Nancy Proctor talk at Powerhouse Museum 19/4/11 on mobile 2.0

Early this week Nancy Proctor, Head of Mobile Strategy at the Smithsonian Institution gave a free talk at the Powerhouse, courtesy of Museum3 and RMIT.

The talk is quite a sobering walk through some of the emerging realities around the cost and rationale for mobile, as well as a discussion around how collectively we might move beyond thinking about mobile as ‘just audio tours 2.0’.

Nancy Proctor, Smithsonian Institution at the Powerhouse Museum 19/4/11 from Powerhouse Museum on Vimeo.

The video starts after the audience has been watching the trailer for Scapes, a very interesting location-based sound art project by Halsey Burgund that combines generative audio with visitor/listener recorded feedback.

Advance apologies for the audio quality.

I’d highly recommend reading this paper – Getting On (not Under) the Mobile 2.0 Bus: Emerging Issues in the Mobile Business Model – from Museums & the Web 2011 on mobile as complimentary material.

UPDATE: Nancy’s slides from the evening are available below.

Collection databases open content Powerhouse Museum websites

Introducing the alpha of the Museum Metadata Exchange

The Museum Metadata Exchange (MME) is a project that started mid last year (2010) as a collaboration between the Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD) and Museums Australia (MA). Funded by the Australian National Data Services (ANDS), the project is key infrastructure to deliver museum collection-level descriptive (CLD) metadata to the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC).

That’s acronym city. So here’s the human-readable version.

The MME takes a different approach to collections. Instead of focussing at the object or item level, it moves up a notch to ‘collection level’. This has the benefit of providing an overview, a meaning and a scope that can be hard to ‘see’ at object level – especially if you were, say, looking for which museums had shoes made in the 1950s and worn in Australia. The other benefit of collection level descriptions is that the objects grouped in this way don’t necessarily need to be online or digitised (yet) in order to be discovered.

The project is funded by ANDS in order to ensure that these descriptors of museum collections are added to the Research Data Commons to be used and explored by academic researchers. In many ways this makes a lot of sense – academic researchers are far more likely than general web users to need to come and see the ‘real’ objects and make long term connections with staff at the host museum to conduct their research. And so, by exposing collection level descriptions especially for ‘yet to be digitised’ collections, the project is pulling back the curtain on those hidden gems held by museums across Australia. In fact, several of the staff working goon the project who deal with objects everyday were regularly surprised by what they were finding in other people’s collections – “oh I had no idea that they had some of those too!”.

Collection level descriptions have provenance and descriptive metadata along with semi-structured subject keywords, temporal, spatial and relational metadata. (Here’s a list of 66 Powerhouse collections and a single record on our rather excellent Electronic Music Collection.)

The first public iteration pulls together nearly 700 collections from 16 museums across Australia and future iterations will add more – primarily major regional collections, I would expect.

But . . .

The site itself is really a simple public front-end for a data transformation service. It isn’t supposed to be the primary place for anyone, not even researchers, to search or browse these collection level descriptions. It is a transformation and transport mechanism that acts as broker between the individual museums and the Research Data Commons. To this end anyone can download the XML feed of the collection level data from the site – this is the same data that gets passed on to the Commons.

Of course, we’ve tried to ‘pretty-up’ the rawness of the site a bit. The first iteration has lovely identity work done by emerging Newcastle-based designer Heath Killen. But the search is very rudimentary and there is currently no way to pivot by keywords or do the temporal or spatial searching – this sort of functionality is supposed to be handled by the various academic interfaces for the data once it reaches the Research Data Commons. We will add this to the MME site itself over time.

Go and have a bit of an explore – the best way of understanding the project is by taking a look at the sort of data that is already in it. If you’d like some more detailed background information the project also has a < a href="">microsite for contributing institutions.

Oh, and, we’re expecting to release the Powerhouse Object Name Thesaurus (already downloadable as a PDF) as a data service shortly as part of this project too. This thesaurus has been used by the project to start to normalise the data to a degree and it is expected that by making the thesaurus available as a data service, that there will be both read and write opportunities . . . .

Powerhouse Museum websites Social media

The end of the 80s – summing up a 24 month web presence

Recently saw the final days of The 80s Are Back exhibition – the end of a run that began back in late 2009.

The website now moves into a ‘post-exhibition’ mode and many of the social media elements of the site will no longer be updated. Given the length of time that these have been running – since well before the exhibition launched – this is perhaps the Powerhouse’s longest running single topic social media experiment.

So how did it go?

I posted an interview in March last year with Renae Mason who was the producer on the site last year which went into detail on all the channels that we used.

The site now contains nearly 97,000 words in its various mini-essays, reviews and interviews, and it has generated 195 approved comments containing a massive 11,000 words. Regular readers would know that the site continued adding mini-essays right through to last month (when final posts on Live Aid, Sampling, Hordern dance parties, compact discs and The Smiths were added).

January 2010 was the busiest month for visitation – driven by the new-ness of the exhibition and all the accompanying media and advertising, but rather than the normal sharp decline in web visitation that follows an exhibition of this length, the site continued to travel well on a slow curve downwards. The months that had tie-in public programmes and events added spikes in traffic and even after the Museum stopped 80s-related programming the site continued to perform comparatively well.

The microsite had 142,000 visits with healthy visitor loyalty showing that the extra effort put into longitudinal content creation was worthwhile. Single visit visitation was 5% below the overall site average – and repeat visitation up. Facebook and Twitter, where we put additional effort into content delivery throughout the run of the exhibition were 5.5 times and 6 times more likely to send traffic than the site average. Of course, consistent with every other project I see, both at the Powerhouse and elsewhere, actual site traffic from social media compared with organic search remained still a distant second.

On the downside, one of the biggest disappointments with the project was the lack on exit signage for the 80s web presence. Although this was planned as a key part of the exit experience for the gallery it took until nearly 9 months after launch to have it designed and finally installed. This was primarily because of a resource crunch but it highlights, despite the huge ground made up over the years in the integration of web and exhibition content, that those simple ‘last mile’ actions are still so important.

I’d wager that for the vast majority of visitors to the museum during that initial period without exit signage, we lost a huge and critical opportunity to build an even stronger community around the diversity and depth of online content. Given repeat visitation was already far stronger than for other similarly sized online exhibition sites, I wish we’d had the opportunity to see, for the entirety of the exhibition’s run, what extra impact in-gallery prompting might have had.

The site stays online now for the next 5-7 years as an online resource for teachers and educators teaching ‘modern history’ (yes, the 80s are now ‘history’). This ‘mode change’ for the site is something that is always quite challenging – and obviously the social media channels will naturally wither and eventually vanish from the web. This poses a number of issues around whether the ‘conversations’ are and should remain ephemeral – leaving only the main site and its essay and AV content the subject of preservation – or whether the social media should also be ‘preserved’ and archived.

(For an overview of the original strategy for the site, please read the earlier post)