Conferences and event reports Web 2.0

NLA Social Media & Cultural Communication conference – Sydney, Feb 28/29, 2008

Registrations have opened for the Social Media and Cultural Communication conference to be held in Sydney in February 2008. This conference is one of the outcomes of the Australian Research Council research project New Literacy, New Audiences which concludes shortly.

The conference brings together a range of great museum industry speakers from around Australia as well as Kevin von Appen from the Ontario Science Centre, Carolyn Royston from the Victoria & Albert Museum, and Mei Mah and Caroline Payson from the Copper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

It promises to be a provocative day and is aimed at the needs of those institutions small and large who are yet to start fully exploring the opportunities.

The conference is a single day event on February 29 and is preceded by a day of two masterclasses on the February 28.

Registrations range from $134-$149 and the masterclasses are $9 per person. Book through Museums & Galleries NSW.

Imaging Museum blogging

Powerhouse Photo of the Day – a new museum blog

I’m excited to announce a new Powerhouse Museum blog – our Photo of the Day blog.

This blog is aimed at exposing some of the amazing photographic work that occurs at the Museum. Our Image Services team doesn’t just do object photography, scanning and image sales – they have a fantastically talented group of professional photographers who shoot way more than gets seen in exhibitions and publications. Each day they will be posting a new photo – a mix of older work and right up to the minute shots. There’s behind the scenes photography, location shots, detail shots, and every so often we’ll be putting up a photographic essay complete with tips, techniques, and specialist insider information.

The other notable feature of Photo of the Day is that we are using our Flickr account to store the images. Each image is uploaded to Flickr, extensively tagged and where possible, also geotagged. Here’s one taken in China during some location work for our recent Great Wall of China exhibition. Clicking an image in the blog will take you directly to the same image in Flickr.

Already we’re connecting with other professional photographers on Flickr (and we’ve only just launched!). This is a good example of how a museum can utilise an existing content community (Flickr) to generate extra exposure for and conversations around its media assets.

Feel free to leave comments in the posts, or, if you prefer, in Flickr!

Museum blogging Social networking Web metrics

Better museum blog metrics – is your blog really working for you and your organisation?

Musuem blogs, even when they are one-directional (and have comments turned off), need to be measured differently. Jim Spadaccini and I wrote about this earlier in the year, but now with many many more museums blogging it is time for an update.

At the Powerhouse we’ve seen phenomenal growth in our blogs. This very blog, Fresh & New is one of the most popular parts of the Museum’s website (and it isn’t even linked from anywhere else on the site!), and the Sydney Observatory’s blog continues to grow well beyond the traffic figures of the pre-blog Sydney Observatory. (Our other blogs rise and fall much in line with the frequency of postings.)

But raw traffic growth is not a good measure. (And that’s not just because traffic figures are pretty rubbery these days).

In our paper Jim and I avoided site traffic and instead proposed that two better measures of success for museum blogs were citations/linkbacks and user comments. These captured the ‘interactivity’, the multidirectional communication, that most museums set up blogs to encourage and explore.

Web analytics guru, Avinash Kaushik has proposed 6 ways of measuring a blog’s success. He breaks it down to –

1) Raw Author Contribution – number of posts, length of posts, consistency of posts
2) Holistic Audience Growth – site traffic trends and RSS/feed trends
3) Conversation Rate – trend of comments per post
4) “Citations” / “Ripple Index” – linkbacks, how others discuss your content
5) Cost – total cost of running and posting to your blog
6) Benefit / ROI – including unmeasurable benefits

Kaushilk’s model fits the museum world particularly well because unlike many other business-style blogs, we are primarily about rich, detailed content – and we are using blogs to better, more widely, and more accessibly disseminate such content. To this end, his measure of Raw Author Contributions works well – and provides a metric to encourage continuity and consistency – something everyone struggles with.

Likewise, “citations” are easily explained to curatorial and research staff who operate in the academic world. Jim and I covered Conversion Rate and Citations in detail in our paper but if you already run a museum blog you may not have realised that Technorati has started expiring citations after 6 months. This can rapidly change your ‘authority’ rating if an old post has received a lot of linkbacks but your more recent work has been less widely discussed. As Kaushik writes, “I like this aggressiveness. Its a incentive to stay on your toes”. This again encourages consistency.

We are also, through our public programme and education areas, generally good at encouraging visitor interactions. Whilst this may not always transfer through to our websites, there are plenty of existing skills in our organisations in other sections and departments.

We are about to launch a new public facing blog for our Image Services unit which handles image sales and licensing as well as operating our amazing Photography Department who produce some fabulous, but rarely seen, images. In coming up with some measures of success for this new blog we have an added challenge – the primary content for the blog, images, will be stored on Flickr. Like the John Collier images at the Maxwell Museum, a large number of ‘visitors’ will only ever view the museum’s content on Flickr, not visiting the blog. In that sense, we are also going to be measuring image views by looking at the Flickr statistics as well.

Interactive Media

Ubiquitous connectivity and the ambient Internet . . . . in the kitchen

We’ve probably all heard of the Internet Refrigerator, but I’ve never really understood why you’d bother with one.

Last week my Chumby arrived (via a friend in San Francisco) and it is sitting in the kitchen alongside the tea. Although the Chumby is not the most versatile of devices, what I like about it is its simplicity. Basically at the moment it is an internet alarm clock with support for Flash and copious RSS feeds. However it has been developed to be ‘hackable’ and a growing community of hardware and software developers are developing new widgets and accessories for it. ‘Installing’ widgets requires a seperate computer to login to and deploy new content to your device.

At the network end it support only wifi – but without batteries, AC power only, it makes for a ‘tethered’ wireless experience. Making things interesting are its two USB ports, touch screen and motion sensors – all of which will offer the opportunity for expandability. My real gripe with it at present is its lack of support for streaming audio – it can obviously connect to anything on the net, but it lacks the codecs and the necessary licensing to currently allow me to use it to completely replace a clock/radio with streaming radio.

As a first generation device – currently in very limited pre-release – it is an interesting experiment. Setting up a museum screensaver type of widget for this would be pretty trivial, although it does raise the question of whether it is desirable for museum content to become ‘ambient’. Obviously this sort of ‘always on’ ambient Internet is well on its way and we may not have much of a choice . . . (do I really need to be updated of Facebook alerts when I’m making a pot of tea?)


Anthony Grafton on digitisation in the New Yorker

Over in the New Yorker is an excellent article on digitisation, the various book scanning projects, and a historical look at the urge to record and catalogue everything written by historian Anthony Grafton.

Here are some pull quotes of specific note –

Developer tools Web 2.0

OpenSocial, social networking and museums

Google’s OpenSocial has finally gone live.

What it provides for the museum sector is a much easier way to seed content to social networks, where apparently our younger online audiences, like to spend a lot of their time. OpenSocial, as opposed to a Facebook application, promises to work across multiple social networking services – meaning the development effort expended results in an application that can theoretically be deployed on MySpace, Ning, Bebo, Linked In and all the other OpenSocial partners. It remains to be seen just how portable these applications are.

The benefit for developers, especially those in the museum world, is that the risk of ‘choosing the right’ social networking service is greatly reduced. Museums have been experimenting a lot with seeding content to social networks – mainly as a marketing and promotional tool; and to a lesser extent building professional communities either within existing social networks (the multitude of Facebook groups especially) or discrete services like Exhibit Files.

Where applications from museums sit in the mix is more complicated, especially when development needs to be outsourced or requires significant investment. Our sector is often slow to respond and by the time we do, the audiences we were targetting have sometimes moved on.

Looking at the professional networks for museum staff on Facebook, they currently are thriving because currently many museum staff have private accounts – and usage from work is generally not blocked. However once non-museum personal friends move on to the next site, I do wonder how long those professional networks on Facebook will be sustainable.

As Fred Stutzman points out,

Ego-centric social network sites all suffer from the “what’s next” problem. You log in, you find your friends, you connect, and then…what? Social networks solve this problem by being situationally relevant. On a college campus, where student real-world social networks are in unprecedented flux, Facebook is a social utility; the sheer amount of social information a student needs to manage as they mature their social networks makes Facebook invaluable. For the consultant or job seeker, LinkedIn maintains situational relevance by allowing one to activate weak ties in periods of need.

What happens when a social network is no longer situationally relevant? Use drops off. Social networks can combat this problem on a number of levels. Myspace dumped tons of exclusive media content into the site, so users would keep coming back once they negotiated their social networks. For non-SR users, Facebook developed the application platfom, betting that third party developers could make tools that would answer the varied needs of their userbase. Unfortunately, the gimmicky nature of the platform tools has undercut this approach somewhat, but this could very well change over time.

Try as they might, once ego-centric social networks lose situational relevance, its pretty much impossible for them to retain their status. Myspace users have exhausted the Myspace experience; they’ve done all they can do, they’ve found all the people they can find, so now its time to find a new context. We naturally migrate – we don’t hang out in the same bar or restaurant forever, so why would we assume behavior would be any different online?