On Mastodon

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Otherwise my newsletter keeps (irregularly) trucking along over at


Migrated to a newsletter!

Since I moved to Melbourne – you can find me on Medium, and, even better, Fresh and New lives on a subscriber newsletter direct to your inbox with regular words from me – usually about 2000 words of reading and links each time.

You can sign up for free (originally on Substack and now migrated to Buttondown).

An experiment in fast writing. Thinking in progress about technology, design, heritage, music and sound – and where they all intersect. Precursors to fully formed ideas and projects. A notebook in progress in the form of a newsletter by Seb Chan.

This began in 2019 as an escape from the writer’s block of longer form ‘public’ pieces. It is my semi-private way of sharing thoughts and ideas in a range of interconnected fields with a close knit community of readers without the all-seeing eye of social media.

Think of it as an art project, or a diary of ideas related to my thinking across many domains. It is not an extension of my ‘work’ – topics will vary and intersect.

What remains on this site/domain, is now pretty much an archival repository dating back to the early days when this blog was part of the Powerhouse Museum site. After I left Sydney at the end of 2011 it moved with me to New York so you can find some of the pieces I wrote between 2011-2015 here too.


Keep an eye on Medium

Regulars may have noticed that I’m not writing as much on here now as I used to.

Partially that’s because of time constraints, but its also because I’m doing more of my writing over at Medium. Sometimes things will be cross-posted here but otherwise take a look at my Medium writings and, of course, ACMI Labs. There’s also some older writings from 2011-2015 over at Cooper Hewitt Labs.


Farewell Cooper Hewitt. Next stop Melbourne.

Playing card. Gift of Mrs. Dexter J. Purinton. 1955-78-2-46. From collection of Cooper Hewitt.
Playing card. Gift of Mrs. Dexter J. Purinton. 1955-78-2-46. From collection of Cooper Hewitt.

Maybe you heard the news, yes, I’m heading to ACMI in Melbourne to take up a new type of role as Chief Experience Officer. It all happened rather quickly and the idea of the CXO at ACMI is a kind of ‘post-digital’ role (see Parry 2013) around which new shape and form is still yet to coalesce.

I’m a little sad to be leaving New York. The last four years have been a wild ride with some fantastic and challenging collaborations that have resulted in some great work.

The scale of change that Cooper Hewitt has undertaken is pretty much unprecedented – and not just for the museum world – and the whole museum and its multitude of external collaborators and co-designers should be immensely proud. Cooper Hewitt is now well and truly on people’s radar and, although it will take a while for all those people who are now aware of Cooper Hewitt to come and visit, the presence of families and children in the galleries is an indication of where the audiences of the future are. With the mass digitisation of the entire collection due to be completed mid 2016, policy changes that bake-in ‘openness’, continuous improvements to the gallery experiences, and more born-digital objects now in the collection, the next few years should be easier.

It has been an enormous collective effort from across the entire museum from curators to security staff, and the board through to my own little team of caffeinated makers and doers.

Thank you to everyone for their trust and support – especially because I know some of the changes have been painful.

Janet Carding, now director of TMAG (formerly ROM Toronto), told me recently that when you’re brought in with an explicit instruction to catalyse change, you come with a certain amount of ‘change capital’ which, over time, gets used up. I really like that idea and it speaks to the reality that change capital can’t be ‘re-earned’ – it can just be spent wisely.

Looking back at Cooper Hewitt I can divide my short time there into two phases – an energetic possibility space opened up by Director Bill Moggridge who was one of the most generous people I’ve worked with. And then an equally energetic production phase where, following Bill’s sudden death in August 2012, we all pulled together to make something that – at least in my team’s mind – would be bold and impactful enough to honour Bill’s legacy and deliver the mission as he saw it. Bill’s successor, Caroline Baumann, raised a huge amount of money and trusted us enough, and loosened the reins so we could pull it off.

Everyone has heard about The Pen, but that is just the visible tip of the iceberg. Under the waterline are a huge amount of incremental changes that have added up to all that makes the visible things possible. When I started, 7% of the museum’s collection was online, and today that number is 92%; the release of collection metadata under a CC0 license was a first for the Smithsonian, as was some of the born-digital collecting that was done too; and an API at the core of all the things.

A lot of these sorts of changes have become the irreversible sediment on which new things can be built, not just The Pen. Most of that journey has been documented by my fantastic, and now partially dispersed team, over at the Cooper Hewitt Labs blog. If you’re looking for a ‘digital strategy’ document, then that’s worth reading in chronological order.

I’m going to miss them. We had some hilarious and productive times – there’s definitely a causal relationship between hilarity and productivity.


Three months in. Be a summer intern!

Three months in now.

And if you’ve been keeping an eye on the Cooper-Hewitt Labs blog you’ll know that email marketing and event ticketing has been overhauled, we’ve optimised our hosting platforms, a new monthly newsletter has been started, and last week we released our collection dataset to the public domain on Github under a Creative Commons Zero dedication.

My team has also been busying with webcast events and getting the volume of posts on the Design Blog increased, as well as experimenting with different social media tactics elsewhere. Behind the scenes, there’s plenty of long term planning going on with the Mansion rebuild under way, and embedding digital infrastructure into it.

There’s a fair bit more on the near horizon – an entirely new ecommerce presence for the Cooper-Hewitt Shop, a CMS migration – and quite a bit more.

But, for readers of Fresh & New(er) who happen to be students, you might be interested know that we’re taking on summer interns!

The deadline for applications is March 1 so hurry!


Farewell Powerhouse, Hello Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum

It is official now.

Today I’m leaving the Powerhouse after a long stint to take up a new role as Director of Digital & Emerging Media at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. I’ll be starting at the Cooper-Hewitt on November 28 (2011).

I’m looking forward to the new challenges and also the opportunities that I hope will flow from being part of the larger Smithsonian Institution whilst being in the cultural epicentre that is New York. I’m especially excited to be working for the Cooper-Hewitt with its high calibre exhibitions, and well established national education projects.

I’m continuing to write Fresh & New so don’t fret about any loss of signal. It will just be from a different timezone – and possibly, over time, a slightly different set of spelling conventions.

I’d like to thank the support of the Powerhouse over many years – the teams I’ve managed and my colleagues are all kinds of awesome. My digital colleagues have made the workplace one where ideas have flourished and everyone has been committed to trying out new things fueled by coffee, sugary treats, and a sense of mirth. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to have worked with such people.

Of course none of the work that’s been done would have been possible without the rest of the Powerhouse, especially the curatorial, registration, and education staff who’ve been at the frontline of how the ‘new museum’ has adapted to rapid technological change. The IT team at the Powerhouse, where I first began as an employee, has also been instrumental in providing a flexible technology environment in which to test and trial new ideas, and they embody the notion that a real IT department should be ‘enablers’, not just ‘fixers’.

I also need to thank my series of supervisors over the years each of whom has supported experimentation and encouraged the prototyping of many wild ideas. I hope my own management style has learned from them.

Most of all I’ve made some (hopefully) lifelong friendships working at the Powerhouse and I’m going to miss hanging out and making stuff with such great people.

It also needs to be said that the Powerhouse, as a workplace, provided a rare luxury – a job that provided great creative stimulation and opportunity, flexible working hours and work/life balance, even within the constraints of a shrinking public service. The opportunity to do ‘purposeful work’ – not just a job – is a luxury not afforded to many and one that needs to be seized.

And of course, “done is the engine of more”.

Now let’s see how it turns out in “the city that is a goal”.

Fresh and New readers should also keep an eye on a new technology and museology blog from the Powerhouse being coordinated by Paula Bray called Open House. It is going to be broader in focus and draw in contributions form across the Powerhouse so make sure you add it to your RSS reader.


We have a new address –!

You might have noticed the web address of Fresh & New(er) has changed. We are now running at and hopefully everything, including RSS feeds, is working as expected.


Love Lace exhibition App v1.21 released with videos, social sharing and favourites

Late last week in time for the launch of the Janet Echelman work being suspended in the city as part of Art & About, the new version of the free Love Lace exhibition App went live in both the iTunes App Store and the Android Marketplace.

The new version now allows for favouriting of works, social sharing (including sharing of lists of favourites), and quick access to the behind the scenes videos.

We’re expecting that there will be one more point release this year to include the MoveME wifi tracking but beyond that the App will only receive bug fixes and minor tweaks.

Just to reiterate the importance of seeing museum Apps as ‘live products’ with an ongoing commitment to development and support, we’ve had to make several point releases since v1.0 on both Android and iOS. These changes have been a result of issues with user devices (almost entirely Android variations), and some user interface issues that have been revealed through looking at the Flurry Analytics and watching what people try to do with the App.

Download v1.21 for iOS or Android.

Watch the behind the scenes slideshow of the Janet Echelman installation.

General Museum blogging

Fresh & New(er) is 5 years old!

Fresh & New(er) has just turned 5!

This blog started back in May 2005 as a storehouse of all the links and commentary that the Powerhouse web team of the time used to send around via email. It wasn’t until one of the posts got picked up and commented on by some enthusiastic educators that it became properly ‘public facing’. It was the first Powerhouse blog which was followed in 2006 by the Sydney Observatory blog.

Now, 5 years on, Fresh & New(er) is one of the top ten most popular parts of the Powerhouse Museum website attracting a wide global audience.

I had a look at some of the early posts and it seems that even back then we were concerning ourselves with mobiles, Copyright, open licensing and new models of interactivity.

Some things never change.

I wonder where we will be in 5 years time (and, more importantly, where we hid the party bags!).


Four intersecting circles of social media and web strategy for the cultural sector

One of the slides from my recent presentations has been generating a bit of interest so here it is in a slightly updated form – the four intersecting circles of online strategy. This is still a work in progress and I welcome your comments and feedback.

The purpose of this diagram is to show that ‘online strategy’ is now much more than just one isolated strategy. It is also intended to demonstrate that web teams may offer the best value to an organisation when they are able to exist independent of both IT and marketing. It should also begin to show the existing areas from which resources will need to (re)deployed to deliver a holistic online strategy and a distinct social media strategy.

In the ‘animated’ version of the image the first two circles to appear are ‘web strategy’ and ‘IT strategy’. Every organisation has well developed IT strategies and their main impact on web strategy tend to be around hosting environments, backup, and security, as well as in the interconnection of web applications between internal and external environments – ecommerce, collection database access etc. Increasingly we will find that organisations begin to move more of their hosting, backup and security, as well as some corporate applications out to cloud computing environments. Whilst many in the cultural sector already have their websites externally hosted, many more functions will move external as utility computing takes over. Obviously each organisation will also have a well developed marketing strategy that overlaps with web strategy in the online space usually in terms of brand consistency and continuity and offline/online campaigns, targetted email marketing etc.

Now, the final circle to appear is that of social media strategy. Social media overlaps with all three areas – web, marketing and IT. The size of these overlaps will vary from organisation to organisation but it critical to understand that social media strategy is NOT just marketing or web.

Let’s take a look at the overlaps with reference to some of the work of the Powerhouse.

Social media overlaps with marketing at the Powerhouse most significantly for the Sydney Observatory blog. The Observatory blog exists to engage new audiences, build an online community, but also to operate as a significant part of the online marketing and promotion of the physical world site as well. The blog is also a key part of the Museum’s web strategy for the Observatory – content production has been decentralised and the blog operates as a defacto content management system. In other organisations a Facebook profile or group, a MySpace page/persona would also be good examples of where marketing and social media strategy clearly intersect with resource implications.

Social media overlaps with IT strategy in two key areas. The first of these is hosting and security. Once museum content begins to be decentralised to third-party sites such as Flickr and You Tube there are very real issues that need to dealt with around ownership and control. The second is around digital preservation. Once content is decentralised how is it to be ‘preserved’? And, more importantly, how are community interactions on these and the museum’s own social media projects preserved? Does it even make sense to preserve ‘the conversation’? What happens to a project blog once the project is completed – how is it ‘archived’?

This is still a work in progress and I welcome your comments and feedback.