Mobile Powerhouse Museum websites Young people & museums

Updating Go Play – the cross-agency school holiday calendar

Last September we quietly launched the alpha version of Go Play, a site that Powerhouse was commissioned to produce for the then Communities NSW (now Office of Communities). Go Play was built to address the problem of the general invisibility of the wealth of great school holiday events, often free or low cost, put on by government organisations. On commercially operated parental events calendars these cultural events are buried amongst the latest family movies, and on individual government agency websites there is no suggestion that there might be other relevant activities nearby. Beginning with the cultural institutions and sport and recreation facilities, the site was also built to ensure that event metadata was enhanced with standardised parent-focussed information like age suitability and whether or not the venues have baby change facilities etc.

Initially managed by Renae Mason at the Powerhouse and programmed by the IXC, the Go Play went live as a public alpha with school holiday activities collated from five NSW government agencies to test the database structure and robustness. In December the site, complete with a stack of bugfixes, went into beta with more agencies involved.

Under the purview of a new producer at Powerhouse, Estee Wah, the April holidays came around and the site continued to grow with more and more contributors and general operations for the site began shifting over to staff fat Office of Communities. At the same time for April, we launched a mobile App version of Go Play funded through Apps4NSW and was developed by The Nest.

Now we’re in the winter school holidays and the site has just added even more partner organisations and the App has also received its first major update.

Not only that, the enhanced event copy is now licences under CC-BY-NC for re-use by others (excepting, of course, the images). The event data and venues can be obtained as XML from the Data Output section. (Alternative licensing of the data can no doubt, be negotiated).

So how has it gone?

Go Play, to date, has shown that with a mix of great SEO and search marketing coupled with a relatively simple UI there is a good audience for tightly focussed cross-agency event calendars. Traffic has been strong with each holiday period delivering more and more visitors to the site – now nearly 60K – and consolidating repeat visitors. The iOS App has had nearly 1100 downloads since launch, and the update has been applied 234 times in the last few days since release showing ongoing usage by those who downloaded the first version.

Not surprisingly, those institutions who chose to add the Go Play banners to their own sites ended up sending a good deal of traffic to the site – showing that, unsurprisingly, parents who visit, say the Powerhouse Museum website looking for holiday activities are interested in seeing what else in on too. It would seem, too, that those who sent traffic also had their own events viewed the most in Go Play creating a net gain in traffic and awareness, instead of a net loss.

The initial ideas that such a site might be able to run automagically, harvesting new content from participating institutions, have unsurprisingly been optimistic. In fact these were scoped out after the initial alpha release and the focus on having a human editor who ensures that events have full enhanced metadata not only makes the site a lot more valuable to parents but also realistically deals with resource levels at contributing agencies.

Next school holidays the site will be completely under the operation of Office of Communities and will hopefully grow to take on many more content partners (local government is an obvious option), and maybe down the track be able to operate all year round.

Check out the Go Play site and the free iOS App!

Exhibition technology Interactive Media User behaviour Young people & museums

The honeypot effect: more on WaterWorx, the Powerhouse Museum’s iPad interactive

Photography by Geoff Friend, Powerhouse Museum. CC-BY-NC-ND

Week one of our iPad interactive – WaterWorx – and the feedback has been great from visitors and teachers alike.

Just to prove how much of a honeypot the iPads are, here’s a time-lapse from the day that the exhibition was soft launched. You can see the early morning final touches being added to the space, followed by the flurry of the first school visitors, and so on.

You can see for yourself the significant dwell times and people coming back for another go. And that’s awesome.

We’ve been deploying minor fixes as we go and the OtterBox Defender cases that we have been adapted to protect the iPads are being pushed to their limits!

(If you missed our first post that describes the game itself then you need to travel back in time a few days)

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!)

Young people & museums

Odditoreum visitor-written-labels now on Flickr

Thanks to encouragement from Shelley Bernstein at the Brooklyn, Paula Bray has started uploading photos of some of the ‘visitor-generated labels‘ from our Odditoreum mini-exhibition.

The ‘write-your-own-labels’ continue to be a roaring success.

More on the Odditoreum here and on the basic info page.

Young people & museums

NMC Technology Report for Aus/NZ is released

Earlier this year the Horizon New Media Consortium convened in Australia to develop up a Horizon report specifically for the local education space.

The report, detailing six technologies in the education sector to watch, has been released.

Here’s a snippet – but I encourage you to read and then send around. Remember these are technologies that are yet to ‘jump the chasm’ so there will be some contestation of the findings (there certainly was in the development meetings!).

We find ready examples of established use on campuses of the two technologies that appear on the nearest adoption horizon, virtual worlds & other immersive digital environments and cloud- based applications. Those in the mid-term horizon, geolocation and alternative input devices, are are already commonly in use in the consumer world, and educational examples are not difficult to find on campuses working on the leading edge of technology. As would be expected, the furthest horizon contains the two topics that have been least adopted: deep tagging and next-generation mobile. Even in this horizon, examples of campus use do exist, although they tend to be in the early stages of development.

Go and read the report (PDF)!

Collection databases Young people & museums

Light reading – two totally different audiences: researchers and young people

Two interesting pieces of reading for those of you who have to spend time on public transport.

First from the Research Information Network in the UK comes a report that looks at the need of academic researchers in discovering the content of museum collections using online databases. Not surprisingly “their most important wish is that online access to museum databases to be provided as quickly as possible, even if the records are imperfect or incomplete”. Read the report.

Second, and covering a totally different audience, is the long awaited report from the Macarthur Foundation on Digital Youth. This was a major piece of research involving a lot of different research teams and the final report is really quite excellent. If you are time poor then skip straight to the summary white paper (PDF).

Otherwise take the time and read the full report. I’d direct F&N readers immediately to the chapter entitled Media Ecologies. This chapter is particularly important because it reminds us that even the same young person can use different digital media in widely differing ways, and with different proficiencies. This chapter proposes that there is a distinct difference between use of digital media that are friendship-based versus those that are interest-based (in the minority). Often in the cultural sector we conflate these two groups or expect that the friendship-based users are actually interested in our interest-based content.

Interactive Media Young people & museums

Teens, Games and Civics 2008 Report from Pew Internet & American Life Project / some implications for interactives in museums

Another fascinating report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, Teens, Games and Civics came out recently. Focussing on teen use of games (defined in very broad terms) the report is interesting reading.

It is revealing in that it shows that game playing is most definitely mainstream (95%+ participation) and that gaming is a primarily social and identity formation activity (pp 26-30) for teens. The gender, race and class splits are very interesting and the most popular genres of games (see pp16-25) are racing, puzzle, sports, action, adventure, and interestingly, rhythm (ie Guitar Hero etc) games. MMOGs (heavily skewed to boys) and virtual worlds have the lowest rates of play – I venture that this is possibly because of the ongoing costs associated with them and the usual requirement for a credit card (still a huge barrier to play for teens). This is likely to change rapidly because the report also shows that younger teens are more likely to have visited virtual worlds – again I expect that the impact of Club Penguin on pre-teens will flow through into a greater acceptance of virtual worlds by teens 5 years from now.

The report ends with some tentative results looking at civic engagement amongst teen gamers.

I’d be very interested to see a similar study done amongst Australian teens but already the implications for museums are clear.

Museums which have significant investments in game-like interactives in their galleries and online are already facing a very game-literate set of young audiences. These audiences, when they encounter a museum game or interactive now bring a far more sophisticated set of expectations with them. The recent introduction of new physical controllers like the Wiimote into the mainstream console space will also impact on teens’ opinion of (and thus engagement with) mechanical and physical interactives in our galleries as well. Likewise, as the pre-teens of Club Penguin etc grow older the expectation will be that interactive and game experiences in museums are far more social.

Conceptual Young people & museums

Siva Vaidhyanathan on the ‘Generational Myth’

In a new article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, former NYU professor and Copyright reform activist Siva Vaidhyanathan writes a provocative essay against the notion of ‘digital natives’ arguing the term and any idea of a ‘generational shift’ is ludicrous and masks the very real diversity in skills, knowledge and behaviours amongst users of digital technologies.

As a professor, I am in the constant company of 18- to-23-year-olds. I have taught at both public and private universities, and I have to report that the levels of comfort with, understanding of, and dexterity with digital technology varies greatly within every class. Yet it has not changed in the aggregate in more than 10 years.

Every class has a handful of people with amazing skills and a large number who can’t deal with computers at all. A few lack mobile phones. Many can’t afford any gizmos and resent assignments that demand digital work. Many use Facebook and MySpace because they are easy and fun, not because they are powerful (which, of course, they are not). And almost none know how to program or even code text with Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Only a handful come to college with a sense of how the Internet fundamentally differs from the other major media platforms in daily life.

College students in America are not as “digital” as we might wish to pretend. And even at elite universities, many are not rich enough. All this mystical talk about a generational shift and all the claims that kids won’t read books are just not true.

At times I’ve been as guilty as anyone of generalising – usually to make a point or support an argument about the need to invest in, and experiment with, new forms of social technologies – but as Vaidyanathan and others like Eszter Hargittai consistently demonstrate, such generalisations often end up ill-serving the very constituents that they are made about – that is, young people.

On my blog, Sivacracy, Elizabeth Losh, writing director of the humanities core course at the University of California at Irvine and author of the forthcoming Virtualpolitik: An Electronic History of Government Media-Making in Time of War, Scandal, Disaster, Miscommunication, and Mistakes (MIT Press, 2009), kept the online conversation going: “Unlike many in today’s supposed ‘digital generation,’ we learned real programming skills — with punch cards in the beginning — from the time we were in elementary school. What passes for ‘media literacy’ now is often nothing more than teaching kids to make prepackaged PowerPoint presentations.” Losh also pointed out that the supposed existence of a digital generation has had an impact on education, as distance-learning corporations with bells-and-whistles technology get public attention while traditional classroom teaching is ignored.

Once we assume that all young people love certain forms of interaction and hate others, we forge policies and design systems and devices that match those presumptions. By doing so, we either pander to some marketing cliché or force an otherwise diverse group of potential users into a one-size-fits-all system that might not meet their needs. Then, lo and behold, young people rush to adapt to those changes that we assumed all along that they wanted. More precisely, we take actions like rushing to digitize entire state-university library systems with an emphasis on speed and size rather than on quality and utility.

Eszter Hargittai’s work on social network participation (for example in the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication) and especially her 2008 paperfor the Web Use Project with Gina Walejeko show that skills are far from universal.

Hargittai explained why we tend to overestimate the digital skills of young people: “I think the assumption is that if [digital technology] was available from a young age for them, then they can use it better. Also, the people who tend to comment about technology use tend to be either academics or journalists or techies, and these three groups tend to understand some of these new developments better than the average person. Ask your average 18-year-old: Does he know what RSS means? And he won’t.”

Now none of this should really be all that new to us.

Instead it is a reminder that we need to be careful in putting the ‘technology’ before our actual users, audiences and communities, however we might like to segment them. We might do well to look at the recent reports of the World Internet Project which are far less optimistic than ‘market research’ reports on internet usage in different countries. For Australia, then whilst internet usage is indeed high amongst most age groups (the exception being the over 65s) it is far from universal, nor are most of the highly technically literate behaviours we often speak about as ‘norms’ amongst younger users all that popular.

There are great opportunities here for museums, especially technology and science museums, to recast their roles as trainers and educators, helping communities build their digital skills and find relevance in digital environments. Likewise there is plenty to support the notion that we need to be continually experimenting with ensuring our ‘findability’ within new communication environments (social networking services), as interest in other communication channels changes. And, as I have been emphasising in my recent workshops, our collections and content needs to be flexible and adaptable, so that it can be taken up and reused in a multitude of different ways by different communities of users.

Conferences and event reports Social networking Young people & museums

Camilla Cooke explains the Kevin07 digital campaign – notes from CCI ‘Creating Value Between Commons and Commerce’ conference, Brisbane, 2008

Here’s the second of a set of notes scribed during the main sessions of the CCI’s conference ‘Creating Value Between Commons and Commerce‘.

Camilla Cooke was the strategist behind the Kevin07 digital campaign in what she described as ‘Australia’s first digital election’. In a fantastic presentation she went through the rationale behind the digital elements of the Kevin07 campaign and some of the figures and outcomes (beyond the election result!).

Conferences and event reports Interactive Media Young people & museums

Henry Jenkins – notes from CCI ‘Creating Value Between Commons and Commerce’ conference, Brisbane, 2008

I’ve been in Brisbane the last few days – presenting the Powerhouse Museum’s Creative Commons and public domain projects and also managed attend one day of the CCI’s conference ‘Creating Value Between Commons and Commerce‘. In amongst some truly awful examples of how not to use Powerpoint, there were some interesting presentations and papers.

Here’s the first of a set of notes scribed during the main sessions.