open content User experience Web 2.0 Wikis

Why Flickr Commons? (and why Wikimedia Commons is very different)

The Powerhouse is coming up to the 2nd anniversary of our joining the Commons on Flickr. Back when we joined there was only the Library of Congress and we trusted that we were making the correct decision back then. (I’ll be blogging an interview with Paula Bray around the time of the anniversary.)

A lot has changed at Flickr in the intervening time but I’m still confident that the Powerhouse made the right choice. In fact, the impact that joining the Commons on Flickr has had on the organisation has been unexpectedly significant. We’ve even started to move some photographic collections that were acquired as ‘archives’ into ‘objects’ in their own right. And photography is becoming an important marker of what we do at the Powerhouse. We’re delving into photographic competitions much more too and we’ve changed how we approach visitor photography too.

A couple of days ago Mia Ridge, Lead Web Developer at the Science Museum in London blogged a question – “Why do museums prefer Flickr Commons to Wikimedia Commons?”.

This was responded to by Liam Wyatt of Wikimedia Australia who outlined a case for why Wikimedia Commons might, in fact, be a better fit than Flickr – especially now that the Commons on Flickr is currently not taking new requests to join whilst they process the volume of existing applications.

For the Powerhouse the aim of placing some of our “no known Copyright” photography into the Commons on Flickr was to seed these photographs to a large, broader and interested audience who, in return, could add value to the collection by commenting and tagging the photographs.

Later, we’d find that other value would emerge.

The well documented Flickr API allowed for the construction of a good number of mashups and other applications to be built upon the photographs both by others and by us. We published a book, made easily and relatively quickly using the data.

For us the Flickr Commons is currently different from the Wikimedia Commons for a number of reasons –

1. Context matters a lot.

There is a reason why the Commons on Flickr has focussed almost solely on photographic collections, and that is because Flickr is a site that has been and continues to be designed for people interested in photographic images. As the Library of Congress stated in their initial rationale for joining Flickr, it was to “share photographs from the Library’s collections with people who enjoy images”. And where is the largest community of people with such an interest on the web? Flickr.

2. User experience and community

Because of this known user base Flickr has a well developed user interface and user experience which purposefully creates and helps encourage certain social norms and acceptable behaviours. The requirements of verified user accounts and personal information all work to reduce the negative effects of anonymity – critical in building a positive sense of community, even if they exclude some users as a result.

3. Managing that community

Flickr has a well developed set of community management tools and community managers who are employed specifically to ensure the community ‘plays nice’ and there is a hierarchy of escalation should it become necessary. The cost of US$25 per year is incredibly cheap for this.

4. A sense of content control

Uploaded images as well as any user generated content such as tags or comments can be removed at any time.

5. Statistics

Flickr has good enough tracking and measurement tools which are useful for checking where users are coming from, what they are looking at, and what they do. Ideally the statistics that we could draw from Flickr would be more useful and able to be downloaded in raw form and segmented – but even in the rudimentary state it is possible to see ascertain why there are sudden spikes of traffic to particular images, or when an image gets lots of comments.

The Wikimedia Commons is, currently, a pool of images which can be used for many purposes. However without visibly active community around the images they exist without a clear ‘intended purpose’. In fact they only encourage viewing or takeaway (download). For some people this is liberating – a resource without obvious legal or social constraints. But much in the same way a museum is neither a library or a “shed full of stuff”, the ability to have known manageable social constraints is in fact quite valuable.

I am pleased that Liam mentions the Wikipedia Usability Iniative and once this is completed the Powerhouse and others will no doubt explore the opportunities.

Even without direct participation in the Wikimedia Commons the Powerhouse has been interested to see that many of the images have been copied into the Wikimedia Commons. And then used to illustrate various articles in Wikipedia. This has been a fortuitous outcome but it was never a primary aim of the Commons on Flickr project – nor would it be one today. Other Commons institutions have not been as positive about this migration of content to Wikimedia.

For us, the overall community effect of Flickr and the deep engagement by a small but passionate group of Flickr users, has been the most positive result for us.

Whilst Wikipedia and Wikimedia are, in themselves, exciting projects, their structure, design and combative social norms do not currently make them the friendly or the protected space that museums tend to be comfortable operating in.

Whilst Liam (especially! 1 & 2) and many others are working hard to make Wikipedia and Wikimedia a better place for museums and their content, these are very difficult structural issues to resolve.

It is worth remembering that when the Commons on Flickr started it was the brainchild and passion of George Oates. She was able to ‘make it happen’. Now Liam Wyatt might be in a similar position – if Wikimedia were ‘less democratic’ (some might say dysfunctionally democratic). Except the structure of Wikipedia/Wikimedia makes that nigh impossible.

Nevertheless I’m excited about the strategic workshop in Denver looking at how museums might work with Wikimedia that will surface many of these issues. They are complex and many.

Conferences and event reports open content Wikis

Some thoughts: post #GLAM-WIKI 2009


Photography by Paula Bray
License: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0

(Post by Paula Bray)

Seb and I have just spent two days at a conference, in the nation’s rather chilly capital that involved a bunch of Wikimedians (wonder what that would be called) and members from the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries and Museum sector) sector. This event was touted as a two-way dialogue to see how the two sectors could work more closely together for “the achievement of better online public access to cultural heritage”.

So what do we do post conference?

GLAM-WIKI was a really interesting conference to be a part of even if some of us were questioning ‘why’ are we here. Some of the tweets on Twitter said that there is a need for some concise decisions instead of summary. I am not sure at this stage if there are complete answers and concise decisions will need to be made by us, the GLAMs.

Jennifer Riggs, Chief Program Officer at the Wikimedia Foundation summed it up quite well and asked the question “what is one thing you will do when you leave this conference?” I think this is exactly the type of action that can lead to bigger change. Perhaps it is a presentation to other staff members in your organisation, a review of your licensing polices and business models, a suggestion of better access to your content in your KPI’s or start a page on Wikimedia about what you do and have in your collections.

One of the disturbing things for me came from Delia Browne, National Copyright Director at the Ministerial Council for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Browne highlighted the rising costs the education sector is paying to copy assets including content from our own institutions. Delia stated that there is a 720% increase in statutory licensing costs and the more content that goes online the more this cost will increase. Now the GLAM sector can help here by rethinking its licensing options and look towards a Creative Commons license for content they may own the rights to, including things like teachers’ notes. Teachers can do so much with our content but they need to know what they can use. She raised the question “What sort of relationships do we want with the education sector”? The education sector will be producing more and more content for itself and this will enter into our sector. We don’t want to be competing but rather complimenting each other. Schools make up 60% of CAL’s (Copyright Agency Limited) revenue. What will this figure be when the Connected Classrooms initiative is well and truly operational in the “digital deluge” a term mentione by Senator Kate Lundy.

Lundy gave the keynote presentation titled Finding Common Ground. She brought up many important issues in her presentation including the rather awkward one around access to material that is already in the public domain. Lundy:

“These assets are already in the public domain, so concepts of ‘protection’ that inhibit or limit access are inappropriate. In fact, the motivation of Australia’s treasure house institutions is or should be, to allow their collections to be shared and experienced by as many people as possible .”

Sharing, in turn, leads to education, research and innovation. This is something that we have experienced with our images in the Commons on Flickr and we only have 1200 images in our photostream.

The highlight for me was the question she says we should be addressing “why are we digitising in the first place?”.

This is a really important statement and should be asked at the beginning of every digitisation project. The public needs fast access to content that it trusts and our models are not going to be able to cope with the need for fast dissemination of our digital content in the future if we don’t make it accessible. It costs so much to digitise our collections – so surely we need to ask this question first and foremost. Preservation is not enough anymore. There are too many hoops to go through to get content and we are not fast enough. “The digital doors must be opened” and this is clearly demonstrated with the great initiative Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program presented by Rose Holley of the National Library of Australia.

However as Lundy said during the panel discussion following her presentation was “goodwill will have to bust out all over”. There is a lot of middle ground that the GLAM sector needs to address in relation to policy around its access initiatives and digital strategies and, yes, I think policy does matter. If we can get this right then the doors can be opened and the staff in organisations can work towards the KPI’s, missions and aims of unlocking our content and making it publicly available.

Perhaps your one thing, post GLAM-WIKI conference, could be to comment on the Government 2.0 Taskforce Issues Paper and ensure that all the talk of Government 2.0 clearly includes reference to the Government-funded GLAM sector.

Policy Wikis

Help out with direct input into the Australian Government 2.0 Issues Paper

As regular readers know I am on the (Australian) Government 2.0 Taskforce.

We’ve just released an alpha version of our Issues Paper and we’d like you to add your comments and input.

I’m especially interested in input from the web developers and creative nerds, as well as from the government-funded cultural sector – who I’m working to ensure will be explicitly included in the final report.

It doesn’t matter of you are from Australia or not – in fact, I’d really like to get input from those overseas. It is the Internet after all, and a lot of great Government 2.0 thinking is happening all over the world.

We’ve used a great WordPress theme called CommentPress developed by the Future of the Book people. This allows you to add comments to any paragraph of the issues paper. I’ve found that CommentPress is better for tightly time-constrained projects than a wiki and allows for more focussed discussion and commenting.

You can also download the Issue Paper in offline formats.

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)

Interviews Wikis

Implementing an internal wiki – Dan Collins on the Powerhouse’s rollout of Confluence

Wikis are the sort of knowledge management tool that you’d immediately think of as having great value to museums. However it seems that in the sector they are rarely found outside of IT departments – if at all.

We’ve been looking at them at the Powerhouse for quite a few years now. We tried simple installs of MediaWiki (the open source tool behind WIkipedia) and a couple of hosted ‘free’ solutions – Wikispaces and pbWiki – but none of these were really suitable as an organisation-wide solution.

Recently our IT team rolled out Confluence, an enterprise wiki solution, which is being progressively implemented across the organisation on a project by project basis. Confluence is a commercial application built by Australian software company Atlassian but it has a good user community and 50% discounts for non-profits.

I spoke to Dan Collins, our IT Manager (and web enthusiast) about Confluence and why he chose to go down this path.

What were the initial internal drivers for a wiki inside the Powerhouse?

Dan Collins: Initially my team needed something that would store large of amounts of IT documentation. I was frustrated that we continually kept creating new documentation within the department, and that our servers were always filled lots of outdated and bloated Microsoft Office documents. A wiki model worked well for IT as the information in the wiki represented ‘live’ information and slowly staff began to trust it as the central location for all our departmental information.

After a short while I began to see opportunities where a similar wiki model might work well in other areas of the Museum. Our intranet (built as a stop gap in 1999) was an obvious choice as it contained lots of static information – mainly forms, policies and procedures. As a result staff rarely go to the Intranet – whereas ideally I felt an intranet should be be a hub for all types of organisational happenings – not just static documents.

A wiki model would be able to assist in reducing the bottlenecks of creating content for the intranet by radically distributing the ability for staff to create there own content in the areas for which they were responsible. Hopefully this would also increase ‘ownership’ of the intranet.

How was the choice made to select Confluence? What are its benefits? What else did you look at?

We came to use Confluence after using a few other systems along the way. Initially in the IT department we were using forum software called Invision Board. Then a CMS, Drupal, to manage our documentation. For the purposes of managing documentation Drupal worked well, and I liked that there was a vibrant user community contributing to its overall development.

However, I found that Drupal required a large investment in time to understand how all the various components and plugins fitted together. Whilst Drupal is a very flexible tool and there was never just one particular way to achieve what you were after – which has its benefits -but also posed a number of difficulties.

The Web Unit had also trialled MediaWiki for use by the Powerhouse Media Labs staff, and we had looked at a few online based solutions. MediaWiki was too unfriendly in terms of user interface, and it became clear that a hosted solution would become problematic due to the sensitive ‘internal’ content we would want it to host.

Around the same time I was looking to replace our under-performing and expensive corporate helpdesk software. We came across a product called Jira from Australian firm Atlassian. Jira provided many of the features that we were after for a fraction of the cost of commercial helpdesk systems, and it so happened that the support pages for Jira were hosted on another Atlassian system called Confluence, which was impressive in its own right, and things happened from there.

Initially I was impressed with how quickly we could get both products underway. A fairly painless install with most of the common database servers supported.

Configuration time was reduced by being able to link into our existing groups and users via LDAP. And being web based, it meant no client was needed. WebDav functionality allows easy copy of existing content into the system.

During the initial trial period I installed as many plugins as possible to get a feel as to what could be done. I was impressed with the support, and the stability of the system and I was able to get the system to where I thought it should be without the need the need for extensive customisation.

I hadn’t personally spent a lot of time using the editing features of wikis prior to using Confluence, so a bit of time was spent in understanding how it all fitted together. During this time it became that clear that the wiki model addressed a number of the issues we were struggling with in IT across the Museum – overuse of email, duplication of data on our file servers and in email, and a complicated and onerous corporate document management system.

A key benefit is the ease of use of the system – people are writing and attaching documents with little or no training. Collaboration of this nature is something we’ve not had before – staff are now sending links to documents on Confluence rather than large emails to hundreds of people, and using Confluence as the forum for centralised discussion rather than extensive email trails.

Another key feature is the ability to work with existing Microsoft Office documents – either import from Word, or work in Word and then sync back to Confluence. This means that staff don’t need to learn any special wiki markup. Keeping informed of work in other departments is done via alerts and the internal search works well.

The more people work in Confluence, the more file duplication is reduced and we can dedicate our disk space more important functions.

How is it being rolled out? Why are you using this approach?

We have been working with users across the Museum who have shown a willingness to try a new approach. Working closely with these staff have given us insights into the pros and cons of the tools.

We have been very cautious not to change things for the sake of it, and to take it slowly – a group or a project at a time. The approach has been to keep the existing systems running in parallel, but show how things could be done to greater benefit in the new. This way staff always have a fallback position if something doesn’t work as expected and need to meet a deadline.

We have found that after a few days of cautious experimentation, most staff are off and running, looking for new projects to bring into Confluence fold.

Positive word of mouth from staff who have come to across to the system makes it that much easier in gaining greater levels of adoption in areas that aren’t particularly tech savvy.

What strategies are being employed to boost its uptake and use by staff?


As much as the tool is easy to use, it does require a different approach to the normal document creation process for many staff, and this takes time. Providing detail on what can be done when using a wiki is important to convey. I’ve found that Wikipatterns has been helpful in that regards.

Lately I’ve been using a tool called Wink to capture screen shots and make videos of different functions and ways that it can be used. I’ve found these to be quite popular as people can view them when they have a few free moments.

In addition to training, supporting those users who are quick to adopt the new system has been very important. Making sure that they are across all the features and benefits will (hopefully) reduce the chances of staff reverting back to the old ways.

Support from senior management has also been key in getting people to participate. I’ve found they are very supportive as they are generally the most ‘time poor’ and can see the organisational benefit of simplified collaboration, reducing the need for meetings etc.

Do you think the wiki will accelerate or drive organisational change?

I believe it has already.

For too long we been haven’t been pursuing the best strategy for managing our day to day work. Everyone has had the standard set of tools, Word, Excel etc. However, little thought has gone into whether this is actually the best way we can be working with each other.

In a short space of time, I’ve seen people across the Museum collaborating and discussing projects that just wouldn’t of been possible using the standard Office suite.

I believe that evidence is there to suggest that it doesn’t take people long to get comfortable with the system and become active contributors. When the bottlenecks to creating content are removed – various ideas, concerns or suggestions bubble to the surface where previously they wouldn’t.

I’m excited that there is now a way that I can better understand what my colleagues across the Museum are working on, and that they can also engage more with the work of the IT team.

As an organisation we’ve been very focussed on using the web and various social media tools to engage with the public, and I see that now we can use some of these technologies to better engage with our work colleagues.

Web 2.0 Wikis

Googlepedia/Knol and Wikipedia

Open Culture provides a withering examination of Google’s Knol project and in so doing draws out some of the strengths of the Wikipedia approach in terms of collaborative production.

In the discussion of the Knol project, Dan Colman speaks of some the fundamental shortcomings in the Knol approach, shortcomings that Wikipedia’s approach has been able to get around. Whilst museums have been hesitant to engage with Wikipedia, the high volume ‘open’ approach to content creation holds a lot of opportunity for museums versus the traditional very low volume ‘closed’ top down approach.

Although the screenshot provided by Google nicely featured a Stanford University scholar writing on “Insomnia,” the reality is that few experts of this stature will take the time to contribute. Take my word for it. I’ve spent the past five years trying to get scholars from elite universities, including Stanford, to bring their ideas to the outside world, and it’s often not their first priority. They just have too many other things competing for their time. More often than not, Google’s knols will be written by authors with lesser, if not dubious, credentials. The mediocre entries will be many; the great ones, few. And this will leave Google’s content in a weaker position relative to Wikipedia.

To be clear, Wikipedia’s overall talent pool may not be much better. But Wikipedia’s model has an important built-in advantage. A community of writers focusing on the same text will correct one another and improve the overall product over time. The final text becomes greater than the sum of its authors. Meanwhile, Google’s model, which will produce a proliferation of lackluster entries on the same subject, doesn’t include any kind of strong self-correcting mechanism that will improve the entries.

(hat tip to Chronicle of Higher Education)

Web 2.0 Wikis

Wikipedia, Wikiscanner, revealing the hidden power struggles over knowledge production

Last week featured a rather robust debate in the office about whether museums should encourage the use of Wikipedia, and, perhaps participate in adding and editing entries themselves. Now most Fresh + New readers will be familiar with the arguments – they’ve been around since Wikipedia began.

Of course what most anti-Wikipedians, if they don’t dismiss it outright, claim is that ‘Wikipedia is only as good as its last edit’. But to me that is missing the point. Wikis, and Wikipedia as an example of a wiki, are interesting because they reveal the history of edits, changes, revisions and re-versions. They reveal the collaborative and argumentative nature of knowledge production.

Well, almost as if to prove my point, along comes Virgil Griffith’s Wikiscanner which has gotten coverage in Wired and is struggling under the burden of the resultant high traffic load.

Wikiscanner basically matches the IP addresses of those doing edits with information about their network provider – known IP address ranges of government departments, corporations and the like. By doing this Wikiscanner is beginning to reveal the complex web of individuals, and increasingly, corporations that are using Wikipedia to argue and dispute versions of the ‘truth’. You can start to get an idea of the otherwise hidden agendas and power struggles over knowledge and information quite quickly . . . .

Griffith says he launched the project hoping to find scandals, particularly at obvious targets such as companies like Halliburton. But there’s a more practical goal, too: By exposing the anonymous edits that companies such as drugs and big pharmaceutical companies make in entries that affect their businesses, it could help experts check up on the changes and make sure they’re accurate, he says.

Collection databases Folksonomies Museum blogging Web 2.0 Wikis

A reminder about ‘participation inequality’

I’m busy preparing a couple of new and remixed presentations for delivery in the northern hemisphere in the next few weeks and Tony Walker over at the ABC reminded me about this excellent summary of Participation Inequality by usability evangelist Jakob Nielsen.

How to Overcome Participation Inequality

You can’t.
The first step to dealing with participation inequality is to recognize that it will always be with us. It’s existed in every online community and multi-user service that has ever been studied.

Your only real choice here is in how you shape the inequality curve’s angle. Are you going to have the “usual” 90-9-1 distribution, or the more radical 99-1-0.1 distribution common in some social websites? Can you achieve a more equitable distribution of, say, 80-16-4? (That is, only 80% lurkers, with 16% contributing some and 4% contributing the most.)

Although participation will always be somewhat unequal, there are ways to better equalize it.

In our collection database tagging represents less than 0.01% of activity on the site. But, because we also do some neat search tracking we can combine a very low level of tagging (folksonomy) with our existing rich taxonomies and the ‘read wear‘ trails left by users in browsing the site to enhance the user experience for everybody.

Others ask me – “I have a blog but no-one ever posts comments, why?”. The answer to which is usually, “are you writing your posts in a way that leaves space open for people to respond simply and quickly?”.

The danger in all this quick uptake of social media amongst the cultural sector is that we often over estimate how much our audiences want to particpate. Sure, in our physical spaces we see them interacting with our on-floor interactive experiences but we then make the mistake of thinking that this will transfer over to the online space. Participation is not the same as interaction – interaction is a much more transient activity whereas participation generally requires effort over time. My advice in the online space is to implement solutions that require, as Nielsen writes, “zero effort” to participate – this is why we do so much work around user tracking and making that tracking simultaneously transparent and, paradoxically, invisible.

Try it.

Here’s my well-trotted out example – search for ‘cricket’ in our collection database.

What does it recommend as ‘related searches’? Other sports and some other words as well usually – it changes dynamically over time which reflects the different patterns of usage and association over time.

Why? Because other users like yourself have told it that these words are related to ‘cricket’.

Have they done so explicitly? No. They just browse the site and their behaviour tells our system that certain terms are related. There is ‘zero effort’ on the part of the user.

How? Ahhh, that’d be telling . . . come to one of my future presentations and find out.