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.
Mia Ridge is the lead developer at the Science Museum in London. She approached us in 2010 to use our collection database in her Masters research project which looks at the impact of different interfaces in museum collection-related ‘games’. Her research project is up and running at Museumgam.es where you can partake in a variety of different collection description activities.
We’ve had tagging on our collection database since 2006 and the results have, after an initial phase of interest, been quite mixed. During 2011 we’re rebuilding the entire collection database from the ground up and we’ve been rethinking the whole idea of tagging and its value in both metadata enhancement and community building.
I am particularly excited by Mia’s research because it looks explicitly ways of enhancing the opportunities for metadata enhancement of the ‘least interesting’ objects in online museum collections – the ones that have minimal documentation, never get put out on public display, have unknown provenance. These objects make up the vast bulk of the collections of museums like the Science Museum and the Powerhouse, and whilst sometimes they connect online with family historians or specialist communities, they do require a certain amount of basic documentation in order to do so. Similarly, being at the far end of the long tail they don’t generate enough views and engagement to be able to effectively ‘validate’ crowdsourced contributions.
I’m hoping we can use Mia’s findings to help us design better minigames in our new collection database, and I’m also hoping others, especially those outside of the museum community, will use her findings to build better games with our collection API as well as those of other museums.
Mia answered some questions about her project whilst snowed in in London.
Q – What was the inspiration/s behind Museum Metadata Games (MMG)?
The inspiration for the museum metadata games I’ve made was my curiosity about whether it was was possible to design games to help improve the quality of museum catalogue records by getting people to create or improve content while having fun with collections.
I’m also exploring ways to encourage public engagement with the less glamorous bulk of museum collections – I wondered if games could tap into everyone’s inner nerd to create casual yet compelling experiences that would have a positive impact on a practical level, helping improve the mass of poorly catalogued or scantily digitised records that make up the majority of most museum collections.
People ask for access to the full records held by museums, but they rarely realise how little information there is to release once you’ve shared those for objects that have been on display or fully documented at some point. Museum metadata games are a way of improving the information as well as providing an insight into the challenges museum documentation and curatorial teams face.
The motivation to actually build them was my dissertation project for my MSc in Human-Centred Systems. I’ll keep working on the games on MMG after my project is finished, partly because I want to release the software as a WordPress plugin, and partly because now that the infrastructure is there it’s quite easy to tweak and build new games from the existing code.
Q – What do you think are the main challenges for crowdsourcing metadata in the cultural sector?
Quite a few projects have now demonstrated that the public is willing to tag content if given the chance, but the next step is properly integrating user-created content into existing documentation and dissemination work so that public work is actually used, and seen to be used. The people I’ve interviewed for this project are so much more motivated when they know the museum will actually use their content. Museums need to start showing how that content is enriching our websites and catalogue systems. In some interviews I’ve shown people the tags from Flickr on objects on the Powerhouse collection site, and that’s immediately reduced their scepticism.
My research suggests that results are improved when there’s some prep work put into selecting the objects; and while museums can build games to validate data created by the public, I think a small time investment in manually reviewing the content and highlighting good examples or significant levels of achievement helps motivate players as well as encouraging by example. However it’s often difficult for museums to commit time to on-going projects, especially when there’s no real way of knowing in advance how much time will be required.
Museums also need an integrated approach to marketing crowdsourcing projects to general and specialist audiences.
And it might seem like a small thing, but most museum crowdsourcing sites require registration before you can play, or even check out how
the crowdsourced task works, and that’s an immediate barrier to play, especially casual play.
Identifying gaps in existing collections that can realistically be filled by members of the public or targeted specialist groups and then tailoring gameplay and interactions around that takes time, and the ideal levels of prototyping and play testing might require a flexible agency or in-house developers. This became apparent when I found that the types of game play that were possible changed as more data was added – for example, I could use previously added content to validate new content, but if I wasn’t writing the code myself I might not have been able to work with those emergent possibilities.
Q – Can you give some examples of what you see as ‘best practice’ in metadata crowdsourcing both from the cultural sector and also from elsewhere?
The work of Luis von Ahn and others for the ‘games with a purpose’ project at Carnegie Mellon University has inspired many of the projects in the cultural heritage sector.
Also I think Brooklyn Museum have done a great job with their tagging game – it’s full of neat touches and it feels like they’ve really paid attention to the detail of the playing experience.
I also like the experience the National Library of Australia have designed around digitising newspapers. The Dutch project Waisda? was designed to encourage people to tag multimedia, and seemed to produce some really useful analysis.
Q – What is MMG specifically trying to determine/ascertain with Dora, Donald and the Tag challenges?
My original research question was “which elements of game mechanics are effective when applied to interfaces to crowdsource museum collections enhancement?”.
Over the life of the project, my question changed to ‘can you design data crowdsourcing games that work on ‘difficult’ types of museum content? e.g. technical, randomly chosen or poor-quality records?’ and ‘can you design to encourage enhancements beyond tags (but without requiring more advance data cleaning, selection or manual game content validation)?’.
The designs were based around user personas I’d created after research into casual games, and the tagging game, Dora seems to work particularly well for people close to the design persona, which is encouraging.
I think I’d revisit the personas and create a new one for the fact-finding game (Donald) if I was continuing the research project, and I’d re-examine the underlying game mechanics to deal with the different motivations that would emerge during that process. I’d also like to tweak the ‘success’ state for Donald – how does a player know when they’ve done really well? How does the game know which content is great and which is just ok, if it can’t rely on manual review by the game producers?
The ‘tagging activity’ was created as a control, to test the difference game mechanics made over the simple satisfaction of tagging objects.
Q – What happens to the data after your dissertation?
I’ll pass it onto the museums involved (PHM and SciM) and hopefully they’ll use it. I’ve noticed that people have tagged objects in games
that aren’t tagged on PHM site, so I think the content already supplements existing tags.
Q – What do you think of the debates around ‘gamification’, motivation and rewards?
Gamification isn’t a magic elixir. There’s a risk that it all sounds really easy, and that museums will be tempted to skip the hard work of thinking about what a successful experience looks and feels like for their project, audiences and content, choosing their core goals and designing a game around them. If you don’t understand what engagement, fun and learning mean for your content, you can’t build a game around it.
Q – What mistakes do you see museums making with gamification?
I think I covered most of the burning issues in ‘challenges’ above… Requiring the visitor to sign-up to start playing is a huge barrier to participation, and in most cases it’s trying to prevent something that wouldn’t happen anyway – like spam. I haven’t been running my games for long but they’ve been posted widely on Facebook and twitter and I’ve not had any malicious content added yet, and there’s only been two spam attempts in over 500 turns on the two games.
In the evaluation I’ve done, people have said they’re more motivated when they think a museum will actually use their data. If you can show how it’s used, people are much more likely to believe you than if you just tell them.
Q – How much granularity are you tracking with MMG? (By this I mean are you segmenting behaviour by gender, age, location etc?)
I’m using two evaluation methods – in-depth interviews alongside play tests, and releasing the games to the public and seeing what kinds of
data is generated.
For the second, I haven’t tried to collect demographic data as I was more concerned with analysing the types of content generated and looking for factors such as:
Image quality e.g. black and white vs colour images
Technical vs social history objects
Photos vs objects
Extent of existing content – title, dates, places, description
‘Nice’ vs reference images
I’m also looking at factors like number of tags or facts per session, bounce rate, number of repeat sessions, sign-up rates vs play rates, time on site; and analysing the data to see if the types of content created can be usefully categorised.
If you change your working relationship to your audience, you will understand that audience in a new way. The tools that support those two steps also support collaborations that produce insights not likely to be found any other way, framed in genres altered by collaboration and by the social tools that made it possible. Tools, genres, partnerships, models of authority and active citizenship all change, and so does the community’s understanding of itself and its history at the same time.
For those who have learned how to look, the Internet reveals layers of inventive food culture liberated from traditional limitations — including the journalist’s earlier understanding of audience — by new speed of publishing, connectivity, innovation . . . Hesser’s team saw need, opportunity, and tools in place to create a new genre of participatory cookbook writing, too, on the Internet …an online platform for gathering talented cooks and curating their recipes…a new community-building venture…It would be democratic and fun…and together they would produce cookbooks without giving all the authority back to experts. Once again, Hesser had the experience of asking people to join in and finding that they loved being invited.
The parallels to the changes in museums – first rise of education and public programmes, and in recent times the rise of the social web and co-curation – are obvious.
It reminded me of John Fiske’s comments, predating the social web, way back in 1989, from Reading the Popular (Routledge);
The resources – television, records, clothes, video games, language – carry the interests of the economically and ideologically dominant; they have lines of force within them that are hegemonic and world in favour of the status quo. But hegemonic power is necessary, or even possible, only because of resistance, so these resources must also carry contradictory lines of force that are taken up and activated differently by people situated differently within the social system. If the cultural commodities or texts do not contain resources out of which the people can make their own meanings of their social relations and identities, they will be rejected and will fail in the marketplace. They will not be made popular.
We’re hoping that by using Facebook we’ll be able to answer more detailed questions and potentially reach a wider audience.
Unlike our friends in natural history museums the Powerhouse doesn’t have publicly accessible Q&A facilities like Museum Victoria’s Discovery Centre, even though we do have a Research Library that does take private bookings. Also, unlike the Art Gallery of NSW, we don’t have public ‘appraisal’ days. Despite this, you wouldn’t believe the volume of emails we get that start with “I’ve been cleaning out the attic and found . . . can you tell me more about it?”.
This is the chance to freely ask those questions and all those ‘behind the scenes’ things you always wanted to know.
Senior online producer Renae Mason and curator Erika Dicker (who also edits the Museum’s Object of the Week blog) are behind this year’s effort and I spoke to Renae about the event –
F&N: How have you prepared curators for the day?
I’m hoping our fans already find the museum to be a special place that is audience-focused and accessible. There are a range of things that we do within the physical confines of the museum, such as curator-led ‘behind the scenes’ tours of our collection and talks with Q&A sessions, that align us with these goals. ‘Ask A Curator Day’ is, in my mind, a natural extension of these activities, it’s just taking place online instead.
So when Erika approached me with the idea to participate in ‘Ask A Curator Day’ we had a quick brainstorm about which online channel would be best to use and how we could prepare our curators for the day.
I chose Facebook, because it’s our most active ‘fan’ space to date and I know how addicted Australians are to Facebook, which was another good reason to further invest in the platform.
We then invited our 28 curators to an interactive session on social media in the museum, finishing up with the option to stick around and receive practical help with getting started on Facebook – for those who didn’t already have work-related accounts.
The response was encouraging.
Approximately half of our curators were able to make it along to the session and most of them went through the sign up process on Facebook and learned a lot more about those critical ‘privacy settings’. Those who couldn’t make it on the day requested we repeat the workshop again and we happily obliged.
After those two sessions, we now have 12 of those 28 curators signed up to Facebook with dedicated work accounts that clearly flag their roles and areas of expertise in their bios (in keeping with the Museum’s social media policy). They are now ready to volunteer their time to ‘Ask A Curator Day’ and I reckon that number may even increase a little more by next Wednesday.
F&N: What do you hope to gain from it?
Ask A Curator Day has really come along at a perfect time for us. By targeting participation directly at curators, the event has helped me to demonstrate the relevance of social media tools in their daily working lives.
People who work in the digital areas of museums are always going to be early adopters of technology and experiment with new tools as they become available. But as platforms like Facebook and Twitter have matured, attracting a wider range of audiences and uses, our internal challenge is around how to ‘mainstream’ social media activity across the entire organisation.
A sustainable, healthy social media presence should represent the diversity of people who work here and their contribution to the museum – and not just through the ‘official’ channels of the Museum’s blogs and website.
Through the workshops, we’ve already increased understanding of social media, encouraged more productive cross-departmental work and introduced a good number of curators to Facebook, including the Principal Curators. All fine ‘wins’.
Now to make it ‘epic’!
Think up some great questions and then, come September 1 . . . ask them!
Museums have been pretty good at setting up camp in Facebook. Most have fan pages and groups (and there are many ongoing discussions as to whether groups or pages are ‘better’).
But what matters about all of these activities is whether they are reaching and engaging people who otherwise wouldn’t be. Or are you engaging with the same people in new ways?
Pete Warden’s work has been getting a lot of coverage recently – especially now that he is on the cusp of releasing a huge mountain of Facebook data for academic analysis – and his Fan Page Analytics tool is quite a useful way of quickly seeing how diverse your fans really are. It uses anonymised preference data from 100 million public Facebook profiles – which will skew towards the ‘average Facebook user’ – probably excluding tech-savvy privacy-aware readers of this blog!
Whilst it is early days there’s a lot of promise in tools that look at fan data in these ways.
If you can identify similarities between the fan membership of your own institution and those of others you can start to think of new partnerships and collaborative opportunities.
The Powerhouse Museum has several fan pages so let’s see what the overlap is between the fans of say, the Powerhouse Museum, and one of the festivals that we run – Sydney Design.
We can see that fans of the Powerhouse are more likely to also be fans of other museums but that Sydney Design fans are a more diverse bunch in their fandom – magazines, events, festivals. This reveals opportunities and possibilities.
This short post is for everyone who naively asks about the “ROI of social media” and whether “websites can be proven to result in museum visitation”.
Two years ago Bob Meade wasn’t a regular visitor to the Museum (despite being directly in one of our “target demographics”) let alone a user of our website.
Then we released a bunch of photographs to the Commons on Flickr. These peaked Bob’s interest and reminded him that the Museum existed in his very own home town. (You can read more about that in an interview with Bob from last year – part one, part two.)
It is important to understand that this wasn’t the result of a (social media) “marketing strategy” – it was the result of making valuable museum content broadly available and then engaging our communities in honest, personal conversations.
If you are in Sydney, then come along and hear him speak on September 6.
Or is this some kind of emergent co-collaborative net-art?
Even the Flickr community isn’t quite sure. Here’s a few comments from the image.
what a pity all that notes on it!
What made people decide to hijack this lovely/hilarious photo with notes? I love the effect, I just wonder how it happened.
Big Lion Head says:
Personally speaking the adding of multiple boxes and notes works marvelously on a number of levels. There’s the level of obvious frivolity and humor which ties in nicely with the original theme of the image itself ie. a bit of a laugh. There’s also a privacy factor in that eventually, the sheer volume of notes/boxes will render the image impossible to see and thus affording the subject a little privacy, dignity and respect because let’s face it, setting up a human skeleton in this way doesn’t exactly display a huge amount of respect for the dead. That is of course unless the ‘sitter’ knew well the ‘placer ‘ and indeed asked for that picture to be set up for him. (Doubtful but possible all the same)
There’s also the fact that the adding of notes is adding to the impact of the image from a contemporary artistic viewpoint. Some of the comments are very thoughtful and left-of-center, the massive volume of opinions somehow gives the image a whole new dimension otherwise forgotten, unseen and unimagined by the original creator. I personally would be ‘chuffed to bits’ if one of my own images took on such vibrant attention. (edited)
Personally I’m happy that this sort of interaction is able to take place on Flickr but doesn’t need to travel with the image everywhere else it goes. It is clearly part of Flickr culture and illustrates why an organisation might expect and tolerate different forms of interactions with their ‘assets’ in different environments.
– who is tweeting on behalf of the Council (the web team based at the Library)
– why they are doing it
– their reply policy
– how to stop them following you
The clarity here is excellent and a model to base your own institution’s Twitter information page on. I am also impressed that they have experimented and been open about the difference between Twitter communication and more ‘traditional’ forms of contacting Council – this ‘evolutionary’ approach is to be commended.
As many readers know, Paula Bray, our manager of Visual and Digitisation Services, has been working on a paper for Museums and the Web looking at the impact of the Commons on Flickr on our image sales business.
Paula’s paper has been published over at Archimuse and if you are going to be in Indianapolis next week you’ll be able to get the visually enhanced interactive version.
Over on our Photo of the Day blog, Paula has added some updated figures that give a clearer picture of the impact of the Commons. Have a read and feel free to ask questions either here or on Photo of the Day. I’ll make sure Paula gets them.
We are celebrating our 1st birthday in the Commons on Flickr tomorrow and have an exciting announcement waiting . . .
Much like other museums we’ve started in earnest committing to engaging collaborators in exhibitions from the earliest stages possible. Our next two big(-ish) exhibitions are using different methods to collate, curate, and select content and ideas.
Our upcoming exhibition on Signs which will open around the time of Sydney Design 09 in August has just launched a Flickr group focussed on collecting the best, strangest, and ‘altered’ signage from around Australia.
By encouraging the use of a Creative Commons license we are hoping that some of these images will be featured in the exhibition and those that are geo-tagged may end up being used for walking tours. There will be specific challenges issued to the group over the coming months so if you have some great photos of signage around Australia, join up and participate. 6 days in we’ve already collected 173 photos form 114 people!
Another exhibition planned to open a little later this year is focussing on Australia in the 1980s. Now given the period in focus we’re operating on three different fronts. Firstly we launched an exhibition development blog written by the two curators, Peter Cox and Rebecca Bower. The blog introduces and teases out the key exhibition themes and is allowing the curatorial staff to ‘test’ ideas and ‘talk out loud’ about their plans.
Second, the blog links to a Flickr group where, like the Sign Design group, we are inviting people to submit photos of themselves and others in the 1980s. This is going to be a tricky challenge as relatively few people people have digitised their photos from the 1980s compared to the huge volume of digital born material of current times. We see this as an opportunity.
Thirdly there’s the Facebook group – an obvious choice – where we’re expecting a different kind of community will emerge around the exhibition content – less image-based and more conversational.
(Apologies to regular readers – it has been very busy and the blog has had to lay idle. However a large backlog of posts which will emerge over coming weeks along with the fruits of some exciting projects.)