Mobile Powerhouse Museum websites Young people & museums

Updating Go Play – the cross-agency school holiday calendar

Last September we quietly launched the alpha version of Go Play, a site that Powerhouse was commissioned to produce for the then Communities NSW (now Office of Communities). Go Play was built to address the problem of the general invisibility of the wealth of great school holiday events, often free or low cost, put on by government organisations. On commercially operated parental events calendars these cultural events are buried amongst the latest family movies, and on individual government agency websites there is no suggestion that there might be other relevant activities nearby. Beginning with the cultural institutions and sport and recreation facilities, the site was also built to ensure that event metadata was enhanced with standardised parent-focussed information like age suitability and whether or not the venues have baby change facilities etc.

Initially managed by Renae Mason at the Powerhouse and programmed by the IXC, the Go Play went live as a public alpha with school holiday activities collated from five NSW government agencies to test the database structure and robustness. In December the site, complete with a stack of bugfixes, went into beta with more agencies involved.

Under the purview of a new producer at Powerhouse, Estee Wah, the April holidays came around and the site continued to grow with more and more contributors and general operations for the site began shifting over to staff fat Office of Communities. At the same time for April, we launched a mobile App version of Go Play funded through Apps4NSW and was developed by The Nest.

Now we’re in the winter school holidays and the site has just added even more partner organisations and the App has also received its first major update.

Not only that, the enhanced event copy is now licences under CC-BY-NC for re-use by others (excepting, of course, the images). The event data and venues can be obtained as XML from the Data Output section. (Alternative licensing of the data can no doubt, be negotiated).

So how has it gone?

Go Play, to date, has shown that with a mix of great SEO and search marketing coupled with a relatively simple UI there is a good audience for tightly focussed cross-agency event calendars. Traffic has been strong with each holiday period delivering more and more visitors to the site – now nearly 60K – and consolidating repeat visitors. The iOS App has had nearly 1100 downloads since launch, and the update has been applied 234 times in the last few days since release showing ongoing usage by those who downloaded the first version.

Not surprisingly, those institutions who chose to add the Go Play banners to their own sites ended up sending a good deal of traffic to the site – showing that, unsurprisingly, parents who visit, say the Powerhouse Museum website looking for holiday activities are interested in seeing what else in on too. It would seem, too, that those who sent traffic also had their own events viewed the most in Go Play creating a net gain in traffic and awareness, instead of a net loss.

The initial ideas that such a site might be able to run automagically, harvesting new content from participating institutions, have unsurprisingly been optimistic. In fact these were scoped out after the initial alpha release and the focus on having a human editor who ensures that events have full enhanced metadata not only makes the site a lot more valuable to parents but also realistically deals with resource levels at contributing agencies.

Next school holidays the site will be completely under the operation of Office of Communities and will hopefully grow to take on many more content partners (local government is an obvious option), and maybe down the track be able to operate all year round.

Check out the Go Play site and the free iOS App!

Mobile Powerhouse Museum websites User experience

Building Sydney Design 2011 as a cross-platform site

It has been over a month since my last post here and everyone has been flat out working on a slew of projects, most of which have just gone public. The lead up to August is always one of the busiest times of the year at the Powerhouse with both Sydney Design and Ultimo Science Festival taking place each August, and this year these have been joined by a major contemporary art exhibition launch and the Powerhouse’s revitalisation works.

The next couple of posts will look at some of the new things that have gone live.

Nick Earnshaw in the Web Unit has been handling Sydney Design and Revitalisation and both of those sites, running on WordPress, are now live.

Sydney Design was built by Mob Labs using a concept and design by Toko. Mob Labs have built both a web and mobile web version of the Sydney Design site and the iPhone App version is due to go to the AppStore any moment now.

We’re excited about this year’s Sydney Design site because it has been built to be even more decentralised than previous years. The Powerhouse IT team reconfigured an install of our helpdesk/job-tracking system, JIRA, to allow external Sydney Design partners to enter their events remotely and the Powerhouse Contemporary team, who organise Sydney Design, to assess them. Chris Bell in the IT team then exported these into a custom WordPress install where the final event editing took place whilst Mob Labs configured custom themes for the site itself. We’re also indebted to MOMA’s work in creating a very useful JSON API plugin for WordPress which made the resulting site build by Mob Labs considerably easier.

You’ll also notice that the site integrates Facebook using a subset of the Opengraph features to make it clear which parts of Sydney Design your friends like and making rough recommendations. We were inspired by the Sydney Festival site to do this and we’ll be keeping an eye on it to see how effective it is for the more niche audiences of Sydney Design.

The Contemporary team at the Museum have also been busy making sure there’s vox pops and other content going out on Facebook and Twitter as well as embedding them into the relevant events (eg. 1 | 2) on the site itself.

Mob Labs did a great job on the mobile site which has some nifty swipe interface action and geo-location in mobile browsers – give it a go on an iPhone, Android or Blackberry and see. And once the native App goes live we’ll be able to see how many iOS users choose the App over the Mobile Web version of the site.

Maybe this year will be the last time we feel we need both a mobile website and an App.

Collection databases open content Powerhouse Museum websites

Introducing the alpha of the Museum Metadata Exchange

The Museum Metadata Exchange (MME) is a project that started mid last year (2010) as a collaboration between the Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD) and Museums Australia (MA). Funded by the Australian National Data Services (ANDS), the project is key infrastructure to deliver museum collection-level descriptive (CLD) metadata to the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC).

That’s acronym city. So here’s the human-readable version.

The MME takes a different approach to collections. Instead of focussing at the object or item level, it moves up a notch to ‘collection level’. This has the benefit of providing an overview, a meaning and a scope that can be hard to ‘see’ at object level – especially if you were, say, looking for which museums had shoes made in the 1950s and worn in Australia. The other benefit of collection level descriptions is that the objects grouped in this way don’t necessarily need to be online or digitised (yet) in order to be discovered.

The project is funded by ANDS in order to ensure that these descriptors of museum collections are added to the Research Data Commons to be used and explored by academic researchers. In many ways this makes a lot of sense – academic researchers are far more likely than general web users to need to come and see the ‘real’ objects and make long term connections with staff at the host museum to conduct their research. And so, by exposing collection level descriptions especially for ‘yet to be digitised’ collections, the project is pulling back the curtain on those hidden gems held by museums across Australia. In fact, several of the staff working goon the project who deal with objects everyday were regularly surprised by what they were finding in other people’s collections – “oh I had no idea that they had some of those too!”.

Collection level descriptions have provenance and descriptive metadata along with semi-structured subject keywords, temporal, spatial and relational metadata. (Here’s a list of 66 Powerhouse collections and a single record on our rather excellent Electronic Music Collection.)

The first public iteration pulls together nearly 700 collections from 16 museums across Australia and future iterations will add more – primarily major regional collections, I would expect.

But . . .

The site itself is really a simple public front-end for a data transformation service. It isn’t supposed to be the primary place for anyone, not even researchers, to search or browse these collection level descriptions. It is a transformation and transport mechanism that acts as broker between the individual museums and the Research Data Commons. To this end anyone can download the XML feed of the collection level data from the site – this is the same data that gets passed on to the Commons.

Of course, we’ve tried to ‘pretty-up’ the rawness of the site a bit. The first iteration has lovely identity work done by emerging Newcastle-based designer Heath Killen. But the search is very rudimentary and there is currently no way to pivot by keywords or do the temporal or spatial searching – this sort of functionality is supposed to be handled by the various academic interfaces for the data once it reaches the Research Data Commons. We will add this to the MME site itself over time.

Go and have a bit of an explore – the best way of understanding the project is by taking a look at the sort of data that is already in it. If you’d like some more detailed background information the project also has a < a href="">microsite for contributing institutions.

Oh, and, we’re expecting to release the Powerhouse Object Name Thesaurus (already downloadable as a PDF) as a data service shortly as part of this project too. This thesaurus has been used by the project to start to normalise the data to a degree and it is expected that by making the thesaurus available as a data service, that there will be both read and write opportunities . . . .

Powerhouse Museum websites Social media

The end of the 80s – summing up a 24 month web presence

Recently saw the final days of The 80s Are Back exhibition – the end of a run that began back in late 2009.

The website now moves into a ‘post-exhibition’ mode and many of the social media elements of the site will no longer be updated. Given the length of time that these have been running – since well before the exhibition launched – this is perhaps the Powerhouse’s longest running single topic social media experiment.

So how did it go?

I posted an interview in March last year with Renae Mason who was the producer on the site last year which went into detail on all the channels that we used.

The site now contains nearly 97,000 words in its various mini-essays, reviews and interviews, and it has generated 195 approved comments containing a massive 11,000 words. Regular readers would know that the site continued adding mini-essays right through to last month (when final posts on Live Aid, Sampling, Hordern dance parties, compact discs and The Smiths were added).

January 2010 was the busiest month for visitation – driven by the new-ness of the exhibition and all the accompanying media and advertising, but rather than the normal sharp decline in web visitation that follows an exhibition of this length, the site continued to travel well on a slow curve downwards. The months that had tie-in public programmes and events added spikes in traffic and even after the Museum stopped 80s-related programming the site continued to perform comparatively well.

The microsite had 142,000 visits with healthy visitor loyalty showing that the extra effort put into longitudinal content creation was worthwhile. Single visit visitation was 5% below the overall site average – and repeat visitation up. Facebook and Twitter, where we put additional effort into content delivery throughout the run of the exhibition were 5.5 times and 6 times more likely to send traffic than the site average. Of course, consistent with every other project I see, both at the Powerhouse and elsewhere, actual site traffic from social media compared with organic search remained still a distant second.

On the downside, one of the biggest disappointments with the project was the lack on exit signage for the 80s web presence. Although this was planned as a key part of the exit experience for the gallery it took until nearly 9 months after launch to have it designed and finally installed. This was primarily because of a resource crunch but it highlights, despite the huge ground made up over the years in the integration of web and exhibition content, that those simple ‘last mile’ actions are still so important.

I’d wager that for the vast majority of visitors to the museum during that initial period without exit signage, we lost a huge and critical opportunity to build an even stronger community around the diversity and depth of online content. Given repeat visitation was already far stronger than for other similarly sized online exhibition sites, I wish we’d had the opportunity to see, for the entirety of the exhibition’s run, what extra impact in-gallery prompting might have had.

The site stays online now for the next 5-7 years as an online resource for teachers and educators teaching ‘modern history’ (yes, the 80s are now ‘history’). This ‘mode change’ for the site is something that is always quite challenging – and obviously the social media channels will naturally wither and eventually vanish from the web. This poses a number of issues around whether the ‘conversations’ are and should remain ephemeral – leaving only the main site and its essay and AV content the subject of preservation – or whether the social media should also be ‘preserved’ and archived.

(For an overview of the original strategy for the site, please read the earlier post)

Collection databases Digitisation Metadata Powerhouse Museum websites

Australia Dress Register – public site goes live

The first iteration of the public front end of the Australian Dress Register went live a few weeks back. This release makes visible much of the long data gathering process with regional communities that began in 2008 and continues as more garments are added to the Register over time.

The ADR is a good example of a distributed collection – brought together through regional partnerships. Many of the garments on the site are held by small regional museums or, in some cases, private collectors and families. It is only through their rigorous documentation and then aggregation that it becomes possible to tell the national stories that relate to changes in clothing over the last 200 years.

The ADR extends the standard collection metadata schema that we use for documentation at the Powerhouse with a large range of specific data fields for garment measurements and the quality of preservation. These have been added to allow costume and social history researchers to explore the data in greater detail and granularity. A good way to see the extra level of detail in the ADR is to compare a record on ADR with the same object record in the host institution’s own collection (where it is available online).

Here’s the child’s fancy dress costume from 1938 on the Powerhouse site, side by side with the same object on the ADR. (Click to view the full records)

The Resources section of the site provides volunteers and contributors without the capacity of the major capital city museums to better understand the best practice methods of preserving, documenting and digitising their garments along with a range of simple how-to videos.

The Browse and Search uses Solr on the backend and offers extensive faceting (Here’s just the discoloured garments with buttons). There are multiple views for search results with configurable list and grid views, and relevance, recency and alphabetical result ordering.

The Timeline is one of the visual highlights of the site, along with being rather cool from a technical perspective too. As the collection grows the Timeline and Browsing features will become more valuable to traverse the rich content.

There’s a lot more to go with this site and you’ll be seeing many more records contributed from around the country over the coming months.

Digitisation Powerhouse Museum websites

It was only ten years ago – bringing back to life content from an old website

Ten years ago, one of the first digital projects I had the privilege of working on in a very junior capacity was for the exhibition 1000 Years of the Olympic Games: Treasures of Ancient Greece. Timed to coincide with the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, the heavily sponsored digital component included a virtual reconstruction of Ancient Olympia which was available in 3D (with polarising glasses) in the gallery as well as in 2D online alongside a huge amount of supporting material. A little later there was even a CDROM version (remember them?) that was sent out to schools across the country.

One of the early works by Sarah Kenderdine, now at Museum Victoria, the project was amazing for its time and went on to win awards and a BAFTA nomination.

Up until about 2005 the Powerhouse managed to keep the server that the online component was running on alive. It was built on rudimentary ASP, lots of Flash, some Quicktime VRs, and critically required Zoom Image Server to serve the detailed panoramic images in the FlashPix format. Unfortunately as time passed the ability to keep the site running with all of its content intact diminished and in 2007 we had to turn the whole site off. By 2007 we’d migrated other FlashPix (FPX) content over to Zoomify and the Greek site was the only remnant using the technology and it with server upgrades the older version eventually just stopped working.

After it was switched off the historians, digital archaeologists and museum studies people who used the site as a reference or teaching aid started making contact wondering when the site would come back. Even 7 years after launch it still had a dedicated audience.

So last year we dug up one of the last remaining archival copies of the CDROM and ripped it. We were about to release it as a free downloadable ISO image file – except that when we tested it we found even it had started causing problems on Windows Vista. And of course, back in 2000, no one had seriously considered making a Mac-compatible version.

So we gave up and finally just ripped the videos and the educational PDFs from the CDROM version and popped them up on Vimeo with a basic backgrounder page.

It isn’t the most elegant solution and it is more than a little troubling to think that here’s something that cost a lot of money to make – a mere ten years ago – and only a tiny fragment of it remains usable.

Could we have made better technology choices that would have enabled more effective digital preservation?

Looking back I’m not so sure.

The key components of the site that made it so engaging and bleeding edge at the time didn’t have many (if any) alternatives. Although we’re travelling a much more platform agnostic path at the backend nowadays there’s still many early adopter technologies that we’re experimenting that almost certainly won’t work 5 years from now.

Should we be more vanilla and hold back? Or take calculated risks that some content won’t be able to be preserved?

If you’re interested in seeing what the future was like 10 years ago take a look at some of the videos that took a university render farm days to render . . .

Powerhouse Museum websites

Make some slime!

Here’s something completely non-digital that you know you really want to do . . . make some slime!

Fortunately one of my team, Kate Lamerton, has been brewing up some amazing slime in the office and she’s popped the recipe up on our children’s website. (Kate is the childrens’ producer in the web team so she gets to make and play with all sorts of cool stuff!)

The team can vouch for its ability to ‘mature’ with age. 4 days old and it is even slimier than day 1!

Powerhouse Museum websites

500 posts on Powerhouse Photo of the Day! Win a print!

Today our Photo of the Day blog is celebrating 500 posts!

There is a little prize of ‘a print of your choice’ going for the best suggestion or comment on the Photo of the Day for the next 500 posts.

The blog has been a great success for the Museum over the past 500 days and has brought a great deal of exposure to our photographic, digitisation and imaging services as well as a wealth of content and user contributions.

Powerhouse Museum websites

Crosspost – Powerhouse seeks C64!

If you were like me and grew up with a Commodore 64 as your introduction to the world of programming and hacking then this is for you.

Over on our 80s exhibition blog a call has gone out.

We are seeking one or more C64s and games! We are looking for old C64s with an interesting provenance and plenty of good stories.

Can you help us?

For the record, I had (and still have) a Trilogic Expert Cartridge – these were amazing and were invaluable for working out how things worked inside games as well. The Expert Cartridge was especially good because it was reprogrammable, meaning that every few months a 5 1/4″ floppy would arrive in the mail from the UK with updates and patches for it. My parents used EasyScript to write several long academic publications and printed them out for the publisher on a ridiculously slow daisywheel printer; and my first forays with a drum machine were with Simon Pick‘s Microrhythm – a quite excellent C64 drum sequencer.

Of course I am lobbying hard to get the intro sound sample from Epyx’s Impossible Mission into the gallery – “Another visitor . . . stay a while . . . stay forever!”

Collection databases Powerhouse Museum websites

Australian Dress Register

One of the side projects the team launched recently was the Australian Dress Register.

The Australian Dress Register will document significant and well provenanced men’s, women’s and children’s dress in New South Wales dating up to 1945. It aims to assist museums and private collectors to recognise and research their dress collections and support better care and management. It will engender an improved understanding of dress in its wider historical context and help to ensure information about its origins is recorded while still available and within living memory.

This is a collaborative database project which will have a series of public facing views being made available mid 2009. During the interim period volunteers in the community and in regional museums are using the backend to catalogue and upload significant examples of Australian dress from their collections (private and publicly held).

When the database starts to fill up the contents will be made avalable on the Powerhouse site as well as providing XML feeds to Collections Australia Network, D’Hub and other federated collection services.

Like most community projects the technology is the easy part. The difficult part lies in getting the community to form around them and use them. Fortunately the Australian Dress Register will utilise the regional reach of both the Museum’s own Regional Services Unit and also Collections Australia Network.