Museum blogging

A new look for Fresh + New

Regular readers will have noticed that I’ve implemented a new look for the blog. I am currently making a few modifications to enhance readability (the font size has been increased and the quote font colour darkened) but if you have any other comments please tell me.

The previous look/skin on the site had been around for nearly 3 years and so it was time for a change. Some have asked me about the image I used for the header of the old skin – I can reveal it was a photo I took of a colleague in a completely machine-operated bar in Berlin. We were in Berlin presenting some museum work at the new media art festival and conference Transmediale 2004. Everything was operated by coin, conveyor belt and computer – no human staff at all – and there were internet terminals, surveillance monitors, and a Euro to Deutschmark change machine (all the slots took Deutschmarks!) . Access was by ‘membership’ card only so as to keep out vandals. Sadly the place has vanished by 2005.

Folksonomies UKMW07 Web 2.0 Young people & museums

A reminder about user incentives

Since Friday at UK Museums and the Web 2007 I keep being asked about my scepticism over explicit tagging in museums. “Why do I think that users don’t really have much natural incentive to tag our collections or content?”

Over at Bokardo there is a post dating back to 2006 which looks at why has been succesful titled the The Lesson.

The one major idea behind the Lesson is that personal value precedes network value. What this means is that if we are to build networks of value, then each person on the network needs to find value for themselves before they can contribute value to the network. In the case of, people find value saving their personal bookmarks first and foremost. All other usage is secondary.

As people use more, and in order to gain more personal value, they use tags to be able to find their bookmarks later. Tagging isn’t even the primary function of Most of the tagging done on is done secondarily, and for personal use.

The social value of tags on is only a happy side-effect. Even though most of the ink spilled about is about the social value, it’s really not the reason why people use it.

Now this is again a case of strategy first, technology second – those who attended my recent workshops will know clearly what I mean. If Forresters is correct and about 15% of US internet users have tagged something in the preceding month then we need to be careful to not make the leap to this being the same as 15% tag frequently let alone tag on all sites that offer tagging. Situational relevance and motivation also play a big part in the choice of which services people use.

If tagging is about engaging users and “bridging the semantic gap” then what other strategies might achieve the same end result?

We cannot give the same user incentives as the tagger who tags their images in Flickr nor the tagger who tags their bookmarks in Delicious. We can target our committed volunteers and amateur and affilated societies however but the user needs and UI design may be very different for those communities.

Developer tools Imaging Web 2.0

Visualising a metasearch with SearchCrystal

SearchCrystal is a very nifty search visualisation tool. Above is the results of an image search for ‘Sydney’ across multiple engines – you can see clearly in the visualisation where results crossover and there is similarity. I really like the different types of search that can be done in this way – web searches, image seraches, video, news, blogs, tags . . . . below is a web search for ‘Powerhouse Museum’.

Copyright/OCL Digitisation

Amazon and rare books on demand

A very interesting new development in the digitisation space as reported in The Chronicle (via Siva Vaidhyanathan).

Amazon, which made its name selling books online, is now entering the book-digitizing business.

Like Google and, more recently, Microsoft, Amazon will be making hundreds of thousands of digital copies of books available online through a deal with university libraries and a technology company.

But, unlike Google and Microsoft, Amazon will not limit people to reading the books online. Thanks to print-on-demand technology, readers will be able to buy hard copies of out-of-print books and have them shipped to their homes.

And Amazon will sell only books that are in the public domain or that libraries own the copyrights to, avoiding legal issues that have worried many librarians — and that have prompted publishers to sue Google for copyright infringement.

Whilst I agree with Siva’s argument that this is “a massive privatization of public treasures”, at the same time this activity of effectively republishing, in physical form (via on-demand), can potentially bring older books, especially those that do not already have a large re-print value, to a much larger audience beyond just scholars and researchers.

The privatisation process began long ago with economic rationalist politics and the scaling back of the public sector and public institutions. This has left us in this situation where in some countries only the private sector has the resources and capital to make grand idealistic projects like this a reality – something that used to be the preserve of visionary government (although the reality was often different).

Depending upon the quality of the print on-demand I can also see this opening up a whole new genre of coffee table ‘cultural capital’ enhancing books . . . .

Conceptual Digital storytelling Interactive Media

Prometeus – the Media Revolution

Here’s another take on ‘the media revolution’. Prometeus reminds me of a more uptopian view of the fantastical EPIC2014‘s Googlezon dystopia of a few years ago. In Prometeus, Google buys Microsoft instead of Amazon while Amazon buys Yahoo.

Possibly even more interesting than the future thinking ideas contained in these viral narrowcasts is their increasing graphical sophistication and their enormous reach. Motion graphics are becoming the printed manifesto of old.

(Prometeus link originally via Ross Dawson)


Good Copy, Bad Copy – the developing world and Copyright

Good Copy, Bad Copy is a rather splendid hour long documentary exploring Copyight law as it applies to remix culture. Unlike a lot of similar projects Good Copy, Bad Copy is truly internationalist and the most fascinating voices come from the developing world – a Nigerian ‘Nollywood‘ film company that has been producing ‘straight to DVD’ digital films for many years and building a business model that allows them to compete effectively with ‘pirated’ DVD copies in the local markets; and a Techno Brega producer in northern Brazil whose music is given away freely as marketing for enormous parties.

One of the most striking things about the Nollywood and Brazilian examples is that here are cultural producers who are using the internationalist and globalising mechanisms of the Internet to effectively spread their cultural products far and wide. To hear the Nigerian film producer talk about African Americans in the USA as his next ’emerging target market’ is a lovely flip of traditional ideas about one-way globalisation. In many ways this echoes many of the themes that I and others were talking about in the last few weeks in Havana – seizing the opportunities that are now available rather than being crippled by seeing them as a threat.

There are instructions on downloading the whole documentary (freely) on the promotional website. It is also on Google Video. The trailer (only) is playable above.

Collection databases Copyright/OCL Developer tools Interactive Media Metadata Social networking UKMW07 Web 2.0

UK Museums on the Web 2007 full report (Leicester)

Museums on the Web UK 2007 was held at the slightly rainy and chilly summer venue of the University of Leciester. Organised by the 24 Hour Museum and Dr Ross Parry with the Museums Computer Group the event was attended by about 100 museum web techies, content creators and policy makers.

As a one day conference (preceded by a day long ‘museum mashup’ workshop) it was very affordable, fun and entertaining (yes, in the lobby they had a demo of one of those new Phillips 3D televisions . . . disconcerting and very strange).

Here’s an overview of the day’s proceedings (warning: long . . . you may wish to print this or save to your new iPhone)

The conference opened with Michael Twidale and myself presenting the two conference keynote addresses. I presented a rather ‘sugar-rush, no-holds barred view from the colonies’ of why museums should be thinking about their social tagging strategies. (I’ll probably post my slides a little later). I had been quite stressed about the presentation coming off very little sleep and a long flight from Ottawa to London the night before. But I’ve been talking about these and related topics almost non-stop for the past two weeks so it was actually a good feeling to get it done right at the beginning.

After my presentation Michael Twidale from the University of Illinois reprised the joint presentation about museums making tentative steps into SecondLife that his colleague and co-author Richard Urban had presented at MW07 in San Francisco. Michael (like Richard before) certainly peaked the interest of some in the room who I had the feeling had barely thought about Second Life before – although I notice that the extremely minimally staffed Design Museum in London has just been doing an architecture event and competition in Second Life (see Stephen Doesinger’s ‘Bastard Spaces’).

Mike Ellis from the Science Museum followed the tea break with a presentation that looked at the outcomes of letting a small group of museum web nerds loose for a day without the pressures of a corporate inbox. Using a variety of public feeds the outcomes of such a short period of open-ended collaborative R&D were quite amazing. In many ways Mike’s presentation ended up challenging the audience to think about new ways of injecting innovation and R&D into their museum’s web practices. Amongst the mashups were a quick implementation of the MIT Simile Timeline for an existing project at the Cambridge University Museum tracking dates; a GoogleMaps mashup of all known museum locations and websites in the UK (something that revealed that current RSS feeds of this data are missing the crucial UK postcode information); a date cleaning API to allow cross-organisational date comparison built by Dan Z from Box UK; and an exciting mashup using Spinvox‘s voice to text service to allow museum visitors to call a phone number and be SMSed back information about locations, services or objects.

These were all really exciting prototypes that had come out of a very small amount of collaborative R&D time – something every museum web team should have. Apart from this a couple of problems facing museum mashups were revealed – stability issues and reliance on other people’s data – but as Mike pointed out how does this really compare to the actual stability of your existing services?

Nick Poole from MDA presented Naomi Korn’s slides on rights issues (moral, ethical and Copyright) involving museums implementing Web 2.0 applications. Nick presentation was excellent and had two main points to make. The first being that the museum sector is already going the way of increased audience focus and interaction in real world policy and has been for at least the past decade so why should the web be any different? Further that the recent political climate in which museums in teh UK exist has focussed on the cultural sector being a lead in enhancing social cohesion and the sharing of cultural capital. Secondly, Nick emphasised that as museums “we have a social responsibility to the population to exploit any and all methodologies which makes it easier for them to engage with and learn from their (cultural) property”, concluding that despite the potential legal issues, Web 2.0 offers a “set of mechanisms by which we can enhance accountability and effectiveness in a public service industry”. Excellent stuff.

Alex Whitfield from the British Library then presented an interesting look at an albeit extreme example of the tensions with implementing Web 2.0 technologies with certain exhibition content. Alex demonstrated some of the website for the Sacred exhibiton which shows some the key religious manuscripts from the faiths – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The online exhibition shows 66 of 152 texts and includes a GoogleMaps interface, expert blogs, podcasts and some nice Flash interactives (yes, I did ask why Flash? apparently because it was a technology choice encouraged by the IT team). Alex then proceeded to look at a few examples of where tagging and digital reproduction can cause community offence or at the very least controversy, before closing referencing from Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ where Sontag claims that there is a reduction of ‘the subject’. (see an interview with Sontag where she explains this concept). Alex’s example was certainly provocative and reminded me, again, that the static web and the participatory web both carry their own particular set of implicit politics (individualistic, pro-globalisation, and pro-democracy although to differing depths of democracy).

After a light lunch Frances Lloyd-Baynes from the V&A gave an overview of some of the work they have been doing and some of the challenges ahead. She reported that the V&A has 28% of their collection online but that the figure reduces to 3% once bibliographic content is excluded. Of course they have been working on other ‘collections’ – those held by the community – for quite a while as evidenced by their Every Object Tells A Story and the new Families Online project.

She also mentioned the influence of the MDA’s ‘Revisiting Collections‘ methodology which focuses on making a concerted effort to engage audiences and bring user/public experiences to museum collections content. This and other concepts have become a key part of the V&A’s strategic policy.

In terms of user-generated content she highlighted problems that manyof us are starting to face. What UGC gets ‘kept’? How long, how much? What should be brought into the collection record? Should it be acknowledged? How?How should museums respond, mediate and transform content? Or should they remain unmediated? And how do we ensure that there is a clarity and distinction between voice of the museum and voice of the user.

Fellow Australian, now ex-pat who works as a database developer at the Museum of London, Mia Ridge, gave a practical overview of how Web2.0 can be implemented in museums. She covered topics like participation inequality, RSS and mashups, and the need to be transparent with acceptable use and moderation policies. it was a very practical set of recommendations.

Paul Shabajee from HP Labs then gave a very cerebral presentation on the design of the “digital content exchange protoype” for the Singapore education sector. The DCX allows for the combination of multiple data and metadata spread across multiple locations and sources, as well as faceted browsing and searches for teachers and students allowing for dynamic filtering by type, curriculum subject area, format, education level, availability, text search, etc. It was a great example of the potential of the Semantic Web. He then went on to explain the CEMS thesaurus model of curriculum and the taxonomies of collection, and how actual users wanted to do things in a more complex way such as finding topic for a class then find real world events and map them against topics. And because everything had been semantically connected, building new views in line with user needs did not mean massive re-coding. More information ont eh project can be gleaned from Shabajee’s publications.

Then after some very tasty micro-tarts (chocolate and raspberry, of which I must have partaken in five or six . . ), we moved on to the closing session from Brian Kelly of UKOLN. Brian is a great presenter although his slides always seem so lo-fi because of his typographic choices. Brian managed to make web accessibility for Web 2.0 are compelling topic and his passion for reforming the way we generally approach is ‘accessibility’ is infectious.

Brian is a firm believer that ‘accessibility is not about control. rules, universal solutions, and an IT problem’. Instead he asks what does accessibility really mean for your users? And rather cheekily ‘how can you make surrealist art accessible’? Accessibility, for Brian, is about empowering people, contextual solutions, wideing participation, blended solutions, all the things that Nick Poole and Frances Lloyd-Baynes (and the rest of us) were pushing for earlier in the day.

Brian has come up with a model of approaching accessibility that uses as a metaphor the tangram puzzle (for which there is no single ‘correct’ solution) rather than a jigsaw. He advised that we should focus on content accessibility because a mechanistic approach doesn’t work. How do you make an e-learning resource 3d model? It is just not possible and instead we should be focussing on making the learning objectives/outcomes accessible instead. If we see things in this way then there is no technical barrier for doing museum in projects in say, Second Life, citing the reasons that it isn’t ‘accessible’ by some disabled users, but that we should focus on providing alternatives as well that achieve or demonstrate similar outcomes for other users. Michael Twidale also provided the example of the paralysed Second Life user who can, in his virtual world, fly when in the real world he cannot walk.

Brian closed by advising that at a policy level we should be saying things like “museum services will seek to engage its auidences, attract new and diverse audiences. The museum will take reasonable steps to maximise access to its services”. By applying principles of accessible access across the whole portfolio of what the museum offers (real and virtual) we can still implement experimental services rather than using accessibility as a preventative tool. After all, as he points out the BBC has a portfolio of services for impaired users rather than ensuring access on every service.

Interactive Media Web 2.0

Follow the map . . . in 3D

Mike Ellis from the Science Museum showed some great stuff today at UK Museums and the Web 2007. I have a full blog post waiting for some daytime editing to clean it up.

So in the meantime, if you haven’t already seen Flickrvision in 3D then you need too. These are images that are mapped as they are posted in real time to Flickr. The creator also made Twittervision but Flickrvision is so much more visual especially in 3D.

Copyright/OCL Social networking Web 2.0

Potential of social networking / Peer to Patent

How do we re-build our patent system in light of the technology that enables the crowd-sourcing of scientific information?

A very interesting and wordy post from Beth Noveck on Peer to Patent, a pilot project that aims to examine how social networking may offer new possibilities for analysing the enormous backlog of US Patent Office claims and use the community’s aggregated knoweldege to quickly strike out patent trolls.

. . . what we are seeing the deconstruction of the notion of expertise – or at least the sociological organization of expertise – and we need to understand how this changes our institutions and might impact their legitimacy.

Whereas once expertise meant strictly a body of knowledge accumulated by a single person in a professional capacity, increasingly it also means the aggregation of discrete bits of knowledge into collective databases impelled by the new social networking tools, such as friend-of-a-friend (FOAF) social networking sites like Doppr or LinkedIn, or driven by rating and reputation techniques, such as those used by eBay, Amazon and Slashdot, and visual tools like Second Life and that make social practices transparent as well as other other Web 3.0 (I think 2.0 was last year) to organize that information.

These suggest that: ordinary people, regardless of institutional affiliation or professional status, possess information that could enhance decision-making and improve governance. Participating in a social network not only aggregates the wisdom of the crowd – summing up individual parts a la Surowiecki’s jelly bean jar – but it can also structure information into manageable knowledge and help build expertise through participation over time.

Web 2.0

‘Web Dos’ and internet connectivity in the developing world

The reason why there haven’t been any posts recently is because I’ve been in the Cuba speaking to a lot of Latin American and Caribbean cultural portals (as part of the 5th International Congress on Culture and Development and the 3rd annual Culturemondo roundtable)- helping people comes to terms with the opportunities of ‘Web Dos’.

Not unsurprisingly in Havana it has been extremely difficult to get anything resembling a reliable and fast internet connection. Even the convention centre had a connection no more than 128K to the presentation room. Private internet connections are restricted and because of the US blockade and geopolitics there is no optic fibre connection to the island making even approved connections extremely limited bandwidth as the entire country is connected to the rest of the world by satellite only.

It has been a timely reminder that despite the promise of Web2.0, (reliable) connectivity is a big barrier to participation. As a result many of the groups I have spoken to are developing their sites for overseas visitors rather than local domestic users. Others such as Brazil and Mexico are working hard to connect their populace and building a strong technical infrastructure. With connectivity there comes a need for rapid development of local services and content – something that is already happening.

Walking around Havana it was very clear that the solution to internet connectivity is not going to be wired. Existing wired infrastructure for telephony and electricity is literally crumbling, along with the buildings, weathered by a stifled economy and the high salinity of the Caribbean waters. With wireless these geographic issues can be addressed at considerably less install and maintenance cost than cables.

When coupled with a thriving open source community behind which support is rapidly growing, there are some remarkable locally-grown opportunities that can be nurtured with appropriate public policies and support.