open content User experience Web 2.0 Wikis

Why Flickr Commons? (and why Wikimedia Commons is very different)

The Powerhouse is coming up to the 2nd anniversary of our joining the Commons on Flickr. Back when we joined there was only the Library of Congress and we trusted that we were making the correct decision back then. (I’ll be blogging an interview with Paula Bray around the time of the anniversary.)

A lot has changed at Flickr in the intervening time but I’m still confident that the Powerhouse made the right choice. In fact, the impact that joining the Commons on Flickr has had on the organisation has been unexpectedly significant. We’ve even started to move some photographic collections that were acquired as ‘archives’ into ‘objects’ in their own right. And photography is becoming an important marker of what we do at the Powerhouse. We’re delving into photographic competitions much more too and we’ve changed how we approach visitor photography too.

A couple of days ago Mia Ridge, Lead Web Developer at the Science Museum in London blogged a question – “Why do museums prefer Flickr Commons to Wikimedia Commons?”.

This was responded to by Liam Wyatt of Wikimedia Australia who outlined a case for why Wikimedia Commons might, in fact, be a better fit than Flickr – especially now that the Commons on Flickr is currently not taking new requests to join whilst they process the volume of existing applications.

For the Powerhouse the aim of placing some of our “no known Copyright” photography into the Commons on Flickr was to seed these photographs to a large, broader and interested audience who, in return, could add value to the collection by commenting and tagging the photographs.

Later, we’d find that other value would emerge.

The well documented Flickr API allowed for the construction of a good number of mashups and other applications to be built upon the photographs both by others and by us. We published a book, made easily and relatively quickly using the data.

For us the Flickr Commons is currently different from the Wikimedia Commons for a number of reasons –

1. Context matters a lot.

There is a reason why the Commons on Flickr has focussed almost solely on photographic collections, and that is because Flickr is a site that has been and continues to be designed for people interested in photographic images. As the Library of Congress stated in their initial rationale for joining Flickr, it was to “share photographs from the Library‚Äôs collections with people who enjoy images”. And where is the largest community of people with such an interest on the web? Flickr.

2. User experience and community

Because of this known user base Flickr has a well developed user interface and user experience which purposefully creates and helps encourage certain social norms and acceptable behaviours. The requirements of verified user accounts and personal information all work to reduce the negative effects of anonymity – critical in building a positive sense of community, even if they exclude some users as a result.

3. Managing that community

Flickr has a well developed set of community management tools and community managers who are employed specifically to ensure the community ‘plays nice’ and there is a hierarchy of escalation should it become necessary. The cost of US$25 per year is incredibly cheap for this.

4. A sense of content control

Uploaded images as well as any user generated content such as tags or comments can be removed at any time.

5. Statistics

Flickr has good enough tracking and measurement tools which are useful for checking where users are coming from, what they are looking at, and what they do. Ideally the statistics that we could draw from Flickr would be more useful and able to be downloaded in raw form and segmented – but even in the rudimentary state it is possible to see ascertain why there are sudden spikes of traffic to particular images, or when an image gets lots of comments.

The Wikimedia Commons is, currently, a pool of images which can be used for many purposes. However without visibly active community around the images they exist without a clear ‘intended purpose’. In fact they only encourage viewing or takeaway (download). For some people this is liberating – a resource without obvious legal or social constraints. But much in the same way a museum is neither a library or a “shed full of stuff”, the ability to have known manageable social constraints is in fact quite valuable.

I am pleased that Liam mentions the Wikipedia Usability Iniative and once this is completed the Powerhouse and others will no doubt explore the opportunities.

Even without direct participation in the Wikimedia Commons the Powerhouse has been interested to see that many of the images have been copied into the Wikimedia Commons. And then used to illustrate various articles in Wikipedia. This has been a fortuitous outcome but it was never a primary aim of the Commons on Flickr project – nor would it be one today. Other Commons institutions have not been as positive about this migration of content to Wikimedia.

For us, the overall community effect of Flickr and the deep engagement by a small but passionate group of Flickr users, has been the most positive result for us.

Whilst Wikipedia and Wikimedia are, in themselves, exciting projects, their structure, design and combative social norms do not currently make them the friendly or the protected space that museums tend to be comfortable operating in.

Whilst Liam (especially! 1 & 2) and many others are working hard to make Wikipedia and Wikimedia a better place for museums and their content, these are very difficult structural issues to resolve.

It is worth remembering that when the Commons on Flickr started it was the brainchild and passion of George Oates. She was able to ‘make it happen’. Now Liam Wyatt might be in a similar position – if Wikimedia were ‘less democratic’ (some might say dysfunctionally democratic). Except the structure of Wikipedia/Wikimedia makes that nigh impossible.

Nevertheless I’m excited about the strategic workshop in Denver looking at how museums might work with Wikimedia that will surface many of these issues. They are complex and many.

User behaviour Web metrics

Segmenting your ‘brand traffic’ in your web metrics

Here’s another web analytics 101 post for you.

One of the important segments for your web analytics are those visitors who come to your website intentionally because it is your website – not just because you have content for Texan monarchists on it.

If you are a museum then this segment is the one that is most influenced by your traditional marketing strategies as well as by what exhibitions and events you have on. In terms of Brownbill and Peacock (2007) these are your ‘visitors’ and ‘transactors’.

So how can you set up a filter to segment this group out in your analytics?

First, in setting up any segment you need to think about how this group might come to your site.

In this case there are five probable ways – directly to your URL, via a bookmark, via an online advertisement, via a third party link, or via a search containing your brand name as a keyword.

Next, you need to look at each of these and figure out how to measure them with the tools you have available.

Direct traffic – easy – they will already be a default segment.

Bookmark traffic – these will be captured as direct traffic and you won’t be able to separate them out as a percentage but that’s probably OK. If you are really hardcore then you might want to segment by landing page here so that those who have bookmarked your funny video of ‘cats in the museum’ get excluded (they’re there for the content, not the brand most probably).

Online advertising – easy. Use your campaign identifiers, track them, and pour in that traffic too.

Third party links – now things are getting harder because in our case the vast majority of third party link traffic (like all our site visitation) is content-related not brand-related. This content-related traffic comes from all sorts of websites, blogs, tweets, Facebook and other places that link directly to a piece of content not because of ‘us’ but because it is ‘good’, ‘funny’, etc. If there are some specific URLs you know have been doing work with then add them in too but I’d recommend not including Twitter, Facebook etc as they are often best addressed as a separate segment altogether.

Search – if you have a relatively unique brand then you can segment out the search traffic containing that brand keyword and add that in. If you are really serious about separating the wheat from the chaff then it might be wise to add another level of filtering which only counts search traffic for the keyword resulting in visits that look at more than one page. (The only problem here will be that you will potentially lose traffic that is coming for simple information like your address – especially if you have tailored a mobile version of your site optimised for mobile traffic.) If you have a generic brand like ‘Australian Museum’ then you are going to need to figure out particular combinations of keyword search as well as landing pages.

Then you want to look at the results further segmented by geography – ideally you’ll find that this segment matches the target geography of your advertising campaigns both online and offline.

If you’ve got a growing brand and you’ve done the segmentation correctly you should see an upward trend as well as significant difference in behaviour of this segment and that of ‘all visitors’.

Ideally this segment should make more conversions (whatever they might be), have a far lower bounce rate and, where relevant spend more time on your site and look at more pages. You also want to be checking that this segment goes to the parts of your site that have been specifically set up for them!

Fingers crossed, eh?

In case of the Powerhouse doing a simple 10 minute analysis on this segment revealed that it made up 15% of our traffic for the past 6 months. We have a site heavy on diverse content so this relatively low percentage is not unexpected – if I was a retailer or I had a museum website with predominantly ‘venue information’ then I’d be worried! Visitors in this segment spent 2x as much time on site, looked at 1.6x as many pages on average, and were 30% less likely to bounce. They were also 3x more likely to begin their visit at the home page and also far more interested in the exhibitions and visit information than the collection than other segments of visitor. They were also 50% more likely to be from Sydney. The time on site and page view ratios for that Sydney segment were even higher!

User behaviour User experience Web metrics Young people & museums

“Let’s make more crowns”, or, the danger of not looking closely at your web metrics

Happy new year everyone.

I’ve got a bit of a backlog of posts but there is an ulterior motive for getting this out the door – and, well, it has been more than 18 months since I should have written about this.

Make-a-king's-crown---Play-at-Powerhouse screenshot

Over on our children’s website – Play at Powerhouse – we have a lot of content for children and parents to do at home either before or after they visit the Museum.

The website was launched in April 2007 as a way of segmenting off the ‘family’ audience from our main website and improving the user experience for that important group. Prior to its establishment, parents who just wanted to know what was on for their kids would have to navigate through exhibitions and events to figure out what was appropriate.

When the site was designed the main navigation was split into two halves – two very simple sections covering the practicalities of a museum visit, and two section for online and at home play.

And so in setting targets for the site we kept in mind that ideally we’d have a pool of casual visitors who we’d best serve by providing quick information that better helped them plan their visit to the museum; and a second group who we’d hope to build as ‘regular’ users of the site for craft activities, and to a far lesser extent, a few online games.

(Digressing briefly, we decided not to focus much on making ‘interactive games’ because there were already many established websites – in Australia the work of the national broadcaster the ABC especially – doing that as their main online focus and, frankly, far better than we could ever expect to do both in terms of design and also promotion).

The ‘craft’ section – Make & Do – was seen as a valuable resource that aligned with the Powerhouse’s reputation as a museum of ‘making things’ in a very crowded children’s web space. Importantly, too, we felt that it was good to support parents in giving them activities from the web that purposely meant doing things with paper and scissors, or out in the garden, anywhere away from a screen.

Over the past nearly three years the site has grown (and is on the schedule for a major UI overhaul!). It attracts a significant amount of traffic – peaking around school holidays as would be expected – and the craft activities, especially, are well linked by sites all over the world.

Internally the site has become integrated with the children’s programming as a whole to such an extent that the site’s Online Producer, Kate Lamerton, is moving over to join the unit responsible for general museum children’s programming. (In many ways this decentralising of content production is a sign of the maturity of the online product).

But that’s not the whole story.

As the site has developed we’ve tried to make user-led choices in the development of new content in the craft area. If the web is good at one thing it is data gathering. Very early on it the thinking of the site we felt that it was important to monitor what was popular and then use that as a means of thinking about what other content should be developed for the site.

Just to give you an idea of the resource burden of content generation – a single craft activity might take two to three full time weeks for Kate to conceptualise, prototype, and then create and instruction set for, photograph and upload. Some take considerably more, others, less.

So obviously we’d want to be choosing those craft activities wisely.

Now not every exhibition at the Powerhouse has obvious choices for craft activities for children, so Kate spends a fair bit of time thinking about ‘events’ to tie activities in with – obvious things like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day [1, 2].

And, because we care about web metrics, we are looking at what is popular and thinking about what I called ‘riffing’ on those – generally making ‘complementary’ thematic content.

But web metrics is a little more complex than that as I’ve said many times here (and in my workshops).

Here’s some data from the last two years.

Let’s first take a look at popular sections by page views for all visitors:

Content type % page views
Make & do (craft) 34.63%
What’s on (events & exhibitions) 24.16%
Play & interact (online games) 15.02%
Visiting (basic visiting information) 6.85%
Home page 15.85%

The first impression here is that the site is doing very much as planned.

The craft activities are generating the bulk of content views whilst the what’s on shows that site visitors are also more likely to be predisposed to visiting the physical museum. As expected with search driving most traffic on the web, the home page is less important as a single entity than each of the larger categories.

Let’s drilldown into Make & Do and see what is popular in there – the top ten by page views for all visitors.

Content type % page views
Craft index 24.63%
King’s crown 15.95%
Outback farm 6.02%
Easter index 3.72%
Knight helmet 3.34%
Princess hat 3.12%
Queen’s crown 3.07%
Masks for the ball 2.53%
Wizard’s hat 2.30%
Witch’s hat 2.14%

Here’s where things get interesting and where the initial thinking became skewed.

The clear leader – by far the most popular bit of craft – is the instructions and templates for making a King’s Crown. And appropriately we went along and made a fair amount of other types of ‘headwear’ – all of which have been popular too.

But are we serving our core audience? Who are these people who are coming to download the instructions for making a King’s Crown?

Let’s re-do those data tables again but this time let’s only look at traffic from Australia and then Sydney.

Content type % page views (all) % page views (Australia) % page views (Sydney)
Make & do (craft) 34.63% 21.06% 15.86%
What’s on (events & exhibitions) 24.16% 30.83% 33.85%
Play & interact (online games) 15.02% 16.12% 16.20%
Visiting (basic visiting information) 6.85% 8.64% 9.38%
Home page 15.85% 19.46% 20.58%

A different story starts to emerge.

Those craft activities are viewed by a far smaller proportion of site visitors the closer we get to our Sydney-based visitors. In fact, for Sydney-based visitors craft activities are even less popular than the online games on a percentage of total page views basis. Not surprisingly, though, by being located in Sydney and thus able to physically visit the Museum, the What’s On section increases in popularity.

Here’s those top ten craft activities again.

Content type % page views (all) % page views (Australia) % page views (Sydney)
Craft index 24.63% 35.29% 41.49%
King’s crown 15.95% 3.31% 1.90%
Outback farm 6.02% 3.97% 4.48%
Easter index 3.72% 7.01% 4.47%
Knight helmet 3.34% n/a n/a
Princess hat 3.12% n/a n/a
Queen’s crown 3.07% n/a n/a
Masks for the ball 2.53% 2.68% 1.96%
Wizard’s hat 2.30% n/a n/a
Witch’s hat 2.14% n/a n/a
Science index n/a 2.83% 3.16%
Easter baskets n/a 2.58% n/a
Speace helmet n/a 2.49% n/a
Mascot colouring in n/a 2.18% 2.68%
Healthy living n/a 2.02% 2.56%
Space index n/a n/a 2.19%

Now this is where it gets really interesting and where the team realised the importance of geographic segmentation. That headwear – the crowns and helmets and hats – wasn’t popular amongst local audiences. In fact, the more local we go the less popular it gets!

So much for putting resources into designing and making instructions for them!

Where was all this traffic for the King’s Crown coming from then?

Here’s the answer.

Country % visits
USA 53.96%
UK 14.27%
Australia 9.14%
Canada 5.42%
Mexico 1.34%

I’m glad our King’s Crown has been popular with Americans – in fact, predominantly Californians and Texans – but without the geographic segmentation being picked up early on in the life of the website we could have continued down that path oblivious to the irrelevance of that content to our local audiences (and the taxpayers who fund the museum).

Have you checked your popular content recently?
Is it really reaching the site visitors you are intending it to?

(Incidentally, if you are intending to attend Museums & the Web 2010 in Denver and wish to do my Web Metrics workshop then book quickly as it is almost full!)