Folksonomies UKMW07 Web 2.0 Young people & museums

A reminder about user incentives

Since Friday at UK Museums and the Web 2007 I keep being asked about my scepticism over explicit tagging in museums. “Why do I think that users don’t really have much natural incentive to tag our collections or content?”

Over at Bokardo there is a post dating back to 2006 which looks at why has been succesful titled the The Lesson.

The one major idea behind the Lesson is that personal value precedes network value. What this means is that if we are to build networks of value, then each person on the network needs to find value for themselves before they can contribute value to the network. In the case of, people find value saving their personal bookmarks first and foremost. All other usage is secondary.

As people use more, and in order to gain more personal value, they use tags to be able to find their bookmarks later. Tagging isn’t even the primary function of Most of the tagging done on is done secondarily, and for personal use.

The social value of tags on is only a happy side-effect. Even though most of the ink spilled about is about the social value, it’s really not the reason why people use it.

Now this is again a case of strategy first, technology second – those who attended my recent workshops will know clearly what I mean. If Forresters is correct and about 15% of US internet users have tagged something in the preceding month then we need to be careful to not make the leap to this being the same as 15% tag frequently let alone tag on all sites that offer tagging. Situational relevance and motivation also play a big part in the choice of which services people use.

If tagging is about engaging users and “bridging the semantic gap” then what other strategies might achieve the same end result?

We cannot give the same user incentives as the tagger who tags their images in Flickr nor the tagger who tags their bookmarks in Delicious. We can target our committed volunteers and amateur and affilated societies however but the user needs and UI design may be very different for those communities.

Collection databases Copyright/OCL Developer tools Interactive Media Metadata Social networking UKMW07 Web 2.0

UK Museums on the Web 2007 full report (Leicester)

Museums on the Web UK 2007 was held at the slightly rainy and chilly summer venue of the University of Leciester. Organised by the 24 Hour Museum and Dr Ross Parry with the Museums Computer Group the event was attended by about 100 museum web techies, content creators and policy makers.

As a one day conference (preceded by a day long ‘museum mashup’ workshop) it was very affordable, fun and entertaining (yes, in the lobby they had a demo of one of those new Phillips 3D televisions . . . disconcerting and very strange).

Here’s an overview of the day’s proceedings (warning: long . . . you may wish to print this or save to your new iPhone)

The conference opened with Michael Twidale and myself presenting the two conference keynote addresses. I presented a rather ‘sugar-rush, no-holds barred view from the colonies’ of why museums should be thinking about their social tagging strategies. (I’ll probably post my slides a little later). I had been quite stressed about the presentation coming off very little sleep and a long flight from Ottawa to London the night before. But I’ve been talking about these and related topics almost non-stop for the past two weeks so it was actually a good feeling to get it done right at the beginning.

After my presentation Michael Twidale from the University of Illinois reprised the joint presentation about museums making tentative steps into SecondLife that his colleague and co-author Richard Urban had presented at MW07 in San Francisco. Michael (like Richard before) certainly peaked the interest of some in the room who I had the feeling had barely thought about Second Life before – although I notice that the extremely minimally staffed Design Museum in London has just been doing an architecture event and competition in Second Life (see Stephen Doesinger’s ‘Bastard Spaces’).

Mike Ellis from the Science Museum followed the tea break with a presentation that looked at the outcomes of letting a small group of museum web nerds loose for a day without the pressures of a corporate inbox. Using a variety of public feeds the outcomes of such a short period of open-ended collaborative R&D were quite amazing. In many ways Mike’s presentation ended up challenging the audience to think about new ways of injecting innovation and R&D into their museum’s web practices. Amongst the mashups were a quick implementation of the MIT Simile Timeline for an existing project at the Cambridge University Museum tracking dates; a GoogleMaps mashup of all known museum locations and websites in the UK (something that revealed that current RSS feeds of this data are missing the crucial UK postcode information); a date cleaning API to allow cross-organisational date comparison built by Dan Z from Box UK; and an exciting mashup using Spinvox‘s voice to text service to allow museum visitors to call a phone number and be SMSed back information about locations, services or objects.

These were all really exciting prototypes that had come out of a very small amount of collaborative R&D time – something every museum web team should have. Apart from this a couple of problems facing museum mashups were revealed – stability issues and reliance on other people’s data – but as Mike pointed out how does this really compare to the actual stability of your existing services?

Nick Poole from MDA presented Naomi Korn’s slides on rights issues (moral, ethical and Copyright) involving museums implementing Web 2.0 applications. Nick presentation was excellent and had two main points to make. The first being that the museum sector is already going the way of increased audience focus and interaction in real world policy and has been for at least the past decade so why should the web be any different? Further that the recent political climate in which museums in teh UK exist has focussed on the cultural sector being a lead in enhancing social cohesion and the sharing of cultural capital. Secondly, Nick emphasised that as museums “we have a social responsibility to the population to exploit any and all methodologies which makes it easier for them to engage with and learn from their (cultural) property”, concluding that despite the potential legal issues, Web 2.0 offers a “set of mechanisms by which we can enhance accountability and effectiveness in a public service industry”. Excellent stuff.

Alex Whitfield from the British Library then presented an interesting look at an albeit extreme example of the tensions with implementing Web 2.0 technologies with certain exhibition content. Alex demonstrated some of the website for the Sacred exhibiton which shows some the key religious manuscripts from the faiths – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The online exhibition shows 66 of 152 texts and includes a GoogleMaps interface, expert blogs, podcasts and some nice Flash interactives (yes, I did ask why Flash? apparently because it was a technology choice encouraged by the IT team). Alex then proceeded to look at a few examples of where tagging and digital reproduction can cause community offence or at the very least controversy, before closing referencing from Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ where Sontag claims that there is a reduction of ‘the subject’. (see an interview with Sontag where she explains this concept). Alex’s example was certainly provocative and reminded me, again, that the static web and the participatory web both carry their own particular set of implicit politics (individualistic, pro-globalisation, and pro-democracy although to differing depths of democracy).

After a light lunch Frances Lloyd-Baynes from the V&A gave an overview of some of the work they have been doing and some of the challenges ahead. She reported that the V&A has 28% of their collection online but that the figure reduces to 3% once bibliographic content is excluded. Of course they have been working on other ‘collections’ – those held by the community – for quite a while as evidenced by their Every Object Tells A Story and the new Families Online project.

She also mentioned the influence of the MDA’s ‘Revisiting Collections‘ methodology which focuses on making a concerted effort to engage audiences and bring user/public experiences to museum collections content. This and other concepts have become a key part of the V&A’s strategic policy.

In terms of user-generated content she highlighted problems that manyof us are starting to face. What UGC gets ‘kept’? How long, how much? What should be brought into the collection record? Should it be acknowledged? How?How should museums respond, mediate and transform content? Or should they remain unmediated? And how do we ensure that there is a clarity and distinction between voice of the museum and voice of the user.

Fellow Australian, now ex-pat who works as a database developer at the Museum of London, Mia Ridge, gave a practical overview of how Web2.0 can be implemented in museums. She covered topics like participation inequality, RSS and mashups, and the need to be transparent with acceptable use and moderation policies. it was a very practical set of recommendations.

Paul Shabajee from HP Labs then gave a very cerebral presentation on the design of the “digital content exchange protoype” for the Singapore education sector. The DCX allows for the combination of multiple data and metadata spread across multiple locations and sources, as well as faceted browsing and searches for teachers and students allowing for dynamic filtering by type, curriculum subject area, format, education level, availability, text search, etc. It was a great example of the potential of the Semantic Web. He then went on to explain the CEMS thesaurus model of curriculum and the taxonomies of collection, and how actual users wanted to do things in a more complex way such as finding topic for a class then find real world events and map them against topics. And because everything had been semantically connected, building new views in line with user needs did not mean massive re-coding. More information ont eh project can be gleaned from Shabajee’s publications.

Then after some very tasty micro-tarts (chocolate and raspberry, of which I must have partaken in five or six . . ), we moved on to the closing session from Brian Kelly of UKOLN. Brian is a great presenter although his slides always seem so lo-fi because of his typographic choices. Brian managed to make web accessibility for Web 2.0 are compelling topic and his passion for reforming the way we generally approach is ‘accessibility’ is infectious.

Brian is a firm believer that ‘accessibility is not about control. rules, universal solutions, and an IT problem’. Instead he asks what does accessibility really mean for your users? And rather cheekily ‘how can you make surrealist art accessible’? Accessibility, for Brian, is about empowering people, contextual solutions, wideing participation, blended solutions, all the things that Nick Poole and Frances Lloyd-Baynes (and the rest of us) were pushing for earlier in the day.

Brian has come up with a model of approaching accessibility that uses as a metaphor the tangram puzzle (for which there is no single ‘correct’ solution) rather than a jigsaw. He advised that we should focus on content accessibility because a mechanistic approach doesn’t work. How do you make an e-learning resource 3d model? It is just not possible and instead we should be focussing on making the learning objectives/outcomes accessible instead. If we see things in this way then there is no technical barrier for doing museum in projects in say, Second Life, citing the reasons that it isn’t ‘accessible’ by some disabled users, but that we should focus on providing alternatives as well that achieve or demonstrate similar outcomes for other users. Michael Twidale also provided the example of the paralysed Second Life user who can, in his virtual world, fly when in the real world he cannot walk.

Brian closed by advising that at a policy level we should be saying things like “museum services will seek to engage its auidences, attract new and diverse audiences. The museum will take reasonable steps to maximise access to its services”. By applying principles of accessible access across the whole portfolio of what the museum offers (real and virtual) we can still implement experimental services rather than using accessibility as a preventative tool. After all, as he points out the BBC has a portfolio of services for impaired users rather than ensuring access on every service.

MW2007 Social networking Web 2.0 Web metrics Young people & museums

Levels of participation / community

I’m still waiting for the actual Hitwise figures to be released but Red Herring reports on Bill Tancer’s presentation at the Web2.0 conference/expo.

A tiny 0.16 percent of visits to Google’s top video-sharing site, YouTube, are by users seeking to upload video for others to watch, according to a study of online surfing data by Bill Tancer, an analyst with Web audience measurement firm Hitwise.

Similarly, only two-tenths of 1 percent of visits to Flickr, a popular photo-editing site owned by Yahoo, are to upload new photos, the Hitwise study found.

The vast majority of visitors are the Internet equivalent of the television generation’s couch potatoes―voyeurs who like to watch rather than create, Mr. Tancer’s statistics show.

We already knew this.

What is interesting is that the popularity of these sites and similar is not reliant on content upload-style participation. Indeed, the report continues,

Visits by web users to the category of participatory Web 2.0 sites account for 12 percent of U.S. web activity, up from only 2 percent two years ago, the study showed.

Web 2.0 photo-sharing sites now account for 56 percent of visits to all online photo sites. Of that, Photobucket alone accounts for 41 percent of the traffic, Hitwise data shows.

An older, first generation of sites, now in the minority, are photo-finishing sites that give users the ability to store, share, and print photos.

This reaffirms the importance of having different levels of content participation – and the primacy of content, the truism that has been around since the birth of the web. Most of your userbase will be lurkers, viewers – they won’t contribute – but if you can leverage and re-present the proportionally small amount of user-generated content you do get, then you are likely to be able to ride a wave of interest in your site.

At Museums & the Web this year everyone was floored by the efforts of the Brooklyn Museum who have managed to build a strong user community around their online presence (they even have a top level navigation called ‘Community’). Whilst a superficial look at the Brooklyn Museum might suggest that this is because of their use of technology – Flickr groups in particular, I’d suggest their success is a result of their existing strong ties with the local community, of which the Flickr groups and image upload participation is a logical extension of their mission. What Flickr offers the museum is many-fold. Firstly there is new traffic – leveraging the existing Flickr audience (much in the same way Ideum’s work with the Maxwell has); secondly Flickr’s API makes for easy presentation and integration on the Brooklyn’s own website.

Does that mean when I visit I will be uploading my photos? Probably not. Whilst I have a Flickr account (first barrier to participation overcome) and have a comfort level with Flickr (second barrier to participation overcome), I am not a part of the Brooklyn Museum community, I am just a casual visitor. As a result the incentive for me to participate is low. I am more than happy to lend my eyeballs to their site and browse at their pre-existing Flickr galleries though which results in the Brooklyn getting more of my attention and traffic (along with Flickr). Brooklyn is leveraging Flickr for Flickr’s community.

So, again I come back to the point that museums need to find ways of effectively optimising the network effects of what little traffic we get. One user contribution should spark the interest of one thousand lurkers, rather than requiring one thousand contributions from other users. This shouldn’t be surprising, but it is more difficult than you think. How can you make one Flickr image on your site be more powerful than an online forum on your site with just one singular post in it?

MW2007 Other museum blogs (from

M&W07 – Day four: Cell phones and bookmarking

Again the Walker Art have delivered some great notes to three excellent final day presentations evaluating the use of cell phone tours in galleries, and the actual use of bookmarking technologies.

Read the papers from Kate Haley Goldman or understanding the inhibitors to cell phone tour use in galleries, and Nancy Proctor on the differences between US and UK cell phone users. Then check out Silvia Fillipini-Fantoni evaluating the use of various bookmarking technologies.

Walker Art summaries of the slides are available from Justin documenting the cell phone tours paper and Nate documenting the bookmarking paper.

Interactive Media MW2007

M&W07 – Day four: Peter Samis on cross media evaluation of Matthew Barney

Peter Samis from SFMOMA is one of the long time innovators in the web and interactive space. His presentation today was fantastic and an essential examination of the different impact of interpretative media types on the visit experience across those with prior knowledge/experience and those without. It was a great way to end the formal part of the conference.

Read his paper then dig in with a nice cup of proper coffee (not the 90% watery milk that passes for coffee over Stateside) and read the in depth evaluation report by Randi Korn and Associates on which the paper is based. This should be required reading for new media designers and web people, but is equally essential for exhibition designers.

Justin over at Walker Art has done a good job of blogging notes to this paper as well as the preceding paper on evaluation by Stephen Brown which I won’t repeat.

MW2007 Web 2.0

“We just don’t have time” – the culture of busy-ness

One of the re-occuring themes in questions I’ve been fielding throughout M&W2007 is that of problems of the organisational culture of ‘busy-ness’.

This came up both in our workshop on Planning for social media as well as in other sessions on museum blogging and discussions of moving web projects out of just the web team. The “we just don’t have time” seems to be the clarion call of those who we most need to get involved in social media in our museums.

So, how to navigate this?

Andrew McAfee at Harvard Business School has written a lot about Enterprise 2.0 which is effectively about implementing social media into the internal workings of your organisation. Technology companies have been forging ahead in this area for a long time – IBM’s internal wikis, Microsoft’s internal staff blogs etc – there are plenty of examples. Often internal implementation of social media tools ends up in the organisation deploying similar social media tools externally, as the internal use makes everyone in the organisation aware of the benefits, as well as gives them a chance to come up with policies, procedures and solutions to some of the pitfalls and unexpected risks of such tools. Indeed, many of the museums I’ve been speaking to as well the Powerhouse Museum itself started with internal social media experiments first.

McAfee’s recent post on the subject is interesting as has application in the museum sector. McAfee, speaking to his MBA students finds that:

students bring up one specific concern: that people who use the new tools heavily — who post frequently to an internal blog, edit the corporate wiki a lot, or trade heavily in the internal prediction market — will be perceived as not spending enough time on their ‘real’ jobs.

and that,

Companies that are full of knowledge workers and that have built cultures that value busyness face a potentially sharp dilemma when it comes to E2.0. These companies stand to benefit a great deal if they can build emergent platforms for collaboration, information sharing, and knowledge creation. But they may be in a particularly bad position to build such platforms not because potential contributors are too busy, but because they don’t want to be seen as not busy enough.

And even if the leaders in such companies sincerely want to exploit the new tools and harness the collective intelligence of their people, they might have a tough time convincing the workforce that busyness is no longer the ne plus ultra. Corporate cultures move slowly and with difficulty, and it will take a lot more than a few memos, speeches, and company retreats to convince people that it’s a smart career idea, rather than a poor one, to contribute regularly and earnestly to E2.0 platforms.

I often look to high-tech companies to observe state-of-the-art work practices. Something about the intensity of both the competition and the war for talent in their industries makes them laboratories for workplace innovations. And even though technology producers face time pressures that are as intense as anyone’s, many of them have not developed cultures of busyness. In fact, some have tried hard to build in the opposite mentality in their employees. Google, for example, gives their engineers ‘20% time’ – the equivalent of a day a week ‘to pursue projects they’re passionate about.’

This is especially relevant in institutions where the ‘research’ is seen as the ‘real knowledge work’ – science museums undertaking scientific research etc. In these organisations it is understandable that staff who are focussed on peer recognition through academic publications and research might be hesitant to embrace social media tools simply because they aren’t valued outside the organisation where most of their academic peers exist.

Interactive Media MW2007 Web metrics

M&W07 – Day three: Usability lab

The Usability Lab sessions are fascinating dissections of museum websites. A potential user is taken out of the room whilst the website owner explains their site and suggests two popular tasks to be performed by the tester when they return to the room. Marty and Twiddle explain their rapid testing methodology behind these sessions over at First Monday.

I sat in on the testing of a fellow museum’s website and it was painful to see the semantic disconnect between the sort of common terms that the user might search for and the actual naming of menu items – surely a ‘discount ticket’ or a ‘multi-venue ticket’ would be called that rather than a name that sounded more like an exhibition title? Overly text heavy pages with embedded links forced the novice user to scan blocks of text for what they were looking for – as if they were scanning a print brochure – rather than offering quick links to frequently used and important sections.

In many ways the experience reminded me a lot of the pain of the old Powerhouse Museum website – where the organisation had defined its external presence using its own language, rather than the language of the users. And where we had a site that users had to navigate in the ways internal staff thought about the organisation (and what was important) as opposed to by what the users logically wanted to do.

(the Powerhouse Museum site back in 2001)

Museum blogging MW2007 Web 2.0 Web metrics

M&W07 – Day three: Radical Trust – State of the Museum Blogosphere

Jim Spadaccini and I have just finished presenting our mini-workshop surveying the museum blogosphere.

The detailed results are online at Archimuse, and the slides including updated data are available here.

(update – Nate at Walker Art has posted some discussion of the q&a at the end of the presentation)

MW2007 Web 2.0 Web metrics

M&W07 – Day two:Peacock & Brownbill on audiences, visitors, and users

Because of timetable clashes I missed Darren Peacock and Johnny Brownbill’s presentation on the evaluation work that has gone into the forthcoming redevelopment of the Museum Victoria website.

Their hybrid model of ‘integrated analysis’ of a museum website is a solid approach that addresses many of the holes in other more traditional models. Of course it has to be seen whether this new means of analysis can produce a better website down the track.

(from Peacock & Brownbill)

Collection databases Folksonomies MW2007 Web 2.0

M&W07 – Day two: Tagging & Tracking / OPAC2.2

Thanks to all who came to my paper presentation.

The paper is online over at Archimuse or if you are attending it is also in the printed proceedings (which is a little easier to read on public transport). You can also download my slides but bear in mind they need to be viewed in conjunction with the paper itself.

Apologies to the questioner who asked why we don’t allow logins to let people keep track of the tags they have added. It was a good question which I rather abruptly passed over. The problem with logins is that they raise another barrier to participation – at least at this early stage. Whilst I understand that some power users would then get the ability to create a ‘MyTags personalisation’, the risk of deterring other users is high – I’d liken the power user to casual user ratio as probably being 1 in 100, if not more. At the moment I think we have the balance right with tagging and we are still analysing the usage – remembering that they are more for navigation and discovery than for descriptive purposes (unlike, say, an art museum). We might add that at a later stage however.

Thanks to Ian Johnson for the great suggestion about adding a ‘do you really want to delete that tag’ dialog to the tag deletion to prevent accidental deletion. We will implement that pretty much straight away I think.