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)

Conceptual Web 2.0 Young people & museums

Jean Burgess on ‘Vernacular Creativity’

I first met Jean Burgess when she was writing about music subcultures and she has been a keen blogger and highly engaged in youth and their interaction with media.

Her PhD thesis, undertaken at QUT, is now available online and in it she explores the concept of ‘vernacular creativity’. Rather than seeing this as a ‘new’ phenomenon she traces it way back deep into the pre-Internet days (which too many of us have conveniently and uncritically forgotten). She uses the digital storytelling movement and the communities around Flickr as case studies for how networked publics engage in everyday creative practices – ‘vernacular creativity’ – and contrasts these to earlier practices.

Henry Jenkins has recently interviewed Jean and the interview gives a good overview of the themes Jean explores.

The main thing I wanted to explore and understand was the extent to which both lower barriers to production, especially because of cheaper and more available technologies like digital cameras, in tandem with networked mediation, especially online, might be amplifying those ordinary, everyday creative practices so that they might contribute to a more democratic cultural public sphere. I guess I was optimistic in that I went looking for evidence that might support that hope, and not defeat it . . . . I found that the spaces that were most rich in examples of vernacular creativity were at the same time constrained in certain ways, and each context was shaped towards forms of participation that served the interests of the service providers as much as they serve the interests of the participants. So in Flickr, the most active, intensive forms of participation seem to be taken up mainly by already-literate bloggers, gamers, and internet junkies. In the digital storytelling movement, there is a certain kind of polite authenticity that is valued, and the workshops are incredibly resource-intensive, so that they aren’t open to the ongoing, everyday participation that something like blogging is. There are always constraints and compromises, no matter how open a platform appears to be. So, I suppose, that’s the ‘critical’ part.

Conceptual Web 2.0

SaaS, FaaS, HaaS – Simon Wardley on open source and the commoditisation of IT

Mike Ellis tipped me to Simon Wardley who recently presented at the Future of Web Apps in London. Whilst that particular presentation isn’t up as a video, Wardley’s slightly older but very similar in content, presentation from OSCON 2007 is.

In a brilliant and witty presentation Wardley, much in the vein of Nick Carr, explores how IT services have moved from being a business advantage to a utility. He calls for an increasing focus on open source all they way “down the stack” (application layer, framework, hardware) as a way of freeing up resources and avoiding “reinventing the wheel” every time. The proposed “federated grid” in a “competitive utility market” as glimpsed in services like storage (Amazon’s S3), software-as-a-service (Salesforce) and even framework/platforms (Ning’s roll your own social networking service) arguably offers greater business advantage.

Conceptual Digitisation

Subscription museum content? Some implications of the NYT announcement for museums

The New York Times announced last week that it was stopping charging for archival and subscription content on its website. As its self-report explains, the NYT has realised that selling and managing subscription service to archival content now is not going to be as profitable as selling advertising on this content and making access to it easy and free.

This turnaround has come at the hands of Google and the power of search – search which is now driving less ‘serious’ readers to their content who are unwilling to buy a subscription. For the NYT they expect to get better returns on material previously only available through subscriptions via onsite advertising and the ability for readers to engage in conversations around the content. Conversations mean exposure, exposure means advertising. Blogger Jason Kottke (amongst many others) has already been digging through the archives exposing some of the more interesting material.

There has been an explosion of discussion across the web but the Future of the Book pulls together three commentaries to suggest that

Whatever the media business models of tomorrow may be, they will almost certainly not revolve around owning content.

and drawing on Jeff Jarvis’s 2005 proclamations, explains that the future lies in integrating your content into your audience’s conversations.

But in this new age, you don’t want to own the content or the pipe that delivers it. You want to participate in what people want to do on their own. You don’t want to extract value. You want to add value. You don’t want to build walls or fences or gardens to keep people from doing what they want to do without you. You want to enable them to do it. You want to join in.

So what might this mean for museums?

Whilst those in collecting institutions often see themselves as the sole holders of particular objects, it is becoming more acceptable to acknowledge that as institutions there is still a lot to learn about these objects and that that knowledge may lie elsewhere in the community. Certainly injecting museum content into, and encouraging audience conversations then is not as controversial as it might have been ten years ago. Exclusivity might work with our physical spaces but not online.

At the same time increasing commercial pressures are asking museums to find new revenue streams – image sales, licensing, syndication, partnerships. Already the V&A and the Met have moved to ‘no-fee’ image licensing for small run academic publishing after discovering that the internal cost of charging for these operations outweighed their commercial returns. From the WIPO’s Guide to Managing Intellectual Property for Museums (pt 6.6) –

Recent developments in business models concerning the production and distribution of content on the Internet, coupled with a continued examination by museums of their missions and mandates has led to an awareness that the making available of museum images is merely a means to a commercial end, and not the end, itself. Indeed, in a recent press release, the Victoria and Albert Museum announced that it would no longer charge fees for academic and scholarly reproduction and distribution for its images, claiming that while it earned approximately 250,000 a year from scholarly licensing programs, the overhead costs associated with licensing fees rendered their profits much less. What is not reported, but suspected, is that the Victoria and Albert Museum determined that it was wise business practice to allow its copyright-protected images to be made available for free, thereby increasing their circulation and delivering significant promotional opportunities back to the museum.

As the WIPO Guide suggests, there is some potential for museums in the online space in the brand and promotional opportunities in the short term, and then flowing from these in the medium-long term, the partnerships and commercial content syndication options that are expected to flow from a greater awareness (and discussion) of content.

What the NYT announcement does, along with the increased commercial activity around digitising state-held records, especially those relating to the profitable family history space, is create significant competition for museum content online.

Conceptual Social networking Web 2.0 Web metrics Young people & museums

Social production, cut and paste – what are kids doing with ‘your’ images?

It has been one of the worst kept secrets of web statistics – deep linked image traffic. While this has been going on for years, since the beginning of the WWW actually, it has increased enormously in the past few years. On some cultural sector sites such traffic can be very substantial – a quick test is to look at exactly how much of your traffic is ‘referred’ from MySpace. It is also one of the main reasons why Photobucket has traditionally reported traffic so much higher than Flickr is – its deep linking and cut and paste engagement with MySpace. With the move away from log file analysis to page tagging in web analytics, some, but not all of this deep linking traffic is fortunately being expunged from analytics reporting.

Two Powerhouse examples include a Chinese news/comment portal that deep linked a Mao suit image (from an educational resource on our site), sending us 51,000 visits in under 24 hours in August 2005, and an A-grade Singaporean blogger who deep linked an image of Golum (from our archived Lord of the Rings exhibition pages) to use to describe an ugly celebrity which generated over 180,000 visits over 8 days In January 2007. (In both of these examples the visits were removed from the figures reported to management and funders.)

What is going on here sociologically?

At the recent ICA2007 event in San Francisco danah boyd and Dan Perkel presented an interesting look at the subcultural behaviours that are, in part, producing this effect. Although they look specifically at MySpace there are threads that can be drawn across many social sites from forums to blogs. Drawing on the work of many cultural theorists, they argue that on MySpace what is going on is a form of ‘code remix’. That is, young people’s MySpace pages are essentially ‘remixes’ of other content – but unlike a more traditional remix in audio and video cultures, these code remixes occur through the simple cut and paste of HTML snippets. By ‘producing’ both their MySpace pages as well as their online cultural identity in this way, they are reshaping concepts of ‘writing’ and digital literacy. They are also, importantly, not in control of the content they are remixing – a deep linked image can easily be changed, replaced or removed by the originating site.

There are plenty of examples – boyd and Perkel give a few – where the content owner changes the linked image to disrupt the deep linker. In the case of our Singaporean blogger we renamed the linked image to prevent it from appearing on her site (and in our statistics).

Revealingly, Perkel’s research is showing that many MySpace users have little, if any, knowledge or interest in website production – that is CSS and HTML. Instead, what has formed is a technically simple but sociologically complex ‘cut and paste’ culture. This is what drives the ‘easy embedding’ features found on almost any content provider site like YouTube etc – it is in the content providers’ interest to allow as much re-use of their content (or the content they host) because it allows for the insertion of advertising and branding including persistent watermarking. Of course, the museum sector is not geared up for this – instead our content is being cut and pasted often without anyone outside the web team having a deep understanding of what is actually going on. There are usually two reactions – one is negative (“those kids are ‘stealing’ our content”) and the other overly positive (“those kids are using our content therefore they must be engaging with it”). Certainly Perkel and others research deeply probelmatises any notion that these activities are in large part about technical upskilling – they aren’t – instead those involved are learning and mastering new communication skills, and emerging ways of networked life.

One approach that some in the sector have advocated is the widget approach – create museum content widgets for embedding – to make repurposing of content (and code snippets) easier. There have been recent calls for museum Facebook apps for example. But I’m not sure that this is going to be successful because a great deal of embeds are of the LOLcats variety – perhaps trivial, superficial, but highly viral and jammed full of flexible and changing semiotic meaning. Whereas our content tends to be the opposite – deep, complex and relatively fixed.

Conceptual Digitisation

Filtering memory – SEO, newspaper archives, museum collections

When Bad News Follows You in the New York Times (via Nick Carr) is a fascinating article about what can happen when ‘everything’ is put online.

The article looks at the new array of problems that have come about as a by-product of the NYT optimising their site and archives for Google with SEO techniques. Suddenly stories that were either of minor significance, or were in later editions, corrected, are appearing toward the top of Google searches for names, places and events.

Most people who complain want the articles removed from the archive.

Until recently, The Times’s response has always been the same: There’s nothing we can do. Removing anything from the historical record would be, in the words of Craig Whitney, the assistant managing editor in charge of maintaining Times standards, “like airbrushing Trotsky out of the Kremlin picture.”

Whitney and other editors say they recognize that because the Internet has opened to the world material once available only from microfilm or musty clippings in the newspaper’s library, they have a new obligation to minimize harm.

But what can they do? The choices all seem fraught with pitfalls. You can’t accept someone’s word that an old article was wrong. What if that person who was charged with abusing a child really was guilty? Re-report every story challenged by someone? Impossible, said Jonathan Landman, the deputy managing editor in charge of the newsroom’s online operation: there’d be time for nothing else.


Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, has a different answer to the problem: He thinks newspapers, including The Times, should program their archives to “forget” some information, just as humans do. Through the ages, humans have generally remembered the important stuff and forgotten the trivial, he said. The computer age has turned that upside down. Now, everything lasts forever, whether it is insignificant or important, ancient or recent, complete or overtaken by events.

Following Mayer-Schönberger’s logic, The Times could program some items, like news briefs, which generate a surprising number of the complaints, to expire, at least for wide public access, in a relatively short time. Articles of larger significance could be assigned longer lives, or last forever.

Mayer-Schönberger said his proposal is no different from what The Times used to do when it culled its clipping files of old items that no longer seemed useful. But what if something was thrown away that later turned out to be important? Meyer Berger, a legendary Times reporter, complained in the 1940s that files of Victorian-era murder cases had been tossed.

“That’s a risk you run,” Mayer-Schönberger said. “But we’ve dealt with that risk for eons.”

There are interesting parallels with our experience in making our online collection more usable and accessible. Public enquiries have skyrocketed and now range from the scholarly to the trivial – the greatest increase being in the latter category. Whilst there is a significant amount of extremely valuable piece of object related information sent in by members of the public, there are false leads and material that cannot be adequately verified, and more still that the Museum already knows but has not yet made available online. Managing public expectations and internal workflow is a difficult balancing act and a continuing challenge that many museums that not only put their collections online, but also make them highly accessible, are facing.

Conceptual Web 2.0 Web metrics

Valuing different audiences differently – usability, threshold fear and audience segmentation

It is important to realise that to deliver more effective websites we need to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach not only when designing sites but also when evaluating and measuring their success. We know that some online projects are specifically intended to target specialist audiences – a site telling the histories of recent migrants might require translation tools, and a site aimed at teenagers might, by design, specifically discourage older and younger audiences in order to better attract teenage usage.

Remembering, too, that some key museum audiences (regional, remote, socially disadvantaged) may have no online representation in online visit figures, and others may have limited and sporadic online interactions, because of unequal internet access, it is important to look at the overall picture of museum service delivery. Some audiences cannot be effectively engaged online. Others still may only feel confident engaging in online conversations about the museum using non-museum services – as I’ve written before – on their own blogs, websites, and social media sites.

If we acknowledge ‘threshold fear’ in our physical institutions, then we need to realise this applies online as well. The difference being that in the online world there are many many more less ‘fearful’ options to which potential visitors and users can easily flee. The ‘back’ button is just a click away.

The measure of the ‘value’ of visitors therefore need to differ across parts of the same website. We may need to form different measures for a user in the ‘visiting the museum’ part of the website to the ‘tell us your story’ section, even though in one visit they might explore both areas. Likewise, a museum visitor who blogs about their positive experience of a real world visit on their own family blog might be considered. Or a regionally-oriented microsite that gets discussed on a specialist forum might be more valuable – to that particular project – than a posting on a more diffused national discussion list.

Visit-oriented parts of the the website should be designed and created with known target audiences in mind, understanding that not everyone can visit the museum, and their success measured accordingly. It might be sensible to attempt to address ‘threshold fear’ by using images of the museum that are more people-oriented rather than object-oriented in order to promote the notion that the museum is explicitly a place for people.

When we were building our children’s website we specifically decided against creating a resource for ‘all’ children – that would have resulted in a too generic site – and targeted the pre- and post- visit needs of a known subset of visitors with children. We don’t actively exclude other visitors (other than through language choice, visual design, and bandwidth requirements), but we have actively attempted to better meet the needs of a subset of visitors. This subset will necessarily diversify over time, but we also understand that out on the internet there are plenty of other options for children.

The problem with traditional measurements are that every visitor to our online resources is homogenised into single figures – visits, time spent, pages viewed. Not only does this reduce the value of the web analytics, it does the visitor a great disservice. Instead, good analytics is about segmentation. This can be segmentation based on task completion and conversions, and understanding visit intentions.

So who is a ‘valuable’ visitor?

It depends on context.

For our children’s site we place a greater internal value on those who complete one of two main site conversions – spending a particular amount of time on the visit information areas; and second, those who browse, find, and most critically, download an offsite activity. Focussing in on these subsets of users allows us to implement evaluation and tracking. For those who complete the visit-related tasks we might offer discount coupons for visiting and track virtual to real-world conversions. What proportion of online visitors who look at visit information actually convert their online interest to a real world action? And in what time frame (today, this week, this month?). Of the second group we may conduct evaluation of downloader satisfaction – did they make they craft activity they downloaded? Was it too hard, too easy? Did they enjoy the experience?

What of the others who visit the children’s site? They are a potential audience who have shown an interest but for many reasons haven’t ‘converted’ their online visit. We can segment this group by geography and origin – drill down deeper and really begin to examine the potential for them to ever ‘convert’.

Other parts of our website – say our SoundHouse VectorLab pages – we may see as valuable users who simply use and linkback to our ‘tip of the day’ resources. Despite being primarily an advertisement for onsite courses run in the teaching labs, we do see a great value in having our ‘tip of the day’ resources widely read, the RSS feed subscribed to, and articles linked back to. However this has to be a secondary objective to actually taking online bookings for courses.

Postscript – I’d also suggest reading the 2004 Demos report ‘Capturing Cultural Value’ for some important philosophical and practical caveats.

Conceptual Interactive Media Museum blogging Web metrics

Authority in social media – Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities

From Akshay Java, Xiaodan Song, Tim Finin, and Belle Tseng comes an interesting academic paper titled Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities.

Following my recent post looking at diffused brand identity in social media, this paper is a useful examination of the emergent ‘authority’ and ‘connectedness’ of users amongst a dataset of 75,000 users and 1.3 million ‘posts’.

Twitter is something that I’ve seen limited potential for in most museum applications so far, but increasingly Twitter-style communciation is replacing email – see the frequent updates that your friends do on Facebook’s ‘what I am doing/feeling now’ mood monitor for example.


Microblogging is a new form of communication in which users can describe their current status in short posts distributed by instant messages, mobile phones, email or the Web. Twitter, a popular microblogging tool has seen a lot of growth since it launched in October, 2006. In this paper, we present our observations of the microblogging phenomena by studying the topological and geographical properties of Twitter’s social network. We find that people use microblogging to talk about their daily activities and to seek or share information. Finally, we analyze the user intentions associated at a community level and show how users with similar intentions connect with each other.

Conceptual Interactive Media Social networking Web 2.0

Open vs closed

As I have been thinking about my upcoming presentation at Web Directions South there have been a lot of interesting maneuvers out in the commercial web space.

First, a while back Facebook opened their platform to developers allowing content from other providers to interact with Facebook profiles in Facebook. This, coupled with the enormous media coverage that this move got, is in part the driver for Facebook’s phenomenal growth of late. ‘Facebook as a platform’ has made Facebook ‘sticky’ and given everyone who uses Facebook more reasons to go back to look at their profiles on a very regular basis. Whilst most of the Facebook applications are only marginally interesting (do we really need another chain letter-style application?), the best ones are those that turn a Facebook page into an aggregator of personalised content from other sites – Flickr, travel maps, Last.Fm, RSS feeds etc. People who have completely tricked-out Facebook profiles could (and this is what Facebook hopes) feasibly use Facebook as their home page and access everything they need via Facebook.

Now, Netvibes has come along and flipped this. Netvibes is a personalised aggregation portal a bit like iGoogle (formerly MyGoogle). We have been experimenting with it for the Culturemondo network (see the public Culturemondo Netvibes aggregation as an example)

Netvibes has developed a very nice Facebook widget, to bring Facebook’s own data into its network meaning that Facebook-specific data – notifications, friends and data from your profile can now be aggregated into Netvibes, making Netvibes the one stop ‘attention’ shop for tricked out Netvibes/Facebook users. As Mashable points out –

Facebook is now one of Netvibes’ biggest rivals. Before Facebook, who offered to aggregate your friend’s Flickr photos, YouTube videos, blogs and the rest? Netvibes, of course. In fact, Facebook profiles are now a lot like a Netvibes startpage.

So now that Facebook has stolen some of that sheen, they’d [Netvibes] obviously like to create a mini-Facebook within Netvibes, rather than losing users in the other direction. They want you to use Netvibes as your homepage, and visit Facebook only incidentally, rather than aggregating all your stuff at Facebook and never returning to Netvibes.

The tension is indicative of what’s happening with aggregators: they’re all motivated to keep you on their own platforms for as long as possible, rather than giving you absolute freedom to take your identity wherever you like. Right now, it’s hard to make money without owning the user’s identity in some way; user lock-in remains the strongest business model, even though superficially they exist to hand more control to you.

What is interesting here is that what is happening is much more than a battle over attention between two competitors. Facebook can close access to Netvibes but then risk a small proportion of users leaving its network (mostly the super tech-savvy, bleeding edge experimenters). On the other hand, Facebook’s own survival likely relies on them further opening their network – the initial steps towards openness, coupled with usability, is at least part of the reason why some users have started migrating profiles from MySpace, which remains defiantly closed.

The reality is, in the future, both Facebook, Netvibes, MySpace are all better off letting their users move freely between networks – that way they remain at least partially relevant, although in deep competition. Otherwise new audiences which are so critical to their business models and desirable to their advertisers, as Fred Stutzman points out, will go to whichever is ‘coolest’ at the time. Ross Dawson also comments on this, too, spotting a trend ‘towards openness’, pulling recent moves by Plaxo into the picture as well.

I’ll be coming back to this theme over the coming weeks. There are enormous opportunities for the cultural and non-profit sector here – if we can all adapt fast enough. Ideas of attention and brand are just as relevant for us as anyone, possibly more so with the limited budgets in our sector,

Conceptual Web 2.0

Keen and Weinberger on Web2.0

The Wall St Journal has published the full text of a debate between Andrew Keen (Cult of the Amateur) and David Weinberger. It is well worth reading.

Keen’s argument that a more accessible, user-driven web is effectively undermining our institutions, values and culture comes up against Weinberger’s defense of the Web.


The issue of talent is the heart of the matter. How do we traditionally constitute/nurture/sell talent and how is Web 2.0 altering this? My biggest concern with Web 2.0 is the critique of mainstream media that, implicitly or otherwise, drives its agenda. It’s the idea that mainstream media is a racket run by gatekeepers protecting the interests of a small, privileged group of people. Thus, by flattening media, by doing away with the gatekeepers, Web 2.0 is righting cultural injustice and offering people like your friends Joe and Maria an opportunity to monetize their talent. But the problem is that gatekeepers — the agents, editors, recording engineers — these are the very engineers of talent. Web 2.0’s distintermediated media unstitches the ecosystem that has historically nurtured talent. Web 2.0 misunderstands and romanticizes talent. It’s not about the individual — it’s about the media ecosystem. Writers are only as good as their agents and editors. Movie directors are only as good as their studios and producers.

These professional intermediaries are the arbiters of good taste and critical judgment. It we flatten media and allow it be determined exclusively by the market, then your friends Joe and Marie have even less chance of being rewarded for their talent. Not only will they be expected to produce high quality music, but — in the Web 2.0 long tail economy — they’ll be responsible for the distribution of their content. No, if Joe and Maria want to be professional musicians paid for their work, they need a label to make an either/or call about their talent. That’s the binary logic that informs any market decision — from music to any other consumer product. Either they can produce music which has commercial value or they can’t. If they can’t, they should keep their day jobs. If they can produce commercially viable music, Joe and Maria need the management of professionals trained in the development of musical talent.

Weinberger makes a solid argument against this logic but most importantly concludes with a list of benefits that amateurs might bring to the institutions – benefits that are very applicable to the cultural sector.


(1) Some amateurs are uncredentialed experts from whom we can learn.
(2) Amateurs often bring points of view to the table that the orthodoxy has missed, sometimes even challenging the authority of institutions whose belief systems have been corrupted by power.
(3) Professional and expert ideas are often refined by being brought into conversation with amateurs.
(4) There can be value in amateur work despite its lack of professionalism: A local blogger’s description of a news story happening around her may lack grammar but provide facts and feelings that add to — or reveal — the truth.
(5) The rise of amateurism creates a new ecology in which personal relationships can add value to the experience: That a sister-in-law is singing in the local chorus may make the performance thoroughly enjoyable, and that I’ve gotten to know a blogger through her blog makes her posts more meaningful to me.
(6) Collections of amateurs can do things that professionals cannot. Jay Rosen, for example, has amateur citizens out gathering distributed data beyond the scope of any professional news organization.
(7) Amateur work helps us get over the alienation built into the mainstream media. The mainstream is theirs. The Web is ours.
(8) That amateur work is refreshingly human — flawed and fallible — can inspire us, and not just seduce us into braying like chimps.