Interactive Media Mobile Picnic08

Picnic08 – Surprising Africa, data visualisation and a little augmented reality

Picnic is a large ‘creativity’ conference held annually in Amsterdam. I’ve been here as a guest of n8 talking about the notion of ‘open museums’.

Here is the final set of notes (with only a minor cleanup for the sake of timeliness).

Closing off my time at Picnic were visits to a couple of parallel sessions. One of the things I was keen to check out was part of the day long ‘Surprising Africa’ programme. This event featured speakers from Africa talking about what most in the ‘West’ would describe as ‘remarkable innovations’. The point, in part being that Western media portrays Africa as an exotic, dangerous, sometimes, lawless, and difficult place – whilst the reality is quite different. Thus what seems ‘remarkable’ is often only because of our collective ignorance.

The day was in part organised by Ethan Zuckerman from Global Voices who has done a great job of summarising. Likewise Erik Hursman’s presentation and notes is essential reading/viewing. As Erik says – if it works in Africa it will work anywhere – and I think one possible future for the mobile Internet is already visible in Africa.

Over in the main auditorium there was a fantastic double presentation from two of the leading lights of data visualisation – Ben Cerveny from Stamen and Jose-Luis de Vicente from Media Lab Prado in Madrid. In fact I think that these two presentations were the highlight of the main hall. Cerveny’s presentation, ‘The Alchemy of Understanding’, was a lovely poetic piece – data visualisation as “the transformation of data into understanding”, “synaesthesia of the world” with the “CPU as the philosopher’s stone”. He spoke of how in designing Diggswarm – a visualisation of how stories rise and fall within Digg – it was essential to create a set of rules to make the visualisation meaningful. As he put it, visualisation requires the generating of a “physics of each dataspace”. I especially liked his final comments that we are now in “an age of meta exploration”.

Jose-Luis de Vicente zipped through a wealth of material. For him and his work at Media Lab Prado the aim is to make use of as many public available datasets as possible. He demonstrated The Atlas of Electromagnetic Space, a project that shows the official uses of the spectrum alongside the activist and artistic interventions in these spaces.

He spoke of the ‘quantified self’ which is also emerging as projects as divergent as and Nike’s iPod linkup and the recently popular Bedpost make it possible for individuals and communities to record more data than ever about their own activities. Whilst some of these already allow simple visualisations, or at least data export (see LastGraph from Aerocode for beautiful visualisations of profile data), there is a lack of high quality interactive works. Then he showed Mail Garden, another collaborative project to emerge from the Media Lab Prado, which is visualisation of email patterns in one’s own mailbox. Lovely.

Casastristes is a public database of empty housing across Spain and is also features a number of nice interactive infographics showing the changes in housing affordability and building rates across Spain. Casastristes exemplifies the need to move from ‘just’ visualisation to social action.

Here he showed Cascade on Wheels, a project that scraped traffic data from the Madrid government website and presented it as an interactive map of traffic density in the city. In Cascade on Wheels, busy streets appear as ‘walls’ of traffic that can be seen to prevent or disrupt social activities and reveal patterns of discontinuity between areas of the city.

Nuage Vert uses projections onto industrial smokestacks to reveal the pollution levels generated by industrial plants; and AEG’s Noise Awareness reveals data about noise in the city in the city itself.

Running out of time, Vincente concluded by asking what sort of new efficiencies could be gained if the data held by city-owned bicycle scheme Bicing might offer up if the data about which cycle bays were empty, which were not, and the rate of exchange and use were made public? For one, it would be immediately possible to find out where the nearest city bike was – without needing to chance it to the next station. Of course, the city has contracted out the service to a private provider and the data has become locked up, reducing efficiencies and ultimately public good.

The final session of Picnic08 for me was on augmented reality. With a room full of marketers looking for the edge in ‘interactive marketing’ I was pleased that the Nokia presenter David Murphy, focussed on other possibilities for augmented reality. He opened with a series of slides showing the advance of augmented reality technologies from huge backpack computers and headsets to what we have now – a mobile phone with built in camera, GPS, compass and accelerometer. Basically the clunky prototypes made by computer science researchers only 5 years ago have been rapidly superseded by mobile phones. He demonstrated a number of new applications coming from the Nokia Labs which make the AR of Engin on Android look positively old school.

And that was the end of my Picnic. I hope you have enjoyed reading these notes.


OCLC’s Beyond the Silos of the LAMs report

Just a few days after the Picnic08 discussions of ‘openness’ comes a very timely report from the OCLC on cross-sector collaboration between libraries, archives and museums (LAMs) titled Beyond the Silos of the LAMs. Diane Zorich, Günter Waibel and Ricky Erway are the authors of the report.

The report is the result of a series of workshops with particular institutions. The notion of a ‘collaboration continuum’ is particularly useful – “As LAMs move from left to right on this continuum, the collaborative endeavor becomes more complex, the investment of effort becomes more significant, and the risks increase accordingly. However, the rewards also become greater, moving from singular, “one-off” projects to programs that can transform the services and functions of an organization.” (pg 11).

The report is bursting with usefulness. In discussing the reposnse to a changing network environment;

LAMs are increasingly aware that they are not primary Web destinations and that most users are directed to resources through search engines or through portals specific to their areas of interest. They also see that much of the social interaction they hope will take place on their sites now occurs in community networking spaces such as Flickr and Facebook.

While some LAMs are trying to ameliorate this situation by putting their content where the users are (for example, by adding links to Wikipedia pages or placing images on Flickr), these efforts are exploratory and have not yet altered the fundamental strategy for collection access or the primacy of the campus Web site. The discussion exposed an underlying tension between the vision of seamless collections access and community engagement on local Web sites, and the shift in online user behavior where access and engagement now occur at a broader network level. (pg 15).

Or looking at the reasons why institutions find collaboration difficult;

Unfortunately, incentive and reward structures for collaborations are largely absent in most institutions. More strikingly, existing incentive structures often position LAMs so they compete with one another in ways that discourage collaboration. For example, when performance plans use metrics that focus on the success of individual departmental efforts and activities, departments will naturally promote their own activities to the exclusion of all others. One of the workshop participants succinctly summed up this conundrum as follows:

“We have spoken long about cross-institutional collaboration. The reality has been though…that we are measured against each other and then you do take naturally a possessive attitude.”

The absence of incentive structures for collaboration inadvertently fosters competitive behavior in other areas as well. For example, the proprietary sense of ownership of collections and databases that exists among some LAMs is perpetuated in an environment where collaboration is not promoted through an incentive system. (pg23)

This is an incredibly important report at this juncture where technological options, global funding uncertainties, and changing audience expectations, are beginning to align to force our hands with respect to institutional collaboration, effective cross search and resource discovery.

Now, having read the report, if you are a GLAM with a design collection, come and add it to D*Hub, the Powerhouse Museum’s hub for design – as the t-shirt would say, “ask me how”. Or, if you’d like to propose something collaborative with the Powerhouse Museum collection then make contact.

Interactive Media Mobile Picnic08

Picnic08 – The Internet of Things

Picnic is a large ‘creativity’ conference held annually in Amsterdam. I’ve been here as a guest of n8 talking about the notion of ‘open museums’.

Here is another set of notes (with only a minor cleanup for the sake of timeliness).

Day Three was full of clashes and I was out at Westergasfabriek terribly early in the morning – even before the free (sponsored) barista coffee opened. But getting in early meant securing a table and laptop power outlet to catch some of The Internet of Things workshop.

The notion of the ‘Internet of Things’ was best summed up by Rafi Haladjian from Violet who are best known for their Nabaztag, the Internet enabled rabbit. He described how technologies always become pervasive starting out as highly expensive and shared by many (clock tower), to then being shared by a few (expensive private clock), before becoming personal (pocket watch), commodified and generic (the disposable digital watch), and then making the leap to becoming pervasive (even your microwave oven and TV now has a clock). The Internet is in the ‘personal’ stage with the mobile web and the iPhone – where the Internet is available pretty much everywhere in the highly developed world. The big shift will come when every device that has a microchip in it is also connected ambiently to the Internet – so rather than having special devices to access the Internet, all our devices connect to the Internet and to each other. At this stage the Internet is not a ‘separate place’ as in the 80s/90s conceptions of ‘cyberspace’, but is fully integrated into everyday life and you no longer go out of your way to ‘connect’ – you just are.

We are already seeing examples of this.

Oliver Christ from SAP talked about some of the megatrends affecting the developed world. The ageing society that we are going to find ourselves in means that healthcare will no longer ‘scale’. Pervasive technologies will become essential to keep citizens out of institutional healthcare for as long as possible by allowing connectivity to health care professionals all the time, ambiently. Need to change your medication? Your pill dispenser will already have downloaded the next prescription from your health consultant and sent back your bio data to them. This is also going to be driven by an increasing service economy – moving form selling products to solutions (Christ gave the nice example of moving away from selling drills to selling ‘holes’ which is typified by SaaS but is not just limited to the technology sector).

We are also seeing the possibilities of pervasive computing with car to car communication in some new models of car. Here cars communicate silently with each other to alert drivers of hazards up ahead, using data sourced from cars already ahead of you. Not only this, because your car is silently communicating with others on the road without your intervention, better decisions about speed, tyre pressure etc can be ‘assisted’.

There are already examples of ‘pay as you live’ insurance schemes which offer significantly discounted premiums and policies if you allow yourself to be tracked and thus assessed as to exactly how you behave rather than the current inaccurate ‘modelling’ applied at the moment. Norwich Union in the UK offers a policy which uses your car’s GPS data to calculate your risk level (and hence premiums) based on when, where, how fast, and how frequently you actually drive.

All this is becoming possible because the ‘data input’ and ‘data collection’ of pervasive computing no longer need to have the enormous costs associated with them of previous times.

Joe Polastre from Sentilla spoke of how “the internet is lonely” and wants more devices connected to it. Looking at the car industry he showed how already car manufacturers are providing the capacity for your car to email its vital signs back to you periodically to tell you how healthy it is, and how this lets you track fuel efficiency and on road costs more effectively. Polastre used the example of WalMart’s detailed energy auditing to show how pervasive monitoring was able to make enormous reductions in energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and expenditure. For example by being able to identify the particular section of the store that was using the most energy (the lighting section) and make adjustments to operations (replacing all the bulbs in the sample lights with energy efficient bulbs) they were able to save $6m per annum. Likewise the simple act of painting their store roofs white in some states, WalMart saved $30m per annum.

All this relies on pervasive low cost measurement systems. Polastre then went on to discuss the enormous energy reductions able to be made in the industrial processing sector – copper and aluminium production etc – because of better monitoring equipment.

The final part of the Internet of Things demonstrated a number of RFID devices that are coming on to the market – Tikitags, the Mirror – and others. The Mirror is the latest from Violet/Nabaztag which is an RFID reader. It comes with a set of Ztamps which you can attach to anything at all to connect them to the Internet and build a suite of customisable interactions. With them and the Mirror you could have your umbrella tell you the weather forecast for example. This was very nifty and showed the massive drop in the cost of RFID technologies.

Nokia is soon releasing a new phone which will have ‘near-field communication’ capacity built in, giving another way to interact with the growing ‘Internet of things’.

open content Picnic08

Picnic08 – Open Musuem (more)

Picnic is a large ‘creativity’ conference held annually in Amsterdam. I’ve been here as a guest of n8 talking about the notion of ‘open museums’.

Here are some more notes (with only a minor cleanup for the sake of timeliness) which were taken during the Open Museum sessions on Day Two. (More notes on the rest of Picnic still to follow)

Following Jelmer Boomsma, a representative of Hyves talked about the collaboration with Musuemnacht and what Hyves stood to gain from the project. I had to pop out for an interview for most of the presentation so I don’t have any notes of particular import for the session.

However following Hyves, Dick van Dijk from the Waag Society, an organisation that operates a little like a new media incubator, gave a demonstration of some mobile, location-aware projects they have been working on. Interestingly the projects have been less about the technology and more about ensuring that the broadest possible groups of people engage with the content. Titled “Connecting: People, Stories, Places”, these projects reminded me a lot of the ‘digital storytelling’ movement – ordinary peoples’ stories made more powerful through their own voice, and through making connections with others. The location-aware aspect of this work fell mainly into the ‘city tour’ model of mobile heritage but where walkers were taken on a particular personal journey – the digital story.

The day concluded with an insider’s perspective of the ‘Slash/Slash generation’ (mainly young people who are, for example, dj/fashion designer/artist/permaculturist – coincidentally this is applies to almost everyone I know!). Nalden, one of the Museumnacht community, and now one of the most prominent young bloggers in the Netherlands, talked about his motivations and actions online and how in his view of the online world, heritage content competes for attention with music, fashion and entertainment. This was an good way to end the day even if I could see others in the audience finding Nalden’s youthful enthusiasm a bit hard to take – because it clearly demonstrated the need for museums to open up simply to maintain relevance over coming generations.

All in all the Open Museums part of Picnic was one of the most successful ‘Picnic Specials’ along with Surprising Africa. The attendance was solid and the ideas discussed traversed the different interpretations and permutations of ‘openness’ – from reaching out to non-traditional museum audiences, to inter-institutional data sharing and co-creative visitor interactions.

Copyright/OCL open content Picnic08

Picnic08 – Open Museum part two

Picnic is a large ‘creativity’ conference held annually in Amsterdam. I’ve been here as a guest of n8 talking about the notion of ‘open museums’.

Here is the next set of notes (with only a minor cleanup for the sake of timeliness) which were taken during the Open Museum sessions on Day Two. (More notes on the rest of Picnic still to follow)

Following my presentation, Fiona Romeo from the National Maritime Museum in London spoke. Fiona began by reminding us that often by themselves museums (outside of the art museum world) often hold incredibly banal and mundane objects whose significance is only apparent when placed into a particular context. This poses enormous challenges for museums in a digital environment that offers the user/visitor the opportunity to actively decontextulise objects (especially when browsing collection databases etc).

Fiona then detailed her recent work mapping some of the NMM collections to draw out the stories associated with objects – something that works incredibly well when the objects collected pertain to navigation and voyages of discovery.

For the NMM, the opportunities for collaboration lie in working with ‘data artisans’ outside of the sector to reveal new stories and ways of seeing our data. To this end she discussed the NMM’s work with Stamen in visualising the language of memorials – a quite poetic and revealing presentation of otherwise rather dull data; and also some of the object licensing to game developers Six To Start who make alternate reality games (and for whom some of the NMM’s maps and objects were a fantastic and uptapped resource).

Fiona emphasised that we under estimate the worth of our own data – we should ‘love our data’. It is rich and interesting even if we see it as incomplete – and by connecting with such ‘data artisans’ in the commercial and creative sector, we may begin to see for ourselves, new opportunities.

Paul Keller from Kennisland talked about ‘museums, fans and Copyright’, arguing that one of the things that is currently paralysing museums in taking advantage of the new collaborative opportunities of digital is this perception that ‘new business models of unimaginable wealth’ are just around the corner. Of course this is totally unrealistic – the bags of money don’t exist – and as a result we get a situation of ‘rights stagnation’ where the museums digital assets are locked up.

Of course, fans are already bypassing museums to take advantage of digital. Paul gave the example of Bittorrent communities whose collective collections of Dutch documentary films are more complete, more accessible, and of a higher quality that those preserved (and inaccessible online) by the Dutch National Film archives. The official film archives are paralysed by ‘getting permission’ while those who want access now just bypass them completely.

Stepping back from the obvious IP issues here, Paul gave another example of an amazing searchable video archive made by two Germans. 0xdb uses the data from video torrents along with their subtitles (sometimes fansubbed) to create a wonderful full text search of around 6000 movies. Whilst downloading is not allowed the metadata and rich content is astounding.

Jelmer Boomsma from n8 gave an excellent run down of the collaborative audience development strategies of the Amsterdam Museum Night. The Museumnacht is a good example of making museums more accessible to wider audiences and Boomsma’s presentation looked at how, in just 3 years they have transformed their strategies to make the Museumnacht reach even wider audiences and build strong participatory cultures around them.

In 2005 Museumnacht was seemingly successful. 26,000 visitors across all the museums in the one night, and a 94% ‘very satisfied’ audience. But there was one problem, the average age of attendee was 37 years old. Now n8 new that young people were interested in museums and culture, just that the event wasn’t appearing on their radars, so rather than take shortcuts and underestimate the intelligence of the audience (a dance party in every museum, or free beer etc), they focussed on redefining what the Museumnacht event was and who it was for.

Over 2006 and 2007 the print campaign began to be supplemented with an extensive and diverse online campaign where they gave the audience the tools to become ‘an ambassador’ for the event itself. They instituted competitions to design the campaign materials, design a Museumnacht t-short, as well as ways to build your own programme for the night and then share it with your friends and even make your own audiotour.

They worked with Hyves, the largest social networking site in the Netherlands (well outranking Facebook and MySpace), and trialled a customised banner advert. This failed and despite 160,000 page impressions it only generated 80 click throughs! So instead they worked with Hyves to set up a Hyves Group to enable 2 way communication, perks and discounts and importantly the tools to share with other Hyves users. In 2006 2% of their traffic came through Hyves, and in 2007 this was up to 8% and capturing 20% of visitors aged 16-24.

Now the new Museumnacht site is incorporating an Opensocial-style set of logins whereby many of the social networking and sharing functions will be available to any network user and also remove the requirement of a separate Museumnacht website login.

Geotagging & mapping Interactive Media open content Picnic08

Picnic08 – my presentation in the Open Museum sessions / Open Museum part one

Picnic is a large ‘creativity’ conference held annually in Amsterdam. I’ve been here as a guest of n8 talking about the notion of ‘open museums’.

Here is the second set of notes (with only a minor cleanup for the sake of timeliness) which were taken during the Open Museum sessions on Day Two. (More notes on the rest of Picnic still to follow)

Open Museum was billed as “a one-day marathon focussing on the idea of an ‘open museum’, a public institution that engages with its environment. Inspired by the great Stedelijk director Willem Sandberg, the Open Museum symposium looks at how museums in the 21st century can learn from media, and how media can learn from museums”. Organised by n8 who run the annual Museumnacht (Museum Night) in Amsterdam, this was an action packed 6 hours of presentations, which, because it was nestled in amongst the rest of Picnic, drew a very diverse and interested crowd. As a result the Dutch newspapers, the local blogging community and others have covered it in good detail.

The sessions kicked off with Michiel van Iersel from MuseumLab taking a run through the history of museums arguing that museums have always had to adapt to changing times and that, on the whole, these changes over the centuries have transformed museums for the better (at least from our current viewpoint) into more transparent, open-to-all institutions that are even opening sub-galleries in airport lounges (see the Rjiksmuseum at Schipol Airport). Michiel’s introduction placed a necessary historical backdrop behind the day’s proceedings – ensuring that we didn’t get too caught up in the emperor’s new clothes.

I followed Michiel with a rapid fire look at the potentials of an ‘open, collaborative museum’ online. In this I argued that in the digital environment, museums that do not take advantage of the opportunities to connect with other institutions (at the global level) and their publics (at the hyperlocal level) are not only missing out on many opportunities, they are at risk of being leapfrogged in relevance by other institutions or even informal organisations. Online, a singular collection of objects is now rather meaningless and the digital space opens the necessity to connect collections internationally. By the same token, online social media offers the opportunity to connect with and engage with local communities in ways previously only theorised about in the scholarship of the ‘new museum’.

Openness is a way for museums to be seen to be ‘creating new value’ from the old – and to assert their relevance in stimulating new creativity, economic and cultural production. Museums can collaborate with the community to improve findability through tagging of various kinds; and make discoveries, create communities of interest around their collections and in so doing improve their research and collection data.

With each other and other sorts of knowledge providers, museum openness can create richer value for researchers, scholars and even general browsers by connecting collections and research with broader context and richer resources elsewhere – moving from being a singular ‘destination’ to simply a high value node in a knowledge network/web (I equated this to the function of a reference librarian).

Finally I posed the absolute necessity for openness for museums to make the most of location-centric possibilities. Without openness none of the problems of location-centric data will be solved, nor will their promise be reached. In the location-centric space, a single collection is meaningless and is a missed opportunity – only a multi-institutional, cross-disciplinary approach will get anywhere near delivering the necessary user experience to make this meaningful. Think of the current situation much like a tourist map that only shows one chain of hotels on it . . .

I concluded with a series of questions aimed at framing the rest of the day –

1. do audiences really want openness? do we expect to much of them? (early adopter tech communities are far from representative of our audiences)
2. where are the new models of rights and IP needed to sustain openness (I posited CC Plus as one option)
3. how do we build new forms of reputation and trust? (especially within museum with scientific research staff whose reputations rely upon currently closed academic research forms)
4. how do we sustainably support the social needs of communities? (I pose that we should look to the existing structures we use to support offline volunteers etc)
5. how do we transform business models in the sector to encourage institutional collaboration?
6. how do we encourage collaboration between our online and our gallery spaces?

Interactive Media Picnic08

Picnic08 – the first report from the conference with fake sheep and wifi donkeys

Picnic is a large ‘creativity’ conference held annually in Amsterdam. I’ve been here as a guest of n8 talking about the notion of ‘open museums’, or as my presentation was called “Sorry we’re open: the open, collaborative museum“.

Set in the reclaimed grey zone of Westergasfabriek, Picnic08 was quite a remarkable thing to behold. On arrival the place looked more like a rave than a conference – in fact the venue is used for huge parties as well. There were fake sheep stationed around the place, the opening ceremony featured a donkey loaded with a video camera, laptop and wifi leading a brass marching band. On day two I was greeted by people dressed up as poodles and crawling around on fours. And, the picnic’ theme extended through to the ‘discussion’ sessions having the speakers seated at a picnic bench on stage.

Here is the first set of notes (with only a minor cleanup for the sake of timeliness). More to follow.

Charles Leadbeater opened the event with a brief introduction to the opportunities of ‘collaboration’ now made possible. Much in the vein of his We-Think book, he sees great potential in a change he feels we are only in the first decade of. As he says, “there are another 50 years to run . . . we’re only 10 years in”. Using the metaphor of pebbles and boulders on a beach, Leadbetter sees the mass creative production of YouTube as millions of people placing pebbles on a beach that previously only supported the boulders of mass media. For this collaborative creativity to have maximum effect it needs to be understood that “diversity drives this sort of creativity”.

Could we imagine learning, politics and media that was “with you” rather than “at you”? How do we get to the “with”?

Clay Shirky’s keynote problematised Leadbeater’s high level optimism.

Managing communities around social objects is hard. These are design problems that plague everything from Flickr to old style forums. If the computer is a box then lots of ‘features’ and complexity matters, but if the computer becomes a communicative/social device then simplicity matters because ‘synchronisation between the mental models of the users’ matter more (communication intent is foregrounded).

Linus’ law – “Many eyes make all bugs shallow”. The best example of this is Pluto on Wikipedia. Wikipedia gets better because it is arguemntative. There is no ‘hive mind’ here. What happens is a very small groups cares much more than everyone else. What Wikipedia does in this instance is allow broad participation rather than apply traditional managerialism that, in the name of efficiency, drops off 80% of the users who only minimally participate (80/20 rule), keeping only those who ‘most participate’. But now in the digital space there is no need to optimise like this and lose so many but instead allow a lot to contribute a little.

But then there is “the Gallileo problem” – the semi locked article. Essentially this is the manifestation of a 500 year old flamewar involving the Catholic Church. This indicates that it is probably necessary to stop thinking about ‘users’ in the generic and start to consider users an inevitable unequal and unequally motivated. This then allows systems to build in defense mechanism to allow the head users to fight off the tail users when necessary – much like governance in a democracy.

Shirky then moved on to discuss the unequal participation and unequal motivations behind Aaron Koblin’s Ten Thousand Cents. This is a collective art work created by 10,000 ‘workers’ on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

Ten Thousand Cents from Ten Thousand Cents on Vimeo.

Now just who were these 10,000 ‘turkers’ who co-created this art? Koblin’s own research showed that turkers’ return rates and time spent ‘working on creating the tiles of the art varied greatly. Chinese turkers comprised 90% return visits, 24 mins; Egypt 97% return 32 mins; whilst turkers from the USA were only 17% return visits and spent far less time, 3 mins, ‘turking’.

This revealed enormous different global motivations for participation. 10,000 cents, 10,000 ‘turkers’ meant that the distribution of labour was global and what 1 US cent ‘meant’ varied greatly. This spontaneous division of labour, voluntary, but different motivations. Spontaneous division of motivation – some are doing it for love and other are definitely doing it for money.

This makes planning and predictability are incredibly hard to forecast. In these social collaborative spaces you cannot ‘recruit’, only ‘invite’ – and it is this that makes it incredibly difficult to handle – especially for large established organisations.

Shirky then closed by posing the questions as to “why is almost all online collective action about ‘stopping’ things”? Perhaps we need a new governmental license model like GPL – rather than the heavy ‘incorporation’ model – which makes ‘group collaboration’ legal and thus able to get things like bank accounts etc. He then showed some inital attmepts to get towards this through virtual companies (Vermont), Community Interest Companies (UK), MeetUp (USA).

Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist working at Intel gave an interesting talk titled ‘Secrets and Lies’. This explored the challenges of identity, reputation and trust online (and offline).

Bell explained that lies are at the basis of everyday life. They come in many varieties and even the strictest religious codes don’t blanket ban all variants. For children lies can be play, boundary testing, working through rules and identity. For adults and lies can be a conscious prevention of ‘reality’.

Secret knowledge is essential rituals. And in many cultures always something is held back. But now we have taken our lying online and we now are forced to openly operate between a cultural practice (lying is everyday) and a cultural ideal (lying is bad).

With the changing online environment we also find new ‘technologies of lying’ emerging. Tracking services are defeated by new alibi services, cellphone tracking is defeated by the phones being left in a drawer at work. The problem is is that whilst people know how to lie but our devices don’t know how to.

Data trails, location aware, satellite navigation don’t know how to lie when you need them to. Governments, regulators, companies, researchers can, potentially ‘know all’ and this is not optimal. For example all our devices know I was at Picnic all the time. THe RFID in the conference pass tracked me, uniquely, through the space and captured all my interactions.

So technology needs to bring back the imprecision, blurring of truth that we as a society need to function. What are the implications, then for e-government? Reputation indices? where does secrecy fit?

(part two of my notes will be posted soon)

Interviews open content

Commons on Flickr: an interview with one of our Flickr friends, Bob Meade (part one)

Bob Meade has been one of our most prolific ‘friends’ on Flickr. He has done an enormous amount of tagging, added a great deal of additional research to our images, and was the man behind the discovery of the Mosman Bay Falls.

Paula Bray (the Museum’s Image Services Manager) and I conducted a long face to face interview with Bob who very generously agreed to speak to us about his background and motivations.

It was an incredibly revealing interview that demonstrates the power of museums and cultural institutions opening up their collections to ‘amateur’ researchers and enthusiasts. It also explores the Flickr and the Commons experience from the perspective of a user – the motivations that drive participation, frustrations and expectations – as well as touching on Flickr etiquette and Copyright.

I am posting this with the permission of Bob, with the intention of helping other cultural institutions learn more about behaviour online, and to also begin to understand the opportunities that now exist to engage audiences around collections and other content. These stories, ultimately, are far more powerful and important qualitative research than raw usage figures.

I have made only minor edits to the transcript so bear with the conversational tone and flow.

If you find this useful and would like to cite it in research papers and the like, I would appreciate it if you would tell me about it in the comments or via email.

To read more about the Museum’s experience of the Commons on Flickr read our three month report.

Here is the first part.

Further parts will follow.

On blogging, photography, and discovering the Commons.

Bob: One day, my wife, told me that she’d been to a Hill & Knowlton Breakfast Bytes presentation, at which Frank Arrigo had spoken. Frank Arrigo works for Microsoft. He used to work in Australia. Now, he works in Seattle. He’s a very keen blogger and one of his jobs was to be a Microsoft evangelist.

My wife was very excited telling me about blogging. She came home and told me something, “You know Bob, look this up.” I looked up Frank Arrigo’s blog, and thought it was very interesting, what he did was a mixture of things to do with his work; things to do with IT, also, things to do with his family; a mixture of his personal views on things; a mixture of what his children were doing.

I thought, yeah, this blogging is interesting. I need to know what it’s about. I thought the best way to understand it was to do it. I wanted to start a blog, and I thought about what I could blog about.

Because the conventional wisdom is that, a blog should have a theme. I thought I’d blog about my life as a stay-at-home dad, and also to document my son growing up.

Even now, just looking back a few years, I like to look back at some of the things I wrote about when he was a one-year-old, or a two-year-old. Now, he’s four-and-a-half.

Being a blogger led me to interest in reading other people’s blogs. One day, I was reading a blog post by Jason Kottke, who, as we know is a well regarded blogger who writes about design and ideas.

Kottke mentioned that Errol Morris, a documentary filmmaker, had a blog at The New York Times. On it Morris was talking about a photograph by Roger Fenton, in the Crimean War, and having a discussion about these two, almost identical, images taken by Roger Fenton in 1853, or thereabouts.

One had cannonballs on the road. One had cannonballs off the road.

I don’t know if you are familiar with both these photographs. Apparently it was like pretty famous, because that was sort of one of the first cases of documenting war in photography.

One image appears to be more dramatic because the cannonballs are on the road, and one image is less dramatic because the cannonballs are sort of spread about kerb side in the gutter of the road.

Morris read a book by Susan Sontag, where she referred to this picture and referred to a guy, who is an expert in the history of photography who said that the photograph with the balls on the road was taken after the one without the balls on the road.

The balls must have been put there by Fenton’s assistants to create more drama in the photograph. And Morris, thought, “That’s interesting; I wonder if that’s true?” And then he started researching it, got the two images then thought, “you ought to know, maybe this photograph came first.” So then he talked to other experts in the history of Fenton’s photography, who said, “Yeah, we don’t agree with that guy. We think that the photograph, without the cannonballs on the road, was the second photograph, because it was known that cannonballs were harvested and recycled.

And then this like caught fire on his blog in The New York Times. He had people from all over the world analyzing it, looking at the angle of the shadows on the cannonballs, counting the cannonballs, which is very hard to do.

A huge debate over which photograph came first ensued, and that got me to thinking, that there can be a lot behind the surface of a photograph and also close analysis of a photograph can reveal information that’s not apparent at first glance.

And also, taking into account the historical factors that are known at the time can reveal something about the photograph.

For example, the idea that cannonballs were harvested. Yes, maybe that means yes, the ones with “balls off” as it was called, came second.

He also drew into the mix, a lot of historical documentation, letters of Fenton that were written at the time to his wife, memoirs of Fenton’s assistants, all those sorts of things. And, ultimately, Morris went to these places near Sebastopol, finding the exact same place and sort of did a bit further analysis about what he thought had happened.

I found it very fascinating, and the contributions of people who were not designated experts made to these sorts of discussions. The comments were really extremely valuable, which Morris, himself acknowledged.

That idea in my head lay dormant for awhile.

Another blog that I read is the Library of Congress blog by Matt Raymond, who is nominally the PR director of communications (for the Library of Congress) and he blogs about different things.

Earlier this year, he blogged about the Library of Congress putting images up on Flickr. I didn’t really pay much attention to it, at first, because the pictures that he chose to illustrate it with on his blog, revolved mainly about baseball, so I thought it was going to be mainly all about baseball.

But then, he blogged again later, maybe it might have been a few weeks later, where he talked about the fantastic response that they had had and the rich information that they had derived from the community, adding details, tagging, all that different sorts of things.

And I thought, “I don’t really understand what he is talking about”, because I don’t really understand about the value that people were adding by tagging.

So I went back and had a look at Flickr.

I had started a Flickr account in 2005 and uploaded maybe four or five pictures of my son, just so I could understand a little bit how Flickr worked. I had never touched it again.

However when I was looking for at the Library of Congress photographs and seeing how people were like contributing information, I saw something. I can’t remember exactly what it was but I thought, hey, I know something about this. I think I might put that in there. So then I had to work out, how you put a comment on, and sort of go back and try and remember the password to my Flickr account and things like that.

So then I started out, doing it on the Library of Congress Flickr photostream.

I thought, “maybe, I know a bit about some of the things here”, but they’re, of course, USA-centric in the main. Although in the Bain collections, the Library of Congress has got that, there’s a lot of historical figures who were prominent in, early 20th century, late 19th century also appear there.

I thought it would be interesting if something like this was happening in Australia. Then lo and behold, the Powerhouse Museum started putting up the Tyrrell collection of photographs. So I started commenting there too.

Now I still have a look occasionally at the Library of Congress photographs, but now that there’s the Powerhouse Museum, the Library of Congress doesn’t hold as much interest for me.

On the Powerhouse and cultural institutions

Seb: Were you a regular visitor to the Powerhouse?

Bob: An occasional visitor. I’ve been here, once in the last five years before my recent visit with my son. So then I’ve been here maybe twice, three times, maybe four times in the last 20 years.

Seb: So the Powerhouse wasn’t top of mind.

Bob: No.

Paula: What about using the Powerhouse website? Have you searched our collection online?

Bob: Only once before, in the middle of last year.

Bonhams and Goodmans Auctioneers were auctioning off a piece of memorabilia belonging to Sir Isaac Isaacs, who was first of all, one of the fathers of the Constitution of Australia. He then went on to become an Attorney-General, a High Court judge, and ultimately Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, and then Governor-General of Australia.

The memorabilia was a medal that had been presented to him at the time of Federation. It was up for auction.

I was vaguely interested in how much it would be worth and thinking it might be a good investment. So I started researching about those particular types of medals and it so happened that the Powerhouse Museum has several of almost identical medals in its collection.

I started searching online for the medal, and that led me to the Powerhouse Museum’s online collection. There’s a lot of photographs up of various medals like that and I was using the zoom function to zoom in and get a good look at them.

There were also a couple in the collection of the State Library of New South Wales and other similar institutions around Australia.

However they appear only as a medal, but the one of Sir Isaac Isaacs also had a ribbon attached and a bar saying somewhat Isaac Isaacs M.L.A.

So that was my, really only other contact with the Powerhouse Museum website.

Seb: Do you visit other museums or cultural institutions?

Bob: Yeah, I’ve gone to New South Wales, State Library of New South Wales, The Royal Australian Navy Museum at Garden Island and that’s about it here, recently.

Seb: Would you describe yourself as a museum-goer or as a causal visitor when there’s something special on?

Bob: Occasional visitor.

Seb: Has the Powerhouse’s participation changed your opinion of the Museum or engaged you more with the Museum overall?

Bob: Oh, it’s engaged me more, yes. But it doesn’t change my opinion. I’ve always thought there was a lot of valuable things here and, obviously, incredible depth to the collection. Engaged me more – but it hasn’t changed my opinion.

Part two coming soon.

AV Related

Powerhouse’s first video on ABC Fora

Today the ABC’s new cross platform talks site, Fora put the first bit of Powerhouse Museum content online.

Recorded just yesterday, the talk covers the Powerhouse’s shoe collection and coincides with the new edition of our publication Stepping out: three centuries of shoes.

You can watch the talk on the ABC Fora website, share and embed it (as I have done below). The talk will also be available soon on the Museum’s own website as well as on D*Hub.

As the Fora editors write;

As anyone who has ever seriously considered spending more than $500 on a pair of shoes will suspect: shoes are so, so much more than mere fashion. And now these suspicions are confirmed. In this illustrated talk Louise Mitchell, author of “Stepping Out: Three Centuries of Shoes”, looks at the relationship between shoes and culture around the world, since the eighteenth century. Sandals, slippers, clogs and boots from Africa, Asia and Europe, the history of the humble shoe is fascinating and revealing. And the pictures are lovely, too.

Interactive Media Young people & museums

Teens, Games and Civics 2008 Report from Pew Internet & American Life Project / some implications for interactives in museums

Another fascinating report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, Teens, Games and Civics came out recently. Focussing on teen use of games (defined in very broad terms) the report is interesting reading.

It is revealing in that it shows that game playing is most definitely mainstream (95%+ participation) and that gaming is a primarily social and identity formation activity (pp 26-30) for teens. The gender, race and class splits are very interesting and the most popular genres of games (see pp16-25) are racing, puzzle, sports, action, adventure, and interestingly, rhythm (ie Guitar Hero etc) games. MMOGs (heavily skewed to boys) and virtual worlds have the lowest rates of play – I venture that this is possibly because of the ongoing costs associated with them and the usual requirement for a credit card (still a huge barrier to play for teens). This is likely to change rapidly because the report also shows that younger teens are more likely to have visited virtual worlds – again I expect that the impact of Club Penguin on pre-teens will flow through into a greater acceptance of virtual worlds by teens 5 years from now.

The report ends with some tentative results looking at civic engagement amongst teen gamers.

I’d be very interested to see a similar study done amongst Australian teens but already the implications for museums are clear.

Museums which have significant investments in game-like interactives in their galleries and online are already facing a very game-literate set of young audiences. These audiences, when they encounter a museum game or interactive now bring a far more sophisticated set of expectations with them. The recent introduction of new physical controllers like the Wiimote into the mainstream console space will also impact on teens’ opinion of (and thus engagement with) mechanical and physical interactives in our galleries as well. Likewise, as the pre-teens of Club Penguin etc grow older the expectation will be that interactive and game experiences in museums are far more social.