Imaging Web 2.0

Brooklyn joins the Commons, we hit the 500 mark

The Brooklyn Museum have just joined the Commons on Flickr and some of the material they’ve released is spectacular. Amongst the highlights are some amazing lantern slides of Egypt as well as colourised photographs from the Paris Exposition in 1900. Some of the colourised images are quite surreal.

Brookyln have also released some of them at 3000 pixel and higher resolutions – asking re-users of these images to contact them to tell them whether this extra high resolution is useful. (I immediately thought that it might be fun to Photoshop in some Indiana Jones images into some of the Egypt images).

Flickr is already flagging that there will be many more contributors to the Commons coming very soon and that there will be some new features – an internal Commons search – as well as greater promotion of the Commons across Flickr. The addition of Brooklyn also seems to have solved the problem of the Commons needing a separate account – Brooklyn have sensibly merged their Commons images into their already very successful Flickr presence.

Back at the Powerhouse we’ve just uploaded our 500th image. This latest batch includes some lovely shots of the Sydney Observatory which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. There are also more shots of old Sydney, and the Tyrrell Today group is now starting to fill up with complimentary contemporary shots of the Tyrrell locations takne by a diverse range of other Flickr users.

And two other things, if you search Flickr regularly then you will love CompFight. It is a really nifty quick search of Flickr with various options for Creative Commons images and (un)Safe Search that leverages the Flickr API.

If you want the more ‘wow’ but far less practical search of Flickr then this 3D globe-style search from Germany, Tag Galaxy, is pretty amusing – especially on a fast connection.

MW2008 Semantic Web

The museum APIs are coming – some thoughts on interoperability

At MW08 there was the beginnings of a push amongst the technically oriented for the development of APIs for museum data, especially collections. Driven in part by discussions and early demonstrations of semantic web applications in museums, the conceptual work of Ross Parry, and the presence of Eric Miller and Brian Sletten of Zepheria; Aaron Straup Cope and George Oates of Flickr, MW08 might well be a historic turning point for the sector in terms of data interoperability and experimentation.

Since April there has been a lot of movement, especially in the UK.

The ‘UK alpha tech team’ of Mike Ellis, Frankie Roberto, Fiona Romeo, Jeremy Ottevanger, Mia Ridge are leading the charge all working on various ways of connecting, extracting and visualising data from the Science Museum, Museum of London and the National Maritime Museum in new ways. Together with them and a few other UK commercial sector folk, I’ve been contributing to a strategy wiki around making a case for APIs in museums.

Whilst the tech end of things is (comparatively) straight forward, the strategic case for an API is far more complex to make. As we fiddle, though, others make significant progress.

Already a community project, dbPedia, has taken the content of Wikipedia and made it available as an open database. What this means is that it is now possible to make reasonably complex semantic queries of Wikipedia – something I’m yet to see done on a museum collection. There are a whole range of examples and mini-web applications already built to demonstrate queries like “people born in Paris” or “people influenced by Nietzsche“. More than this, though, are the exciting opportunities to use Wikipedia’s data and combine it with other datasets.

What should be very obvious is that if Wikipedia’s dataset is made openly available for combining with other datasets then, much as Wikipedia already draws audiences away from museum sites, then their dataset made usable in other ways, will draw even more away. You might well ask why similar complex queries are so hard to make in our own collection databases? “Show me all the artwork influenced by Jackson Pollock?”

On June 19 the MCG’s Museums on the Web UK takes place at the University of Leicester with the theme of “Integrate, federate, aggregate“. There’s going to be some lovely presentations there – I expect Fiona Romeo will be demoing some lovely work they’ve been doing and Frankie Roberto will be reprising his high entertaining MW08 presentation too.

The day before, like the MCGUK07 conference, there will be a mashup day beforehand. Last year’s mashup day produced a remarkable number of quick working prototypes drawing on data sources provided by the 24 Hour Museum (now Culture24). This year the data looks like it will be coming from the collection databases of some of the UK nationals.

Already Box UK and Mike Ellis have whipped up a really nice demonstration of data combining – done by scraping the websites of the major museums with a little bit of PHP code. Even better, the site provides XML feeds and I expect that it will be a major source of mashups at MCG UK.

I like the FAQ that goes along with the site. Especially this –

Q: Doesn’t this take traffic away from the individual sites?

We don’t think so, but not many studies have been done into how “off-site” browsing affects the “in-site” metrics. Already, users will be searching for, consuming, and embedding your images (and other content) via aggregators such as Google Images. This is nothing new.

Also, ask yourself how much of your current traffic derives from users coming to explicitly browse your online collections?

The aim is that by syndicating your content out in a re-usable manner, whilst still retaining information about its source, an increasing number of third-party applications can be built on this data, each addressing specific user needs. As these applications become widely used, they drive traffic to your site that you otherwise wouldn’t have received: “Not everyone who should be looking at collections data knows that they should be looking at collections data”.

I’ve spoken and written about this issue of metrics previously, and these and the control issues need to be sorted out if there is going to be any real traction in the sector.

Unlike the New York Times (who apparently announced an API recently), and the notable commercial examples like Flickr, the museum sector doesn’t have a working (business) model for their collections other than a) exhibitions, b) image sales and possibly c) research services.

Now back to that semantic query, wouldn’t it be useful if we could do this – “Play me all the music videos of singles that appear on albums whose record cover art was influenced by Jackson Pollock?”. This could, of course be done by combining the datasets of, say the Tate, Last.FM, Amazon and YouTube – the missing link being the Tate.

Geotagging & mapping Interactive Media Mobile

Mobile augmented heritage reality

It shouldn’t take much imagination to see the enormous potential afforded by this prototype project coming out of Germany via Japan – Enkin.

Built on Google’s Android mobile platform (for which, it should be pointed out, no commercially available devices exist), Enkin looks amazing, even as a prototype. David Bearman has written recently about the notion of the ‘inside out museum’ where collections can be ‘digitally repatriated’ and connected up in both space and time (previously discussed). Enkin is one glimpse into that potential future.

If you have only a short amount of time take a look at the video (hat tip – Renae), otherwise spend the time and read their technical PDF.

Of course it is going to take a long time for mainstream audiences to engage with augmented reality heritage content and there are many barriers to be overcome. Interface is perhaps the easiest to solve – already mobile carriers are finding that iPhone users make considerably more use of mobile data than other phone users (see Jason Grigsby great presentation on this and other mobile usability issues over at Slideshare – especially slide #15). More problematic are carrier issues around the charging of data, and even more problematic are the philosophical issues that museums need to deal with in order to release their collections and other content in these new ways.

Conceptual Imaging Web 2.0

Conversation, the Commons, museum futures, and ‘architectures of participation’

This is a long and sprawling post and comes off the back of two weeks of presentations around the country and a lot of discussions about the ‘future of museums’. Perhaps find a comfortable chair and a hot beverage.

Checking my RSS feeds this morning I came across this piece from the Boston Globe which looks at the way the nature of what constitutes ‘history’ is being opened up with social web tools. It talks about the Commons on Flickr and the respective contributions of the Library of Congress and the Powerhouse Museum. Given the typical questions I’ve been asked in recent weeks about our own experience in the Commons, this section jumped out immediately.

Late last year, the Library of Congress posted several thousand of its photographs on Flickr and asked the public for help: What is this? Who is this? When was it taken? Curator Helena Zinkham, who oversaw the program, was stunned to discover how quickly the gaps were filled by amateur enthusiasts – and in some cases, people with firsthand recollections.

This was particularly the case where the images attracted the attention of a particular group of enthusiasts: military aviation buffs, for example, or aficionados of early baseball. One collection depicted early-20th-century boxers, many without vital information – perhaps just a last name, like “Wells.”

“By the time the conversation was done,” Zinkham says, “we were able to tell Matt Wells from Bombardier Billy Wells.” (emphasis mine)

Conversation – this is what social media is fundamentally about – and Zinkham’s use of the word says a lot about how the Library of Congress has approached the whole Commons project. As we know (from meat/meetspace) conversations are unpredictable and whilst they can be steered they can rarely be controlled. For this reason we’ve traditionally been unable to ‘let go’ in our marketing campaigns and our gallery and online experiences. Conversations are hard work too, and require ongoing work to maintain.

Thinking about the Museum Futures summit last week in Canberra (organised by Museums Australia) I’ve come to the conclusion that museums must “assert relevance, don’t assume relevance”. As others at the summit have noted, there still seems to be an assumption within the sector that museums are, by their very presence, relevant. This is not the case.

Alternatives are everywhere. ‘Experience venues’ are less the preserve of museums than every before. Take a look at the cinema industry and you quickly realise how the declining cost of home cinema equipment combined with DVDs and the internet have, in a very short space of time, greatly reduced the appeal of the ‘cinema experience’. There is now very little reason to visit a cinema to actually ‘see’ a film – that act can be performed anywhere – and the connection between the ‘seeing’ of the film and physical space of the cinema has been well and truly severed. Of course there are still some who enjoy the cinema experience, but the ‘need’ to attend to see a film is no longer.

If we think that ‘information’, ‘fact’ and ‘knowledge’ are our domain then again the alternatives are everywhere. The internet as an information space is dominant, faster and easier to access.

Fortunately we aren’t alone in facing this disruption.

I was excited to hear Cathy Johnson, a reference librarian talking about the ‘Slam the Boards’ initiative that she has been eagerly taking part in. (Cathy was talking at the State Library of NSW last week at the Reference at Metcalfe conference that I also spoke at). Slam the Boards originated in the US as a way of reference librarians making their presence felt in the rather unruly world of internet Q&A boards.

It is a great example of ‘asserting relevance’. What Cathy and other reference librarians do is all head over to Q&A boards like Yahoo Answers, WikiAnswers and the like and start answering questions. It sound simple but as even some in the audience felt, reference librarians find it incredibly challenging – even though they do the same every day in face to face situations in libraries. In answering questions professionally and tagging their posts and also identifying their avatars as ‘librarians’ Cathy argued that not only are librairans engaging audiences that have either forsaken libraries or are just unaware of their services; their answers act as promotion – not just of themselves and their library, but also of the idea of libraries as ‘trusted navigators of information’.

Actually all media industries face this question of ‘relevance’ in the face of alternatives. And, as ‘Future of media’ consultant Ross Dawson mused last week after attending a Powerhouse Future Directions Forum, museums are essentially media.

Come this morning and digital radio blogger, Tony Walker over at the ABC linked over to a fascinating post at Reportr about the changing motivations behind the newspaper world’s (slow) embrace of social media.

The Reportr article by Alfred Hermida is a fantastic read, as is the longer form report (by Hermida and Neil Thurman) it references midway through. As an investigation of how British newspapers have adapted to the changing media landscape – a result of the democratising of media production equipment and publishing technologies – it is very illuminating. We have seen similar adaptations attempted by Fairfax and News Limited.

Most of all Hermida’s research mirrors the attitudes and reactions of the museum world to social media, user-generated content, and the new demands of “asserting relevance” and engagement. From his earlier work –

While news organisations were providing more opportunities for participation, we also found evidence that they were retaining a traditional gate-keeping role. Moderation and or registration remained the norm as editors’ concerns over reputation, trust, and legal liabilities persisted.

This said, we did record a greater openness among editors. One described user media as a “phenomenon you can’t ignore”, another said they “firmly believed in the great conversation”, and one editor explained he was “very interested in unlocking” information from his “very knowledgeable” readers.

Sound familiar?

Hermida’s later research is showing that in light of low particpation rates (when compared to overall site visitation), and a lack of tangible ‘ROI’ and metrics, and ongoing concerns over ‘moderation’, there is still little in the way of more open forms of collaboration between audience and newspaper – potentially the most transformative.

Although there has been a continual increase in opportunities for readers to contribute over the three years of our work in this area, textual contributions are, in the main, still limited to short ‘comments’ on subjects or stories determined by professional editors. There is little in the way of longer-form contributions or opportunities for readers to set the agenda. We could suggest then that the media is creating an architecture of publication for material from the audience, rather than an architecture of participation.

Where opportunities for readers to set the agenda do exist (for example in readers’ blogs; or at message boards) they often seem to be part of what some have described as a “closed-off annex where readers can talk and discuss, as long as the media companies don’t have to be involved”.

Attempts to create genuinely open spaces where readers can set the agenda are few and far between. The Times’ ‘Your World’ travel site is one, but after initial external investment to get it running (it was sponsored by BMW) the site has atrophied without ongoing support and management. The most recent posts are 4 months old.

Will museums reach a similar point in their engagement with social media and pull back? At this stage I think there is a 50/50 chance. The gains that have been made with social media in terms of audience engagement and the transformation of the very idea of a ‘museum’ lie in the ability of the sector to overcome its inertia and begin to demonstrate the gains made so far and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Our relevance lies not in just creating an ‘architecture of publication’ but as Hermida and others say, designing ‘architectures of participation’. And this is not easy.

Coming back to where I started this post, George Oates from Flickr (and the architect of the Commons project), has written a nice piece over at A List Apart called “From Little Things”. The article is a nice introduction to the basics of designing for community interaction. Here she describes how Flickr operates as game –

If you imagine Flickr as something like Game for the Masses—a playing field without rules or a “way to play”—you can see how people can learn to engage with one another through conversations about their content.

This has certainly been our experience with the Commons. And the open nature of the game, and its evolving rules and social mores poses significant challenges for us. Museums are good at closed games – our galleries are full of them, our websites too. But we are only getting started at open ended evolving interactive experiences.

We better get a move on.

Museum blogging Social networking

Beth Kanter at the Powerhouse

We were very lucky to have non-profit and NGO social media trainer Beth Kanter drop by to run a whirlwind seminar for us on Friday. Beth lives social media and technology. My team’s first words with her were captured and streamed live to the web on her Nokia N95 phone via – even us technophiles were surprised by her gadgets! I had never met Beth in person myself before Friday although we’d exchanged ideas and methodologies over the past few years; most recently for a piece on ‘Effective social networking‘ over at Techsoup.

Lynda Kelly from the Australian Museum took copious notes and blogged during Beth’s 2 hour micro-workshop – which was held with a mix of Powerhouse staff and those from other arts agencies. Lynda’s notes capture the overall flow of the workshop and covers the main points that were discussed – it should be noted that the focus of the workshop was on social media in marketing and fundraising for non-profits.

In her work Beth emphasises the value of the network of people with whom she is loosely and electronically connected. She places a lot of trust in that network – a trust that has paid back many times over – as her fundraising is a testament to. Her blog is her diary of her explorations, trials and discoveries and as such provides a very accessible entry point to everything from video blogging to NGO web strategy.

Many of the strategies Beth outlines are applicable within the museum and cultural sector – especially amongst those developing next generation marketing strategies.

MW2008 Web 2.0 Young people & museums

Social technologies and museums – the ‘groundswell’ and museums

The folks at McGraw Hill/Harvard Business Press recently sent me an advance copy of Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies for review. The book builds on Li and Bernoff’s Forrester research blog and in particular their social technographics work.

Aimed at managers, executives and marketing staff, the book (usefully) steers well clear of specific technologies and technical solutions and instead provides numerous case studies of how social technologies are being deployed by savvy companies to improve and transform their businesses. More so than the social technographics profiles, these case studies are the book’s strength. The case studies featured cover different audiences and social technographic profiles, widely different industries, and also very different strategies and are all interesting reading.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how museums might apply their methodologies – in particular their POST (people, objectives, strategies, technologies) method – to exhibitions and online content.

The POST method is simple but forces you to look first at the people you are trying to promote/engage/sell to and the objectives you are trying to achieve. Then choose a strategy and last, the appropriate technology. The Groundswell book covers, in detail, this methodology applied to examples such as the sale of tampons to young women . In this case study Procter and Gamble built a discussion forum, Being Girl, which is a platform for the marketing of a particular brand of tampons. It became a bigger and ongoing platform with which to engage the target audience. What the Being Girl case study shows is that by looking at the behaviour of the target audience first and their online behaviour it was possible to create a better aligned and more successful campaign that not only met the objectives of the tampon company (and created new opportunities as well) but importantly met the needs of the audience (to have a safe place to discuss adolescence – beyond just tampons). The company involved is also able to now undertake ongoing audience/market research through the forum to inform future campaigns.

Of course, engaging with audiences in these and other ways radically changes the communication flows from the traditional one-to-many shout methods of traditional marketing to multi-directional communication. These inevitably begin to transform the organisations involved as well as the customers/audience too. Groundswell outlines some of the challenges, especially around corporate transparency, that this throws up such as whether or not to acknowledge the existence of competitors in one’s own discussions with customers. (What if ‘other brands of tampons’ are discussed?)

Put simply, if you do engage, you organisation will change. If you engage strategically then this change can be managed and paced appropriately. For some organisations it might be most appropriate to deploy a range of ‘listening’ techniques and technologies before leaping into an poorly planned social media project. Even here at the Powerhouse we’ve had social media projects fail because we have over-estimated our intended audiences and their predicted behaviour.

Museums tend to focus on audience evaluation rather than market research – focussing on those who have made the choice to come to our sites already, rather than those who haven’t yet. Thus for museums there is a real need for us to understand the technographic profiles of our multiple audiences – and then take the most sensible approach for each audience niche. Unlike companies who tend to target a product line at a group of consumers and then develop that relationship across the lifespan of the product line, too often museums take a more schizophrenic approach to exhibitions (as products) – serving one niche with an exhibit then moving on to serve a totally different niche audience with the next. The audience cultivated through the first exhibition may not be served with a follow up ‘product’ for several years – or in some case, ever again. This is a grave strategy error.

Of course museums are more than just exhibitions, they are a collection of experiences. So, if we consider museums as experience venues with a visit containing multiple ‘samplings’ of a diverse product line – the average museum visitor stopping by several exhibitions in one visit – then we also need to be considering the impact of different technographic profiles for different audience needs and intentions as well.

In Lynda Kelly and Angelina Russo’s recent research presented at MW2008 they applied the social technographics methodology of Forrester to visitors to Australian museums. What is interesting in their work is that they found that the use rates of many social media tools was, in fact, higher than national averages. At the same time their qualitative research showed that amongst teenagers whilst usage of social networks is high, that there was an impression that these were for ‘private’ and ‘personal’ use – and that the intrusion of museums into these spaces were not necessarily desirable. Similar findings are being made by others across many industries. Likewise, Dana Mitroff and Katrina Alcorn’s exploration of the SFMOMA audience informing a web redesign sounded an early warning that any museum’s pursuit of Web 2.0 participative methods needs to be strategic. Social technologies aren’t yet appropriate for all audiences, nor are they necessarily desirable without strategic alignment.

Forrester provides an online social technographics profile tool in the promotional site for the book. This is a simple tool to start a conversation with managers about the general online behaviours of your audience and I’d strongly recommend exploring it with the backing of existing audience research around your ‘product range’ (exhibitions, interactives, online projects) rather than just applying it generally to your entire museum.

So where from here?

What Groundswell does is provide your web or digital team with a range of examples to present management, and it also provides management with a strategic framework with which to begin to evaluate proposals from digital teams irrespective of the technologies involved.

I’ve got two copies of Groundswell in the office now which are being read by everyone in my team and the key people around the Museum that we work with.

Geotagging & mapping Imaging

Commons on Flickr – one month later

Our experiment with the Commons on Flickr continues and barring a few hours delay we have managed to keep to our promise of 50 new images a week. We’re up to 400 images now with the most recent 50 going live this morning. 158 of these have been geotagged.

Some statistics:

– we’ve been added as contacts by 230 people
– our images have been viewed 39,685 times to yesterday.

Interviews Museum blogging

Rich collection-oriented curator blogging – an interview with the Australian War Memorial

In the Australian cultural sector, one of the best examples of curatorial blogging is at the Australian War Memorial. In a few short years they have created a lot of blog content and blogging has provided a much more efficient way of creating engaging content for exhibitions than standalone resource-hungry web microsites.