MW2008 Web 2.0 Young people & museums

Social technologies and museums – the ‘groundswell’ and museums

The folks at McGraw Hill/Harvard Business Press recently sent me an advance copy of Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies for review. The book builds on Li and Bernoff’s Forrester research blog and in particular their social technographics work.

Aimed at managers, executives and marketing staff, the book (usefully) steers well clear of specific technologies and technical solutions and instead provides numerous case studies of how social technologies are being deployed by savvy companies to improve and transform their businesses. More so than the social technographics profiles, these case studies are the book’s strength. The case studies featured cover different audiences and social technographic profiles, widely different industries, and also very different strategies and are all interesting reading.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how museums might apply their methodologies – in particular their POST (people, objectives, strategies, technologies) method – to exhibitions and online content.

The POST method is simple but forces you to look first at the people you are trying to promote/engage/sell to and the objectives you are trying to achieve. Then choose a strategy and last, the appropriate technology. The Groundswell book covers, in detail, this methodology applied to examples such as the sale of tampons to young women . In this case study Procter and Gamble built a discussion forum, Being Girl, which is a platform for the marketing of a particular brand of tampons. It became a bigger and ongoing platform with which to engage the target audience. What the Being Girl case study shows is that by looking at the behaviour of the target audience first and their online behaviour it was possible to create a better aligned and more successful campaign that not only met the objectives of the tampon company (and created new opportunities as well) but importantly met the needs of the audience (to have a safe place to discuss adolescence – beyond just tampons). The company involved is also able to now undertake ongoing audience/market research through the forum to inform future campaigns.

Of course, engaging with audiences in these and other ways radically changes the communication flows from the traditional one-to-many shout methods of traditional marketing to multi-directional communication. These inevitably begin to transform the organisations involved as well as the customers/audience too. Groundswell outlines some of the challenges, especially around corporate transparency, that this throws up such as whether or not to acknowledge the existence of competitors in one’s own discussions with customers. (What if ‘other brands of tampons’ are discussed?)

Put simply, if you do engage, you organisation will change. If you engage strategically then this change can be managed and paced appropriately. For some organisations it might be most appropriate to deploy a range of ‘listening’ techniques and technologies before leaping into an poorly planned social media project. Even here at the Powerhouse we’ve had social media projects fail because we have over-estimated our intended audiences and their predicted behaviour.

Museums tend to focus on audience evaluation rather than market research – focussing on those who have made the choice to come to our sites already, rather than those who haven’t yet. Thus for museums there is a real need for us to understand the technographic profiles of our multiple audiences – and then take the most sensible approach for each audience niche. Unlike companies who tend to target a product line at a group of consumers and then develop that relationship across the lifespan of the product line, too often museums take a more schizophrenic approach to exhibitions (as products) – serving one niche with an exhibit then moving on to serve a totally different niche audience with the next. The audience cultivated through the first exhibition may not be served with a follow up ‘product’ for several years – or in some case, ever again. This is a grave strategy error.

Of course museums are more than just exhibitions, they are a collection of experiences. So, if we consider museums as experience venues with a visit containing multiple ‘samplings’ of a diverse product line – the average museum visitor stopping by several exhibitions in one visit – then we also need to be considering the impact of different technographic profiles for different audience needs and intentions as well.

In Lynda Kelly and Angelina Russo’s recent research presented at MW2008 they applied the social technographics methodology of Forrester to visitors to Australian museums. What is interesting in their work is that they found that the use rates of many social media tools was, in fact, higher than national averages. At the same time their qualitative research showed that amongst teenagers whilst usage of social networks is high, that there was an impression that these were for ‘private’ and ‘personal’ use – and that the intrusion of museums into these spaces were not necessarily desirable. Similar findings are being made by others across many industries. Likewise, Dana Mitroff and Katrina Alcorn’s exploration of the SFMOMA audience informing a web redesign sounded an early warning that any museum’s pursuit of Web 2.0 participative methods needs to be strategic. Social technologies aren’t yet appropriate for all audiences, nor are they necessarily desirable without strategic alignment.

Forrester provides an online social technographics profile tool in the promotional site for the book. This is a simple tool to start a conversation with managers about the general online behaviours of your audience and I’d strongly recommend exploring it with the backing of existing audience research around your ‘product range’ (exhibitions, interactives, online projects) rather than just applying it generally to your entire museum.

So where from here?

What Groundswell does is provide your web or digital team with a range of examples to present management, and it also provides management with a strategic framework with which to begin to evaluate proposals from digital teams irrespective of the technologies involved.

I’ve got two copies of Groundswell in the office now which are being read by everyone in my team and the key people around the Museum that we work with.

Interactive Media Interviews Young people & museums

Behind the scenes of Launchball – an interview with Daniel Evans, Frankie Roberto, and Mike Ellis

There is a lot to learn from the Science Museum’s (London) recent success with their Launchball online game.

The project has been enormously successful and recently won ‘best of show’ at SxSW. I conducted an interview with Daniel Evans, Frankie Roberto, and Mike Ellis to explore some of the ideas and processes behind the project.

Launchball was built to support and extend the Launchpad gallery experience. Launchpad is a highly interactive physics exploration space specifically aimed at 8-14 year olds.

How did it start?

Frankie Roberto:

“The key idea came from a realisation that the mission of the gallery was to allow kids to explore and play with real physical phenomena. As it’s nigh-on-impossible to experience real physics through a computer screen, we decided to drop this element and use simulation instead, and to focus instead on the exploration, playing, open-ended nature of the gallery . . . it follows the ethos of the gallery completely, and covers much of the same topic areas too (electricity, light, energy transfer, etc).”

Daniel Evans:

“As Frankie says Launchball is quite closely tied in to the gallery in many ways: the same set of themes are explored through similar types of activity. This isn’t a groovy game vs. a worthy gallery – Launchpad is a riotously popular place itself. We were very lucky that the exhibition team had an extremely thorough understanding of their brand and its meaning and were able to strip it of its gallery-specific contingencies and give us a brief at quite an abstract level. We were therefore able to work with a useful set of ideas (“Launchpad is about learning by doing what you fancy and seeing what happens”) rather than a more facile and literal interpretation that would have left us doomed (“Launchpad has a machine for blowing bubbles therefore its presence on the web must too”).

… we had series of brainstorms over a year or so exploring what Launchpad was and what it could look like online, with the web and gallery teams (including, importantly, the people who manned the old gallery on a day-to-day basis and really knew the audience) and a few gurus from outside the museum (Ben Gammon, Joe Cutting). This was interspersed with some research into audience needs and expectations and resulted in an ideas harvest, followed by an ideas elimination and finessing process.”

How did you keep the focus on making the game engaging, fun and addictive versus a more straightforward approach to making it overtly ‘educational’?

Mike Ellis:

“I had a really interesting meeting with the Head of Content at the Science Museum very early on in the project. I specifically asked her whether she thought the concept that we had just presented was “too fun and not educational enough”. She absolutely backed up our approach, pointing out that people in the “real” Launchpad space were having a great time and that the learning followed on from that rather than the other way round.”

Frankie Roberto:

“I felt strongly that the game should avoid the trap of having a traditional arcade-style gameplay, with a light level of theming and text-based interstitial screens that carry the educational method. 90% of museum games fall into this category. Instead I felt strongly that the playing and experimenting with the game should be an educational learning experience in its own right, and a fun one and enjoyable one.. For me, this idea follows the constructivist theory and follows in the footsteps of things like Lego and the Logo programming environment (which I also played with at school).

That said, when producing any simulation game, from a football manager to a theme park game, there have to be some simplifications from reality in order to make the game playable, and just to be able to physically make the game. In Launchball, for example, there’s no real friction, light can’t be diffracted, batteries never run out, and so on. Adding these in might have added additional learning outcomes, but it’d have made the gameplay more complicated, and not to mention would have made the game more complex to produce.

One of the key decisions we made, which I really insisted on, was a ‘sandbox’ mode where people could just play with all the blocks, with no limits, no set task, no specific learning objective. This I think is critical, as it really allows people to truly play, in an open-ended fashion, and to learn through doing all the way. Additionally, the sandbox allows people to create their own levels, truly opening up the game.”

Daniel Evans:

“It’s an interestingly loaded word, “educational”. In a sense your question is based on the very model that we were determined to avoid – the idea of using a game as a sort of diversionary tactic to buy some goodwill while you cram some facts down the audience’s throats, with the challenge for the developers being getting the right balance between sugar and pill. It’s amazing how persistent this fundamentally rather pessimistic idea is – the number of commentators for example who have seen the factoids at the end of a launchball level and thought “ah, that’ll be the educational bit”, when in fact the educational bit is the bit they’ve just finished.

It was absolutely crucial that the game was the education and the education was the game: the activity and the ideas it was communicating were indivisible. The key assumption behind the whole of Launchpad is that there is no tension between an activity being fun and it being physics-based. Online this is amply evidenced by the fact that almost all commercial games, including those with no educational remit whatsoever, are built around … physics engines. In a sense Launchball is just a giant exercise in drawing attention to this fact.”

What was the role of the external developers?

Daniel Evans:

“. . . it is impossible to overstate the role Preloaded had in the success of Launchball, both in terms of the craft skills of game design (hats off to Henry Cooke, Jon Mallinson and Phil Stuart in particular – three exceptionally talented individuals) and in terms of their endless willingness to rise to each new challenge (and we threw them quite a few) to deliver something truly excellent rather than just acceptably good.

User testing was the other major factor – there was a huge amount of testing by our in-house team on real members of the target audience at all stages of development. If you’re clear about your objectives, work with talented and creative sources of good ideas and then subject those ideas to really searching evidence-based quality control (and the developers engage positively with the findings, which Preloaded to their credit always did), then you stand a pretty good chance of getting a decent product.”

Digg played an early role in the viral promotion of the site, generating an enormous rush of visits to the site, putting strain on the servers.

Mike Ellis:

“I had actually left the museum at the point when I punted it to Digg :-) I got some fairly sharp words from the IT dept telling me I should have told them but to be honest what would they have done, gone and bought a server farm if I had let them know?”

Frankie Roberto:

“To be honest though, if it wasn’t Mike that had submitted it to Digg, someone else would have, and I think it would have had the same effect. Ultimately, it was the users of Digg who decided that the game was good enough for it to have made the Digg front page. Digg hasn’t actually been the biggest referrer to the game, that accolade falls to, followed by 2 Norwegian sites, then, then Digg. However Digg was certainly the most sudden.”

Daniel Evans:

“It wasn’t so much the traffic, it was when it hit: we hadn’t tested it under heavy load at that point. A few weeks later, bottlenecks identified and fixed, the game was coping comfortably with several times the traffic that Digg drove. In our final stress testing we simulated 100 times the load that brought the site down and although the servers were obviously straining they didn’t collapse. We were a bit naive and were caught slightly unawares by the instant attention. Although we were confident the game was pretty good, we underestimated the full extent and immediacy of its viral strength. Still, a nice problem to have, on balance.

… [now] we’ve had over 1.5 million visitors and about 100,000 people saving levels. 25% of Launchball visitors (most of whom are new and there for the game) go on to visit other parts of the Science Museum website … the figures for duration are a bit unreliable as it’s all on one page and a lot of people never go to any other page, but it’s obviously a lot longer than the website average.”

Frankie Roberto:

“It’s now the most popular page on our website!”

How much involvement has the museum had in engaging with the communities that have sprung up around the game? How is the education sector responding to it?

Daniel Evans:

“We’ve had ‘design a level’ competitions, there’s a facebook group and we’re continually getting feedback. There are over 25,000 pages on the web discussing Launchball though – so we can’t keep track of them all. Launchball discussions spring up in lots of surprising places too – there was a fansite for one of the other games at SXSW that had a thread complaining that Launchball won, that swiftly turned into a discussion about how you complete ‘The Volcano’. We’ve had lots of positive feedback from teachers too, including some unexpected stuff – for example some teachers are finding it very useful for teaching English as a Foreign Language.”

What are the lessons you have learnt from the experience?

Daniel Evans:

1. The quality of the brief is key: being clear what’s an end and not up for negotiation and what’s a means, with creative interpretation and challenge welcome, is vital in terms of both briefing and being briefed.
2. Argue your point strongly, and work with people who argue back just as strongly.
3. There are few challenges that can’t be overcome with a really first-rate Project Manager.
4. It’s fun. Enjoy it.
5. On the web you have no say in whether you’re doing things quietly or not.

Frankie Roberto:

1. Better to have one big, high-quality, immersive game than lots of smaller ones.
2. Trust in constructivism.
3. Shoot high.
4. Work with the best.
5. Build a multi-disciplinary team, and work together.

Mike Ellis:

1. Trusting the web team is absolutely vital in making a success of web products. The ‘traditional’ model of curator/content type coming up with web idea isn’t usually as well focussed.
2. Give freedom and time to ideas and let them flourish.
3. Use storyboards and wireframes at every stage of the process to help explain what exactly it is that you’re on about.
4. Be prepared for the Digg Effect (not even now entirely sure how?)
5. Go to creative agencies with a good idea of what you want to acheive. Brief it well and have lots of user testing research on board too.
6. Fight hard for realistic budgets.

Thank you to Mike Ellis, Frankie Roberto and Daniel Evans at the Science Museum for their time and openness in sharing more about the experience with Fresh & New.

Mike has blogged about the initial stages of the project with some early wireframes.

Young people & museums

The problem with “digital natives”

Henry Jenkins and others have been rightly critical of the notion of ‘digital natives’. Their core argument is that digital skills are very unevenly spread across age groups and digital literacy levels are not as they might necessarily seem when you read Pew Internet Reports or similar claiming that “64% of online teenagers ages 12 to 17 engaging in at least one type of content creation” for example.

Social networking Young people & museums

The most popular online museum, user generated content and social networking

In preparing for some of my upcoming papers, presentations and workshop, I came across the Saatchi Gallery’s Stuart. Stuart is like a MySpace for artists – it even looks a little like MySpace complete with visual clutter and flashing text. Create a profile, upload some ‘art’ and connect with others.

Within the sector I hear a lot about Brooklyn Museum’s social networking initiatives and MOCA’s MySpace pages amongst others but rarely a peep about Saatchi. Rose Cardiff mentions Saatchi’s YourArt in her paper about YoungTate. She writes,

Possibly the most major concern for Tate was that a social site of this kind would lose its relevance to Tate and its youth programmes. Once the site was opened up to the general public to contribute content, there would be nothing to stop people uploading content that didn’t relate to Tate or art in any way; the site could become purely a socialising space rather than an art-related space. Or else the site could be in danger of simply becoming a space for people to promote their own art work without setting up any meaningful dialogue.

However, it might just be this kind of social space that is in demand. High demand.

According to Compete, the Saatchi Gallery gets almost double the US monthly traffic of teen social networking site and ten times the traffic of (And it isn’t even an North American site, and it has a comparatively difficult URL.)

Saatchi’s YourArt which launched in late 2006 but the real action seems to occur when Stuart went live combined with Chinese-language access. Browse the thousands of artist profiles in the Saatchi userlist and a lot of Chinese-speakers are using the site.

Very rapidly Saatchi has captured a sizeable chunk of the youth audience, as well as filled the site with user generated content. It is quite remarkable. And all this user generated content and the patterns of its usage are extremely valuable as we have seen from recent controversies around Facebook.

Museums have even been champing at the bit to add their content to the Saatchi site via their ‘global gallery listing’ service. Here is the Met’s ‘page’ in the Saatchi directory, which sits surrounded by Saatchi’s own advertising content. What the Google effect of this might be is itself, interesting. (Here’s the Powerhouse profile for balance).

There are more direct means of revenue generation too. From the New York Times piece on the site from late 2006, early in its life,

With dealers and collectors scouring student shows for undiscovered talent and students hunting for dealers to represent them, Mr. Saatchi has tapped a vein that can’t stop gushing. If Stuart gains anything like the cachet of MySpace, it has the potential to morph from a nonprofit venture into a gold mine for Mr. Saatchi.

For now, he said, he is simply enjoying the role of spectator. “When I launched the site, I took the view that the best thing was to leave it alone for the first year and purposely not buy anything, because I didn’t want to compromise what the site was supposed to do: appeal to a wide group of students,” he said.

The Financial Times reports from October 2007,

A poll of 2000 of the 70,000 artists on the site estimated that Saatchi Online is now responsible for annualised art sales of $130m (£64m). The figure is extrapolated from the $88,000 sales reported by 500 respondents for a single week in September.

The news comes as several venture capitalists and investment bankers have been seeking to persuade Mr Saatchi to commercialise the free site, either by exploiting the heavy traffic it attracts through advertising, or by charging commission for purchases.

However, Mr Saatchi told the FT on Wednesday: ”I am not interested in taking any advertising on the site, or any kind of commercial participation in artists’ sales.”

The Saatchi ‘brand’ has certainly helped the site attract a particular audience very rapidly but its undeniable reach and usage should make us seriously reconsider many of our comparatively minor efforts. And, by tapping the Chinese market they are quickly staking a claim in an area that most other museums have not even considered.

Interactive Media Mobile Young people & museums

Playing with the OLPC XO Laptop and the museum possibilities

I ordered an OLPC laptop under the ‘Give One Get One’ programme and via a friend in the US it arrived last week. My 3 year old has been having a great time playing with the TamTam Mini application, a very simple graphical sound triggering noise maker; the Paint application; a memory match game; and the inbuilt camera.

The Sugar GUI has been getting mixed reviews but in the hands of a 3 year old who hasn’t been indoctrinated into the aesthetics and usage patterns of Windows or OSX, it is seems logical, or at least sensible enough.

The wireless networking is excellent with great range and quick pickup. However this is where the gripes, or shall we say, ‘quirks’ start. You would think that the distance a ‘network’ icon was from your central OLPC icon is would indicate signal strength or proximity but in fact it is just random. Obviously there aren’t many of these laptops in Sydney, let alone Australia (yet!), so trying out the Mesh networking hasn’t yet been possible.

The bundled web browser is absolutely awful and slow. In fact until I installed a special build of Opera I was convinced that the laptop would be all but useless for Flash-based sites (which tend to be the ones that little kids actually want to start with). Flash support on the bundled browser works but it delivers things like Pingu at about 1 frame per second and forget about Youtube. Fortunately the support wiki is fantastic and a few handy Terminal commands and Opera had rectified the situation.

The screen of the OLPC can be swivelled around to turn the machine into a tablet e-book reader. A button on the screen allows you to rotate the screen through 90 degree steps which is nice too. Unfortunately using the bundled browser makes for a slow experience.

The final quirk is touchpad. Maybe it is a hardware fault but I have had to recalibrate it at least twice each session (which is fortunately done by holding down 4 keys simultaneously). Plugging in an external USB mouse makes it better.

But more of the good. The way Sugar stores your work is in a diary-like manner. Instead of ‘saving’ everything is just auto-saved by date and time. This allows you or an educator to look back over project work and see its development over time – this is a very nice feature that operates the same across all the bundled applications (called ‘Activities). The built in video camera is also remarkably good and is certainly usable for low level video conferencing given the right bandwidth.

So, having one of these to play with is fascinating. The potential applications within a museum environment are huge. Their size and the Mesh networking makes them attractive – they are remarkably small and the ability to connect them to each other automatically without the presence of an external wireless network opens up plenty of possibilities.

It would be very possible send students out in the field with a clutch of these tiny, robust machines to gather data, wirelessly commnunicate with each other, capture images, collaboratively write reports and then return to a lab to collate and present the results. The Sugar UI is suitably intuitive enough to make the learning curve of a properly set up machine easy, and there is little to attract the inevitable hacking and tomfoolery that occurs when students are plonked down in front of a Windows box.

But the question is, will these machines ever become available to museums to use or experiment in this manner?

Young people & museums

Australian ICT use amongst marginalised youth and health service providers

Australian non-profit foundation Inspire has released a report on ICT usage amongst marginalised youth and health service providers.

Amongst many things it reveals that at least in the state of Victoria, a digital divide in terms of access is far less prevalent than is generally expected. Mirroring the findings of a lot of overseas research it unsurprisingly finds that “ICT also plays an important role in facilitating young people’s social relationships” and that cultural differences affect the selection of sites used by different cultural and social groups of young people.

The report has implications for museums and cultural sector agencies looking to engage marginalised young people in digital storytelling projects, and the use and selection of digital channels in reaching these groups.

Young people & museums

A collection counting game for children

During the recent school holidays we rolled out yet another simple game for young children over at our children’s website – Play at Powerhouse.

This one is called Counting with Zoe & Cogs. Like previous games on the Play at Powerhouse site it revolves around the Museum’s two children’s mascots – Zoe, a girl representing the local community, and Cogs, a robot that represents the Museum’s knowledge and collection.

The game is very simple – count collection objects under a specific theme to build a display.

This is another in a series of quick turnaround, simple website interactives used to build familiarity with the Museum’s mascots and children’s brand, as well as teach basic memory and computer operation/coordination skills. They complement a range of offline craft activities that can be downloaded from the Make & Do part of the website.

Conceptual Social networking Web 2.0 Young people & museums

Social media, social networking – learning from libraries, the new OCLC report

The OCLC has released an enormous (~300 page) new report titled Sharing, privacy and trust in our networked world. It is essential reading.

Drawing data from 6 countries – USA, Canada, UK, Japan, France and Germany – the report gives detailed data on how people in the countries use the net, what they look at, what online services they use, how long they spend online. They then delve deep into the motivations, interactions and choices these users make on social networking services and social media sites; as well as attitudes to privacy and security. This audience research is then compared with internal library attitudes and beliefs about users and their needs, as well as data about how libraries and librarians use these same services. It is fascinating, and illuminating – and strongly challenges the assumption that libraries should copy social media services on their own sites, and instead recommends that libraries open up for users to make use of content in their own ways on other services. Participation on library sites will be low.

Our view, after living with the data, struggling with the findings, listening to experts and creating our own social spaces, is quite different. Becoming engaged in the social Web is not about learning new services or mastering new technologies. To create a checklist of social tools for librarians to learn or to generate a “top ten” list of services to implement on the current library Web site would be shortsighted. Such lists exist. Resist the urge to use them.

The social Web is not being built by augmenting traditional Web sites with new tools. And a social library will not be created by implementing a list of social software features on our current sites. The social Web is being created by opening the doors to the production of the Web, dismantling the current structures and inviting users in to create their content and establish new rules.

Open the library doors, invite mass participation by users and relax the rules of privacy. It will be messy. The rules of the new social Web are messy. The rules of the new social library will be equally messy. But mass participation and a little chaos often create the mostexciting venues for collaboration, creativity, community building—and transformation. It is right on mission.

Participation in social networking services hosted on a library site (see A-12)

Social networking Web metrics Young people & museums

Why kids are moving to Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and away from email

I’ve been watching a lot of people using computers over the past few months and it struck me how many of them were using web-based email services – the more tech savvy were on Gmail, and the more casual users gravitated towards Hotmail and Yahoo Mail despite their flaws. An even smaller number used webmail interfaces from their own ISP. Like all websites and online services, they all have their own specific demographics of users.

Interactive Media Young people & museums

A dress up game for children

We’ve rolled out another simple game for young children over at our children’s website – Play at Powerhouse.

This one is called Zoe’s Dress Up Game and revolves around the Museum’s two children’s mascots – Zoe, a girl representing the local community, and Cogs, a robot that represents the Museum’s knowledge and collection. The game is very simple – find the appropriate clothes for Zoe to wear for one of three different outings.

Zoe’s Dress Up Game is one in a series of simple website interactives used to build familiarity with the Museum’s mascots and children’s brand, as well as teach basic memory and computer operation/coordination skills. They complement a range of offline craft activities that can be downloaded from the Make & Do part of the website.