risks worth it.

Shirky describes this generational shift in terms of pidgin versus Creole. “Do you know that distinction? Pidgin is what gets spoken when people patch things together from different languages, so it serves well enough to communicate. But Creole is what the children speak, the children of pidgin speakers. They impose rules and structure, which makes the Creole language completely coherent and expressive, on par with any language. What we are witnessing is the Creolization of media.”

When I was in high school, you’d have to be a megalomaniac or the most popular kid around to think of yourself as having a fan base. But people 25 and under are just being realistic when they think of themselves that way, says media researcher Danah Boyd, who calls the phenomenon “invisible audiences.” Since their early adolescence, they’ve learned to modulate their voice to address a set of listeners that may shrink or expand at any time: talking to one friend via instant message (who could cut-and-paste the transcript), addressing an e-mail distribution list (archived and accessible years later), arguing with someone on a posting board (anonymous, semi-anonymous, then linked to by a snarky blog). It’s a form of communication that requires a person to be constantly aware that anything you say can and will be used against you, but somehow not to mind.

This is an entirely new set of negotiations for an adolescent. But it does also have strong psychological similarities to two particular demographics: celebrities and politicians, people who have always had to learn to parse each sentence they form, unsure whether it will be ignored or redound into sudden notoriety (Macaca!). In essence, every young person in America has become, in the literal sense, a public figure. And so they have adopted the skills that celebrities learn in order not to go crazy: enjoying the attention instead of fighting it—and doing their own publicity before somebody does it for them.

Folksonomies Web 2.0 Web metrics

Pew Research on tagging

Pew Research Center: Tagging Play is a short report looking at who tags content on sites like Flickr, YouTube, Del.Icio.Us and the others.

I’d strongly recommend reading the brief report. There are some basic demographics in the report and short piece on what tagging means.

A December 2006 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 28% of internet users — and 7% on any typical day — have tagged or categorized online content such as photos, news stories or blog posts.

(via Russ Weakley)

Interactive Media Web 2.0 Young people & museums

Concepts of Web2.0 presented as a video

Michael Wesch from the Digital Ethnography at Kansas State University, has made a rather nice and succinct summary of Web 2.0 as a video. Rather than being technical, it gives good coverage of the nature and effect of technological change on the production and consumption of meaning, identity and text.