open content

The (Australian) Govt 2.0 Taskforce – introduction and initial thoughts

Well the cat is out of the bag and I’m one of the fifteen members of the Government 2.0 Taskforce! And I’m excited by the possibilities.

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it down to Canberra for the launch at Publicsphere2 but I “watched it live on Twitter“.

So what is the Taskforce doing?

Its work falls into two streams. The first relates to increasing the openness of government through making public sector information more widely available to promote transparency, innovation and value adding to government information.

The second stream is concerned with encouraging online engagement with the aim of drawing in the information, knowledge, perspectives, resources and even, where possible, the active collaboration of anyone wishing to contribute to public life.

Importantly, the Taskforce will not just provide advice. It will be able to fund initiatives and incentives which may achieve or demonstrate how to accomplish government 2.0 objectives.

As regular readers know I work in the soft part of government – a part that most people probably wouldn’t even consider as ‘government’. That has its pros and cons.

On the upside it has meant that the government funded cultural sector – libraries especially – have become pretty adept at sharing data and making it available in standardised formats. Our very own National Library of Australia is one of the world leaders in fact. Museums tend to lag – our ‘collections’ of data are far less standardised and are by nature less ‘collaborative’ and more ‘competitive’.

It doesn’t help that we’re encouraged to be ‘competitive’ and find new ways of ‘generating income’ beyond getting people into our buildings. This means we have gift shops, cafes as revenue generators, but also publishing divisions where we look for revenue generation in the data (content) we hold which, until recently, has meant locking it down – yes, even the public domain stuff. We’re only just realising that opening up our data also opens up a blue ocean (and the world doesn’t end).

My team’s recent work with cross-government data (which you will see much more of shortly) has been fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time. Fascinating in that it has revealed that there is an enormous amount of locked up, devalued data out there; but heartbreaking in that its liberation, or even value creation, is prevented by a combination of unsupported legacy systems, an unholy alliance of Copyright and ‘privacy’ concerns, and just a lack of ‘policy alignment’ and resources – the “oh, that’s not our core business so we’ll charge you cost recovery on giving you access to that” problem.

Also, we’ve quickly realised that you are often working with something akin to 6 different interlocking jigsaw puzzles, each missing 20% of the most crucial bits. To provide a useful picture of a location (if you want to deliver mobile services), a period in time (for historical comparisons and trends), or a subject matter – often requires data from multiple agencies in different spheres of government (in Australia – local, state, federal) and that if one of these refuses then the whole is let down greatly (or made meaningless). This is what impresses me so much about Adrian Holovaty’s work with Everyblock – that Everyblock beautifully hides all the difficult, unkempt, manually wrangled datasets that lie beneath it; or Open Australia and MySociety’s original TheyWorkForYou.

We’ve also learnt that raw data is useful to other developers but that whilst projects are still measured in terms of impact on citizens (of whom developers are only a small subset), government projects will continue to be all about the presentation layer and not the release of the actual data behind it. This is relatively easily remedied – do both is probably the logical way forward.

The very recent Stimulus Projects Map on the NSW Government portal that now shows the locations of projects on a map could have easily also released the KML data as an optional download. The project’s success then could be measured by the use of the Stimulus Map on the original site as well as any third party uses of the data too.

New models for measurement and reporting is something we’ve been thinking a lot about now that part of our photographic collection is also on Flickr as well as on our own site – and it gets roughly 20x the usage on Flickr. Does government – our funders – value that as much as us putting it on our own website? what about other citizens and stakeholders (Wikimedia Australia’s Liam Wyatt has an interesting things to say on this)?

Likewise, Joshua Gans criticism of the NSW Baby Names Explorer that my team worked on is entirely justified – “why not release the data?”. Indeed. If we had owned the data we would have . . . we initially had to scrape it form its source to build the prototype! As I wrote in an email relayed to Joshua, the project was about offering an alternative visualisation solution than releasing the actual dataset. Building an alternative visualisation was intended to provide better access to a few single use cases of personalised trend data (“how are the names I am thinking of calling my child trending?”). These were the kinds of questions that were left unanswered on the Births Deaths and Marriages annual league tables, and it was hoped that a new way of looking at the same data might inspire Births Deaths and Marriages to free up the raw data to others – making services for prospective parents isn’t anywhere near their core business. I say ‘hoped’ because of the plethora of roadblocks that had to be navigated even to get a (inside government) third party visualisation of births data online.

So, dear readers, there’s going to be a bit of a forking going on this blog shortly.

I expect that most of my ‘open data’ and ‘social media and government’ posts will end up over at the Taskforce blog – so you might want to grab the RSS if you are interested – whilst the volume of posts here on Fresh & New may decrease as a temporary consequence.

Anyway I’m really looking forward to working on the Taskforce over the coming months and if regular readers have something to contribute then please get in touch.

open content

1000th Tyrrell image in the Commons (1265 released in total)

Bayswater Road, Darlinghurst
(Bayswater Rd, Darlinghurst, circa 1900)

View Larger Map
(Same location today-ish)

Today we released 24 more images into our pool in the Commons on Flickr. That wouldn’t be such a milestone – we release more each week – but we’ve finally released the 1000th image from the Tyrrell photographic collection.

We’ve now got 1,265 of our images out there in total and we’re up to 1 million views since April 2008 – that’s views of photographs that either weren’t available at all or received what we now understand to have been meagre exposure via our website and Picture Australia. (We thought 31,000 views a year of the 260 odd images we had was pretty good previously!)

We’ve been uploading a bunch of other collections and here’s one of my recent favourites from the Phillips collection – it is a bit creepy and I expect/hope it’ll be remixed into some great new configurations.

Portrait of a boy wearing a mask holding a rifle

(Portrait of a boy wearing a mask holding a rifle, circa 1900)

And of course you can still buy our ‘print on demand’ book of the first year of our Commons photographs.

Imaging open content Web 2.0

One year in the Commons on Flickr – statistics and . . . a book!


Today we celebrate one year in the Commons on Flickr.

Since April 8 last year we’ve uploaded 1,171 photos (382 geotagged) from four different archival photographic collections. These have been viewed 777,466 times! For photographs that had been either hidden away on our website (the original 270 Tyrrell photographs on our website were viewed around 37,000 times on our site in 2007), or not yet even catalogued and digitised this is a fantastic result. And that’s not even scratching the surface of the amazing extra information and identifications, mashups, new work and more that has come from the community participation.

To celebrate we’ve published a 78 page book!

The book was published using print-on-demand service Blurb and comes as a softcover or two different hardcovers – it is your choice! Inside there are a range of photographs alongside their individual statistics, user comments and some of the stories of discovery that have come from the first year in the Commons.

Our Photo of the Day blog is giving away 10 copies and you can buy copies for your friends over at Blurb.

I’d personally like to thank everyone at the Powerhouse who have supported our involvement in the Commons and helped make available so many photographs. I’d also like to thank the enthusiastic Flickr community who have so enthusiastically embraced these historical images; Paul Hagon for his mashup;the staff at Flickr (esp George, Dan and Aaron); and the Indicommons crew.

Without all of you this would never have happened.

Copyright/OCL open content

Powerhouse collection documentation goes Creative Commons

We’re happy to announce that as of today all our online collection documentation is available under a mix of Creative Commons licenses. We’ve been considering this for a long time but the most recent driver was the Wikipedia Backstage tour.

Collection records are now split into two main blocks of text.

The first section is the relatively museum-specific provenance which is now licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial license.

The second section is primarily factual object data and is licensed under a less restrictive Creative Commons Attribution, Share-Alike license.

Just to be very clear, images, except where we have released them to the Commons on Flickr, remain under license. There’s a lot more work to be done there.

So what does this really mean?

Teachers and educators can now do what they want or need to with our collection records and encourage their students to do the same without fear. Some probably did in any case but we know that a fair number asked permissions, others wrongly assumed the worst (that we’d make them fill out forms or pay up), and it is highly likely that schools were charged blanket license fees by collecting agencies at times.

Secondly it means that anyone, commercial or non-commercial can now copy, scrape or harvest our descriptive, temporal and geospatial data, and object dimensions for a wide range of new uses. This could be building a timeline, a map, or a visualisation of our collection mixed with other data. It could be an online publication, a printed text book, or it could be just to improve Wikipedia articles. It can also now be added to Freebase and other online datastores, and incorporated into data services for mobile devices and so much more.

Obviously, we’ll be working to improve programmatic access to this data along the lines of the Brooklyn Museum API, as well as through OAI and other means, but right now we’re permitting you to use your own nouse to get the data, legitimately and with our blessing – as long as you attribute us as the source, and share alike. We figure that a clear license is probably the ground level work that needs to preceded a future API in any case.

Thirdly, we’ve applied an attribution, non-commercial license to object provenance largely to allow broad educational and non-commercial repurposing but not to sanction commercial exploitation of what is usually quite specific material to our Museum (why we collected it etc).

You might be wondering why we didn’t go with a CC-Plus license?

A CC-Plus license was considered but given the specific nature of the content (text) we felt that this added a layer of unnecessary complexity. We may still, in the future, apply a CC- Plus license to images where it will make more sense given we have a commercial unit actively selling photographic reproductions and handling rights and permissions.

open content Wikis

Working with Wikipedia – Backstage Pass at the Powerhouse Museum

I like the notion that Noam Cohen raises in his recent New York Times article where Wikipedia is compared to a city.

It is this sidewalk-like transparency and collective responsibility that makes Wikipedia as accurate as it is. The greater the foot traffic, the safer the neighbourhood. Thus, oddly enough, the more popular, even controversial, an article is, the more likely it is to be accurate and free of vandalism. It is the obscure articles — the dead-end streets and industrial districts, if you will — where more mayhem can be committed. It takes longer for errors or even malice to be noticed and rooted out. (Fewer readers will be exposed to those errors, too.)

Like the modern megalopolis, Wikipedia has decentralised growth. Wikipedia adds articles the way Beijing adds neighbourhoods — whenever the mood strikes. It is open to all: the sixth-grader typing in material from her homework assignment, the graduate student with a limited grasp of English. No judgements, no entry pass.

When most of us take a look at Wikipedia we conveniently forget that behind the names that create and edit the articles are real people. Likewise when we are critical of how Wikipedia works (or doesn’t) we forget that Wikipedia is as flawed (or as great) as people are.

And if you were setting up in a new city you would meet with the city and community leaders, then head out and meet those who make the city function – the recommenders, community activists, the outspoken voices (and, depending on the neighbourhood, the kingpins and warlords!). Before all that, of course, you’d be out in the streets working out who and where all these key figures were, and getting a feel for it all. Alternatively, you might approach a city completely from the bottom-up. In so doing you might get lucky or you might also be led into a dark alley and mugged.

So, when Liam Wyatt, Vice President of Wikimedia Australia approached the Powerhouse to be the inaugural venue for a ‘Backstage Pass’ idea we jumped at the chance to put some real world faces to the avatars, and to learn how the nuts and bolts of Wikipedia works from the perspective of those who edit and improve it. We knew Liam from his work with the Dictionary of Sydney and thus knew he was aware of the complexities of the heritage sector.

(image by Paula Bray, Powerhouse Museum, CC-BY-SA)

From our perspective, Wikipedia is hugely important. Wikipedia is the highest referrer of traffic to our main website after search. Regardless of whether all our research staff are personally enamoured with Wikipedia, it is clear that our research output is made more visible by being cited in Wikipedia. In fact, if citations are a measure of the success of academic research then perhaps Wikipedia citations are a measure of ‘assumed authority’ and accessibility. (More on that in my metrics workshops though!).

At the same time word has it that laptops destined for high school students across the State may come pre-loaded with a snapshot of Wikipedia, so it makes sense for museums to have their knowledge linked and connected to as many relevant articles as possible.

Around the same time as Liam approached the Powerhouse, Shelley Bernstein at the Brooklyn Museum asked us to participate in Wikipedia Loves Art. We really liked the idea but had two organisational issues – firstly, we don’t (currently) “do” art; but most importantly our onsite photography policy needed to be clarified and within the short time frame that wasn’t going to be possible (we are still working on it!). Shelley’s been blogging about the experience of WIkipedia Loves Art over on the Brooklyn blog – and that more open approach to the ‘city’ that is Wikipedia has yielded interesting and complicated results.

So on the 13th of March, Liam rolled up with a motley group of Wikipedians – the youngest was only 13 years old (we hope had a sick note for his teachers!) – and the curatorial staff, along with a photographer, set about giving them a guided tour of the Museum and then our basement collection stores before retiring to a networked meeting room to exchange ideas. All up we ended up dealing with a very manageable group of ten Wikipedians. These weren’t just any Wikipedians, they were paid up members of Wikimedia Australia – the kind of the community leaders you might want to get onside in your neighbourhood.

This made a huge difference.

Even so, Wikipedians are a diverse bunch and like normal people they don’t necessarily understand all the intricacies of how museums work – the timescales, the processes, the conception of significance, the complexities of Copyright in museums. They don’t all agree about the solutions to licensing – and collectively we have widely varying opinions about the viability and usefulness of Wikipedia’s ‘neutral point of view’.

(image by Paula Bray, Powerhouse Museum, CC-BY-SA)

(image by Paula Bray, Powerhouse Museum, CC-BY-SA)

But, as we learnt about how Wikipedia editors think about how to document and improve articles in Wikipedia, our Museum staff spoke of how we document, classify and research. Unsurprisingly between the Wikipedians and the Museum staff we found a lot of common ground.

One of the Wikipedians who came, Nick Jenkins, generously wrote on the Wikimedia-AU listserv,

It was very interesting, and the amount of material and knowledge (at the museum, in the heads of the curators, and in the internal databases at the museum) is truly vast; but the issues that are being grappled with seemed (from my perspective) to be how to fulfil the museum’s mission in an increasing online environment; how that relates to the Wikipedia and finding areas where there’s a good synergy and commonality of purpose, and also questions and complexity of licensing (for images of items and details about items), and all the cultural issues of interfacing the two different cultures and ways of operating.

I thought it was a very positive day, and I left very much with the impression that these were good people who genuinely wanted to help.

From our perspective, the Museum has a whole lot of changes being actively made to Wikipedia articles incorporating its areas of expertise, but most importantly, we’re putting faces to names and beginning to understand the safe and unsafe areas of the city that is Wikipedia.

(image by Paula Bray, Powerhouse Museum, CC-BY-SA)

open content Web metrics

Attempts at quantifying social behaviour in the Commons

Over at the fantastic Indicommons blog there has been a flurry of activity around generating data from the various collections in the Commons on Flickr.

Patrick Peccatte initially posted on his blog a set of figures extracted using the Flickr API across the institutions in the Commons. Patrick has reworked these figures a little and they’ve been re-blogged on Indicommons.

The Powerhouse Museum figures work out like this – (as on Feb 7/8)

Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia

Launched on 7 April 2008, currently has 1,101 photos in 27 sets.
1,464 comments,for an average of 1.33 per photo. Max = 97
4,619 tags, for an average of 4.20 per photo. Max = 34
305 notes, for an average of 0.28 per photo. Max = 19
Images with no social behaviour (identified in a separate post) – 336 out of 1,101 (30%)

(source: Patrick Peccatte)

Incidentally these images have been viewed just over 600,000 times at the time Patrick generated the data – which gives some indication of the participation rate (0.2% comment/view rate).

Now as with any quantitative measures these figures have problems. For some institutions the way the Flickr API extracts and reports data has been an issue. But for us these figures are useful given the very Australian and Sydney-centric content of images we’ve been uploading.

Anecdotally we’ve seen a huge increase in viewing as our relatively geographically-specific images have been exposed more widely by Indicommons and others.

Some questions worth exploring further –

– Who is doing the commenting, tagging and note additions?
– Are the repeat viewers?
– How diverse are they? Is it a lot of people doing a little, or, a few people doing a lot?
– Do those who ‘participate’ become ‘contacts’ (do they want to stay notified of future uploads?)

open content Social media

Community resilience – the emerging Commons community

Courtney at the National Library of NZ beat me to it but as she writes, Flickr staff and Flickr users have visibly self-organised to grow the Commons on Flickr.

There’s a new public Flickr Commons group on Flickr and today, a new Commons blog – Indicommons. These point of presence are acting as meeting places for Flickr users helping research and explore the images that have been placed in the Commons

This has been a very heartening response from the community to the unexpected departure of George Oates. It is also a very positive initial rebuttal to the early fears that the Commons might disappear (which was very unlikely to happen unless Yahoo pulled the plug on Flickr altogether).

But as we’ve seen with recent announcements from Google, AOL and others, niche projects – even popular ones – can disappear overnight in the current economic climate. It is also a reminder that social media platforms like Flickr, and user-generated content as a whole, pose a huge conundrum – being community-built assets under corporate ownership.

Whose data is it?

Whilst Paula Bray is engaging with this emergent community, I am particularly interested in how the geographic makeup of this self-organising community evolves. The majority of Flickr users are still from North America and there had been a focus on keeping a good balance in the Commons of material from other parts of the world.

At the Powerhouse we’ve been uploading more quirky photos from the Phillips Collection and there are still more to come over the next couple of weeks.

open content

Farewell George Oates

Everyone here at the Powerhouse Museum was shocked today to hear that George Oates, the architect of the Commons on Flickr (and former designer behind Flickr), was laid off by Yahoo. Only last week was she presenting to our staff.

George was the conceptual mind behind the Commons – her ideas, passion and drive to expose and connect collections has created a large body of evidence that has been sorely required by the libraries, archives and museums sector. There now exists, thanks to George, solid evidence that obscure photographic collections are of interest to a wider public and worthy of digitisation and preservation; solid evidence that admitting that there are things that those in our sector don’t know about doesn’t damage institutional reputations; and that rather than diminish revenue form image sales, wider free access may actually increase them.

George was able to bring collections (and people) together in the past 12 months that we, within the sector, have found difficult to achieve in the past decade. She was and remains a cultural connector.

She will be sorely missed by all of us at the Museum and we hope that her work in establishing the Commons does not go to waste, and is not forgotten.

On a personal note, I am especially shocked and saddened by this news because just a few hours before George found out, she and I were presenting a joint workshop to delegates at the Culturemondo Roundtable. Here in Taipei, she has inspired people from Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world, to do more with and think more of their collections.

At Culturemondo we were not unaware of the political economy of the Internet. Geert Lovink had, only yesterday, reminded us all of the problems inherent in the way that many Internet companies have been founded and funded. A little later we were discussing the need for data portability in cloud computing. That this news would come on the same day was cruel indeed.

I’m sure that the company or organisation that George works for or establishes next will be as equally impactful as Flickr, but right now I’d like to send the most positive vibes possible to George in this difficult time.

Digitisation open content Web metrics

Library of Congress report on their participation in the Commons on Flickr

Michelle Springer, Beth Dulabahn, Phil Michel, Barbara Natanson, David Reser, David Woodward, and Helena Zinkham over at the Library of Congress have (publicly) released a very in-depth report on their experiences in the Commons on Flickr over a 10 month period.

Titled “For the Common Good: The Library of Congress Flickr Pilot Project” it explores the impacts of the project on access and awareness, traffic back to the LoC’s own website, and, importantly, what they have learned about how collections might operate in the broader social web. Given that their pilot was born of a need to explore the opportunities and challenges of the social web, their findings are important reading for every institution that is dipping their toes in the water.

The Flickr project increases awareness of the Library and its collections; sparks creative interaction with collections; provides LC staff with experience with social tagging and Web 2.0 community input; and provides leadership to cultural heritage and government communities.

I am impressed by the depth of the report and the recommendations. Critically they have identified the resourcing issues around ‘getting the most out of it’ and broken these down as a series of options (see page 34).

Even to maintain their current involvement in the project, they have identified a need to increase resourcing. They also identify that ‘just as is’ is no longer enough.

(2) Continue “as is” – add 50 photos/week and moderate account.

Pro: Modest expense to expand to 1.5 FTE from current 1 FTE (shared by OSI
and LS among 20 staff). Additional .5 FTE needed to keep up with the
amount of user-generated content on a growing account—both in
moderation and in changes to the catalog records (both in Flickr and PPOC).

Con: Loss of opportunity to engage even more people with Library’s visual
collections. Risk of losing attention from a Web 2.0 community that expects new and different content and interaction as often as possible.

Download and read the full report (PDF).

Digital storytelling Interactive Media open content

Exploring Sydney streets – a composite video experiment with the Commons

As we’ve been getting a lot of feedback on these here’s another of Jean-Francois Lanzarone’s video montages composed from detail in our glass plate negatives uploaded to the Commons on Flickr. This is the first one he has finished made up of multiple source images.

Again, this is a simple digital storytelling with consumer-grade video software (iPhoto and iMovie), and Creative Commons-sourced music. These don’t take a long time to make either.

More will go up on our Photo of the Day blog in the new ‘videos‘ section. I will only highlight them when new techniques are used rather than re-post each one from now on.

[Oh, and yes Jean-Francois will be choosing some backing other than piano music for the next ones!]