Conferences and event reports MW2009

MW2009 Clouds, Switches, APIs, Geolocation and Galleries – a shoddy summary

(Disclaimer – this is a rushed post cobbled together from equally rushed notes!)

Like most years, this year’s Museums and the Web (MW2009) was all about the people. Catching up with people, putting faces to names, and having heated discussions in a revolving restaurant atop the conference venue in Indianapolis. The value of face to face is more the case for people travelling from outside the USA – for most of us it is the only chance to catch up with many people.

Indianapolis is a flat city surrounded by endless corn fields which accounts for the injection of corn syrup into every conceivable food item. No one seems to walk preferring four wheels to two legs – making for a rather desolate downtown and a highly focussed conference event with few outside distractions.

The pre-conference day was full of workshops. I delivered two – one with Dr Angelina Russo on planning social media, and the other and exhausting and hopefully exhaustive examination and problematising of traditional web metrics and social media evaluation. With that out of the way I settled back and took in the rest of the conference.

MW2009 opened with a great keynote from Maxwell Anderson, director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Max’s address can be watched in full (courtesy of the IMA’s new art video site – Art Babble) and is packed with some great moments – here’s a museum director who gets the promise of the web and digital and isn’t caught up in the typical physical vs virtual dichotomy. With Rob Stein’s team at the IMA the museum has been able to test and experiment with a far more participatory and open way of working while they (still) work out how to bring the best changes into the galleries as well.

After the opening keynote it was into split sessions. Rather than cover everything I saw I’ll zero in on the key things I took away cribbed straight from my notes. I’ve left a fair bit out and so make sure you head over to Archimuse and digest the papers.

Using the cloud

In the session on cloud computing Charles Moad, one of the IMA developers, delved deep into the practicalities of using Amazon Web Services for hosting web applications. His paper is well worth a read and everyone in the audience was stunned by the efficiencies, flexibility (suddenly extra load? just start up another instance of your virtual servers!), and incredibly low cost of the AWS proposition. I’m sure MW2010 will have a lot of reports of other institutions using cloud hosting and applications.

Following Charles, Dan Zombonini from Box UK who works with, but isn’t in the museum sector showed off the second public iteration of Last year caused a kerfuffle by screen scraping collection records from various museum collections without asking. This year Dan provoked by asking what the real value of efforts like the multimillion Euro project Europeana is? Dan reckons that museums should focus on being a service provider – echoing some of what Max Anderson had said in the keynote. According to Dan, museums have a lot to offer in terms of “expertise, additional media, physical space, reputation & trust, audience, voice/exposure/influence” – and these are rarely reflected in how most museums approach the ‘problem’ of online collections.


Last year there was a lot of talk of museum APIs at MW – then in November the New Zealanders trumped everyone by launching Digital NZ. But in the US it has been the Brooklyn Museum’s launching of their API a little while ago that seems to have put the issue in front of the broader museum community.

Richard Morgan from the V&A introduced the private beta of the V&A’s upcoming API (JSON/REST) and presented a rather nice mission statement – “we provide a service which allows people to construct narrative and identity using museum content, space and brand”. Interestingly, to create their API they have had to effectively scrape their existing collection online!

Brian Kelly from UKOLN talked about an emerging best practice for the development of APIs and the importance of everyone not going it alone. Several in the audience of both Richard and Brian’s sessions were uneasy about the focus on APIs as a means for sharing content – “surely we already have OAI etc?”. But as one anonymously pointed out, yes many museums have OAI but in not publicising and providing the easy access OAI is really ‘CAI’.

And APIs still don’t get around the thorny issues of intellectual property. (I’ve been arguing we need to organise our content licensing first in order to reduce the complexity of the T&C of our APIs).

As Piotr from the Met and author of the excellent Museum Pipes shows time and time again, the real potential of APIs and the like is only really apparent once people start making interesting prototypes with the data. Frankie Roberto (ex-Science Museum and now at Rattle) showed me Rattle’s upcoming Muddy service – they’ve taken Powerhouse data and done some simple visualisations.

APIs from a select few museums will probably put the rocket under the sector needed to really open up data sharing – however we need some great case studies to emerge for the true potential to be realised.


Another theme to reach the broader community this year was geolocation. Amongst a bunch of great projects showing the potential of geo-located content for storytelling and connecting with audiences was the rather excellent PhillyHistory site. The ability to find photos near where you grew up has resulted in some remarkable finds for the project as well as a healthy but of revenue generaton – $50,000 from the purchase of personal images.

Aaron Straup-Cope, geo-genius at Flickr delivered another of his entertaining and witty presentations where he covered some of the problems with geo-coding. In so doing he revealed that most of the geo-coded photos on Flickr are in fact hand geo-coded. That is, people opening a map, navigating to where they think they took the photo, and sticking in a pin. The map is not the territory – my borders of my neighbourhood are not the same as yours and neither of ours are the same as those formalised by government agencies. This is the case as much for obvious contested territories as it is for local spaces. The issue for geocoders, then, is how to map the “perceptions of boundaries”. Aaron’s slides are up on his blog and are worth a gander – they raise a lot of questions for those of us working with community memory.


Nina Simon made her MW debut with a fun workshop challenging all of us in the web space to ‘get out our (web) ghetto’ and tackle the challenge of in gallery participatory environments. Her slides (made using Prezi) covered several examples of real-world tagging, polling, collaborative audience decision making and social interactions. The challenge to the audience to “imagine a museum as being like . . . ” elicited some very funny responses and Nina has expanded on her blog.

I don’t entirely agree with Nina’s call to action – the nature and type of participation and expectation varies greatly between science centres, history museums, and art museums. And there are complex reasons as to why participatory behaviours are sometimes more obviously visible online – and why many in-gallery behaviours are impossible to replicate online.

But the call to work with gallery designers is much needed. All too often there is a schism between the teams responsible for online and in-gallery interactions – technologically-mediated or not.

Kevin von Appen’s paper on the final day complicates matters even more. Looking at the outcomes of a YouTube ‘meet up’ at the Ontario Science Centre, Kevin and the OSC team struggled with working out what the real impact of the meet up was. Well attended and with people choosing to fly in from as far away as Australia it would have seemed as if 888Toronto888 was a huge success, however –

Clearly, meetup participants were first and foremost interested in each other. The OSC was the context, not the star. Videos that showcased the meetup-as-party/science center-as-party-place positioned us as a cool place for young adults to hang out, and that’s an audience we’d like to grow.

It wasn’t cheap either – the final figure worked out at $95 per participant. Clearly If we want more ‘participatory experiences’ in our museums it isn’t going to be cheap. And if we want audiences to have ownership of our spaces then we may need to rethink was our spaces are.

(As an aside, I finally learnt why art museums have more gallery staff in the galleries than other types of museums – one per room – albeit not necessarily engaging with audiences! According to my knowledgeable source, art museums have found that it is cheaper to hire people to staff the galleries than it is to try to insure the irreplaceable works inside.)

“The switch”

One of side streams of MW this year was a fascination with ‘the switch’. This arose from some late night shenanigans in the ‘spinny bar’ – a revolving restaurant atop the Hyatt. The ‘switch’ was what turned the bar’s rotation on and off and on the final day a small group were ushered into the bar and witnessed the ‘turning on’. Charles, the head of engineering at the hotel, gave us a one hour private tour of the ‘switch’ and the motor that ran the bar – it was fascinating and a timely reminder of the value of the ‘private tour’ and the ‘behind the scenes’. In return, Charles asked all of us plenty of questions about the role of technology in his children’s education and how to get the most out of it.

We need more museum experiences like this!

Exhibition technology MW2009

MW2009 – Multi-touch: what does this technology hold for future musuem exhibits?


Hi I’m Paula Bray and I usually blog over at Photo of the Day.

Today, whilst Seb was slaving away giving two workshops in a row at Museums and the Web 2009 I spent the day with Jim Spadaccini and Paul Lacey in a great, full-day workshop called ‘Make It Multi-touch’ that showcased the custom built 50” touch-table. You can view it over at Ideum .

We got inside information on how this technology was developed from the initial prototype back in September 2008 that featured a dual mirror and two camera solution that resulted in the need to process complicated gestures and quickly. Two prototypes later is the final product you can see here. This technology can process simple to complex gestures known as ‘blobs’ (fingers reflected) which is fed to software that can process touch, drag and drop, pinch and expand, drawing, rotate and double tap features that are all intuitive to the user within a short time-frame. The aim is to provide an interactive social experience that is very different to the traditional computer based interactive exhibits that can tend to isolate the experience to one visitor.


What can we learn from the public about using museum collections and content through technology such as multi-touch? This form of technology may be a novelty for some at this stage but the future design of this product holds potentials for change amongst many museum applications.

Scenario: Multi-touch tables are available in a museum exhibition for the public to use and interact with exhibition content. Images of collection objects can be moved across the table, details of content can be zoomed in through simple “blob” (finger) movements. Descriptive information about the object can be shown through XMP metadata stored in the file. Location data can be retrieved and the user can create their own exhibit and learning experience. This is a very different user application that can change visitor’s experiece. Do we need to compete with devices that are currently available at home and make it social and educational in the museum? Does fixed navigation work anymore?


Multi touch technology has potential to change museums experience and it will be interesting to watch this technology develop. Will the public start to expect to come to museums to interact with exhibits in this new way?

This is definitely more than a “big-ass table”.

Post & photography by Paula Bray

Conferences and event reports Social networking

Twitter and upcoming presentations and workshops

As many of you know I’ve got a large number of workshops and presentations coming up.

Next week I’m speaking at the State Library of NSW’s Perceptions and Connections conference then later in the week running two workshops on metrics and giving a presentation at the Transformations in Cultural and Scientific Communication conference in Melbourne. A little later it is Museums and the Web 2009 and then Museums Australia.

Now I can almost be certain that I and a lot of other presenters these days are coming to terms with the #backchannel. Twitter is suddenly taking off in an almost mass culture big way and this year at MW09 you can be sure it is going to be almost ubiquitous.

The question then is, how does a presenter cope with mass Twittering?

Olivia Mitchell has some good ideas – both for presenter and audience. Here’s an excerpt.

1. Ask a friend or colleague, or a volunteer from the audience to monitor the back channel and interrupt you if there are any questions or comments that need to be addressed. Jeffrey Veen calls this person an ombudsman for the audience.

2. If you can’t find someone to take on this role take breaks – say every 10 mins – to check Twitter. Robert Scoble calls this taking a twitter break. You can combine this with asking the audience for “out-loud” questions as well. It’s good practice to stop for questions throughout your presentation – rather than leaving questions till the end.

3. If you’re courageous and know your content backwards, display the back channel on a screen that everyone (including you) can see. This is potentially distracting for you and has the downside in that the visibility it provides can provoke silly tweets from some (eg: “Hi Mom”). But it does mean that you can react immediately to any issues. Spend some time at the beginning of your presentation explaining to your audience how you will respond to the twitter stream and audience members are more likely to use it responsibly.

Conferences and event reports Interviews Social media

Transformations in Cultural and Scientific Communication 2009 conference and short interview with Shelley Bernstein

In early March at Melbourne Museum the follow-up conference to last year’s Social Media & Cultural Communication takes place. This time the conference has been re-named and slightly refocussed as Transformations in Cultural and Scientific Communication and has a great lineup of speakers from around the country and overseas.

Join leading national and international experts at the Conference to share their experiences of the Web 2.0 revolution – and how it is changing museum and library practice. The four conference sessions will explore:

1. How to communicate with non-traditional visitors, and capture new audiences.
2. How social networks allow audiences to form communities of interest.
3. How scientific knowledge can create and sustain cultural participation.
4. How organisational change is critical in a world of user-generated content and social media.

The Conference builds on the themes of the 2008 Sydney event by looking more broadly at how museums and libraries can contribute to the development of general understandings of science and culture by communities and publics. How is museum and library knowledge created and disseminated in the Web 2.0 environment?

Read the full conference information and programme and book your tickets.

I am doing a presentation as well as running a workshop on metrics and measurement for the cultural sector (which is an alpha version of the one I am running in April in the USA). If you are interested in the workshop then book in early as spots are very limited.

I’m very excited because amongst the speakers in the conference session I’m speaking in is Brooklyn Museum‘s Shelley Bernstein. I asked Shelley a couple of questions.

(pic courtesy of Shelley Bernstein)

Q: What are you going to be talking about at the conference?

I tend to be one of those neurotic presenters that changes and tweaks everything until the very last minute, so I’m not entirely sure at the moment. Every day changes my perspective just enough to keep me rethinking, so I’m still mulling things over and bet that’s going to be one long plane ride with me and my laptop. Generally, I’ll be discussing what we’ve found to be the rules of the road: community is not marketing; personal relationships are key; transparency is essential; personal face on the institution in social areas is vital; trust your audience, they rock.

Q: The Brooklyn has an enormously impressive online presence. I’m really interested in your 1st Fans initiative and also how the museum has been connecting the local community in the galleries *and* online.

1stfans is a membership program that Will Cary (our Membership Manager) and I started with the aim to lower the barrier to entry in terms of joining and supporting the museum. The idea is to engage two groups of supporters. Those in our local area who come often, but have not gotten on the membership escalator yet. Also others who may have seen what we were doing online the past several years and would consider supporting us from far away. The challenge for us to make sure the far away supporters feel just as involved with their membership as the local ones and we are experimenting with that.

For instance, during the Swoon printing event, we asked Swoon’s studio to make a handful of prints for the 1stfans we knew lived outside of the area. We knew they just couldn’t make it to Brooklyn and we wanted to go out of our way and surprise them for being early adopters, so we are shipping those prints which is pretty cool. For the next event at First Saturday, we are planning to video the event then do a Facebook Q&A with the presenter in our 1stfans FB group. I think in each case, it just requires us to think outside the box and say…OK, how can we involve the supporter half way around the world via the web? … and then perhaps go a little out of our way to create something special, so those far away supporters feel less like outsiders. Each time it will be a little different – it will depend on what each event entails and how best to adjust it for everyone…and we are learning as we go, so our 1stfans are learning with us and that’s kind of cool.

Q: Everyone is talking about how social media (and museums) will fare in the economic downturn. What is your view of this in light of recent events?

I’m obsessed with one of Surowiecki’s latest New Yorker Columns and think it’s an interesting example of how people may need to adjust their ideas of what is and is not sustainable. I’m going to be blogging about that soon, so stay tuned.

Q: Melbourne and Sydney, especially, are renowned for their diverse and well priced cuisine. Which Australian native animal are you most looking forward to eating?

Ha! Well, I’m a vegetarian, so I’m more hoping to meet a ‘roo than eat one :) I tend to raid the cookie aisles of the supermarkets in foreign countries, so I’m sure you’ll find me there endlessly fascinated by the differences in cookies Down Under.

Q: Given that you are visiting the country with the most deadly animals on the planet, which are you most afraid of – the spiders, the snakes, the jellyfish, the sharks, or the octopi?

Sharks, for sure! I grew up in the Jaws generation, but I will say I’m way more afraid of being on a boat than being in the water with a possible shark lurking about!

Read the full conference information and programme.

Conferences and event reports

Michael Highland – As Real As Your Life / games and experience

Amongst many interesting things over the past few days, I’ve just been listening to Gino Yu, Director of Digital Entertainment and Game Development of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, talking about experience and brain development. In his talk at the Culturemondo Roundtable here in Taipei he showed an excerpt of one of his former students, Michael Highland‘s films – As Real As Your Life. I felt it was worth sharing.

The original cut has now been transformed into a re-edited, longer form version but here’s the original from Michael’s Vimeo set.

As Real as Your Life (Original Cut) from Michael Highland.

MW2009 Web metrics

Better web metrics for museums – a MW09 workshop, April 2009

The Museums and the Web 2009 programme is now out and registration has started. This year the action takes place in Indianapolis and many of us faraway people are looking forward to checking out the IMA.

If you attended MW last year or the recent National Digital Forum in NZ, or maybe your organisation has had one of my private workshop sessions, you might have heard my rant about the dire problems with how museums ‘measure’ the success or otherwise of their websites and online projects.

My paper on the subject from last year’s MW still stands but now I’ve fleshed the content out to a half day workshop.

This year’s workshop in Indianapolis is now taking bookings and is limited in capacity (unlike last year) and we’re going to be doing a lot more digging into participants’ own sites and I’m hoping everyone who attends will share a month’s worth of data for comparison and analysis purposes.

I’m going to be building this into a solid foundational workshop for basic web analytics as well as a specialised look at the sort of metrics museums, libraries, archives and government web projects need to be engaging with.

If this sounds like it is of interest to you and you happen to be coming to MW09, then register and book a place.

Conceptual Conferences and event reports

Filippo Minelli ‘Contradictions’ and the Culturemondo 4th Roundtable

I’m about to head off to another Culturemondo Roundtable and the Wooster Collective posts a timely set of street art from Italian artist Filippo Minelli.

“Facebook”, spray paint on scrap-yard, Bamako – Mali, 2008

Minelli’s Contradictions series, as a short interview on Wooster explains, illuminates the techno-social environment where –

“users are pushed to live in an intense way the abstraction from reality, living technologies only as an idea and sometimes without even knowing their real functions. And this aspect works for the social-networks too. The idealization connected with these experiences provokes a small-but-important detach of the perception of reality and what i want to do by writing the names of anything connected with the 2.0 life we are living in the slums of the third world is to point out the gap between the reality we still live in and the ephemeral world of technologies.”

The last Culturemondo meeting was held in Cuba and focussed on the Americas. It was a timely reminder of the very uneven distribution of digital content and culture, and the ‘alternative modernities‘ under globalisation.

This one takes place in Taipei. The focus, much like Cuba, is on skill and strategy-sharing between those involved with large scale cultural portals (in the broadest sense), web strategists and digital culture policy makers. This time, though, the Culturemondo roundtable focusses on the Asia-Pacific and the stellar set of projects emerging from this region, as well as new initiatives in Africa and India.

I will be blogging the event as it happens here on Fresh & New so stay tuned next week for reports as the action, ideas, and conversations unfold.

Conferences and event reports open content

On platform power: museums, authority, digital culture

Nina Simon has done a great job of summing up the potential changes brought by the abundance model of digital to the museum sector.

The notion of ‘museums as platforms’ is not new – even if the technologies to make them such in the digital environment are.

One of the primary fears museum professionals (and all professionals) have about entering new relationships with audiences is the fear of losing control. For hundreds of years, we’ve owned the content and the message. While we may grudgingly acknowledge the fact that visitors create their own versions of the message around subsets of the content, we don’t consciously empower visitors to redistribute their own substandard, non-authoritative messages. So when people like me start advocating for the creation of tools and opportunities by which visitors can share their stories, reaggregate the artifacts, even rate and review each others’ creations, museum professionals of all stripes get concerned. If the museum isn’t in control, how can it thrive?

We have to change the framing of this conversation. There is a difference between control and expertise. In these conversations, people often say, “don’t expert voices matter?” and my emphatic response is YES. Content expertise matters. Content control shouldn’t.

Recently Henry Jenkins of Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide fame has posted about similar issues in the university sector. Jenkins was interviewed by “Alexandre Cayla-Irigoyen Chef de pupitre – Societe Monde, about OpenCourseWare, Collective Intelligence, and the modern university”.

When we create more open platforms, we destroy old monopolies of information. That can be a brutal blow for those who gain their self worth from their role as the dispersers of that information. So, yes, when you open it up to students to submit materials, teachers feel threatened. There are some legitimate concerns here, having to do with the credentializing of information and the liabilities of the university. For most of us, credibility on the web is situational: we are not so much assessing content as we are assessing the reputations of the sources of that content. We tend to put our greatest trusts in the institutions we would trust for information in the physical world. So, many people who sought information from Universite de Montreal or MIT will make a general judgment about the reputation of the institution and then apply it to all content which gets circulated.

For me, a lot of this has to do with how we frame the materials — as a reference work (which meets certain criteria of reliability, which many faculty members would be hard pressed to meet) or as a space for investigation, deliberation, and discussion (where there are ongoing conversations about the value of different content being circulated). Most academic web resources represent the former; Wikipedia and YouTube would be better understood as the latter.


A lot of bad work could tarnish the reputation of a university. How can it reconcile openness and the promotion of itself as a supplier of good knowledge?

It depends on what the university is trying to sanctify: is it seeking to guarantee the integrity of the product (in which case, every bit of content needs to be vetted) or the integrity of the process (in which case, the university is creating a space where people learn through vetting each other’s content.) Is the reputation of a university based on the fact that they gather together lots of people who know things or is it based on the fact that they create a context where the ongoing questioning of information takes place?

My personal take is that the digital strategies and representations of a museum and the physical museum itself can co-exist but be different. Whilst I am excited by the potential of a museum which “create[s] a context where the ongoing questioning of information takes place”, it would be foolish to assume that this doesn’t already happen amongst visitors – indeed the research shows it does – even if the museum doesn’t realise it. Can we do it actively, and better?

The digital museum needs to be able to make the most of an attention economy where information and content is in abundance. The physical museum, on the other hand, needs to be able to make the most of an experience economy where the opportunity to see/feel/smell/hear/touch ‘the real thing’ is incredibly scarce. It is likely that only together that optimum learning occurs.

I am making generalisations here but in their galleries art museums with their object-focus coupled with ‘acceptable subjectivity’ have the most opportunity from scarcity, and science centres without objects and veneer of ‘scientific objectivity’, the least. Natural history and social history museums sit somewhere in between – depending on what their exhibition and research focus is. Unfortunately, though, scarcity thinking often carries over from the physical galleries to the web – in part this explains the reticence of many art museums to share collections in the digital space.

Platform approaches are the norm in the digital space. If a museum isn’t actively making their content available, then their audiences are taking it in any case (or finding it elsewhere). The platform is more often than not forums, blogs or Flickr. The museum is not even in the frame. I’d agree with Nina, Jim Spadaccini, and many others that ‘platforms’ actively guided by and engaged with, but not built by, museums are the way forward.

Platforms in this sense, build authority – or as I’ve said before, allow museums to ‘assert’ their authority. Absence is invisibility.

Paradoxically, it may turn out that a ‘platform approach’ online might in fact allow an even more ‘curator as auteur’ approach in the physical galleries.

Different, diverse and conflicting perspectives, remixing and mashups, collaborative creativity might be encouraged and enabled allowing audiences to engage deeply in their own ways with a fuller range of content in the online environment in order to allow a more controlled, directed, and stylistic vision in the galleries.

This might be a fruitful line of experimentation for museums with diverse, predominantly adult audiences, and large collection/object-based exhibitions. It could combine the best of both worlds – unique experiences of objects in the physical spaces, open collaboration and object-centred democracies where the tools support it in the digital space.

Conceptual Picnic08

Itay Talgam on collaboration as ‘conducting’

One of the most raved about and surprising sessions of the first day of Picnic08 was from Israeli conductor Itay Talgam.

Here is an interview done at Picnic08 with him in which he talks about how the way a conductor works provides a useful framework for considering the future of collaborative work and creativity. Talgam runs a ‘maestro program’ where he applies this framework to business.

The “Maestro programs” were founded on the belief that, in the orchestra as in the work place, music has the power to create community and reinforce shared values. Music embodies knowledge and innovation, individual effort and collective achievement, and offers a work-environment that is full of opportunities for excellence and self-actualization – same as any successful business.

Link: Interview Itay Talgam at PICNIC 2008

Interactive Media Mobile Picnic08

Picnic08 – Surprising Africa, data visualisation and a little augmented reality

Picnic is a large ‘creativity’ conference held annually in Amsterdam. I’ve been here as a guest of n8 talking about the notion of ‘open museums’.

Here is the final set of notes (with only a minor cleanup for the sake of timeliness).

Closing off my time at Picnic were visits to a couple of parallel sessions. One of the things I was keen to check out was part of the day long ‘Surprising Africa’ programme. This event featured speakers from Africa talking about what most in the ‘West’ would describe as ‘remarkable innovations’. The point, in part being that Western media portrays Africa as an exotic, dangerous, sometimes, lawless, and difficult place – whilst the reality is quite different. Thus what seems ‘remarkable’ is often only because of our collective ignorance.

The day was in part organised by Ethan Zuckerman from Global Voices who has done a great job of summarising. Likewise Erik Hursman’s presentation and notes is essential reading/viewing. As Erik says – if it works in Africa it will work anywhere – and I think one possible future for the mobile Internet is already visible in Africa.

Over in the main auditorium there was a fantastic double presentation from two of the leading lights of data visualisation – Ben Cerveny from Stamen and Jose-Luis de Vicente from Media Lab Prado in Madrid. In fact I think that these two presentations were the highlight of the main hall. Cerveny’s presentation, ‘The Alchemy of Understanding’, was a lovely poetic piece – data visualisation as “the transformation of data into understanding”, “synaesthesia of the world” with the “CPU as the philosopher’s stone”. He spoke of how in designing Diggswarm – a visualisation of how stories rise and fall within Digg – it was essential to create a set of rules to make the visualisation meaningful. As he put it, visualisation requires the generating of a “physics of each dataspace”. I especially liked his final comments that we are now in “an age of meta exploration”.

Jose-Luis de Vicente zipped through a wealth of material. For him and his work at Media Lab Prado the aim is to make use of as many public available datasets as possible. He demonstrated The Atlas of Electromagnetic Space, a project that shows the official uses of the spectrum alongside the activist and artistic interventions in these spaces.

He spoke of the ‘quantified self’ which is also emerging as projects as divergent as and Nike’s iPod linkup and the recently popular Bedpost make it possible for individuals and communities to record more data than ever about their own activities. Whilst some of these already allow simple visualisations, or at least data export (see LastGraph from Aerocode for beautiful visualisations of profile data), there is a lack of high quality interactive works. Then he showed Mail Garden, another collaborative project to emerge from the Media Lab Prado, which is visualisation of email patterns in one’s own mailbox. Lovely.

Casastristes is a public database of empty housing across Spain and is also features a number of nice interactive infographics showing the changes in housing affordability and building rates across Spain. Casastristes exemplifies the need to move from ‘just’ visualisation to social action.

Here he showed Cascade on Wheels, a project that scraped traffic data from the Madrid government website and presented it as an interactive map of traffic density in the city. In Cascade on Wheels, busy streets appear as ‘walls’ of traffic that can be seen to prevent or disrupt social activities and reveal patterns of discontinuity between areas of the city.

Nuage Vert uses projections onto industrial smokestacks to reveal the pollution levels generated by industrial plants; and AEG’s Noise Awareness reveals data about noise in the city in the city itself.

Running out of time, Vincente concluded by asking what sort of new efficiencies could be gained if the data held by city-owned bicycle scheme Bicing might offer up if the data about which cycle bays were empty, which were not, and the rate of exchange and use were made public? For one, it would be immediately possible to find out where the nearest city bike was – without needing to chance it to the next station. Of course, the city has contracted out the service to a private provider and the data has become locked up, reducing efficiencies and ultimately public good.

The final session of Picnic08 for me was on augmented reality. With a room full of marketers looking for the edge in ‘interactive marketing’ I was pleased that the Nokia presenter David Murphy, focussed on other possibilities for augmented reality. He opened with a series of slides showing the advance of augmented reality technologies from huge backpack computers and headsets to what we have now – a mobile phone with built in camera, GPS, compass and accelerometer. Basically the clunky prototypes made by computer science researchers only 5 years ago have been rapidly superseded by mobile phones. He demonstrated a number of new applications coming from the Nokia Labs which make the AR of Engin on Android look positively old school.

And that was the end of my Picnic. I hope you have enjoyed reading these notes.