“Download costs restrict spread of mobile learning”

Report from the BCS, Download costs restrict spread of mobile learning says:

As mobile devices with internet access become more common, the rise of learning on the move is edging closer. Its uptake is, however, still hampered by the cost to download large volumes of data and the multiplicity of browsers.

Well, yes – but when will that be solved? And how?

Reduced download charges will probably be lead by the music industry, who want us to download ringtones and chart songs.

Electronic exhibit templates?

Ideum and the Association of Science-Technology Centers are looking for feedback on “a project that will allow us to develop, test, and disseminate three open source software templates that will allow museum professionals’ to assemble electronic exhibits for the museum floor.”

They’ve put together a survey “to gain insight into the state of electronic exhibits at a variety of museums, to gauge interest in the Open Exhibits software templates, and to better understand museums’ technical expertise and constraints”. You can read more at their original blog post or go straight to their survey.

They don’t really define an ‘electronic exhibit’ but perhaps that’s part of the exercise. They also say they’ll share the results with everyone who took part, which is nice.

IE8 and web standards

A quick pointer to the Joel on Software piece ‘Martian Headsets‘ on IE 8 and standards:

The IE 8 team is in the process of making a decision that lies perfectly, exactly, precisely on the fault line smack in the middle of two different ways of looking at the world. … it’s the difference between “idealists” and “realists”.

“On creativity”

It’s written for designers, but I think it’s also extremely relevant to geeks.

Plus, it’s a useful article to help me explain to friends why I love what I do – it’s a chance to solve interesting problems and to try and do something better every day in a particular environment (they get the bit about working with fantastic content and people straight away).

It also presents a good argument for ‘constraints’ such as accessibility and standards.

A List Apart, On Creativity:

Creativity is technical and analytical, not expressive (as in self-expression). It is a filter through which perception and output pass, not a receptor or an infusion (as in the case of inspiration). Creativity may require or be enhanced by inspiration, but the two are distinct forces. (These facts are vital in discriminating between appropriate and inappropriate descriptions and applications of creativity.)

Creativity is an inborn capacity for thinking differently than most, seeing differently, and making connections and perceiving relationships others miss. But most importantly, it is the ability to then extrapolate contextually useful ways of employing that data: to create something that meets a specific challenge. By this definition, creativity is merely a tool; it does not convey skill. For a dedicated few, though, this inborn capacity is then further augmented by certain disciplines, including:

  • ongoing curiosity,
  • the desire and habit of looking more deeply into things than others care to,
  • the habit of comparing stimulus with result, and
  • a habit for qualitative discrimination.

If you are a designer worth your salt, you know that no design project begins with creativity. Instead, it begins with client- and/or context-specific discovery, and lots of research to help you understand the fundamental nature of the challenges at hand. All designers must guard against the urge to invest in specific creative ideas before becoming intimately familiar with the contextual landscape of a design project.

Move your FAQ to Wikipedia?

Mal Booth from the Australian War Memorial (AWM) makes the fascinating suggestion: they should move their entire Encyclopaedia to Wikipedia. Their encyclopaedia seems to function as a fully researched and referenced FAQ with content creation driven by public enquiries, and would probably sit well in Wikipedia.

In Wikipedia and “produsers”, Mal says:

“Putting the content up on Wikipedia.org gives it MUCH wider exposure than our website ever can and it therefore has the potential to bring new users to our website that may not even know we exist (via links in to our own web content). With a wikipedia.org user account, we can maintain an appropriate amount of control over the content (more than we have at present over wikipedia content that started as ours, already put up there by others).

Another point is that putting it up on Wikipedia allows us to engage the assistance of various volunteers who’d like to help us, but don’t live locally.”

He also presents some good suggestions from their web developer, Adam: they should understand and participate in the Wikipedia community, and identify themselves as AWM professionals before importing content. I think they’ve taken the first step by assessing the suitability of their content for Wikipedia.

It’s also an interesting example of an organisation that is willing to ‘let go’ of their content and allow it to be used and edited outside their institution. Mal’s blog is a real find (and I’m not just saying that because it has ‘Melbin’ (Melbourne) in the title), and I’ll be following the progress of their project with interest.

I wonder how issues of trust and authority will play out on their entries: by linking to the relevant Wikipedia entries, the AWM is giving those entries a level of authority they might not otherwise have. They’re also placing a great deal of trust in Wikipedia authors.

Mal links to a post by Alex Bruns, Beyond Public Service Broadcasting: Produsage at the ABC and summarises the four preconditions for good user-generated content:

  • the replacement of a hierarchy with a more open participatory structure;
  • recognising the power of the COMMUNITY to distinguish between constructive and destructive contributions;
  • allowing for random (granular, simple) acts of participation (like ratings); and
  • the development of shared rather than owned content that is able to be re-used, re-mixed or mashed up.

Adam’s post lists key principles that anyone “looking to develop successful and sustainable participatory media environments” should take into account. These points are defined and expanded on in the original post, which is well worth reading:

  1. Open Participation, Communal Evaluation
  2. Fluid Heterarchy, Ad Hoc Meritocracy
  3. Unfinished Artefacts, Continuing Process
  4. Common Property, Individual Rewards

Museums as social spaces – the good, the bad, and the (ugly) conversations of others

I’ve linked to two articles about museums as social spaces or the behaviour of the public in museums; one refers to virtual and the other to physical space but the issues are related.

In museums, social situations, control and trust, Jennifer Trant says:

as soon as you put museum collections in a public place, the public will do what they do …. search logs show us that many look for ‘nude’ … and if you let people comment, they will: they will tell you about your typos; they will tell you that their child could have made that painting; and they will argue about the significance of works. they will also tell you things that you might never have known, and you can learn from that. but what happens when two branches of a family choose your museum’s site as the venue for a dispute about what was ‘true’ family history?

She also makes the point that museums “can’t demand control” and have to trust that users will respect their content when they allow users to use their collections in the users’ personal space.

This is one issue that probably causes a lot of anxiety within museums at the moment. We’ll only really find out whether users will respect our content when we let them respond to it. What kind of visitors have the means and self-motivation to comment on, link to pages or display images, or otherwise respond to cultural heritage content?

On another note, is it worse to be disrespected or ignored?

I’m just quoting one more bit from her post before I go on, because I thought it was worth repeating:

“there are a number of different value propositions for distribution of reproductions of works of in their collections. there may still be some great icons that will sell. but in many cases the value of having a collection known may outweighs worries about lost revenue, particularly when the images being released on the public web really aren’t large enough to do that much with.”

So from visitors respecting content, to visitors respecting other visitors, and perhaps to whether museums respect the visitor experience…

Giles Waterfield relates his experience of the crowded New York MoMA in The crowds swamping museums must be tackled – soon and makes some good points about “the over-population and over-use of the museum space”:

“the predominance and ready availability in our society of visual images can mean that apart from the (sometimes over-exposed) icon, works in a gallery risk becoming another form of rapidly-absorbed consumer fodder. … visitors at many contemporary art museums now often behave similarly, pausing only to take pictures of celebrity works”

This matters because:

“looking at art is a difficult experience, one that has to be learnt and that requires concentration. Little art was created specifically for the museum or gallery, at least until recently, and the museum is not necessarily the best place to appreciate it. If the museum experience becomes one in which the visitor is regularly concerned with negotiating a way through the crowds and avoiding noise, the status of the museum as a vehicle for displaying art becomes highly questionable.

…the series of subtle, intense and inter-linked experiences that are created require an appropriate environment. The Demoiselles may just about survive, but quieter works of art drown and the carefully considered relationships between them disappear when the pressure of visitors means it is hardly possible to concentrate or to view more than one work at a time, if that.”

His article is specific to art galleries, and the types of attention, learning and reflection may well be different for art works and social history objects; but the effect of interactions between the space in which the object is seen and of encounters with other visitors is interesting.

In my own experience, I have to force myself to go see blockbuster exhibitions because I dread the crowds – not only can is be really difficult to have a decent look at the art or objects; the sheer number of people means that tempers are shorter and the atmosphere is slightly more ‘Oxford Street on a Saturday’ than ‘quiet temple of contemplation’.

If you give up waiting for a chance to read the captions or panel text over someone else’s shoulder, it’s easy for objects to appear only as visual entertainment.