Folksonomies Interactive Media Web 2.0

Word association and tagging games

Human Brain Cloud is a pretty amusing timewaster with a great visualisation interface, and lots of (untapped) potential for tagging applications.

HBC asks everyone online to ‘free associate’ with particular words which then have relationships built between them. Much like what we at the Powerhouse do when we data-mine search terms, HBC is building an enormous lexicon of word relationships – something that would have great potential if linked with tag databases. Whilst ESP Game and related projects are useful for connecting different words with images and forming ‘agreed’ descriptions, if this were to be coupled with multi-source, distributed, dynamic synonym generation then the number of words/tags would skyrocket, greatly increasing discoverability.

One warning – there is no censorship on the site at the moment, so be warned that some associations may not be appropriate or worksafe.

Conferences and event reports Web 2.0

Upcoming presentations and workshops – Melbourne, Gold Coast, Sydney

During September I will be doing several conference presentations and a workshop that may be of interest to Fresh + New readers around Australia.

The Melbourne and Gold Coast presentations are aimed squarely at the museum and cultural sector, whilst my Sydney presentation is at Web Directions South, an excellent web event that draws much of this hemisphere’s web people.

If you are coming to one of these events then feel free to get in touch.

Friday September 7
Sites of Communication 3, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Keynote address – ‘New technologies, new audiences and new opportunities for galleries and museums’. I will be covering a range of topics including social tagging, virtual environments, and new opportunities for direct audience engagement.

Saturday September 14
Museums and Galleries Services Queensland State Conference, Legends Hotel, Gold Coast

Half day workshop – ‘Planning social media’ with Angelina Russo and Jerry Watkins, Queensland University of Technology. This is a considerably updated version of the workshop presented previously at Museums and the Web 2007 in San Francisco.

Sunday September 15Museums and Galleries Services Queensland State Conference, Legends Hotel, Gold Coast

Opening plenary – ‘Highlights of digital media in museum and gallery communication’.

September Thursday 27, Friday 28Web Directions South, Darling Harbour, Sydney

Presentation – ‘Social media and government 2.0’. This presentation will use the recent work at the Powerhouse Museum and other projects as an example of some of the new ways that government datasets can generate additional value both to government and the community when opened to citizen participation and collaboration.

Web metrics

Demand-side analytics, relative brand awareness, problematic user behaviour

Continuing the theme of web analytics, last week I took a look at the top 5000 search terms (the head of a long tail containing over 4 million terms) searched for by Australian internet users in a 4 week period through a paid analytics service. This data is generally gathered from ISP logs and is anonymous, but is revealing of trends.

This sort of data is very useful in determining the demand side of internet usage – what is the general public looking for, what are they trying to find? As such it can provide useful comparative data for examining brand awareness and potential “intent to visit” amongst the population. Much like using the various AdWords tools, it is possible to look at relative popularity of thematics, competitors and can identify market opportunities.

Here is an example – in the 4 week period only two museums, the Australian War Memorial, and one gallery appeared in the top 5000 search phrases – the Melbourne Museum at 1064th position, the Australian War Memorial at 1357th, Powerhouse Museum at 2306th and the National Gallery of Victoria at 4232nd. Of the libraries and archives, only Brisbane City Council library appeared in the top 5000 at 2294th and the National Archives at 3606th.

Obviously there will be irregularities – those institutions with easy to find and remember domain names will likely not get as many searches. Also, for some institutions whose major online audience is a more web savvy demographic, search may not be such an important traffic driver. There will also be fluctuations around real world advertising campaigns and overall ‘top of mind’ concerns amongst local audiences.

Others may find, when looking at their own site analytics, that their search traffic is predominantly content-based rather than institution-based – that is, the audience is coming to them because of what they have rather than who they are. The concern with this is that content-based, rather than brand-based audiences are fickle and prey, over time, to migration to other sites and services both commercial and non-commercial. Such a disconnect between institutional awareness (brand awareness) and user behaviour also weakens claims that institutional authority extends to online visitors.

For example, contrast two different users. The first visits the Powerhouse Museum website and searches for ‘Delta Goodrem dress’. The second searches in Google for ‘Delta Goodrem dress’ and ends up deep within the Powerhouse Museum website.

In the first case it is safe to assume that the user first is intentionally visiting a museum website, and second, that they will be taking the institution’s reputation, expertise and authority into consideration when looking at the search result – the Delta Goodrem dress. This would typically be a very small proportion of Internet users.

In the second case, however, these assumptions do not necessarily hold. Instead, the intentions of the user may, and probably do have, very little to do with the museum or museums in general. Even if they do visit the museum’s webpage about the dress, it is difficult to make the assumption that they are aware that they are even on a museum website.

It is much more likely that the first user can be converted to a real world visitor than the second, especially if their geographic location permits.

It is this lack of ability to transparently understand user intentions that makes an increasingly large proportion of museums’ web traffic problematic. On one hand we are all very excited to know that our content is being viewed, possibly even read, by millions of users. On the other hand, as our traffic increases, we need to be very mindful of the need to ensure that this traffic is, at least proportionally, being drawn back to, or made aware of the organisation’s brand – which is its marker of authority and expertise.

Spending some time looking at the demand side of the web can be a sobering experience. Our ‘serious’ content seems to be low down on the list of public concerns – particularly at the head of the curve.

Conceptual Web 2.0

Keen and Weinberger on Web2.0

The Wall St Journal has published the full text of a debate between Andrew Keen (Cult of the Amateur) and David Weinberger. It is well worth reading.

Keen’s argument that a more accessible, user-driven web is effectively undermining our institutions, values and culture comes up against Weinberger’s defense of the Web.


The issue of talent is the heart of the matter. How do we traditionally constitute/nurture/sell talent and how is Web 2.0 altering this? My biggest concern with Web 2.0 is the critique of mainstream media that, implicitly or otherwise, drives its agenda. It’s the idea that mainstream media is a racket run by gatekeepers protecting the interests of a small, privileged group of people. Thus, by flattening media, by doing away with the gatekeepers, Web 2.0 is righting cultural injustice and offering people like your friends Joe and Maria an opportunity to monetize their talent. But the problem is that gatekeepers — the agents, editors, recording engineers — these are the very engineers of talent. Web 2.0’s distintermediated media unstitches the ecosystem that has historically nurtured talent. Web 2.0 misunderstands and romanticizes talent. It’s not about the individual — it’s about the media ecosystem. Writers are only as good as their agents and editors. Movie directors are only as good as their studios and producers.

These professional intermediaries are the arbiters of good taste and critical judgment. It we flatten media and allow it be determined exclusively by the market, then your friends Joe and Marie have even less chance of being rewarded for their talent. Not only will they be expected to produce high quality music, but — in the Web 2.0 long tail economy — they’ll be responsible for the distribution of their content. No, if Joe and Maria want to be professional musicians paid for their work, they need a label to make an either/or call about their talent. That’s the binary logic that informs any market decision — from music to any other consumer product. Either they can produce music which has commercial value or they can’t. If they can’t, they should keep their day jobs. If they can produce commercially viable music, Joe and Maria need the management of professionals trained in the development of musical talent.

Weinberger makes a solid argument against this logic but most importantly concludes with a list of benefits that amateurs might bring to the institutions – benefits that are very applicable to the cultural sector.


(1) Some amateurs are uncredentialed experts from whom we can learn.
(2) Amateurs often bring points of view to the table that the orthodoxy has missed, sometimes even challenging the authority of institutions whose belief systems have been corrupted by power.
(3) Professional and expert ideas are often refined by being brought into conversation with amateurs.
(4) There can be value in amateur work despite its lack of professionalism: A local blogger’s description of a news story happening around her may lack grammar but provide facts and feelings that add to — or reveal — the truth.
(5) The rise of amateurism creates a new ecology in which personal relationships can add value to the experience: That a sister-in-law is singing in the local chorus may make the performance thoroughly enjoyable, and that I’ve gotten to know a blogger through her blog makes her posts more meaningful to me.
(6) Collections of amateurs can do things that professionals cannot. Jay Rosen, for example, has amateur citizens out gathering distributed data beyond the scope of any professional news organization.
(7) Amateur work helps us get over the alienation built into the mainstream media. The mainstream is theirs. The Web is ours.
(8) That amateur work is refreshingly human — flawed and fallible — can inspire us, and not just seduce us into braying like chimps.

Museum blogging Web 2.0

Ideum’s RSS Mixer and Widget-maker

The seemingly unstoppable Ideum has come up with another cool utility. Hot on the heels of their website snapshot tool comes RSS Mixer.

As the name suggests, RSS Mixer takes a bunch of feeds (10 max) and combines them into a single feed which can be displayed as HTML and, best of all for us Mac users, as a prebuilt OS X Widget. Whilst there are a lot of other feed combining tools out there, the Widget-maker is currently unique.

Here’s a mix of all the current, operational Powerhouse Museum feeds . You can go an download an OS X widget of them for your shiny laptop, get a mix formatted for your iPhone, or get them in more beige-box friendly formats too.

Ideum is behind the Museum Blogs aggregator which already aggregates and combines multiple RSS feeds from many museum bloggers so it makes perfect sense to be releasing this tool.

Digitisation Imaging Interactive Media

Open Library demo launches

Internet Archive/Open Content Allinace has launched a public demo of its forthcoming Open Library project. Having heard Brewster Kahle speak about the OCA at Museums and the Web 2007, it is fantastic to be finally able to get some hands-on time with the work he was talking about.

Open Library is a very exciting project because it offers an open alternative to Google Books’ proprietary and retail/consumer solutions.

The search is impressive and the ability for users (both community and commercial) to improve the metadata of each record – adding reviews, publisher information etc – is exciting. The ability to locate the book in retail outlets (Amazon etc) as well as in your local library is nice too.

The page turning interface works quite well and is less flashy/dramatic than some of the others I have seen around. However, as Ben Vershbow at The Future of the Book writes,

But nice as this looks, functionality is sacrificed for the sake of fetishism. Sticky tabs are certainly a cool feature, but not when they’re at the expense of a straightforward list of search returns showing keywords in their sentence context. These sorts of references to the feel and functionality of the paper book are no doubt comforting to readers stepping tentatively into the digital library, but there’s something that feels disjointed about reading this way: that this is a representation of a book but not a book itself. It is a book avatar. I’ve never understood the appeal of those Second Life libraries where you must guide your virtual self to a virtual shelf, take hold of the virtual book, and then open it up on a virtual table. This strikes me as a failure of imagination, not to mention tedious. Each action is in a sense done twice: you operate a browser within which you operate a book; you move the hand that moves the hand that moves the page. Is this perhaps one too many layers of mediation to actually be able to process the book’s contents? Don’t get me wrong, the Book Viewer and everything the Open Library is doing is a laudable start (cause for celebration in fact), but in the long run we need interfaces that deal with texts as native digital objects while respecting the originals.

And, look – here’s a book from the Powerhouse Museum’s former incarnation – the Sydney Technological Museum! (hat tip to Paul for finding this!)

Web metrics

Web analytics – what are you using them for?

Over the past few months I have been becoming more and more concerned about the use of web analytics in the museum sector. I’ve also been seriously re-considering the Powerhouse’s current anayltics tools.

Web analytics should be used to improve the ROI of online services; improve customer/user experiences; and drive traffic to the key areas of your site. Yet almost every museum I have spoken to uses them, largely, to simply report back simple metrics to funding bodies – visits (or sessions), page views and, in some cases even hits (!). Some still count robots, spiders and other non-human visitors in the figures they report to funders, and see no way out of doing this because, as a few people overseas have put it – ‘everyone else in the sector does and we are competing against them for funding’.

The problem I think is that we haven’t, ourselves, come up with a better way of doing things. What constitutes ‘success’ for a museum website? Surely it cannot be reduced to ‘visits’. Instead we need to start thinking about what constitutes, in web analytics terminology – a ‘conversion’ (or set of conversions).

In the ecommerce world a ‘conversion’ is when a user/customer successfully browses a catalogue, chooses an item, adds it to their cart, and then checks out making a payment. Running an ecommerce site means using web analytics to keep a careful watch on where and when users are dropping out of a conversion process – do they leave before they add to their cart (if so, why?). Overall visits vs sales don’t tell the whole picture – certainly not a useful picture – other than perhaps indicating the size of the ‘potential market’.

The closest thing to ecommerce that most of us have are online surveys. I wonder how many museums have tracked the number of users that start a survey but fail to complete it?

At the Powerhouse, one of the conversion measures I’ve been exploring is how many website visitors go to our home page at some point during their ‘visit’. Currently this is sitting at around 29% – which is good, given the volume of users and most importantly, the other statistic – that only about 5% actually start at the home page. That means 24% of users coming in through other entry points (including search) are coming to the home page to find out more about where they are (or perhaps, more cynically, some are lost?).

If these figures are combined with statistics about how many people visiting the site are using brand-related search terms (eg “Powerhouse”, “Powerhouse Museum”, “Sydney Powerhouse” and variants) it is possible to get an indication of market interest in the brand. It is also possible to explore the potential size of an online audience interested in a physical visit to the Museum; and the brand-awareness rub off that the 5% to 29% figures start to indicate.

It is extremely important to know the breakdown of your online audience, even if it is reduced to something as basic as –

– online only visitors (will never visit the physical site)
– potential physical visitors (local vs overseas/interstate)
– definite physical visitors (immediate vs soon)

Then you can start to build conversion measures around each type of user and improve your site architecture to cater for each in the best possible manner.

Can you ensure your online-only visitors who have probably come in via a search engine are spending significant useful time on your site fulfilling the information seeking needs they have?

Can you ensure that those wanting to visit your with their family in the next two hours can get everything they need to know about visiting quickly and all in the one place?

And can you attract those who have come in via search but also live locally, to potentially become a physical visitor as well?

Web analytics expert Avinash Kaushik has recently written an exploring blog entry exploring how certain elements of Google Analytics can be used to set up useful metrics on non-ecommerce websites. Even if you don’t use Google Analytics as a tool his suggestions apply broadly.

Kaushik zeros in four default Google Analytics metrics – Loyalty, Recency, Length of visit, and Depth of visit – as being of greatest importance to those who don’t fit the ecommerce mould (which is much of the web analytics market).

The first two of these – Loyalty and Recency – are important because they tell you what proportion of your userbase are regulars and how frequently they might expect to see new, expanded or enhanced content on your site. Every museum should be trying to increase the number of ‘regulars’ and convert casual visitors to regulars. Regulars are far more likely to engage deeply with your content – especially interactive content.

The last two of these – Length and Depth of visit – are useful because they tell you how far users go into your site. Most of us probably already took at, and perhaps even report, ‘average time on site’ or ‘median time on site’, but breaking this down further, and by user segment or areas of the site and entry points can give you a lot more information.

What do you measure and report?

Collection databases Developer tools Folksonomies Web 2.0

OPAC2.0 – Go bulk taggers!

Thank you to everyone who has been tagging the collection with our bulk tagging mini-application.

Since announcing it 2 weeks ago we’ve had 515 new tags added to previously untagged objects. That’s a lot.

If you are one of the many who have added some tags – thank you. If you haven’t tried it yet, then what are you waiting for?

Thank you also to everyone who emailed in or left suggestions in the comments.

Museum blogging Powerhouse Museum websites

Great Wall museum bloggers reach their goal!

One of our most successful, and earliest public facing blog experiments, Walking The Wall is almost over.

Even though the Great Wall of China exhibition moved on from PHM a while ago, our intrepid Great Wall walkers continued their trek, blogging as they went.

146 post and 630 comments later, they have finally finished their walk which is still being documented at Walking The Wall.

Brendan and Emma have walked thousands of kilometres and taken gigabytes of photos along the way. As you may remember, they were injured and had to return to Sydney to recover before continuing their journey. It is important to remember that Brendan and Emma approached the Museum as volunteer walkers and have done the whole trip at their own expense!

The blog of their travels has received over 150,000 visits during their trip and has been extremely successful with national radio coverage as well as several broadsheet stories, both locally and internationally. These online visits are in addition to the thousands who stopped by the blog as an interactive in the galleries in Sydney and Melbourne.

You can continue live vicariously through their stories and images and feel free to leave comments – they do read them frequently.

I’d like to thank Brendan and Emma for their generous efforts.

Powerhouse Museum websites

New Powerhouse front page

Another long awaited change to our website has rolled out – a slightly updated front page and navigational redesign.

Obviously we are not in a position for a wholesale site redesign – something that is probably becoming a luxury these days – not just in terms of money but also in terms of user familiarisation. (Why change your website on a grand scale if you have a significant number of ‘regular’ visitors?)

However, we’ve managed to squeeze some more ‘value’ out of our front page, increasing the promotional banner spaces to six as well as allowing for horizontally scrolling ‘extras’. Not much else has changed – the navigation remains the same.

We found that 800×600 and less only represented under 8% (49% use 1024×768) of our site visitation and thus moving to a slightly longer home page (although not wider) would not impact on the majority our users.

A small footer change is coming soon.