Museum blogging MW2007 Web 2.0

Museum blogs survey results online / San Francisco blogger meet-up

Museums & The Web has published the survey conducted by Jim Spadaccini and myself earlier this year titled Radical Trust: the State of the Museum blogosphere.

As 2006 began, there were less than thirty known museum blogs; since then, that number has more than doubled. Today there are well over 100 blogs exploring museum issues, from a range of institutions and individuals across the globe. All of these blogs have embraced the concept of ‘radical trust,’ taking the big step to trust (radically) the community on-line. This paper reports the findings of the first major survey of museum blog operators and their readers. Developed by Powerhouse Museum and Ideum, this comprehensive survey of bloggers paints a picture of where the field is today, and where it is headed in the future.

How popular are they? How is popularity measured? Do these blogs operate from the inside or the outside of museums? Who is their audience? What of RSS, aggregators, and link exchanges? Are there emerging commonalities in practice and usage that can be brought together to strengthen and expand the collective worth and impact of museum blogging? This paper explores these questions and more. Several successful operational models have emerged and are outlined here, along with emerging trends for the field. It is our hope that these survey results will also provide a starting point for those museums looking to launch their own blogs.

I hope you find the results interesting and useful – thank you, too, to many of you who participated in the survey and also helped beta-test it for us.

Jim and I are running a one hour workshop presenting the results, discussing them in detail, making recommendations to organisations currently running or considering setting up blogs and, bringing the results a little more up to date with some new analytics on Friday 13 April at 10am at M&W07.

Immediately following the workshop at 11am Jim and I will be leading a merry band of museum bloggers to a local eatery for an informal meet up and get together. Many of us only know each other by our handles and avatars. Indeed, when Jim and I first considered running the survey and writing the paper, neither of us had met face to face!

Please join us if you are in San Francisco.

If you have any suggestions of somewhere close to Union Square for food that can accomodate a band of bloggers then suggest in the comments!

Collection databases Interactive Media MW2007 Web 2.0

Does your audience want Web 2.0? Lessons from SFMOMA

When ploughing through the M&W2007 papers (more are still going up), pay particular attention to Do You Know Who Your Users Are? The Role Of Research In Redesigning by Dana Mitroff and Katrina Alcorn from SFMOMA looking at the evaluation and redesign process behind their forthcoming new SFMOMA website.

Of particular pertinence to discussions about implementing, encouraging, (and sometimes requiring) user interaction comes this caveat/warning –

Example 3. Web 2.0

The finding: When we talked with our users about potential Web 2.0 features we could offer on our site (blogs, wikis, etc.), they showed surprisingly little interest in them. The users we interviewed were fairly passive about the types of interactive things they would like to do on our site. Instead of asking an artist a question, they would rather read what other people asked. Instead of giving feedback about an exhibition, they would rather read what other people wrote.

The insight: We realized that if we were going to add any of these new types of Web 2.0 features, we should not invest in designing things that our visitors would not use. And if we were to incorporate any of these features in the future, they should extend the interpretation dimension and make the artwork more accessible.

The design: In addition to providing an authoritative museum perspective on an artwork, we must include features that incorporate perspectives from a variety of users, from front-line staff to visitors. On the “On View” main page, for example, we plan to include a feature called something along the lines of “Guest Take” that will present rotating works from SFMOMA’s collection selected by prominent local community members, artists, writers, museum members, etc. These guests will write about what the works mean to them and share their personal reactions, thoughts, and musings. Another feature, called something like “In Focus,” will allow museum staff members at different levels throughout the organization to select works from the collection and share their personal thoughts and reactions. This informal, multi-vocal approach will bring Web 2.0 values to the site and complement what we are already doing with SFMOMA Artcasts, our podcast audio-zine. SFMOMA Artcasts feature “Guest Take” commissions of music, poetry, and prose in response to works on view as well as “Vox Pop” pieces that capture live reflections from visitors in the galleries. We see these as methods of engaging the community in a dialogue of art and ideas; they are excellent ways to bring Web 2.0 values to the interpretative dimension of the museum experience.

Nina Simon picks up on the importance (and dominance) of lurkers in commercial 2.0 applications and reconsiders in the context of museum.

We would concur.

Of the most “2.0” aspects of the Powerhouse Museum’s collection database – the tagging – it is important to note that out of nearly 10 million object views there have been only about 4000 tags. That’s 0.04% of views resulting in a tag – at most. Some views result in multiple tagging of the same object by the same person.

However, because lurkers can gain benefit from other people’s tags (frictionlessly/effortlessly) tags represent up to 40% of search interactions – they add usability and thus access points to content.

AV Related Developer tools Interactive Media Museum blogging

Weekly digital media production tips

Over at the site promoting the Powerhouse Museum’s digital media learning labs (SoundHouse VectorLab) we’ve started a weekly ‘tip of the week’ series written by the Vector Lab boss Mike Jones.

The ‘tip of the week‘ series covers everything from simple Photoshop tasks to how-to do tricky video editing tricks with Premiere and Vegas.

And, of course, we’re using WordPress for their microsite.

Feel free to leave any specific technical questions you’;d like answered in forthcoming tips of the week in the comments either here or on the SoundHouse VectorLab site.

Interactive Media Mobile MW2007 Young people & museums

Museums & the Web 2007 papers online / Fantoni on museum ‘bookmarking’

The first batch of papers for Museums & the Web have gone online.

Picking the first one to read at random, I chose Silvia Fillipini Fantoni’s paper on “Bookmarking in museums”.

I am interested in this area as we developed a prototype mobile phone object bookmarking application just over two years ago but never rolled it out. There were many reasons and in the end the greatest barrier to implementation was the resistance from teachers to allowing students to carry and use mobile phones during a museum visit. Another reason was the difficulty in finding a ‘free call’ SMS service number – without which users would have needed to pay for each ‘bookmark’ through their mobile plan (and unlike America, all you can eat SMS plans are not that common or cheap).

Fantoni’s paper is an excellent reality check for those building personalisation tools for their museum website with the expectation that users will surely want to bookmark things to come back to later. She argues that the usage of bookmarking tools is small, generally much lower than initially expected. Bookmarking is an activity not done by the ‘general public, possibly because of lack of awareness, promotion, and an understanding of what ‘bookmarking’ actually offers or means. Despite this, such tools may be useful for specific dedicated audiences – especially teachers.

Digital storytelling Museum blogging Social networking Web 2.0 Young people & museums

What museums might learn from how news organisations are trying to engage communities

This week’s essential reading comes in the form of the Center for Citizen Media’s report titled Frontiers of Innovation in Community Engagement: News Organizations Forge New Relationships with Communities.

The report is written for those who are yet to become interested in the new opportunities afforded by Web 2.0 and contains plenty of global case studies and some very practical recommendations for those heading down this path.

Replace ‘news organisations’ with ‘museums’ and there are some terrific and practical insights into new ways of engaging audiences and in so doing embedding the museum experience in the everyday life of communities (and vice versa).

If you have attended any of my talks and presentations you will know I am fond of talking about museums as potential media organisations, and as platforms for multi-directional publishing and engaging communities. From the report, here are the four reasons as to “why news organisations should bother experimenting with user communities” –

– Regaining a place at the center of the civic conversation
– Enhancing institutional memory
– Reducing bunker mentality
– New stories, new ways

Sound familiar?

Here are there recommendations for anyone looking at rebuilding their online presence along the lines of increased community engagement.

Take risks.

In the Internet Age, it’s easy — and relatively inexpensive — to try new ideas. The cost of failure is low for any individual experiment.

Don’t merely tolerate risk-taking in the newsroom and on the business side of the operation. Embrace it, and the fact that failure is part of risk-taking.


Approach community building with confidence, teamwork, and appropriate expectations.

• Confidence: Building an online community requires a different tone and approach than a traditional news site: personality, humor, and authenticity are key.
• Teamwork: Community sites have a better chance of success if staffers throughout the newsroom and the organization use them rather than being the province of a small “community team” that has little or no contact with the newsroom.
• Expand your team beyond your staff, and even beyond your site. For example, reward local bloggers who link to your site just as much as you reward readers who contribute to your site directly. Consider growing the “ecosystem” of local sites that link to yours as part of your mission.
• Expectations of Contributors: Don’t expect nonjournalists to feel comfortable taking on the role of journalist. While some contributors may be eager to write a “story,” others will want to share lived experiences. Finding ways to accommodate, encourage, and learn from contributors is key to success.
• Expectations About Growth: Communities are organic. They grow through the web-equivalent of word of mouth. Expect a significant period of time – as much as six months, maybe much more – before a community gains a life of its own. (If things aren’t working a year after you start, however, it’s definitely time to reconsider your approach.)

Collection databases Metadata

Linden on ‘end of federated search?’ and Google

Greg Linden speculates that Google is pulling back from the notion of federated search. (via O’Reilly)

Google instead prefers a “surfacing” approach which, put simply, is making a local copy of the deep web on Google’s cluster.

Not only does this provide Google the performance and scalability necessary to use the data in their web search, but also it allows them to easily compare the data with other data sources and transform the data (e.g. to eliminate inconsistencie and duplicates, determine the reliability of a data source, simplify the schema or remap the data to an alternative schema, reindex the data to support faster queries for their application, etc.).

Google’s move away from federated search is particularly intriguing given that Udi Manber, former CEO of A9, is now at Google and leading Google’s search team. A9, started and built by Udi with substantial funding from, was a federated web search engine. It supported queries out to multiple search engines using the OpenSearch API format they invented and promoted. A9 had not yet solved the hard problems with federated search — they made no effort to route queries to the most relevant data sources or do any sophisticated merging of results — but A9 was a real attempt to do large scale federated web search.

If Google is abandoning federated search, it may also have implications for APIs and mashups in general. After all, many of the reasons given by the Google authors for preferring copying the data over accessing it in real-time apply to all APIs, not just OpenSearch APIs and search forms. The lack of uptime and performance guarantees, in particular, are serious problems for any large scale effort to build a real application on top of APIs.

Google has put its energies into Google Co-Op which allows users to create their own sub-Google search engines using the Google database as the datasource. This has the effect of encouraging traditionally deep web databases like museum collection databases to become spiderable, indexed and cached by Google. For individual end users this makes sense – they probably already go to Google first, but does it make sense for content providers?

Try this example.

Here is a search for ‘heater’ using the Powerhouse’s own collection search.

Top five –

B1431 Solar heater, plus base, wood/metal, Lawrence Hargrave, Australia, [1870-1915]
K693 Immersion water heater, electric, made in Australia, late 1930s (OF).
93/176/15 Light globe, heater lamp, glass/metal, British Thompson Houston, England, 1920
93/176/16 Light globe, heater lamp, glass/metal, Osram, England, 1950
85/69 Brochure, Instruction and Operating Chart for Emmco Fryside heater

Here is the same search for ‘heater’ using a Google Coop search of the same data within the same collection (using a Coop search I created).

Top five –

86/676 Gas heater – Malley’s No. 1, copper, Metters, Australia …
97/331/1 Convection heater, domestic, portable gas, metal/paint …
H7061 Water heater, “The Schwer”, constructed of copper & can be …
B1538 Water heater model, steam, “Friar”, [Australia or UK]; A A …
95/117/1 Kerosene water heater and instruction sheet, Challenger …

So which is more accurate?

Google’s Coop bases it results on a number of different factors, all of which are unknown to the searcher, and most of which are unknown to the content provider. At least with our internal search we can tweak the ordering and relevance of results using our own known variables.

Digital storytelling Interactive Media Social networking Web 2.0 Young people & museums

Gordon Luk on avatars in games and social media sites / stickiness and museums

Gordon Luk has, post-SXsW posted some well illustrated examples of avatars and the types of available customisation that can be done in various MMORPGs and social media sites.

Luk is looking at the differences between ‘explicitly controlled’ and ‘implicitly controlled’ customisations. The former being those that are created by the user/player (initial picture, autobiography) and the latter being those that are generated or altered by the game engine itself. What he is interested in is how social media applications can learn from game environments,

avatars can play a large role in improving participation in games and social media, and can arguably go a long way into transforming one into the other. Building these layers into a community system can definitely result in game dynamics, and I’d bet that it would improve network engagement.

From using a lot there it becomes apparent that part of the pleasure and stickiness of the site lies in the ‘implicitly controlled’ customisations. In these are the automatically logged track and album charts that generate as you play and ‘scrobble’ music into their system (game), and the ‘neighbours’, ‘radio stations’ and ‘recommendations’ the system generates as a result. Through pleasure and stickiness comes an investment from the user in continuing to maintain their (in this case musical) identity on the site.

One of the things I am looking forward to in San Francisco at Museums and the Web this year is hearing how museums are encouraging stickiness and user investment in their proposed and in some cases, already developed, post 2.0 era websites. I expect it isn’t always going to be a ‘build it and they will come’ situation unless museums can get the ‘stickiness’ factor right with their target audiences. This is where I can see great merit in Jim Spadaccini and others work with smaller museums and non-profits, choosing to harness already existing, and already ‘sticky’ social media rather than try to develop their own (competing) ones.

Fundamentally the question is “why does someone spend so much time in a game world customising their avatar?”. And, “how can we get them to do that on our site as well?”

Collection databases Digitisation Web 2.0 Young people & museums

Demspey on ‘getting with the flow’, Morville on ‘findability’

OCLC’s Lorcan Dempsey’s idea of libraries “getting with the flow” (from 2005) is something that has resonated well beyond the library world.

The importance of flow underlines recurrent themes:

– the library needs to be in the user environment and not expect the user to find their way to the library environment

– integration of library resources should not be seen as an end in itself but as a means to better integration with the user environment, with workflow.

Increasingly, the user environment will be organized around various workflows. In fact, in a growing number of cases, a workflow application may be the consumer of library services.

For libraries, as evidenced also in the discussions by Holly Witchey at Musematic who has been covering the Webwise IMLS conference with regular session reports, and Guenter Waibel from RLG’s follow-up commentary, libraries are at a far more pointy end of changes in customer/user behaviour than most museums. Waibel raises the very hefty 290 page OCLC report titled Perceptions in which the survey suggests 84% of general users begin an information search with a search engine, and only 1% with a library website (PDF page 35/1-17). If conducted again now I would expect Wikipedia to rate highly.

Libraries are seen as more trustworthy/credible and as providing more accurate information than search engines. Search engines are seen as more reliable, cost-effective, easy to use, convenient and fast. (PDF page 70/2-18)

Where are museums in this? Is your content in the “flow”? Do users need to come to your site to your onsite search to be able to find it? If so, they are probably going to look elsewhere first, if they haven’t already.

Over at the University of Minnesota they have just held the CLC Library Conference titled “Getting In The Flow” with Dempsey as one of the speakers. There are some great summaries of the presentations including slides over in their conference blog.

Other than Dempsey one of their speakers was Peter Morville who some readers may remember from his first O’Reilly book Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, or the less technically oriented
Ambient Findability (which has been doing the rounds of the office for the past 9 months).

Morville’s presentation slides are an excellent introduction to his work and given their tweaking for the library/information-seeking context are very useful for those in museums too. Ellysa Cahoy has some notes taken during the presentation at the CLC blog as well for the slides that aren’t immediately self-explanatory.

Collection databases Web 2.0

OPAC2.0 – popular collection categories

In preparation for my presentation at Museums & the Web we have been busy generating a new set of user statistics from our collection database. (Which is also why the frequency of new posts has dropped!)

Objects in the collection, when ‘fully catalogued’ are assigned an object category and an object name from the Powerhouse Museum thesaurus which was first published in 1995 (ISBN 186317060X). This thesaurus is used by other museums as well.

Here are updated top 20 ‘popularity’ tables, the first by object, and the second by category. The top 20 categories indicates the broad collecting areas which receive most interest online.

Top 20 most viewed objects since launch (June 2006)

1 – (17087 views) 2005/1/1 Evening dress, beaded pink chiffon trimmed with charms, designed by Lisa Ho and made in the …
2 – (8875) 94/129/1 Evening dress, womens, `Chocolate box’, plastic / fabric, designed by Jenny Bannister for C …
3 – (7029) 95/23/1 Dress, evening, silk / polyester, designed by Jenny Bannister, Melbourne, Victoria, Australi …
4 – (6636) B1495 Aircraft, flying boat, Catalina, PB2B-2, “Frigate Bird II”, VH-ASA, metal / fabric, made by Bo …
5 – (6133) 88/4 Steam locomotive, No. 3830, iron/steel/brass, New South Wales Government Railways, Eveleigh Rai …
6 – (5504) 97/208/1 Shoes, pair, womens, ‘Super elevated gillies’, leather/ cork/ silk, Autumn/ Winter collecti …
7 – (4672) 88/5 Locomotive, full size, steam, No.1243, metal / glass, made by Davy and Company, Atlas Engineeri …
8 – (4534) 90/816 Aircraft, full-size, helicopter, Bell 206B Jetranger III, “Dick Smith Australian Explorer”, V …
9 – (4384) 2005/127/1 Clothing (9), boys, cotton / wool / metal / mother-of-pearl / plastic / paper / cardboard …
10 – (4297) 98/54/1 Bicycle, Olympic ‘Superbike’, carbon fibre / metal, Australian Institute of Sport / Royal Me …
11 – (3936) 92/405 Mantel clock, Sessions Clock Co, USA, 1905-1915 …
12 – (3557) 86/1015 Room Divider, “Carlton”, wood / plastic laminate, designed by Ettore Sottsass, made by Memph …
13 – (3481) 2006/68/1 Three piece suit, men’s, corduroy cotton, made by David Jones Ltd, Sydney, New South Wales …
14 – (3336) 2003/83/1 Chair, ‘Wiggle’, cardboard, designed by Frank Gehry, United States, 1972, made by Vitra, G …
15 – (3227) 85/1975 Armchair, `Globe’, fibreglass / aluminium / fabric / synthetic materials, designed by Eero A …
16 – (3204) 99/4/46 Model steam engine and box, donkey engine, metal / cardboard, Scorpion Superior Model / Mode …
17 – (3001) 92/305 Food safe (bush pantry), wood/ metal, unknown maker, [Queensland], Australia, c. 1925 …
18 – (2879) 7949 Locomotive, steam, No. 1, metal, hauled the first passenger train in New South Wales in 1855, m …
19 – (2798) 96/386/2 Evening dress, womens, silk, Madeleine Vionnet, Paris, France c. 1930 …
20 – (2772) L611 Aircraft, full size, Bleriot XI monoplane, wood / canvas / wire, designed by Louis Bleriot, mad …

Top 20 most popular categories* since launch (June 2006)

1 – clothing and dress (1419335 viewed objects)
2 – ceramics (1104058)
3 – numismatics (584429)
4 – pictorials (466852)
5 – textiles (394591)
6 – domestic equipment-home (320764)
7 – decorative metalwork (313593)
8 – toys (277752)
9 – arms and armour (245407)
10 – documents (235438)
11 – health and medical equipment (224492)
12 – glass (223899)
13 – jewellery (222371)
14 – models (220519)
15 – transport-land (217331)
16 – personal effects (202413)
17 – photographs (177066)
18 – musical instruments (156136)
19 – furniture (154648)
20 – juvenilia (143011)

*note – some objects belong to multiple categories

Interactive Media Web 2.0

SxSW podcasts

The SxSW podcasts have started going up and for those who couldn’t be there because they are on the other side of the world then the podcasts offer a great way of listening to, but not participating in, the major panels and sessions from the festival.

I started with the Bruce Sterling keynote, mainly because Will Wright wasn’t up yet (only very short clips are online now and focus on the game demo rather than the storytelling intro section). True to form, Sterling is provocative and probing. Sterling looks at the ideas of Henry Jenkins, Lev Manovich and Yochai Benkler, all three of whom should be reasonably familiar names to Fresh + New readers. Sterling picks up on Benkler’s ‘common space peer production’ and breaks it down into a series of key points and guidelines.

Slightly less interesting, at least until the audience questions begin was Emerging Social and Technology Trends. The questions around emerging technology trends in the developing world/global South are particularly fascinating.

These are well recorded and eminently listenable podcasts for public transport. More should be appearing on the SxSW podcast archive soon.