Folksonomies open content Social media

Re-ingesting Flickr tags from the Commons back into our collection OPAC

Today we completed the circle.

We have started presenting the tags that Flickr users have left on our images in the Commons on Flickr in their associated collection records in our online collection database. What this means is that the large number of tags added to our photographic collection in Flickr now are available in our OPAC to help others navigate the rest of our OPAC and connect with similar objects not available in the Commons and not in Flickr.

It is important to realise that almost none of the Tyrrell images were tagged in our own collection – even though the ability to tag was there. This means the effort that the Flickr community has made in tagging our collection in Flickr has a second life in our OPAC, reaching even more users and increasing their navigational and use value as metadata.

We first thought about merging the Flickr-originating tags with the tags submitted on our own site but realised that this could create confusion – especially because the Flickr tags couldn’t be deleted. Thus they now live in their own temporary tag space until our next redesign launches. After Luke did a bit of code tweaking we have managed to pull everything back in the correct character set (to accommodate all the double-byte tags in Flickr) and with spacing intact.

Here is the image in Flickr, and how it now appears in our OPAC. The same tags on both.

We now import Flickr tags each week (so don’t expect your latest tags to show up immediately!). The import script runs alongside the script that uploads our latest image to the Commons on Flickr each week.

Thank you again to all the Flickr-ites who are making such a useful contribution to the Museum’s catalogue metadata.

Folksonomies Geotagging & mapping Imaging open content Web metrics

Commons on Flickr – a report, some concepts and a FAQ – the first 3 months from the Powerhouse Museum

The first three months of having images from the Tyrrell Photographic Collection in the Commons on Flickr have been very interesting. We launched on April 8 with 200 images and have been adding more each week since.

At the 12 week mark we had 600 photos uploaded, mostly location photography with just under 50% geocoded. Whilst we promised at the outset to upload 50 a week we had to break that promise around week 5. As we began to see which images were being viewed more than others or attracted more comments than others we started to look for similar images in the Tyrrell Collection – many of which had not yet been digitised and catalogued. This extra digitisation and cataloguing reduced the uploads of some weeks to just 25 new images. On the upside, though, this also means we have a large number of already digitised images held back for weeks when key staff are going to be on leave.

Splash! Playable collections

In the first 4 weeks of the Commons we had more views of the photos than the same photos in the entirety of last year on our own website. It wasn’t as if we made the images on our own website all that hard to find – they were well indexed on our own site by Google, they were made available to the national federated image search/repository Picture Australia, and they also existed in our OPAC. Still, that was no match for Flickr.

Flickr’s roots in MMOG ‘Game Never Ending‘ makes it the ideal place for cultural institutions to explore the notion of ‘playable collections’. The social norms and community behaviours that have emerged and are encouraged around image content in Flickr (as opposed to other photo sharing sites) enable historic photographic collections to become game entities. Albeit with a slightly different rule set.

In the Commons images lose the boundaries placed on them by collecting institutions. They take on new contexts and meanings, and they become maleable. All images in Flickr take on these more fluid characteristics, but in the Commons they way others see, respond and interact with these images is slightly different.

In fact I think it is really important to point out the difference in observed behaviours between our photos in our standard Flickr account. I’m not sure how the other institutions who are contributing to the Commons are finding it, but we’ve noticed that there seems to be a difference in behaviour and social norms in tagging and commenting on our Commons images versus our other images. Presumably the obvious ‘historic’ nature of the images combined with the fact that the institutions aren’t the photographers has an effect on this.

The global reach of Flickr and its active international user base (although far from evenly distributed proportional to online population) is impressive. Although our collection is very much focussed around Sydney and NSW, we’ve still managed to attract some tagging in other languages. Other Commons contributors have far more international images and should be drawing more internationalised tags and comments.

What are people doing?

The Commons has several obvious types of engagement from the point of view of a contributor. I hesitate to put these into ‘levels’ because almost everyone does each of them. The first seven, at least, are integral to the ‘game play’ of Flickr and should be judged against the rule set of the game system itself, rather than necessarily against outside behaviours.

Visitors can engage in –

1. Viewing

Viewing comes in many forms and can be counted when those views occur on Flickr. This is the simplest but also least useful way of measuring the project. What is useful about view data, however, is the ability to track the trends and patterns in viewing and observing when and deducing why certain images generate more views at a particular time.

2. Favouriting (“bookmarking”)

“Favoriting” (US spelling) on Flickr is the equivalent of bookmarking. Flickr users ‘favourite’ for many reasons and this is another very simple measure of the relative popularity of an image. It is important to understand that whilst an image may be ‘favourited’ by many different users the reasons for their ‘favoriting’ are not revealed. Again, it is through observing bursts of favouriting of the same object by multiple users, or the favouriting of many objects by the same user that potentially reveals more.

3. Friending (“I am interested in seeing more/connect with me”)

Friending on Flickr identifies a desired but not necessarily reciprocal relationship between the ‘friender’ and the ‘friendee’. The Powerhouse decided after a few weeks to reciprocate all friend requests and we also look at the photos taken by our ‘friends’ and where appropriate tag, comment, and ‘favorite’ their images too. This social reciprocity is really important but also time consuming.

At 12 weeks we had hit 612 ‘friends’. Each of these friends now gets visual notification of new images we upload.

4. Social commenting (“here I am”)

I’m calling the comments that say ‘awesome photo’ or ‘cool picture’ as social commenting. This is a really loose way of describing comments that are really about leaving a linkback-ed mark of a visit. Akin to an “I woz ere” but in a more networked way.

On Flickr this social commenting acts as the ‘social glue’ that binds the communities that play the ‘Flickr game’, together. Whilst it is very tempting for museum professionals to downplay or scoff at this sort of interaction, it might be useful to think of these sort of comments as playing a role akin to comfortable seating or a nice cafe in a museum gallery.

5. Tagging (“let me help”)

Because the Commons specifically asked the Flickr community to ‘help tag’ images the tagging that is done within the Commons tends to generate some pretty useful additional metadata. Whilst the account holder can see who the tagger was, the rest of Flickr cannot. Tagging here is a great example of altruistic behaviour as the tagger is neither the image creator or owner.

6. Image content tagging (“here’s something interesting”)

Flickr also allows the notation of an image with the ‘add note’ function. We’ve noticed that some users are helpfully identifying particular buildings, landmarks, signage, flags and other important elements within an image with these tools. This creates a certain kind of additional metadata that isn’t about the object/image as a whole, but about a certain subset of the content.

7. Content commenting (“let me tell you more about this”)

Here’s where the value of the Commons is easiest to explain to other cultural sector professionals. This is old-fashioned community engagement and we’ve been really lucky to have engaged a number of prolific and dedicated members of the Flickr community who have taken up the challenge of identifying the exact dates, locations and other unknown details about the images we’ve uploaded.

Whilst some of the information we are learning about the images this way could probably have been discovered by the Museum itself, that the public has been able to do this for us and often within hours of new images going up on to the site speaks volumes.

This is also very much about empowering and acknowledging the importance of ‘amateur’ knowledge, which in the networked environment can often outpace, and sometimes outperform, isolated ‘professional’ knowledge.

8. Content embedding (“I’ve stuck this on my site/blog/profile”)
9. Content remixing and connecting (“here’s my images that fit with yours”)

Although harder to track, the other obvious purpose of the Commons is to encourage re-use. Re-use of heritage materials radically asserts their relevance in contemporary society and is an increasingly necessary bridge between the world of ‘museums as holders of old stuff’ and the world of ‘museums as places for inspiration (and connection)’.

All of this is ‘user generated context’ (cf. Haque) as much as it is ‘user generated content’. Context is increasingly what matters in a world overloaded with content, and museums through the exhibition medium should be specialists in understanding the importance of ‘context’.

And of course, our Tyrrell Today group has already gathered 123 images that are contemporary location photography matching the historic photography of the Tyrrells. This shows a huge amount of commitment from others in the Flickr community – to go out and purposely reshoot a Tyrrell from today’s perspective and we’re thrilled to have generated this much interest. We hope we can reciprocate.

Here’s an example.

(contemporary image by lifeasdaddy)

Some basic quantitative stats at 12 weeks

So with all that in mind, here’s some raw figures to consider.

How many?

600 photos uploaded (at 12 weeks)
103,000 views of photos

How are they being found?

69% via Flickr
2% via external search
6% via other websites (blogs etc)
21% direct to URL

Most popular:

Woman inside a settler’s hut (2nd most favourites) – 1735
Wool sorting room, Clifton Station – 1334
Cutting Out – 1011
Bondi Bay, Sydney (3rd most favourites) – 967
Circular Quay 1892 – 945

Perhaps not surprisingly for a global audience the top three images are those without geographic specificity and thus more general global appeal.

Most favourited:

Kookaburras – 29
Woman inside a settler’s hut – 19
Bondi Bay, Sydney – 15
Frank Senior, sculler – 13
The start of girls’ snowshoe race, Kiandra – 11

How many tags?

2433 tags (excluding machine tags)
Average tags per image – 4.055, median 2, standard deviation 4.93 (a fair number of objects have no tags, mostly the newest)

Most tagged:

George St, near Hunter St – 26
A farm homestead – 24
Choir, St Andrew’s Cathedral, looking east – 23
Sydney from Shell Cove, North Shore – 22
Woman inside a settler’s hut – 21

Some answers to some other frequently asked questions

1. What has been the impact on image sales?

It is early days and too early to tell whether or not we’ve ‘lost’ sales as a result of putting these images in Flickr. Interestingly we are getting a lot more online enquiries about purchasing these images and the offline (telephone, fax, etc) haven’t noticeably declined. It is too early to tell but I think once the other benefits of being in the Commons are brought into the equation we will have massively gained.

2. What happens when other institutions add their images? Do your images get ‘lost’ in the flood of new content?

Actually we’ve found that in this situation more is more. When new institutions add their images we see new peaks appear in our stats. This is because with each new addition comes a slew of blog posts across the blogosphere. The addition of the George Eastman House recently and the Bibliotheque de Toulouse both generated new types of media coverage of the Commons as a whole.

Also as the Commons evolves new features are added by the Flickr team so with the George Eastman House came cross-Commons ‘search‘ which will become even more useful as more complimentary collections are added – which in the case of the Powerhouse probably means more Australian collections.

3. What is your favourite story about the power of the Commons?

See my earlier post on the ‘discovery’ of the Mosman Falls.

4. Aren’t you worried about releasing these images as de facto ‘public domain’? Don’t you want attribution and credit for collecting, preserving and making these available?

We’ve noticed that our images are now spreading to the Wikimedia Commons, and are also being used in blog posts and various websites. And, although we haven’t specifically encouraged remixing – primarily because of the nature of the content of most of the images – there have been some Flickr users who have notified us of the intent to create screenprints and other derivatives of some images.

Now, because these images have been identified as ‘no known copyright’ there is no legal need to attribute the source of these images but every single re-use or embed of our images to date has featured an attribution. This is another testament to the nature of the Flickr community. Now that some of these images are also in the Wikimedia Commons it will be interesting to see whether the same courtesy attribution occurs.

5. I work in a museum/library/archive and we already have a Flickr account. As a matter of fact, we’ve had one for ages. Why is the Commons so different?

The two obvious differences are the banding together of collections under the promotional umbrella of ‘The Commons’; and the application of ‘no known Copyright’ to the images. The increasing prominence of the Commons within the Flickr ecosystem brings Commons images to many more people than a regular Flickr account. Together this creates an interesting effect – comparatively more interest in the images and more engagement around them. I wonder whether this is the effect of providing a clearing in the surrounding data smog where the intention of putting up historical images is very clear and contextualised (rather than obscured)?

6. What is the big deal about ‘no known Copyright’?

I guess the answer is both philosophical and practical. Philosophically it makes sense for publicly-owned heritage images to be made available to the public in a digital form to reuse and repurpose except where there are cultural sensitivities involved. This may not apply to institutions that aren’t publicly funded of course.

On a practical level it makes sense because asserting Copyright (or even Creative Commons) over something that clearly wasn’t made by you is full of legal complexities. Not only that, it complicates matters for learners of all ages who legitimately want to see and use these images – if only they knew they existed.

7. What are you doing with all the tags and comments?

Tags are easy and we’re treating them just like our other community generated metadata. Now we’ve passed the 3 month mark we’ve pulled all the tags to date back into our own collection database online where they will soon appear alongside the tags that have been on our own site.

Comments are a little more tricky and we’re working out ways that we can dedicate resources to going through these and updating the collection records properly. There are several factors that make this less than trivial – paradoxically many of the images with the most ‘documentation’-style comments are also the ones that have not been fully catalogued by our own curatorial staff. I expect that we will have resolved a proper process for the ingestion (and crediting) of information supplied via Flickr comments in the next six months.

8. How do you manage the community that is forming around your content on Flickr? What is the time commitment?

As I mentioned right at the top of this report we are still coming to terms with this. Our Image Services Manager, Paula Bray, does the bulk of the responding, commenting, favouriting and interacting. She is an avid photographer too and had her own Flickr account prior to joining the Museum and well before this project. She spends at least an hour a day in Flickr – yes, even weekends – and that’s not counting the time she spends selecting and preparing the content for bulk upload.

I drop in and out of our account to check what is going on each day also spending about 20-30 minutes a day making sure things are as they should be.

This need for ‘continuous participation’ is a challenge but it is reaping enormous rewards. However within an institution of our size and structure both Paula and I are spending considerable time ensuring we have a strong case for the resourcing of this ongoing participation which is part of the reason why we’re testing different metrics and documenting outcomes as we go.

9. How do you upload the images to Flickr? (and pull down those tags and comments)

We use the very well documented Flickr API to both upload and download. It took about 5 programming hours at most to build our uploader and also a downloader in PHP. After the images are uploaded from our collection database we have to go in and add them to the correct groups, geotag what we can, and then change their permissions so everyone can see them. Easy.

Need to know more? I will continue to post reports periodically. Courtney Johnston at the National Library of New Zealand (kia ora!) has posted a similar report on what they’ve learnt from the first year of having a ‘standard’ Flickr account. And, Bridget McKenzie in the UK has produced a good discussion paper arguing the pros and cons of having a Flickr presence for your institution.

Folksonomies Metadata Web 2.0

24 hours later – Powerhouse on the Commons on Flickr

The first 24 hours of our presence on Commons on Flickr has been fascinating. I wrote about the launch yesterday but now let’s take a look at what has happened over night.

In short, we’ve been excited by the response. Here’s some quick figures.

Plenty of views (4777), and stacks of tags (175) – in such a short time. That’s more views in one day than the entire Tyrrell Collection would have previously gotten in a month. I’ve been really excited by the types of tags and the diversity of tags that have been added. One user has even added postcodes as tags. And, although we’ve had tagging available on our site for those same Tyrrell records, these tags far exceed those added on our own site in quantity and, arguably, quality. Obviously this has a lot to do with context.

Folksonomies Social networking

Social media marketing in the performing arts

Beth Kanter and Rebecca Krause-Hardie have put together a good primer which appeared in Arts Reach magazine on some of the ways performing arts organisations are using social media to engage with their audiences in new ways.

Two things jumped out immediately. Firstly, that social media has seriously challenged the short-term marketing focus of many of the organisations interviewed. This limited focus has historically been the result of funding cycles. And secondly, that the ways that they are using social media are extremely varied.

The Atlanta Symphony’s use of tagging shows that the ‘semantic gap’ issue is by no means unique to museums –

“When audience members post their comments, they will also include “key word” tags to go along with them. This has multidimensional results. It is helpful in searching the site, and it informs the marketing department about the words and connections the audience makes, rather than the connections we as the institution guess that they will make. It’s free market research!

Folksonomies Web 2.0

Information organisation as a video – the latest from Michael Wesch / KSU

Back in April, Michael Wesch at Kansas State University made a great video about the basic ideas behind Web 2.0. Now he has delivered another video this time looking at information organisation. It opens with a traditional ‘on paper’ view of information in the pre-digital age – library card catalogues, expert taxonomies, and scarcity – before comparing this with the current situation – and the information glut of the digital age.

Collection databases Digitisation Folksonomies Web 2.0

OPAC2.0 – latest tag statistics and trends for simple comparison with Steve project

Another paper from the Steve researchers has gone online and is generating interesting discussions. It elaborates on the content of an earlier summary podcast. To be presented at ICHIM07 the paper describes some of the emerging patterns in tagging behaviour in the different interface trials.

Collection databases Conferences and event reports Folksonomies Web 2.0 Web metrics

Web Directions South 2007 – presentation and some thoughts

Web Directions South 07 was lots of fun and there were some great presentations over the two days. Unfortunately conferences are always full of choices and I missed several presentations I’d been looking forward to catching. That said, overall the quality was high and there were only a handful of dull moments. Most of the presentations I saw were not on the tech-side (JS, Ajax, CSS etc) of things – Luke was there to go to those.

Here’s some notes from my highlights.

Cameron Adams managed to pack out one of the smaller rooms and by the time his ‘Future of web based interfaces’ was in full flow there were about 50 people standing at the back. Adams’ presentation went through the possibilities of flexible interfaces that are both customisable by the user (much like Netvibes or iGoogle is) and automatically reformats as you use it (like the BBC News pages subtly do).

After my own presentation (see below) it was on to Scott Gledhill’s ‘Is SEO evil?‘ to which the answer is, of course, no. SEO and a web standards approach should be complimentary. Scott had some lovely images – the menacing gummi bears in particular – and a fascinating case study from News Digital Media around the Steve Irwin death. In this instance, News went out with a web headline that was far more immediate and keyword loaded (“steve irwin dead”) than their major competitor, Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax who were more obscure (“crocodile man reported dead”). They tracked the story traffic and referrers by the hour and more than doubled the Fairfax traffic – even after Fairfax adjusted their headline. Scott also told how journalists are now much more SEO content-savvy in their writing and that his team gives the journalists the necessary web reporting tools to be able to track their own stories. This, combined with the highly competitive environment, encourages journalists to further refine and re-edit their stories for performance even after initial publication.

The second day began with an edit of Scott Berkun’s famous Myths of Innovation presentation. Scott’s main message is that you can’t force ‘innovation’ and that it needs time and space to happen organically. In fact, one of the best triggers of innovation are failures and mistakes. He suggests that perhaps we should start including a ‘failures’ budget line in our organisational budgets – accept that they will happen and that we are all the better for it.

George Oates from Flickr spoke about how Flickr manages and facilitates user communities. She started out tracing Flickr back to its origins at Ludicorp as a sort-of MMORPG called Game Neverending. After GNE folded the community that had grown around it was imported directly into Flickr and they brought their experiences from the game world into the construction and design of Flickr. I found her focus on users and the real need for human-to-human communication and relationship management that Flickr does a timely reminder that in the museum world we cannot expect communities to ‘just happen’ around our content and that when the seeds of community appear they need careful nurturing. The necessary nurturing is impossible if you move immediately on to the next project.

Adrian Holovaty, the mind behind Chicago Crime and several other datamining and visualisation projects gave a fascinating presentation about the hidden potential of structured data. Now over in the museum world we are experts at structured data but we rarely make the most of it. Throughout Holovaty’s talk he kept coming back to the ideas of serendipity and free browsing that I’ve been working on with our OPAC. His position was to make everything hyperlinked and let the users build their own paths through the data. To that end he built the Django Databrowse application which takes a database and basically build a simple website that allows users to link from anything to anything else. Following Chicago Crime which took flat datasets from the Chicago Police Department and made them navigable in ways that the Chicago PD had never intended (view crimes by area, visualise hotspots, map your jogging route against reported crimes etc), Holovaty went on to do some great visualisation work at the Washington Post. Here he asked journalists to enter their notes into a simple database as well as turning their notes into stories. This allowed him to build the Faces of the Fallen which tracks and maps every US soldier killed in Iraq. Faces not only reveals some uncomfortable patterns in the data (deaths by age of soldier, by state etc), it also has allowed linkages to family tributes and newspaper articles about the circumstances of their death. The project returns great value back to reporters and the paper who can now report ‘milestones’ and trends, but also to the community who can now make ‘more sense’ out of what would otherwise be simply seen as a list of names. It ‘humanises’ the data, giving it far greater impact. Holovaty is now working on a community news project Every Block which intends to harvest and aggregate content by ‘block’ from various news sources – automatically creating journalistic stories from raw data. (Reuters already does this with some financial reporting).

There are a growing selection of presentation slides over at Slideshare.

Here’s an edited version of my own presentation slides which use the Powerhouse Museum’s collection search and tagging implementation as a case study of a government implementation of Web 2.0 techniques. Those who have seen my presentations over the recent months will recognise some re-use and re-puposing. For various reasons I have had to remove about 20-30 slides but most of it is there. There is a podcast coming apparently.

Folksonomies Web 2.0 update as a podcast

I’ve just finished a presentation to art museum folk at the Sites of Communication 3 conference at the National Gallery of Victoria, and true to form there was quite a bit of interest in social tagging. There seems to now be widespread awareness of the problem of the ‘semantic gap’ between the language of art museums audiences (especially as they are being seen to be diversifying) and that of art curators and researchers. And there is increasing interest addressing this problem.

Thus when museum people ask about collection tagging projects other than our own, I send them off to the project website. Invariably they come back, having dipped their toes into some of the research material, with more questions. Jennifer Trant has produced a rather excellent podcast summary of the project to date and some of the preliminary results emerging from it. The podcast is a good example of making what is otherwise a time consuming and text heavy task an easy-to-digest and informative 12 minute presentation – complete with a few slides. (It uses the M4A format so you will need Quicktime or iTunes.) is doing some excellent and very considered research that will re-assure many tag skeptics and no doubt lead to more and better tagging implementations down the track. Whether the Steve results will be able to be applied directly to collections outside of visual art – social history and natural history collection especially – remains to be seen.

Folksonomies Interactive Media Web 2.0

Word association and tagging games

Human Brain Cloud is a pretty amusing timewaster with a great visualisation interface, and lots of (untapped) potential for tagging applications.

HBC asks everyone online to ‘free associate’ with particular words which then have relationships built between them. Much like what we at the Powerhouse do when we data-mine search terms, HBC is building an enormous lexicon of word relationships – something that would have great potential if linked with tag databases. Whilst ESP Game and related projects are useful for connecting different words with images and forming ‘agreed’ descriptions, if this were to be coupled with multi-source, distributed, dynamic synonym generation then the number of words/tags would skyrocket, greatly increasing discoverability.

One warning – there is no censorship on the site at the moment, so be warned that some associations may not be appropriate or worksafe.

Collection databases Developer tools Folksonomies Web 2.0

OPAC2.0 – Go bulk taggers!

Thank you to everyone who has been tagging the collection with our bulk tagging mini-application.

Since announcing it 2 weeks ago we’ve had 515 new tags added to previously untagged objects. That’s a lot.

If you are one of the many who have added some tags – thank you. If you haven’t tried it yet, then what are you waiting for?

Thank you also to everyone who emailed in or left suggestions in the comments.