Social networking Young people & museums

The most popular online museum, user generated content and social networking

In preparing for some of my upcoming papers, presentations and workshop, I came across the Saatchi Gallery’s Stuart. Stuart is like a MySpace for artists – it even looks a little like MySpace complete with visual clutter and flashing text. Create a profile, upload some ‘art’ and connect with others.

Within the sector I hear a lot about Brooklyn Museum’s social networking initiatives and MOCA’s MySpace pages amongst others but rarely a peep about Saatchi. Rose Cardiff mentions Saatchi’s YourArt in her paper about YoungTate. She writes,

Possibly the most major concern for Tate was that a social site of this kind would lose its relevance to Tate and its youth programmes. Once the site was opened up to the general public to contribute content, there would be nothing to stop people uploading content that didn’t relate to Tate or art in any way; the site could become purely a socialising space rather than an art-related space. Or else the site could be in danger of simply becoming a space for people to promote their own art work without setting up any meaningful dialogue.

However, it might just be this kind of social space that is in demand. High demand.

According to Compete, the Saatchi Gallery gets almost double the US monthly traffic of teen social networking site and ten times the traffic of (And it isn’t even an North American site, and it has a comparatively difficult URL.)

Saatchi’s YourArt which launched in late 2006 but the real action seems to occur when Stuart went live combined with Chinese-language access. Browse the thousands of artist profiles in the Saatchi userlist and a lot of Chinese-speakers are using the site.

Very rapidly Saatchi has captured a sizeable chunk of the youth audience, as well as filled the site with user generated content. It is quite remarkable. And all this user generated content and the patterns of its usage are extremely valuable as we have seen from recent controversies around Facebook.

Museums have even been champing at the bit to add their content to the Saatchi site via their ‘global gallery listing’ service. Here is the Met’s ‘page’ in the Saatchi directory, which sits surrounded by Saatchi’s own advertising content. What the Google effect of this might be is itself, interesting. (Here’s the Powerhouse profile for balance).

There are more direct means of revenue generation too. From the New York Times piece on the site from late 2006, early in its life,

With dealers and collectors scouring student shows for undiscovered talent and students hunting for dealers to represent them, Mr. Saatchi has tapped a vein that can’t stop gushing. If Stuart gains anything like the cachet of MySpace, it has the potential to morph from a nonprofit venture into a gold mine for Mr. Saatchi.

For now, he said, he is simply enjoying the role of spectator. “When I launched the site, I took the view that the best thing was to leave it alone for the first year and purposely not buy anything, because I didn’t want to compromise what the site was supposed to do: appeal to a wide group of students,” he said.

The Financial Times reports from October 2007,

A poll of 2000 of the 70,000 artists on the site estimated that Saatchi Online is now responsible for annualised art sales of $130m (£64m). The figure is extrapolated from the $88,000 sales reported by 500 respondents for a single week in September.

The news comes as several venture capitalists and investment bankers have been seeking to persuade Mr Saatchi to commercialise the free site, either by exploiting the heavy traffic it attracts through advertising, or by charging commission for purchases.

However, Mr Saatchi told the FT on Wednesday: ”I am not interested in taking any advertising on the site, or any kind of commercial participation in artists’ sales.”

The Saatchi ‘brand’ has certainly helped the site attract a particular audience very rapidly but its undeniable reach and usage should make us seriously reconsider many of our comparatively minor efforts. And, by tapping the Chinese market they are quickly staking a claim in an area that most other museums have not even considered.

Digitisation Metadata Web 2.0

Flickr Commons – mass exposure of historical images

As a lot of museums (and libraries) have been using Flickr in lightweight ways for various purposes from image storage to building community engagement for quite a while, it is exciting to see a new formal collaborative project between Flickr and a major institution launch.

Flickr Commons is a project between Flickr and the US Library of Congress. It provides a secondary point of access to some of the out-of-Copyright historical photo collections of the LoC. Whilst these photos have all existed on the LoC’s own website, they have been, like most image collections, only known to those audiences who are familiar with the work of the LoC already and are undertaking (‘serious’) research.

The project is beginning somewhat modestly, but we hope to learn a lot from it. Out of some 14 million prints, photographs and other visual materials at the Library of Congress, more than 3,000 photos from two of our most popular collections are being made available on our new Flickr page, to include only images for which no copyright restrictions are known to exist.

Placing these images on Flickr allows the images to reach a much broader audience and be connected with images of similar people, places and things in contemporary photography. Importantly, this audience’s labour can be engaged to assist in tagging and geolocating the images – work that the LoC is unable to do so efficiently or presumably as quickly.

As George Oates from Flickr writes

There are about 20 million unique tags on Flickr today. 20 million! They are the bread and butter of what makes our search work so beautifully. Simply by association, tags create emergent collections of words that reinforce meaning. You can see this in our clusters around words like tiger, sea, jump, or even turkey.

What if we could lend this wonderful power to some of the huge reference collections around the world? What if you could contribute your own description of a certain photo in, say, the Library of Congress’ vast photographic archive, knowing that it might make the photo you’ve touched a little easier to find for the next person?

This isn’t the first formal engagement between a library and Flickr. The National Library of Australia’s Picture Australia project set up a relationship to allow the community to upload contemporary images to Flickr and have them catalogued inside the NLA’s resource as well.

What is interesting about the Commons project is that it reverses this and releases back to the community a wealth of historical imagery that previously was hard to find. Flickr is a good match for the collections of images already available under this project – the pro-am photographic community is well represented in Flickr which bodes well for higher quality tagging and user generated content, Flickr already has a lot of ‘similar’ contemporary content with which these historical images can be linked, and of course Flickr’s API opens up some interesting possibilities for recombinatory projects.

No doubt many other organisations will be watching this closely to see what impact this has on the LoC’s reputation and image sales revenue. Also, for those who hold similar collections, how their own image sales revenue is affected. Likewise, others will ask whether these public domain resources should now also be replicated out to other image services as well, and when more public domain collections will be uploaded in a similar fashion.

More over at the Flickr blog and the LoC’s own blog.

Collection databases Social networking

Powerhouse collection records in Artshare Facebook application

The ever-busy crew at the Brooklyn Museum made live a nice and simple Facebook application called Artshare late in 2007.

This allows you to add selected objects from museum collections to your Facebook profile. These object images then link to your museum’s collection records, the idea being that people can effectively ‘friend’ objects in your collection, promote them for you on their profiles, and drive traffic back to your website.

Brooklyn did a great job with the application and then took it a step further by opening it up for other museums to add some of their collections to it as well as individual artists. This very collegiate attitude is hopefully going to spread across the sector with more data and technology sharing efforts in the future.

The V&A quickly added a selection of their objects to Artshare and now the Powerhouse has added some as well. Because you can add your collection via an RSS feed we simply modified our existing Opensearch capacity on our OPAC to send a trimmed down selection of some of the less obvious things in our collection . . .

If you are on Facebook go and add the application to your profile and choose some objects.

Collection databases Web 2.0

OPAC2.0 – new context features – collections, ‘parts’, and narratives

As promised some of the new features of our collection database have started to go live.

We have been spending a lot of time working through a range of legacy issues to do with how collection data is structured in our collection management system and how this affects the options for its more flexible use on the web. Part of the problem lies in the way in which museum professionals classify, and another part in how these classification practices become hard-coded into collection management software.

A very big problem for us has been ‘parts’ and ‘collections’ and how they have been historically catalogued. An example is our Hedda Morrison collection of photographs. In our collection management system this set of 349 photographs has an object number (92/1414) with associated structured data. Then, each of the 349 photographs has their own object number (92/1414-1 through to 92/1414/349) related to that of the parent with a lesser set of structured data – because it is assumed that it inherits some data from its parent.

Now this works perfectly if the user views (and reads) the parent object (trunk) first and then digs down to the part objects (branch) and their associated data (leaves). But in the new world of search it is far more likely that a user will start at a leaf not only because they are more plentifully represented in the search results which flattens the tree structure, but also because it is actually what they are looking for (a photo of an “Itinerant barber” for example).

So finally we have started to reveal these parent/child relationships on object pages. Now looking at the collection record for the aforementioned “Itinerant barber” we reveal that it belongs to a parent object.

You will also notice that for some objects (the barber photo is one) we also reveal that it belong to a ‘collection’. These are even broader groupings of objects that cross into the forest of other object trees. The barber photograph belongs to the ‘Hedda Morrison Collection’ which also contains her camera, passport, papercuts, Chinese belt toggles and much more. Again by revealing this relationship we open up new pathways for users to traverse the collection.

Here’s the Jenny Kee Collection – a collection and archive of the work of a famous Australian designer.

All this work is a prelude to a much larger feature that will go live very soon – narratives. (Although I think we will call them ‘themes’ on the site). Narratives will operate in a similar manner but allow for much more free association between objects. Narratives will also contain their own text and images so that they operate a little like object groupings. We might have one on 20th Century Australian Design written by a curator, or one on Flying Machines written by one of education staff. There will probably come a time when users will be able to submit their own object clusters.

One of the computing curators, Stephen Jones, came up with the notion of ‘heterarchical narratives’ (possibly after a quick lunchtime re-reading of Deleuze). This is a good way of describing the way in which they will act as fluid nodes for contextual collection information. Not only are they much more fluid in terms of navigation, they are also much looser in terms of internal structures of control in terms of knowledge production. Anyone with access to the collection management system can create a new node and associate collection objects with their node – this opens up plenty of opportunity for cross-disciplinary narratives, and cross-organisational collaboration.

Interactive Media Mobile Young people & museums

Playing with the OLPC XO Laptop and the museum possibilities

I ordered an OLPC laptop under the ‘Give One Get One’ programme and via a friend in the US it arrived last week. My 3 year old has been having a great time playing with the TamTam Mini application, a very simple graphical sound triggering noise maker; the Paint application; a memory match game; and the inbuilt camera.

The Sugar GUI has been getting mixed reviews but in the hands of a 3 year old who hasn’t been indoctrinated into the aesthetics and usage patterns of Windows or OSX, it is seems logical, or at least sensible enough.

The wireless networking is excellent with great range and quick pickup. However this is where the gripes, or shall we say, ‘quirks’ start. You would think that the distance a ‘network’ icon was from your central OLPC icon is would indicate signal strength or proximity but in fact it is just random. Obviously there aren’t many of these laptops in Sydney, let alone Australia (yet!), so trying out the Mesh networking hasn’t yet been possible.

The bundled web browser is absolutely awful and slow. In fact until I installed a special build of Opera I was convinced that the laptop would be all but useless for Flash-based sites (which tend to be the ones that little kids actually want to start with). Flash support on the bundled browser works but it delivers things like Pingu at about 1 frame per second and forget about Youtube. Fortunately the support wiki is fantastic and a few handy Terminal commands and Opera had rectified the situation.

The screen of the OLPC can be swivelled around to turn the machine into a tablet e-book reader. A button on the screen allows you to rotate the screen through 90 degree steps which is nice too. Unfortunately using the bundled browser makes for a slow experience.

The final quirk is touchpad. Maybe it is a hardware fault but I have had to recalibrate it at least twice each session (which is fortunately done by holding down 4 keys simultaneously). Plugging in an external USB mouse makes it better.

But more of the good. The way Sugar stores your work is in a diary-like manner. Instead of ‘saving’ everything is just auto-saved by date and time. This allows you or an educator to look back over project work and see its development over time – this is a very nice feature that operates the same across all the bundled applications (called ‘Activities). The built in video camera is also remarkably good and is certainly usable for low level video conferencing given the right bandwidth.

So, having one of these to play with is fascinating. The potential applications within a museum environment are huge. Their size and the Mesh networking makes them attractive – they are remarkably small and the ability to connect them to each other automatically without the presence of an external wireless network opens up plenty of possibilities.

It would be very possible send students out in the field with a clutch of these tiny, robust machines to gather data, wirelessly commnunicate with each other, capture images, collaboratively write reports and then return to a lab to collate and present the results. The Sugar UI is suitably intuitive enough to make the learning curve of a properly set up machine easy, and there is little to attract the inevitable hacking and tomfoolery that occurs when students are plonked down in front of a Windows box.

But the question is, will these machines ever become available to museums to use or experiment in this manner?

Collection databases Web 2.0

New York Times on their own use of collective search intelligence

Here’s a short piece from the NYT Tech Blog on how the New York Times is using realtime analysis of site search to improve results.

Regular readers will know that we’ve been doing this over at the Powerhouse on our OPAC for a long time. The principles are the same and the use of actual users search relationships can greatly assist the navigation of other users.