MW2010 User experience Web metrics

Tracking what gets ‘used’

Theres been a fair bit of excitement around the traps today about the revealing of Amazon’s tracking of highlighting on their Kindle devices.

In fact this sort of interaction tracking has been going on on the web for quite a while – but the Kindle example is one of the first where this data is being used to encourage serendipitous discovery and interest.

I started doing some work around this on the Powerhouse collection site in July last year and it forms the basis of the paper I presented at Museums and the Web this year (as well as briefly mentioning it at Webstock in February).

We’ve been trying to figure out alternative ways of measuring the success or otherwise of making large amounts of our content available on the web. Traditional web metrics just don’t cut it – millions of views of your content isn’t really helpful in improving the content you make available. And whilst qualitative research is invaluable it is generally expensive and just doesn’t scale.

So in July last year we started using a tool called Tynt Tracer.

What Tynt does is intercepts cut & paste using Javascript. It records what is copied, and, inserts into the buffer the license information and a unique hyperlink. We chose to use Tynt because it was the least intrusive and most anonymous of the options available to do the same task (there are quite a number of similar solutions out there). Tynt was also the option that made the least mention of ‘enforcement’ – which seems to be the selling point of the other options.

We aren’t interested in ‘enforcement’ or preventing visitors from cutting and pasting content – but we are primarily interested in learning about what parts of our content is the most useful to cut & pasters, and where it ends up so we can improve it and its structure.

Here’s what Tynt says about their service.

Tynt Insight anonymously detects when content is copied from your site, and can help determine what they are doing with it. At Tynt we believe content copying can be beneficial to the site owner. We find that most people copy content innocently because they are your fans. They copy content to either preserve it for themselves or to share it. Half of copied content is still shared by email because it is still the easiest and most familiar way to share content.

My paper explores how we applied this in a fair bit of detail as well as some of the findings of roughly six months’ worth of data. Suffice to say, it isn’t perfect and the paper ended up revealing that there is far less educational use of our collection in schools than we hoped for (education users being the ones we’d expect would most likely cut & paste!) – but that’s another blogpost.

Nearly 3 million words had been cut and pasted during the sample period. That’s possibly a better measure of the success, or ‘usefulness’, of our collection metadata than object views.

During a six-month period, 20,749 copies were made: 5% of these copies were images – predominantly thumbnails and, curiously, the Museum’s corporate logo; 36% (7,601) were copies of 7 words or less in length. Tynt calls these ‘search copies’ and implies that their likely use was for use in search. These search copies do not have licence and linkback text appended to them. The remaining 58% (12,608) were copies of greater than 7 words and thus had license and linkback details added to them. These 12,608 copies contained nearly 3 million copied words (2,906,330 words).

We’ve been looking at the resultant heatmaps that highlight the content that gets most cut and pasted. These offer the opportunity for us to learn and think about how we present and refine content for certain types of users.


Short report on Museums and the Web 2010, Denver

Denver is a very high altitude city. One mile up, many of the conference attendees suffered from altitude sickness – especially those who had flown directly into such a high altitude.

This year’s conference was slightly different to previous years. Session formats had changed ever so slightly and the conference venue had had to split some sessions over rooms in adjoining buildings. For the first time, too, there was an extra pre-conference day exploring ways in which the museum community might work with Wikipedia. As one of the most highly trafficked, if not the number one ‘information’ website, it is easy to see why Wikipedia is an attractive site for museums. Thus the pre-conference day was pulled together to explore some of the barriers preventing museums from engaging with Wikipedia and how these might be overcome.

Undoubtedly there are fertile opportunities. It seems self-evident that “publicly funded museums with an educational mission” (not all museums) would wish to have their research and scholarship used to improve the areas of Wikipedia which lacked the correct or most up to date information. On the Wikipedia side, too, there seems to be a broad realisation at the Foundation level (but not necessarily a consensus amongst the editors of Wikipedia) that such information is of great value to Wikipedia – especially as it continues to expand its depth and quality. (Brianna Laugher delved into related issues in a speech at the National Library of Australia a little while back).

By the end of a long day it felt like both the museums and Wikipedia were sometimes talking at cross purposes – with some misunderstandings and misconceptions on both sides. On the positive side, there were a number of experimental projects discussed involving museums and Wikipedia already happening in Australia, USA, USA and Europe – and these were all proving to be working and shared a committed local Wikipedia community respectful of the institutions and an equally committed institution or group of institutions who had dedicated resources to working with the local community. Equally positive was the general consensus that more liberal licensing on museum content as a whole might achieve the same end goals as direct collaboration with Wikipedians – but without the resourcing, scaling and sometimes difficult community management issues.

On the following day – the workshop day – I ran my metrics workshop in the morning then a social media strategy workshop with Dr Angelina Russo in the afternoon both to full houses. Such workshops are always good to run in the conference as they draw a much more diverse group of participants than when I run them with individual institutions. Then it was into the conference proper.

Thursday opened with local serial-entrepreneur Brad Feld talking about the ethos of the entrepreneur. You’ve probably used the technologies that Feld has been involved with over the years, and you probably, as he acknowledged, know someone with addictions to his latest venture – Zynga who make Farmville. Feld’s introduction was what you would expect at a technology event but stuck out a lot more in the museum space – where the kind of risk-tolerant experimentation that is encouraged is a little harder to make a reality.

After Feld’s introduction it was into the split sessions. I followed the collections track starting with Aaron Straup-Cope’s paper titled Buckets & Vessels. Aaron’s presentations at Museums & the Web over the past few years have been highlights – his ability to pull together theoretical and philosophical approaches as well as heavy technical material is completely compelling. This year his paper examined the changes in the practice of ‘curating’ broadly resulting from the Internet. Using Flickr Galleries (and the hilarious Regretsy) as an example, he demonstrated how tools can be developed to encourage and shape the curating of digital content.

Notions of authority are not eroding. People will continue to seek out and reward expert opinion. No one is storming the proverbial gates, and there are still plenty of people who want to get inside them. What is happening instead is the creation of a de facto, rather than de jure, culture of curation to deal with a world that has become more of an abundant present than a considered past.

Nate Solas from the Walker Art Center followed with a detailed teardown of the Arts Connected collection search. Nate trawled through the search logs of the former site and compared the effectiveness and style of searches performed with those on the new site which has alternative ways of navigating the detailed content. This was impressive stuff and very valuable for all of us who are trying to develop better ways of making museum collections discoverable – his paper is essential reading.

I presented my own paper after lunch. The published version looks at some of the data that we’ve been collecting over the past year in our collection database. In analysing the data the focus of the paper shifted from looking more generally at types of use and reuse of content, to highlighting shortcomings with regard to the use of our collection content by schools. In the presentation I focussed a little more on the still unrealised promise of opening up our collections, and the need to keep a focus on the audiences that are most aligned to the delivery of our short and long term goals. I’ll follow this through in more detail in a later blogpost as it needs dedicated space to explain and explore.

The next day was filled with off-conference discussions. One of the best parts of Museums and the Web is the connections that are made between attendees – and it is one of the few museum and technology events that draws a mix of both North Americans and Europeans. (The #ashcloud from Iceland impacted the return travel plans of roughly 1/4 of the conference!)

In between these discussions I popped in to the Crit Room – an annual session where several museum websites are torn down and critiqued by a panel of peers. I’d submitted the Powerhouse’s Play at Powerhouse microsite for critique – the site is due for a rebuild and the Crit Room offered a good opportunity to get some objectivity on the problems. I’d expected worse and the session provided some very useful outcomes for me – several of the elements of the site that we’d thought internally, were superfluous and had outlived their usefulness were well regarded, whilst some things we had overlooked were pointed out. The Israel Museum, MOMA and the Getty’s sites were also examined and the peer review notes from this session are available.

The final day kicked off with a mega-session of mini case studies, again new for this year. Jane Finnis and I had been asked to chair the session and between us we had come up with a way to hopefully make 9 presentations, each of 7 minutes in length, exciting. Presented as a ‘social media circus’, each speaker was introduced with a theme song related to the topic of their paper, and each played a circus character. It seemed to work well and keep a buzz and a pace throughout the long session. In the circus two Powerhouse colleagues presented their case studies.

Paula Bray spoke with Ryan Donaghue (George Eastman House) about the process and learnings from the first Common Ground international Flickr meetup, whilst Erika Dicker presented the findings of her survey of curatorial attitudes to social media and the new pressures of content creation.

I really enjoyed the short form presentations – and they were just the entree to the full paper versions. I’d really recommend checking them out – they cover everything from organisational change and the exhibition process to uses of Flickr, Twitter, and APIs, and an integrated CRM and visit system.

Elsewhere there was a lot of discussion of mobile and every non-American was trying to track down someone with an iPad to give one a go. This year, too, there seemed to be a more sober/realistic assessment of online initiatives. The euphoria of new technologies now replaced with a ‘how does this help us achieve our mission’ and ‘what resourcing does it require’ being regular (and essential) reality-checks.

And much like Indianapolis the year before, a surprise conference meme emerged. This year, in the absence of a revolving restaurant in Denver, the Spinny Bar Historical Society was formed. Perhaps an example of the entrepreneurial spirit gone awry, you can read more about the SBHS’ presence as Museums and the Web elsewhere.

Mobile MW2010 User experience

First impression of the iPad (and museum possibilities)

Here’s something I wrote about the iPad on the flight back from Museums and the Web 2010. I promise a full conference rundown later.

I’ve just spent about 24 hours sitting in a confined airline seat playing with an iPad. I picked up one in New York on the day before flying out and here’s some thoughts on the experience.

The iPad is quite a lovely device – it is tactile and, whilst heavier than expected, it is far lighter than the only other device I’d try typing this out on – my laptop which is now “safely stowed in the overhead locker”. Not to mention if the guy in front of me decides to lean his seat back suddenly it won’t get crushed.

I managed to load the iPad up in the hotel with a small selection of iPad apps – Pages which I am using to type this, Scrabble for playing with my seat-mate, Instapaper for offline reading of webpages I’ve bookmarked to read later, and GoodReader for the PDFs of academic and business papers I end up with. It also transferred all my existing iPhone games happily.

As expected there were a few slight difficulties. It took me a little while to figure out how to load documents onto the device – loading them to Pages and GoodReader via the ‘Apps’ tab in iTunes isn’t the most logical place. And, to make sure I could catch up with some videos I had on my laptop I had to do some file conversion to MP4 format using the open source tool Miro.

On one single charge I’ve managed a full flight from New York to Sydney with moderate use and there’s 20% charge left. It wasn’t running all the time but I’ve done a bunch of typing, watched a couple of hours of video, listened to music, played some graphically intensive games on it, as well as about 10 rounds of Scrabble. I even managed to spend an hour on the painfully slow wifi at the LAX lounge.

I’m not a current consumer of ebooks but I do read a lot of long-ish form online content – 3000 word plus articles. Magazine articles, extensive blogposts, opinion pieces – and for this use Instapaper and the iPad is a killer combo. If I find something I want to read during my day I can just mark it as ‘read later’ with a bookmarklet in my laptop browser and then when my iPad connects to wifi it downloads these for me and I can read offline whilst in transit. The iPad version of Instapaper works very well and allows font and flow changes making for a good reading experience on the device.

In many ways the iPad fills an immediate need of mine to have something more portable than my laptop and bigger than my phone for reading this kind of content – I expect there are a fair few people who share a similar need. Does it replace these other devices? No, it simply offers a more convenient context and experience for reading. Is it a ‘lean back’ device – definitely. And there are plenty of times when I need to be able to ‘lean back’ and absorb/consume content before heading off to ‘make and do’ content elsewhere on another device.

There’s a stack of potential for these devices in the museum space. I’m not a fan of the individualizing nature of traditional museum guides and tour devices. I find the small screen and inherently singular experience of a museum guide delivered either on a ‘hired’ device or my own phone, severely compromised.

But here with the iPad (and whatever follows as a result of it changing the tablet marketplace), we finally have a light, portable, and easy to use device that allows museum tours to be enjoyed collectively – even as a family group. In fact, the development work needed to convert an existing iPhone-optimised web content into one that suits the iPad is relatively minimal.

Consider the options for visitors stopping by a showcase or a set of objects wanting to know more about them. They pull out the iPad that they have ‘hired/borrowed’ at the front desk, and flick through to the collection information about those objects, pull up the videos in which the makers are interviewed, and pass the device between family members to show each other. Better yet, if they so wish, all this content is still available online for reference when they get home or back to school.

Conceptual Mobile

Why a touch interface matters

A shorter, more folksy interlude post – the kind I used to do more of when this blog first started nearly 5 years ago (only a few more days until the blog turns 5!).

Over dinner a few nights ago at Museums & the Web I was sitting with Kevin von Appen from the Ontario Science Centre. We were talking about the iPad and the lack of a stylus, and a possible future of voice control. We had a great chat about changing interfaces.

About a year ago I was thinking about why everyone becomes so ‘attached’ to their iPhones – and it dawned on me that the constant physical touching of the device, the stroke to unlock, the pressing, the sensual interaction, was might be a strong reason why people become so connected to them.

Sure a stylus might be more ‘accurate’ and, in the future, voice control, might offer a hands-free solution, but with a touch interface these kinds of devices become intimate and personal – not just slaves to your commands, but personal assistants and ‘friends’.

‘Intimate and personal’ matters a lot more than most of us as technologists like to think.

Conceptual Geotagging & mapping Mobile

Subject or photographer location? Changing contexts of geotagged images in AR applications

If you’ve tried the Powerhouse Museum layer in Layar in the past few days on the streets of Sydney you may have noticed some odd quirks.

Let’s say you are in Haymarket standing right here.

You open Layar and it tells you that where you are standing is the location of the following image.

Now when we were geo-tagging these images in Flickr we made a decision to locate them on the point closest to where the photographer would have stood. That seemed like a sensible enough option as it would mean that you could pan around from that point in Google Street View or similar and find a pretty close vista. This is well demonstrated in Paul Hagon’s mashup.

In the example above, if we had geotagged the subject of the image (the lighthouse) on its exact location then the Street View mashup would not function. This would be the same for many other images -the Queen Victoria Building, the Post Office, and the building in Haymarket.

However, AR applications work in the physical world and so we have another problem. If you are walking around you don’t necessarily want directions to the place where a photograph was taken, but directions to the subject of the image – especially if the camera-based heads-up-display is overlaying the image over the view of the world. This is particularly the case with historic images as the buildings have often either changed or been demolished making the point-of-view of the photographer hard to recreate. (Fortunately the Haymarket building is still there so reconstructing the view is not too difficult).

The larger the subject, the more problematic this becomes – as the photographer would stand further and further away to take the shot. Think about where a photographer might stand to photograph the Sydney Tower (or the Eiffel Tower) for example – it would be nowhere near the actual location of the subject of the photograph. Showing this on a mobile device makes far more sense if it is the subject of the photograph that is the ‘location’.

Question is, should we re-geo-locate our images? Or geo-locate both the photographer’s position and the subject’s position separately?

Either way we need to look into how people actually use these applications more – it might be that it doesn’t really matter as long as there are some obvious visual markers.

Geotagging & mapping Mobile

New version of Powerhouse Museum in Layar : augmented reality browsing of museum photos around Sydney

Last year we trialled Layar for the display of historical photos of Sydney from the collection. At the time Layar was not all that stable and our content was mixed in with those of others.

Now the application is more stable and our layer in Layar is discoverable simply by searching ‘Powerhouse Museum’ in the Layer browser. You can also now view the original images in Flickr without leaving Layar making for a far better user experience.

This is still very early days and we’re thinking around the possibilities. Thanks to Rob and Alex at Mob-Labs for the development work.

What do I need?

You’ll need either an iPhone 3GS or an Android phone. It is not compatible with the iPod Touch or earlier versions of the iPhone because they lack a compass.

Then you need to install the free Layar application.

Using Layar

1. Go to the central business district of Sydney.

2. Open Layar on your mobile device then select Search.
Type ‘powerhouse museum’.

3. Select the Layar to open the browser with Powerhouse content loaded.

You may find a lot of points appear on your screen. If this happens you need to reduce the view distance in Layar.

You can switch between the ‘reality’ view and map and list views.

Interacting with Layar

Selecting a point of interest in any view will bring up a thumbnail and options to view the image on Flickr or navigation directions to reach the point if it is not where you are standing.

Can I try it if I am not in Sydney?

If you’d like to try it from outside Sydney you can do so. You’ll have to go to the Layar Preferences – under your phone settings on the iPhone – and set the ‘Use Fixed Location’ to On. The latitude you should enter is -33.878611 and longitude 151.19944.

The next version?

Soon we’ll be uploading a bunch of other points – contemporary photography from the same locations – and then adding some game elements. Stay tuned.

Thanks again to Rob and Alex at Mob-Labs for the development work.