AV Related Imaging open content

Exploring ‘On the wallaby track’ – a video experiment with the Commons on Flickr

We’ve been experimenting with a few ways of showing up some of the amazing and often hidden details in some of the Tyrrell images we are putting up into the Commons.

Jean-Francois Lanzarone put this little test video together in an hour today. This one reveals the detail of ‘On the wallaby track’ that shows the high resolutions that we scan these glass plate negatives at.

View the original image in the Commons on Flickr. Or on the Powerhouse Museum’s own website.

We will be making a few more of these over the coming months an experimenting with a few different formats and styles. We’d love your feedback.

(cross posted from our Photo of the Day blog)

Interactive Media Social media

DIY museums on Not Quite Art Series 2 (ABC TV)

If you happen to live in Australia (or know someone who does), then you might be interested in the final episode of series 2 of Marcus Westbury’s Not Quite Art. This final episode is on ‘DIY museums’ and how cultural institutions are adapting to the digital environment. It screens on ABC TV on Tuesday night (october 28) at 10pm, and then is available for free download with the rest of the series and series 1 on the show website.

Marcus and I have known each other for nearly a decade now and his career to date has been about supporting and developing emerging Australian cultural work. He established the This Is Not Art annual festival, was the director of Next Wave in Melbourne, and is now working hard to convert Newcastle, 2 hours north of Sydney, from a former industrial town into a thriving creative space with flexible spaces for emerging artists of all persuasions.

What Marcus has done in the DIY Museums episode is look at how ‘memory institutions’ are dealing with the reality that they are no longer the sole arbiters of collective memory; nor are they necessarily well placed to collect the burgeoning diversity of contemporary culture and cultural expression. As one interviewee says “everything now is a niche, just the size of the niche differs” – and this poses enormous problems for those who job it is to collect. Fortunately, the same digital tools of production that are, in part driving this diversity, are also providing the means for others to collect and present – again, another challenge for established institutions.

Mobile QR codes

Some QR code clarifications

I’ve had several emails, tweets and general interest in more information about our QR code experiment so here’s some more information.

Firstly, it has to be said that the experiment was sub-optimal. We made mistakes – but I think that making mistakes in order to learn from them is something Australians (and museums) need to get a lot more comfortable with doing. I’ve outlined several of them already – the QR code was printed too small for low resolution cameras, and the URL to visit wasn’t optimised for mobile web browsers, etc. But does this, alone, explain the usage rates? I think not.

Secondly, it also needs to be said the campaign had a total cost of zero. We did not engage an ‘interactive agency’ (which is where some of the interest in our experiment has come from). The QR code was self generated and the idea of the experiment was to see what the actual take up of QR codes might be if completely umprompted.

Thirdly, the ‘incentive’ for bothering to use the QR code – free passes etc – may not have been great enough, especially if scanning the code the first time didn’t work for you.

Remembering that the Sydney Design 08 programme which contained the QR code had a run of 40,000 copies and was distributed widely across Sydney the ‘conversion’ rate of the experiment needs to be calculated in light of that – not just counting those who visited the ‘secret’ website after scanning the code.

Now it isn’t that simple of course – even someone with a QR capable phone with Sydney Design 08 programme in the hand needs is not necessarily going to bother scanning a code.

We are certainly going to do more experiments with QR codes – there is a lot of potential in them – and we are hoping that others will also make available the results of their trials. The sort of work the Tate is doing with their mobile/handheld wiki for the museum community is the kind of openness and knowledge sharing that needs to be more widespread.

Interactive Media

Visualising Japan – Soma’s Tokyo Tuesday

I’ve been loving the data visualisations of the Japanese census done by Soma. The data source is the Statistics Bureau of Japan, and they’ve collected some very detailed behavioural data which has been made very navigable by Soma.

What’s Japan up to? Let’s find out with some graphs. Let’s get specific, too. How many women with part-time jobs are walking their dog at 3am? Yeah, we’ve got that.

Let’s jump right into this: Japan has the absolute best census in the history of my known world. Not only does it include normal things like age, sex, and the height of each of your pets, but it also legitimizes the gossipy question of What Are You Doing Right Now? Japan slapped a bunch of people with notebooks and a sacred Numbers Mission: keep a log of what you do during the day, in fifteen minute intervals. And those people did!

Now this sort of depth of data is unlikely to be gathered so effectively in any other country, but it does provide a glimpse into a future world of data transparency. It is a reminder, too, as Clay Shirky has been saying recently, that privacy for the most part only exists because of inconvenience – and that rapidly we are reaching a point where those barriers of inconvenience are disappearing. And, like we found with our collection database, once you shift the focus to improving the user experience, the Tokyo Tuesday visualisation makes browsing this rather arcane dataset incredibly engaging.

Play with Tokyo Tuesday. (via Information Aesthetics)


Commons on Flickr: an interview with Bob Meade (part two)

This is the second part of our interview with Bob Meade. (Read the first part)

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.

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.

Hobbies, identity, reputation, and etiquette

Paula: So, you’ve kind of answered a lot of questions for me, but the work that you do on the common, is very prolific, and you do a lot of research. So is that part of your background that you had in previous work?

Bob: Well, a man’s got to have a hobby and I like being enthusiastic about my hobbies, so I get satisfaction out of looking at something and I am inspired by the Earl Morris/Roger Fenton thing that I was talking about before.

I think there’s a lot of things in photographs that I now look at closely and enjoy looking at closely and analyzing details to try and discover something that may have been not realized was there or not officially noted or not noticed by other people. I find it exciting discovering something.

Seb: Have you become a bigger user of Flickr, the comments. Have you re-engaged with your own, putting your own images up on Flickr now?

Bob: Yes and yes. Part of the etiquette of Flickr seems to be that, if you want to be valued as a Flickrite, you should have something on there, of your own, that cannot be found anywhere else. So I’ve tried to put up just a few images that reflect some of my interests, mainly in military and naval history so that when I comment on some of the groups to do with those topics, people can come back and say, oh, yeah, this guy’s got an interest and also some potentially valuable images.

Because I’ve got a private collection of photographs that belonged to my father, relating to his World War II service, I’ve got access to some images that thus far I’ve seen nowhere else in Australia. That’s sort of tantalizing bit of value.

But also because I have the interest in blogging, part of the question is which place to choose to put content up to – put it on my blog or put it on Flickr?

Mainly, my feeling at the moment is just put it up on Flickr to grab a little bit of interest, but what I really would rather spend my time on is blogging on my own blog. 

Where to focus energies – blogs or Flickr?

Seb: Because you are a blogger, have you or would you review the material that the Museum puts up and others put up in your own blog to contextualize it, write about it, flesh it out in more detail?

Bob: Well, one of the things that I noticed on Matt Raymond’s Library of Congress blog was that they were very interested that someone went to the trouble to recreate a photo, from one of the World War II era sort of color transparencies. As soon as I saw the Tyrrell collection photos, particularly of things around Sydney, I immediately thought, hey, I could use this on my blog.

This would be great for a ‘Sydney Then and Now’. I could use a Tyrrell collection photo, take my own photo, and it’ll be something that’ll be interesting on my blogs. Some good content, and something that I would enjoy doing, going to particular spots saying, “how close can I get to the exact spot that this other photo was taken from?”

Then the Museum started the Tyrrell Today Group, and I thought, “OK, it’s a good idea. I won’t use that for my own blog” – because that seems to be sort of rude since you had your own idea, to do exactly the same thing.

If I put any effort into that (by taking contemporary photographs to match the old Tyrrell images) , I’d give it eventually to the Tyrrell Today Group rather than try and siphon off from your photo stream to my own blog.

It just seems sort of a bit rude, ungenerous.

So I haven’t used any of your images on my own blog in ‘then and now ‘photographs, because you’ve got your own thing going there. I think I prefer to contribute to that.

In terms of whatever I can add in terms of context or richness or specialized knowledge that I have or something else that I discover, I’m happy to just put it up in the comments area of your Tyrrell Today photo stream rather than in my own blog.

However, some of the other institutions that are putting things on Flickr, for example, the State Records Office of New South Wales, and they’ve got a lot of similar images. They don’t seem as sort of interested in creating their own sort of thing like your Tyrrell Today Flickr group. So I’m directly blogging off a couple of their images to do the same sort of ‘Sydney Then and Now’ type thing that the Tyrrell Today Group does – but with their images.

Other Australian institutions on Flickr

Seb: What about State Records’ photos? Do you comment in the State Records photo stream, or is the context placed in your blog when you reuse an image?

Bob: Mainly in my own blog. I put a little bit in the comment area, of their own photo stream, on Flickr, but mainly in my own blog. I’m also doing a full photo thing where I take the photo then, my own photo now take it from approximately the same position.

Seb: Has anyone from State Records contacted you through Flickr or through your blog to acknowledge your doing this or invite you to participate more further?

Bob: Yes and no. When I saw the images on State Records’ Flickr, they had the ‘Blog This’ functionality on Flickr activated, but they also had a note saying, if you want to use these images, you must have prior permission, blah, blah, blah. Contact us if you want to use it. There’s, obviously, a conflict there which ‘Blog this’ has sort of implied permission, that we’re saying, yeah, go blog this. Go and use it, but no, come and seek permission. [laughter]

It’s not very easy if every time I want to use something I have to seek permission. So what I did was I blogged an image.

I sent them a note saying that I wanted to use an image on my blog, but I noted this conflict there.

They wrote back saying, “Oh, yeah, we inadvertently left that functionality on there. We sort of didn’t realize that that was a default position. So we’ve now disabled that, but we’re happy for you to use anything you like off here on your blog, but just please give it the correct sort of attribution and link back to the Photo Investigator.” (Photo investigator is State Records NSW website’s own online photograph library.)

They just wanted the digital ID, which is the number in their system, but I also incorporated a link that goes straight back to that, which is slightly exceeding what they asked for.

Seb: How important is it that the Commons says ‘no known Copyright’, because those images, too, if they predate a certain date of publishing, are also in the public domain? You seem to want to play by the rules of the organization putting those images in?

Bob: Well for a lot of the images, it depends on how you define publish. A lot of the images from the, say, State Rail Archives were used on trains and trams just to like decorate and create a bit of visual interest. They can’t be certain whether it’s been published or not. A lot of those images, for example, in the State Rail Collection, were there for that purpose, but they can’t be certain if they were actually used.

So I just want to be nice with people . . . I was only the first person that ever asked them this question

I regard it as my heritage and everybody else who’s here. And also it should be available for research from overseas as well. So yeah, I think it’s my right to use it . . . But I also understand that there are financial constraints involved in the mere act of trying to release them. It costs money to do that.

 On the National Archives of Australia, they had the same situation where it said they had the “blog this” functionality, which they were sort of reasonable happy for people to do. But they also said if you want to use these images, you have to seek our permission.

It linked to an area on the National Archives of Australia website that sort of explained the Attorney General Department’s view of Crown copyright, etc. etc, and made you think that, “gee, they’d be unlikely to give permission”.

But I also knew from other research I had previously done utilizing things from the National Archives of Australia, they’re only too happy to give people permission to use things so long as it’s cited according to their citation convention.

So I blogged something straight off . . . I thought, if I blog something and it’s nice and they like it, I’m more likely to get permission. So I blogged something which was an image of Lionel Rose the boxer, and I associated it with some childhood memories I had of meeting Lionel Rose.

Then I sent the message saying, “Hey, I used your functionality”.

They then said, “Yep, we’re very happy for you to blog this. Blog anything you like. We’re happy with what you’ve done. Please just let us know so we can see the sort of how it’s being used.”

Mobile QR codes

Sydney Design QR code wrap up – so did anyone use it?

A little while ago I blogged about an experiment we were doing with QR codes.

In summary, we placed a QR code in the back of the Sydney Design 08 festival programme which gave access to a discount voucher for the festival and ensured free entry to the Museum during the event.

The big question is, did anyone use it?

Before I tell you let’s look at a couple of ‘problems’ with what we did. These were barriers to participation that we had underestimated.

Firstly, the QR code itself was printed at a size that required a ‘decent’ cameraphone to scan it effectively. A lot of people with iPhones found that the size of the code itself didn’t work well with the 2mp iPhone camera. This would, of course, have been alleviated had the code appeared large on all street posters as well – but would have required integration into the visual design of the posters too – so that it did not dominate the design. Anyone who has seen Telstra’s QR campaign will know that the code is the poster.

Second, the QR code itself linked to a URL that was not optimised for mobile. This was made more problematic because the iPhone (currently the only mobile with a decent web browser) couldn’t read the code properly. Viewing the linked site on Opera on a Nokia, for example, made for a lot of annoying scrolling to complete the form to get your free pass.

Third, the application to read QR codes is not prominently available on most phones. Even on my recent model Nokia it is, by default, buried under Applications / Office / Barcode Reader.

This third problem will resolve itself in time and over that time, too, as mobile data charges drop more sites will become optimised for mobile viewing resolving problem two. In fact, we did use a WordPress plugin to ‘convert’ the Sydney Design site to be ‘mobile friendly’ as a test – but this really needs a manual touch.

So digging in to the stats we find –

144 views of the QR destination page
– 13 on Symbian devices, 3 on iPhone, rest of Windows versions or Safari versions
– 55 from Sydney and the rest interstate or overseas

33 successful form completions
26 successful ticket prints

Unfortunately we don’t have any figures on whether any of these 26 printouts were actually presented at the door of the Museum and redeemed.

Is this successful? For zero financial outlay this was always going to be a trial. We’ve learnt quite a lot about QR codes and their potential through doing this and we will certainly be experimenting more with them.

We know that there were several factors that meant we didn’t do this optimally, but we also know that QR code usage in Sydney is, understandably, low. We are probably still 3-5 years away from widespread public adoption and understanding – and beyond marketing we are still waiting for a ‘killer app’ to drive usage.

Conferences and event reports open content

On platform power: museums, authority, digital culture

Nina Simon has done a great job of summing up the potential changes brought by the abundance model of digital to the museum sector.

The notion of ‘museums as platforms’ is not new – even if the technologies to make them such in the digital environment are.

One of the primary fears museum professionals (and all professionals) have about entering new relationships with audiences is the fear of losing control. For hundreds of years, we’ve owned the content and the message. While we may grudgingly acknowledge the fact that visitors create their own versions of the message around subsets of the content, we don’t consciously empower visitors to redistribute their own substandard, non-authoritative messages. So when people like me start advocating for the creation of tools and opportunities by which visitors can share their stories, reaggregate the artifacts, even rate and review each others’ creations, museum professionals of all stripes get concerned. If the museum isn’t in control, how can it thrive?

We have to change the framing of this conversation. There is a difference between control and expertise. In these conversations, people often say, “don’t expert voices matter?” and my emphatic response is YES. Content expertise matters. Content control shouldn’t.

Recently Henry Jenkins of Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide fame has posted about similar issues in the university sector. Jenkins was interviewed by “Alexandre Cayla-Irigoyen Chef de pupitre – Societe Monde, about OpenCourseWare, Collective Intelligence, and the modern university”.

When we create more open platforms, we destroy old monopolies of information. That can be a brutal blow for those who gain their self worth from their role as the dispersers of that information. So, yes, when you open it up to students to submit materials, teachers feel threatened. There are some legitimate concerns here, having to do with the credentializing of information and the liabilities of the university. For most of us, credibility on the web is situational: we are not so much assessing content as we are assessing the reputations of the sources of that content. We tend to put our greatest trusts in the institutions we would trust for information in the physical world. So, many people who sought information from Universite de Montreal or MIT will make a general judgment about the reputation of the institution and then apply it to all content which gets circulated.

For me, a lot of this has to do with how we frame the materials — as a reference work (which meets certain criteria of reliability, which many faculty members would be hard pressed to meet) or as a space for investigation, deliberation, and discussion (where there are ongoing conversations about the value of different content being circulated). Most academic web resources represent the former; Wikipedia and YouTube would be better understood as the latter.


A lot of bad work could tarnish the reputation of a university. How can it reconcile openness and the promotion of itself as a supplier of good knowledge?

It depends on what the university is trying to sanctify: is it seeking to guarantee the integrity of the product (in which case, every bit of content needs to be vetted) or the integrity of the process (in which case, the university is creating a space where people learn through vetting each other’s content.) Is the reputation of a university based on the fact that they gather together lots of people who know things or is it based on the fact that they create a context where the ongoing questioning of information takes place?

My personal take is that the digital strategies and representations of a museum and the physical museum itself can co-exist but be different. Whilst I am excited by the potential of a museum which “create[s] a context where the ongoing questioning of information takes place”, it would be foolish to assume that this doesn’t already happen amongst visitors – indeed the research shows it does – even if the museum doesn’t realise it. Can we do it actively, and better?

The digital museum needs to be able to make the most of an attention economy where information and content is in abundance. The physical museum, on the other hand, needs to be able to make the most of an experience economy where the opportunity to see/feel/smell/hear/touch ‘the real thing’ is incredibly scarce. It is likely that only together that optimum learning occurs.

I am making generalisations here but in their galleries art museums with their object-focus coupled with ‘acceptable subjectivity’ have the most opportunity from scarcity, and science centres without objects and veneer of ‘scientific objectivity’, the least. Natural history and social history museums sit somewhere in between – depending on what their exhibition and research focus is. Unfortunately, though, scarcity thinking often carries over from the physical galleries to the web – in part this explains the reticence of many art museums to share collections in the digital space.

Platform approaches are the norm in the digital space. If a museum isn’t actively making their content available, then their audiences are taking it in any case (or finding it elsewhere). The platform is more often than not forums, blogs or Flickr. The museum is not even in the frame. I’d agree with Nina, Jim Spadaccini, and many others that ‘platforms’ actively guided by and engaged with, but not built by, museums are the way forward.

Platforms in this sense, build authority – or as I’ve said before, allow museums to ‘assert’ their authority. Absence is invisibility.

Paradoxically, it may turn out that a ‘platform approach’ online might in fact allow an even more ‘curator as auteur’ approach in the physical galleries.

Different, diverse and conflicting perspectives, remixing and mashups, collaborative creativity might be encouraged and enabled allowing audiences to engage deeply in their own ways with a fuller range of content in the online environment in order to allow a more controlled, directed, and stylistic vision in the galleries.

This might be a fruitful line of experimentation for museums with diverse, predominantly adult audiences, and large collection/object-based exhibitions. It could combine the best of both worlds – unique experiences of objects in the physical spaces, open collaboration and object-centred democracies where the tools support it in the digital space.

Museum blogging

Sydney Observatory as ‘one of the best 15 business blogs in Australia’

The Sydney Observatory blog has been listed by Smart Company magazine as one of the ‘best 15 business blogs in Australia‘.

It is great, if a little odd, to see the Observatory – a non-profit – listed in amongst blogs that are overtly commercial in orientation.

I did a few calculations and worked out that in the last two years, Nick Lomb the Curator of Astronomy, one of the two main bloggers behind the Observatory blog has written 100,000 words in his blog posts. Now that’s the equivalent of an (Australian) PhD thesis!

If you’d like a glimpse behind the scenes, I interviewed Nick a little while back about the success of the blog and the amount of time it takes him to write all those words.

Conceptual Picnic08

Itay Talgam on collaboration as ‘conducting’

One of the most raved about and surprising sessions of the first day of Picnic08 was from Israeli conductor Itay Talgam.

Here is an interview done at Picnic08 with him in which he talks about how the way a conductor works provides a useful framework for considering the future of collaborative work and creativity. Talgam runs a ‘maestro program’ where he applies this framework to business.

The “Maestro programs” were founded on the belief that, in the orchestra as in the work place, music has the power to create community and reinforce shared values. Music embodies knowledge and innovation, individual effort and collective achievement, and offers a work-environment that is full of opportunities for excellence and self-actualization – same as any successful business.

Link: Interview Itay Talgam at PICNIC 2008

Fundraising and philanthropy

Support the Powerhouse Museum collection (and Fresh & New!)

Our annual Powerhouse Foundation appeal is finishing up for another year and so if you are a regular reader of Fresh & New(er) or have found the things that I write about here useful, then please consider making a donation to the Powerhouse Foundation.

You can donate any amount online, or choose one of the donation categories.

If you do decide to make a donation please consider mentioning this blog, Fresh & New, in your acknowledgement (which you can ‘hack’ as a notes field!). I’d be interested to see how much blog readers can collectively donate!

The Powerhouse Foundation exists to grow the Museum’s collection – not to fund everyday activities.

The Powerhouse Foundation was established in September 2004 for the purpose of enhancing the Museum’s ability to make strategic acquisitions that will enrich the legacy we pass on to future generations. The Foundation seeks to raise a $5 million endowment over the next four years.

Thank you for your support!