Picnic 10

Sketchy notes from Picnic 10 (part 2 of 2)

More minimally edited notes from Picnic 10.

Adam Greenfield prepared a top selection of panelists for his workshop on ‘networked Amsterdam’. As we sat in one of the Picnic yurts (!!) we heard a series of short presentations on Amsterdam as seen through different technological lens.

First up was Usman Haque (Pachube) who spoke broadly about the sensor-Amsterdam. He reminded us that sensors never provide pure information, instead there are always decisions being made – what to count, what not to. Speaking about EEML (extended environments markup language): data has context, descriptive, numerical, changes over time vs raw. EEML describes context and state. Measuring needs to be discrete continuous and incremental.

Tom Coates (ex-FireEagle) was up next looking at Amsterdam through the lens of data. Showing us the many easily publicly accessible data layers already out the on the web – open street map view of Amsterdam, people and transport movements through RFID tracking in the public transport system of Ovi Chipkart, power consumption, social checkins from Foursquare etc, geotagged Flickr photographs generating Flickr shape files as a people centric view of the world/map – concluding with Aaron Straup-Cope’s/Stamen’s Amsterdam PrettyMaps.

Despite this array of different views the map and terrain are still very distinct. The experienced Amsterdam is not the map so what is necessary to get closer to having the map and the territory merge? Does this begin with unique ids for each building is required to link that map and the territory. Can this apply to the world of objects?

Anab Jain (Superflux) was up next looking at Amsterdam through the lived lens of services. Do we have an ‘App-ocalypse’? Where experiencing the city is through the clumsy lens described by Coates – and thus many of the nuances of the city are obscured and invisible?

Jain contrasted with her experience of India. Here she showed how addresses change and thus how the map is never the territory. The importance of the rickshaw wallah both as guide and multi-service provider – the human version of Google Maps and social recommendation services? And of course seeing these urban actors as key urban services introduces the opportunity for ‘deviant services’. So could mobile services connect people to each other rather than people to machines? The idea of the “open generative city” vs (just) information services – post-efficient services? The criticality of serendipity and diversity of experiences.

Matt Cottam spoke about ‘objects’. Here in Amsterdam the remarkable integrated and holistic design for the Ovi Chipkart RFID transport ticketing system was made possible because of the different cultural system here in Amsterdam. A lack of paranoia about centralisation, and an acceptance of the trade off between utility and privacy. (See also the cultural norm to leave curtains open on domestic houses).

So what becomes possible? Could parking meters also be used to sell event tickets or even report problems with the city streets? They already contain the necessary technology – printer, payment acceptance, Internet connection and screen. Cottam then showed a wonderful sculpture garden of old public utility furniture. These were beautifully ‘designed’ objects, not the functional equivalents that now line the streets. They also seemed far more robust.

Is there an emerging trend towards refillable objects – with well designed innards? The Leica digital upgrade programme as an example?

Cottam concluded by showing the BluDot Real Good experiment which was part of a marketing campaign for BluDot. It focusses on how the city already recycles objects and how well designed objects live many lives.

I started Day Three catching Cory Doctorow (Boing Boing). I admire Doctorow’s persistence as an author whose traditional business models have been radically challenged, to experiment and make his own path in the resulting mess. It is a very American persistence. Thus I wanted to like Doctorow but his style carried such a sense of anger and resentment that it greatly diminished his message. Perhaps it was his jet lag or maybe, like me, he had some travel problems. Either way, being hectored about how iTunes is locking down authors rights on ebooks (preventing them from rejecting DRM) is a tough way to start a morning. Nevertheless I did like his emphasis on authors making the most of price discrimination for ebooks – where different ‘levels’ of ‘experience’ are priced differently. I couldn’t help think of how social finance schemes like Kickstarter are really accelerating the normalisation and visibility of price discrimination.

Steven Emmett followed with a fascinating talk about a programming language for genetic manipulation. in simple terms it looked like this language allows the programming of gene splicing and the ‘printing of genetic sequences’ for splicing. I loved the idea that Emmett presented that it was Bell Labs in the late 1940s with the invention of the transistor that made possible the ICT explosion and that we are in the equivalent of the 1940s now for genetic engineering. Exciting, if unimaginable futures?

Next it was over to the third of the sessions that I was involved in organising – ‘new business models of digital culture and heritage’. Charlie Leadbeater started off outlining the key ideas in his recent missive, Cloud Culture (available as a free download). For cultural producers these are difficult times – they are reaching more people but making less money, and in the developed world we are living longer but receiving less in pensions.

Leadbeater outlined four types of organisational response to these changes. Strategy one – same goals, different methods; two – different goals, same means; three – same goals, different mix of means; and four – transformational, different goals, different means. The fourth is the most radical but also potentially the most fruitful. Unfortunately, he pointed out, ‘improving’ can be the enemy of transformation – ‘making things better’ brings down the opportunity to make transformational change. Transformation requires reframing the challenges and opportunities and resources. And in the cultural sector this is likely to be mix of new and old.

Harry Verwayen from Europeana outlined Europeana’s strategies going forward. Not organically birthed, Europeana, Verwayen explained was birthed from a highly political European reaction to Google’s mass book scanning efforts. They have changed tack and are clearly searching for productive ways forward now that ’12 million objects’ are online.

Soenke Zehle explored the ways in which cultural actors, and especially institutions could provide a far more ‘critical’ role in addressing the issues highlighted by Leadbeater, as well as the (global) political economy of digital culture. As he stressed, there are going to be winners and losers here – there is no win-win situation. This happens at every layer – the hardware layer where geopolitical tensions and instability around oil are already shifting to countries with rare metals required for the ‘digital economy’; all the way through to the service layer where content producers are feeling the pinch.

Conferences and event reports

A couple of interesting free events for cultural sector people – Mike Edson Oct 15 & Amped Oct 16

We’ve got two really exciting free events coming up at the Powerhouse for everyone who is interested in the ways in which the cultural sector is and can do exciting and impactful things with digital. What’s more they are back to back on October 15 and October 16.

Despite being free both need pre-registration.

On the evening of Friday, October 15 the Powerhouse Museum hosts Mike Edson, Director of Web and New Media Strategy at the Smithsonian Institution. Mike will be giving a free talk about the idea of the Smithsonian Commons and how that vast institution is tackling the opportunities and challenges of digital. This will be an opportunity to consider what Australian institutions and communities might do as a response, and how we measure up with what we are already doing. The talk starts at 645pm and you will need to pre-register online.

Mike is in our neck of the woods courtesy of the NZ National Digital Forum, and we’re very happy that they have made his single stop visit to Australia a reality.

The very next day, everyone has a chance to push the boundaries of what we are all already doing at Amped. Organised by the Web Directions crew, Amped happens is on Saturday October 16. Unlike other ‘hack days’ this one isn’t just for developers and hardcore nerds. Amped is aimed at broadening the scope of what happens at a ‘hack day’ – especially as many of the best ideas come from the less technical and need pairing up with the more technical for proper execution.

There’s going to be rapid fire challenges around certain datasets, platforms, design issues – as well as mini-workshops running all day. And, as it is being run by Web Directions, you can rest assured they’ve roped in as many of their great lineup of speakers as possible to join the fray. (And if you are going to this year’s Web Directions South, you’ll notice our very own Paula Bray is on the lineup!)

The Powerhouse Digital Crew will be out in force at Amped, and we might just have a few brand new, shiny, tantalising things for you to play with . . .

Again, pre-register for Amped online. It is free to attend!

Conceptual Visualisation

Three short links – quantified self

Here’s a few short and interesting things I’ve been playing with for a little while. Each of these revolves around the idea of documenting ones own behaviour by laying down data – Kevin Kelly’s notion of the ‘quantified self‘.

I’m very interested in how this personal behavioural data can be used to better improve our own and collective relations and awareness. These also raise issues around the changing nature of privacy and the ways that we ‘produce’ our own identities (or as Michelle Kasprzak described it at Picnic 10 – our ‘forked identities’). I’m interested in this both as someone who spent a fair amount of time in a past-life researching subcultural infrastructure, but also from the perspective of how we use these to do interesting things in museums.

Mappiness is a mobile app from the London School of Economics who are doing a UK research project trying to map ‘happiness’ across the country. Now whilst the research data is only concerned with the UK, the app works internationally and I’ve been using it to ‘track my own happiness’. Not only am I submitting data – I can see my own data which is what I care most about. (If this experiment was being run by someone other than LSE I may not have participated.)

Here’s my happiness, sleepiness and awakeness graphed over the past little while.

For nearly five years now, I’ve been tracking all of my music listening through a commercial service called Last.FM. I started making the extra effort to ensure I tracked at least 95% of everything I had agency in the choices of music I was listening to was tracked once I figured that the aggregate data was actually, for me, incredibly interesting. Being someone who also has a musical alter ego, this data represents the reality of my musical identity, versus the projected music identity. (Next year I’m publishing an entire representation of five years of my listening).

Now Last.FM has had a very active community around its dataset and last week their Playground section launched LastFM’s Gender Plot. This takes your tracked listening and compares it to the aggregate of everyone else’s listening and self-presented demographic data and plots where you fit.

Apparently I have very gender-balanced listening and am a fair bit younger in my tastes than my actual age.

The third is Readermeter (via @lorcand). Readermeter is different in that it presents different ‘measures’ of impact for authors. It visually presents the H and G index of publications (citations-based) along with ‘readership’ data from the Mendeley API. I like this one, because much like Last.FM, this is all about shifting the impact data from being about ‘sales data’ to readership and use data.

Here’s a link to Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig’s profile on Readermeter. You can see impact of his different books from both citations and readership. Bear in mind that this data is heavily skewed towards academic-focussed publishing.

Picnic 10

Sketchy notes from Picnic 10 (part 1 of 2)

Picnic 10 has been very rewarding – Picnic is why I’ve been in Amsterdam delivering two presentations and helping organise three sessions on different issues in cultural heritage.

In the main pavilion in amongst interactive promotions from various major companies and a healthy smattering of startups was a pop up Fab Lab run by the Waag Society and a rather excellent pop up Instructubles Restaurant. In the Fab Lab people were using rapid prototyping tools and 3D printers to build all sorts of little creations whilst the Instructibles Restaurant made entirely from crowdsourced components and cooking up crowdsourced recipes from the Instructibles site. If anything shows the micro-industrial revolution occurring under our noses it is this. (And the food is tasty too!)

In a session on transmedia (games), Dan Hon who was responsible for such things as the We Tell Stories project for Penguin, bemoaned the genre formulas of transmedia productions. He posed whether the present would be radically different if the first transmedia production hadn’t been for Speilberg’s techno thriller A.I. but instead had been for the feelgood film of the same year – Amelie? Dan pushed this further. Is it possible to develop transmedia experiences for mass audiences – not just ‘puzzle geeks’?

These are real challenges for those trying to bring the opportunities of transmedia games to the cultural sector. Puzzle geeks aren’t our natural audiences and we are far more Amelie than A.I.

The next day i managed to catch a brief moment of Jeff Jarvis introducing his ideas of ‘entrepreneurial journalism‘ – an idea that probably has equal implications for the cultural sector. CUNY is now offering a Masters in the topic – where students not only learn journalism but are required to come up with a business model and sustainability strategy for their work. From this have already come several journalism startups’ although none have been ‘traditional journalism’ – instead have been about connecting and amplifying the things that matter to creation niche communities bounded by experience and/or geography.

Then it was off to present to the Hot 100 – 100 hand selected young entrepreneurs and graduates. I probably was a bit outside their usual scope but I hope the lessons around audience/user focus and continual refinement were universal. Also presenting in this session was Anab Jain from Superflux. I hadn’t heard Anab before and her presentation was one of the highlights of Picnic. Anab’s work – initially as an artist and now as a researcher and designer – centres on the cultural and shared social contexts of various technologies. Her early experiment in 2005 – Yellow Chair Stories – saw her sharing her wifi connection in London and striking up conversations with those who used it was wonderful. Similarly her prototype Sketch-A-Move for Mattel was totally inspired.

Anab later was part of the Urban Lenses panel organised by Adam Greenfield where she, again, presented some insightful views on the experience of connectivity in the city, contrasting the role of mobile technologies in Amsterdam with those of people technologies in cities in India.

After a non-existent lunch break, I presented again in our main event – the Beyond Tourism mobile discussion. The premise for this panel was to consider how cultural institutions and cultural content might be best delivered, adapted, and contributed to by a broad citizenry using mobile devices. Up until now, the rapidly expanding mobile space has considered cultural content as fodder for endless variants of tourism apps. Indeed, at Picnic itself, there were more than a few start ups pitching ‘interactive mobile tours’.

Gillian Schrofer opened by showing his QR code incursions around Amsterdam that when scanned, made visible the interiors of private residences that had had their interiors designed by his company. There was more than a little synergy with the kind of work that historic house operators have been considering – as his panoramic interior photos were hyperlinked to information about furniture and fittings.

My own presentation explored some of the failures we’ve been learning from at the Powerhouse – QR codes, URLs on object labels – and, the core problem of incentive (or lack of). My slides don’t make a great deal of sense without audio so I’m not posting them – suffice to say, my big hairy issue, despite seeing promise in a number of augmented reality apps, is that in every example thus far, a piece of physical tourist signage in location would be more effective in terms of reach and communication (just not as nerdy).

More importantly, my other issue with seeing the world as objects is that it diverts us from the core notion of storytelling – which is, in reality the only thing that will make any of these technologies truly compelling for users. In fact museums are rather good at storytelling and we’ve been diverted from our course by the lure of ‘liberating objects’ – which, on their own, are much less than when organised into a narrative.

On the storytelling meme, I also riffed around the need to transform the narrative of the ‘museum visit’ from one that starts at the door and ends at the door, to one that starts well before the visit, and ends well after the visit – each ‘chapter’ being a stage. If conceived of in this way, the ‘museum visit’ narrative is much more able to accommodate the idea of pre- and post- visit interactions. As a result marketing and promoting events and incursions that occur outside the museum itself should become far less difficult to conceptualise and implement.

Mike Edson from the Smithsonian followed me with his pitch for the Smithsonian Commons and what he saw as not being the future of mobile but the future as mobile. Mike and I had a bit of a discussion during Picnic about the potential for the Smithsonian Commons to potentially crowd out other initiatives globally through sheer scale and volume – or as was coined, the idea of ‘data imperialism’.

Jarmo Eskalinen spoke about open data especially at the city level and David Vogt from Mobile Muse spoke eloquently about the mobile web being, potentially, the first media technology to offer a intimate, participatory and social experience of media akin to our shared cultural understandings of the night sky. David’s short talk resonated with my feelings about the as yet untapped potential of mobile. I’ve included one of his slides which illustrates his claim for mobile.

(image from David Vogt’s slidedeck)

Conceptual User behaviour Web metrics

Museum implications of the Columbia report on metrics for digital journalism

Web analytics is a tricky game and often the different ways of measuring things confuse the very people they are there to help make better decisions.

For the museum sector, analytics seems even more foreign, largely because we’ve never had a very good way of generating such huge amounts of quantitative data about our visitors before.

We’re not alone in this.

As you’ve probably read in recent weeks there has been a fair bit of discussion, debate, and doomsday predictions coming out of the journalism world as it was revealed that, lo and behold, newspapers were using web analytics in their newsrooms.

This month, though, Lucas Graves, John Kelly and Marissa Gluck at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, have published an excellent report on the different types of traffic metrics that news websites are confronted with.

Provocatively titled Confusion Online: Faulty Metrics & the Future of Digital Journalism the report explains history and reasons for the widely divergent figures resulting from different types of reader measurement – panel and census-based approaches.

A lot of these reasons have to do with who the figures are being generated for, and the historical role that readership figures have played in the pricing and sale of advertising. So we need to take this into account when we in the museum sector work with the same types of measurement tools.

Indeed, the resistance to shifting from the historical panel-based measurement to site-based (or as the authors call it, census-based) measurement is largely to do with the enormous commercial implications for how advertising is priced and sold that would result. (Fortunately museums cannot afford the panel-based solutions so we’re already mostly committed to census-based site analytics.)

There are two telling sections –

This is the case at both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, which sell most online inventory on a CPM [cost per thousand impressions] or sponsorship basis and do not participate in ad networks (other than Google’s AdSense, which the Times uses). “We sell brand, not click‐through,” declares the Journal’s Kate Downey flatly. “We’re selling our audience, not page counts.”

Marc Frons echoes the sentiment, pointing out that the Times can afford to take the high road. “For us as the New York Times, brand is important,” he says. “You really want to make the Internet a brand medium. To the extent CPC [cost per click] wins, thatʹs a bad thing.”


. . . the rise of behavioral targeting represents a distinct threat to publishers: By discriminating among users individually, behavioral targeting diminishes the importance of a site’s overall brand and audience profile. Suddenly the decisive information resides not with the publisher but in the databases of intermediaries such as advertising networks or profile brokers. A similar threat may be emerging in the domain of demographic targeting. As it becomes more possible to attach permanent demographic profiles to individual users as they travel the Web, the selection of outlets will matter less in running a campaign.

This is why online media outlets tend not to participate in third‐party ad networks if they can avoid it. “We donʹt want to be in a situation where someone can say, ‘I can get you somebody who reads the Wall Street Journal while theyʹre on another site that costs half as much,’” explains Kate Downey.

Museums and others in the cultural sector operate on the web as (mostly) ad-free publishers. We’ve traditionally thought of our websites as building the brand – in the broadest possible terms. In fact we don’t usually use the term ‘brand’ but replace it with terms like ‘trustworthiness’. Now we’re not ‘selling ad space’ but we are trying to build a loyal visitor base around our content – and that relies on building that ‘trustworthiness’ and that only happens over time and through successful engagement with our activities.

We invest in making and developing content other than the opening hours and what’s on information – the brochure parts of our web presences – because it builds this sense of trust and connection with visitors. This sense of trust and connection is what makes it possible to achieve the downstream end goals of supporting educational outcomes and the like.

But just as the base unit of news becomes the ‘article’, not the publication, we are also seeing the base unit of the ‘online museum experience’ reduce from the website (or web exhibit) to the objects, and in some cases to just being hyperlinked ‘supporting reference material’. This is where we need to figure out the right strategies and rationales for content aggregation, unless we do this is going to continue to cause consternation.

We also need to pay a lot more attention to the measurement approaches that best support the different needs we have to advertising supported publishers.

Web 2.0 Web metrics

Tip #461: Segmenting and counting Facebook fans with the Ad Planner tool

Another thing that has emerged from the web analytics discussions has been the lack of clarity over how to consider the success or otherwise of museum Facebook fan pages. Not surprisingly there is a lot of superficial focus on the total number of fans, but this doesn’t give the necessary granularity you are going to need to justify the investment in these platforms going forward.

Is a museum with 100,000 fans doing better than one with 10,000 fans? Maybe not if both have 5,000 fans from their home city. Worse, what if a considerable number of your Facebook fans were other museum professionals! But how would you discover this?

One very very simple thing you can do is to use the Facebook Ad Planner tool to interrogate and segment your fans (and those of others as well!).

To do this, go to any Facebook Fan Page you are an administrator for. (You can create a new one if you need). In the right hand column you will see an advertisement encouraging you to ‘Get more connections’. Click it.

Next you will land at a page that looks like this. Just click ‘Continue’.

Now the useful part.

Now on the screen you should have ‘Targeting’. Here’s where you become brutally aware of what happens to your data when you become a ‘fan’ of something, join a group on Facebook, or list an interest in your profile. Yes, you are now a target market.

You now need to select a country (and then you can drill down into a city or region). You can add up to 25 countries if you want and you can also tweak the demographic facets like ‘age’ and ‘gender’ if you want.

Now in ‘Likes and interests’ start typing and choose another organisation or topic. Once selected you will see the ‘Estimated reach’ box in the right hand column update. That’s the information you want.

Here’s some from our profile.

Now it looks like there might be 40 people in the UK or USA who express a ‘like’ for us but haven’t yet become ‘fans’ on the fan page.

And we could definitely reach more people in Sydney who like the Art Gallery of NSW but not yet the Powerhouse! And you can see how that also gives us an insight into the geographic segmentation of our friends over at the Art Gallery of NSW‘s near 10K fans, as well as a better comparative picture of how we are going. Not surprisingly The Art Gallery of NSW are doing a great job – much better than us!

Go on, try it out for yourself. Better to know how the tools you unwittingly contribute data to, work, than not.

Interactive Media

Context matters – Googlescape

Just a quick one (a relic of a time before I started posting all the quirky new links on Twitter instead of blogging them).

Here’s Googlescape, an art project from Sarah Janssen.

Googlescape randomly picks a Google Street View location from somewhere in the Netherlands and then crops it with a black border and adds an ‘artist caption’ noting the artist (‘Google’), the year of the image, and the ‘title of the image’ (the location). Clever.

Some of the images would almost pass as landscape photography, especially when uprooted from their Google Street View ‘interactive’ and ‘informational’ context.

There is a lot to like about this.

User behaviour Web metrics

Which social web platforms create the most return visitors to our website?

I’m in Europe right now doing a slew of web analytics health checks, workshops and evaluations to help various institutions are get the most out of the their digital initiatives in a rapidly constricting financial environment. Everyone is rushing to figure out which initiatives are performing better for them than others – especially as decisions need to be made as to which ‘experiments’ are worth continuing and which have been ‘learning experiences’.

In several workshops so far the ‘return visitor’ has been highlighted as a valuable key user of digital resources. Return visitors, the argument goes, are more likely to be engaged with the organisation (and the ‘brand’), and also more likely, where geographically possible, to engage with the institution offline as well as online. And, at a time where we are all tweaking our digital content strategies, design and interfaces, they are also the visitors with whom we can measure the relative effectiveness of techniques.

And so one of the questions raised more than once has been – “which, out of Flickr, Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter” – is best at turning casual visitors into return visitors?

Now obviously the intentions of visitors who come in from these third-party sites is going to differ (not to mention the difficulties in accurately tracking visitors from Twitter), but we’re interested in the broad patterns.

I did some digging through six months (March to August) of Powerhouse data and this is what I found.

Unsurprisingly Organic search generates 72.34% of site visitation. 20.36% of this traffic are return visitors.

Direct traffic (browser bookmarks, typing the URL, etc) generates 13.88% of site visitation. 16.05% of this are return visitors. Interestingly this skews low because of the inclusion of several very popular educational resources in curriculum kits – students follow a very task-oriented link given by their teacher and don’t look around or come back.

Third party referring sites (people following links from other websites) as a whole generate 13.21% of site visitation. 20.36% of this are return visitors.

So let’s break down those top referring sites and look at traffic coming in from Wikipedia, Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook. None of these are generating enormous volumes of traffic but there are significant differences between them.

Site % of total visits % repeat
Wikipedia 0.63% 11.95%
Flickr 0.28% 42.64%
Facebook 0.49% 32.74%
Twitter 0.18% 34.50%
All referrers 13.21% 20.36%
Overall (100%) 20.60%

Of the four sites we are interested in, Wikipedia delivers the most traffic. However it brings the lowest percentage of return visitors at only 11.95%. This is well below the site average and also well below the average for all referring sites.

Facebook is next and 32.74% of these are return visitors performing well above the site average. Flickr brings the most return visitors at 42.64% whilst Twitter brings also performs well at bringing return visitors at 34.50%.

So ranked in order of traffic volume Wikipedia is a clear winner but in terms of those valuable return visitors the list transforms with Flickr bringing the proportionally more returning visitors.

Flickr is delivering nearly 3.5x the return visitor proportions than Wikipedia and the two social communication platforms Facebook and Twitter, almost 3x as much.

Thinking about why Wikipedia performs so poorly as a source of return traffic, it is clear that there is a difference in the user intentions. A visitor coming in from Wikipedia is likely coming for additional information on a subject or topic. But it looks like there is minimal brand association with that information retrieval goal – they get the answer and don’t explore further at a later date. This is what I’d call the ‘trivia quiz’ visitor.

I looked at which Wikipedia articles were sending the most traffic and the top five were a little unexpected. Wikipedia articles in order of volume of traffic were on Thrust bearing, Easy edges, Powerhouse Museum, Crumpler, Liberty bodice and a long tail of several hundred others. Other than ‘Powerhouse Museum’ this traffic is the equivalent of the casual visit traffic we also receive via the long tail of search – but is less likely to return to the site later.

Informational websites deal increasingly with entirely commoditised content, and this throws up the issue of where to dedicate resources.

The effort expended in the more social web platforms – social communication platforms (Facebook, Twitter) and social object platforms like Flickr – is working to create more valuable return visitors than the informational sites like Wikipedia and organic long tail search.

I was a bit surprised by this result so I narrowed it down a bit and looked at only traffic from Sydney. Here’s the results.

Site % total Sydney visits % Sydney repeat
Wikipedia 0.35% 26.87%
Flickr 0.20% 32.31%
Facebook 0.82% 46.43%
Twitter 0.16% 37.34%
All referrers 12.81% 34.09%
Overall (100%) 34.18%

Sydney-only and Wikipedia performs much better in terms of generating return visitors – but is greatly outpaced as a traffic source by Facebook. Here we find that it is clearly the social communication platforms that are generating the repeat visitation as well as the volumes.

Of course the overall volumes here are very low so there is a fair degree of statistical error creeping in but this is something I’ll be keeping an eye on – I’m certainly interested in why Wikipedia is creating proportionally more repeat visitors in Sydney than globally and whether this correlates to some notion of ‘brand awareness’.

More questions than answers.

Conferences and event reports

Upcoming digital talks & events for October/November

We’re going back into a cycle of talks with a lot of new things to talk about and announce. There’s a whole swag of previously unspoken about goodies going live in the next 8 weeks, and everyone has been head down working hard. However, it being conference season again means we’re going to be getting the word out on these projects . . .

In the next fortnight I’m in Amsterdam as part of Picnic 2010 (September 22-24). I am involved in a trio of (free) seminar sessions for Culturemondo and as a guest of Virtueel Platform – the Dutch peak body for media art. Picnic is an annual event that operates in the interzone between science, art, media and commerce. Purposely diverse it is a great mix of speculative talks, hands on demonstrations (there’s a competition to build augmented reality games to run live during Picnic this year, for example), media industries, artists and investment types. I spoke there in 2008 and it was one of the most interesting events I’ve been to. (Here’s my reports from 2008).

The three talks I’m involved with fit into a sequence teasing out issues around how digital cultural heritage can operate in the rapidly changing economic and media environment. On Wednesday (Sept 22) in a session called Cultural Criticism In The Age Of New Journalism, we look at the impact of models of new new journalism on cultural criticism and how this, in turn, impacts upon the arts. Whilst at one end of the spectrum, the broad reach of amateur criticism in blogs and across the web is very welcome, at the other the dispersal of such critique across the web makes it difficult for those who rely on such criticism as a part of their professional practice. This is impacting art, the performing arts, and film industries as well as critical practices in these in widely different ways.

On Thursday the series turns to mobile and in a session titled Beyond Tourism: Future Directions For Mobile Cultural Content, speakers question how the development and use of mobile apps in the cultural sector can move beyond (just) tourism and marketing applications. Then that night Non-Fiction takes a group of us on an underground tour of Amsterdam’s mobile incursions and experiments being deployed across the city by media artists. And on the Friday in New Business Models for Culture & Heritage, we look at a range of ‘business model experiments’ that are taking place with digital cultural heritage and collectively consider how best public value might be served.

In between all that I’m hoping to be blogging the rest of Picnic and catching some of the exciting sessions on gaming, transmedia, urban design, sensors and the internet of things, and possibly even some of the bio-engineering stuff.

If you are in or near the Netherlands then come along. Registration for the three Culturmondo seminar sessions is free and if you are coming for them there is also a discount available for the broader Picnic tickets (read to the end of this).

In mid October senior online producer Renae Mason is heading to the New Zealand National Digital Forum in Wellington this year (Oct 18-19) for the Powerhouse. She’s talking about the impact and evaluation of some of our recent social media forays and doing a no holds barred teardown of our investment in prolonged social media and content development for The 80s Are Back exhibition. No doubt she’ll also talk about our Ask A Curator experience. Don’t miss Dan Hill, Mike Edson and Nick Poole’s keynotes at NDF – they should all be fascinating and I’m quite disappointed to be missing it this year.

That same week on this side of the ditch it is Australian Web Week 2010 and Visual & Digitisation manager Paula Bray is doing a ‘big picture’ talk to the assembled throng of web geeks at Web Directions South. Web Directions South is an event we always try to send team members along to to expand their technical and conceptual knowledge of where the web is heading. Paula’s going to be covering a broad range of Powerhouse activities and initiatives and encouraging developers to consider cultural datasets when they are experimenting with new projects. Paula’s in great company with some our teams’ favourite web people are speaking there this year.

On the Saturday (October 16), the Powerhouse is the venue for Web Directions’ Amped – a free ‘hack day’ with special guests from Web Directions and lots of challenges and prizes. If you work with data, are a web designer and work on the web, or are a developer then register and come along as there’ll be lots of great things going on and some great micro-talks as well.

Then in early November, Paula is speaking at the CEBIT Government 2.0 Conference in Canberra and I’m speaking at the NAA/CAARA Residential School with what seems like most of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce!

Busy times.

Oh . . . and we’ll be announcing a bunch of new things at each of these . . . stay tuned. They deserve their own separate blog posts.

User behaviour Web 2.0

Our Ask A Curator Day 2010 experience

Last week was Ask A Curator Day and the Powerhouse was one of a bunch of Australian institutions that took part. Because of where we are in the global timezone, along with New Zealand we were one of the earliest to start Ask A Curator Day. This limited the exposure that Australian and NZ museums got from the event compared to European and American museums that received a boost from the frenzy of activity over the night – when #askacurator became the top trending topic on Twitter.

I spoke to Renae Mason last week about her preparations for the event and now the event is over I asked Renae and her curatorial champion Erika Dicker about how they event went.

F&N: How much response did we get?

Erika: We had 19 direct questions asked via our Facebook page. Many of these questions went on to become conversations as opposed to a brief Q & A..

Renae: The response was also really positive for us considering we didn’t promote our participation in the event through any mainstream media channels – it was all word of mouth and social media. We also picked up some new fans on the day who didn’t already know about our Facebook and Twitter profiles.

F&N: What were the internal outcomes of Ask A Curator Day in terms of the organisation?

E: Internally this was a great opportunity for the curatorial team to work closely with the web team, allowing curators to experience and experiment with social media in a safe environment. For the past few months curators have been participating in Facebook workshops, and developing their own ‘work’ profiles. These profiles allowed them not only to participate on the day, but will allow them to easily engage with our Facebook audience in the future.

Within the Curatorial Department we had 15 curators (out of 24) who actively participated with the project. I think this shows a high level of enthusiasm, and a definite shift in attitude towards using social media actively and productively in our everyday work.

R: This is a great outcome for us, as we work towards the goal of demonstrating the longer term benefits of social media for curatorial work. One of our curators, Min-Jung Kim was really hoping to meet some Korean speakers on the day who would ask about our extensive Asian collection here at the museum. She did end up meeting a local Art History graduate, who is not only a Korean speaker but also keen to gain curatorial experience. She may come on board as a volunteer curatorial assistant as a result of their meeting on Facebook. This experience really demonstrates the way social media can create very useful moments of synchronicity that have a direct impact on the museum research process, in this case, connecting to the right people that can help get the job done.

F&N: How did the public respond?

I was really surprised that the majority of questions we got were subjective ones. “What was your favourite exhibition to work on?”, “What is your dream exhibition?”, “What is the most difficult challenge for a curator?”. I loved that those who asked really did choose to ‘ask a curator’ on a personal level, rather than ask for valuations, identification of objects or opening times!

R: We also didn’t have any problems with spammers or trolls – no bad behaviour at all! I think that’s one thing that many people who aren’t on social media channels fear and it’s a real barrier to entry. You could tell that everyone involved was genuinely pleased with the tone of the conversations as they unfolded.

F&N: Having seen how it went overnight on Twitter, what do you feel worked better or worse on Facebook?

E: I think the project was a great way to get museums and galleries noticed and let the public know that we are here for them. However whilst I think Twitter is a great platform for curators to get involved with, and used to create professional networks, I don’t think it works very well as a platform that allows curators to engage with an audience. I also think this can’t be done well in 140 characters.

I strongly believe that deep levels of engagement come from personal connections, and to achieve this we have to make curators more accessible, approachable, and personable. I don’t think Twitter does this very well. Most of the answers I saw from other museums on Twitter came from an institutional account, with no acknowledgement of who was doing the answering. I found that quite impersonal.

Using a platform like Facebook allowed our curators to each create their own profile page, including a profile picture of themselves, and details of what areas they specialise in. When our curators answered questions on the PHM main page, our fans could then click on their profiles and see that a real person had answered their question, and begin to make a personal connection with the curator. Facebook also allowed for multiple answers to one question by different curators, and encouraged the discussion to continue past just a simple Q and A format. The results were available for all ‘fans’ to see in a clearly visible way.

R: I definitely agree with Erika on this – the Facebook profiles made it very clear which curator you were talking to at any given time. I also liked the way that more than one curator would jump in to answer a single question – providing a multitude of perspectives and insight that wasn’t limited to 140 characters. Because Facebook presents conversations as a thread, the complete conversation is still accessible to all.

What we lost by being the only institution on Facebook, and therefore being in a bit of a silo in regards to cross-promotion and marketing, we gained in usability and audience engagement outcomes.

(If you are interested in learning more about how the event went down on Twitter from the perspective of someone asking the questions, I recommend you read this post from the Museum Cultures blog.)

Also, it was exciting to see the #askacurator hashtag become a trending topic, until the inevitable happened and it became overrun by spambots. That did put a bit of a dampener on the event.

F&N: How might we do this sort of audience q&a more often? Especially given we don’t have a public Q&A facility on site.

E: I think all museums would agree that everyday is ‘Ask A Curator’ day. However traditional methods of public enquiries take the form of written letter, telephone call, or direct questions emailed through from our online collection database.

Curators spend a lot of their time responding to these sorts of enquiries, however the whole conversation is hidden from public view. Personally I would like to see us get a bit more ‘new school’ in how deal with enquiries, I think they are a hidden gem of content. Until that happens I know our curators really enjoyed using Facebook for ‘Ask a Curator’ Day and we will always be listening, and ready to answer your questions!

[Interestingly the Sydney Observatory Facebook page handles a lot of public enquiries on an ongoing basis – so maybe we will just add a link to the Powerhouse Facebook page on the Contact Us form]

R: Yes, we do already receive some questions for curators via our Facebook fan page and these are forwarded onto them. Their answers are then posted by myself or Erika on the page. Now that we have so many curators set up with Facebook profiles for work, it would be nice to have them personally answer any questions that come through, which would be a better experience for our fans, but would also share the responsibility for our Facebook fan page more evenly.

Erika kept up the conversation with one of the people who asked the curators questions and after the day sent her some questions to answer herself. Here’s her reply which I think more than demonstrates the value of Ask A Curator Day to institutions.

(I’ve kept this anonymous because of identification issues around Facebook)

Erika: Had you visited the Powerhouse Museum before?

A: I have been a regular visitor since I was a child, my visits might be fewer as an adult, but with big film based exhbitions, such as the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings exhibits, I was reminded of the brilliant permanent collection and came back more frequently.

E: Did you know the Museum was on Facebook before the event?

A: I did not, I was informed of the event by a friend who knew someone involved in the organising of the event and I was sent an invite.

E: Were you a ‘fan’ of the Powerhouse Museum on Facebook before the ‘Ask a Curator’ day event?

A: No I wasn’t.

E: Do you read any of the Powerhouse Museum blogs? (Photo of the Day, Object of the Week)

A: Occasionally I will look at the Object of the Week, I don’t often remember to look for it myself, but it is often sent to me if it is interesting.

E: What did you expect to happen when you posted a question?

A: I expected perhaps a single stock-standard response. I didn’t expect the genuine, enthusiastic and original answers of your curators. I received many various and interesting responses from all areas and saw some fantastic objects through their recommendations. I also did not expect the quick turn around on responses that I received.

E: How do you feel about the quality of answers you recieved to your questions?

A: As above, I was astounded by the quality of the answers I received, the answers were perfectly apt, and answered my questions without any kind of misdirection, people responded quickly and their responses were charming, informative and engaging. Not to mention interesting.

E: Are you more likely to visit us in person now, or access any of our other services eg. online collection, research library etc?

A: I am far more interested to come in more often, the online collection – while I am social media addicted is not quite my cup of tea. As soon as I see something in picture, I want to see it in person! I’d come in and ask you to pull it out. But I’m making plans to come in for the 80s exhibit in the next week with my partner.

E: How would you prefer to stay in contact in the future – email or social media channels like Twitter and Facebook? Why?

A: Facebook and Twitter work well for me, they feed into my phone and I see them regularly. Should I check my email. Which I do on average once a day for personal email. I’ll see any facebook or twitter notes I haven’t followed up on.