‘Organisational change’ session at MW2009

I was chairing the session so my notes are a bit sketchy. It’s worth reading the full papers and following the slides online.

Intro notes: it’s an interesting moment for the sector, maturity of approaches to the web. Turning the analytical gaze inwards, working towards a more effective, integrated and considered use of technology. This brings new challenges in managing expectations and demand. Wider consultation means adapting our language and understanding, but the benefits of collaboration are worth it.

Organisational Change for the On-line World – Steering the Good Ship Museum Victoria
David Methven, Head, ICT, and Timothy Hart, Director, Information Multimedia and Technology, Museum Victoria, Australia.  Slides: http://www.slideshare.net/museumsandtheweb/tim-hart-david-methven-organisational-change-for-the-online-world-steering-the-good-ship-museum-victoria

Tim Hart started, talking about their in-sourcing model; build capability, drive money otherwise spent outsourced inside the org. Interruption by David! Trying to change org culture, ‘blah blah blah’. They used an audience volunteer for dramatisation!
Therapy for Tim. Circle. Telling people what we should be doing, not how. Changing work practices. Not consulting us, asking us what we want to do and how we should change what we’re doing.
Process. Once strategy was done, job not done. Didn’t understand how much ownership the org wanted of the strategy. People who weren’t involved in the process kicked up.
Established exhibition production processes.
Interesting conceptual model. Relationship.
Internal experience of applications, IT systems.

Down To Earth: Social Media and Institutional Change
Patricia Deiser, Museum voor Communicatie; and Vincent de Keijzer, Gemeentemuseum, The Netherlands. Slides: http://www.slideshare.net/museumsandtheweb/vincent-de-keijzer-patricia-deiser-down-to-earth-social-media-and-institutional-change

Vincent and Patricia: addressing people who are not willing or able to come to the museum. New roles for the public. Make use of knowledge, time, enthusiasm of the public.
Brave new world, head spinning. But had to get down to earth. Colleagues were being polite, but no one was actually doing anything. Realised approaching it in the wrong way – presenting it as something everyone is doing, we should be doing it. But should try to convince them about what would benefit them in these web 2.0 things. Had to seduce them. Much harder to do. Asked experts from outside the museum to help develop online strategy. Stop talking with people outside the museum, start talking with people inside the museum about this. Let people discuss it among themselves. Let them go online, learn about it for themselves. Low profile platform for staff to experiment. Start with your own, internal community, build a community from there.
Continuous access to cultural heritage with university of Amsterdam. Built a platform for museum staff, for ideas, proposals, projects. Asked Patricia, as a student, to research, interview colleagues. Outsider perspective.
Machiavelli quote.
Patricia’s research: How do people interact with public, how much do they know about web technology, do they use it themselves; what are they enthusiastic about?
Talked about research process. Showed colleagues examples of other things. Asked colleagues to research their presence online on e.g. Flickr, see what people had already put out there.
Models of staff members from the research: Lecturer – likes to prepare thoroughly, then make a publication/presentation of it. One-way focus. they send their knowledge out to the public, not interested in feedback from people who aren’t also scholars.
Fear of losing expertise if everything goes online.
Educators – not people in education dept, label for group. More into interaction, want some feedback . Teacher – pupil relationship. Afraid of examples where people could load UGC onto website.
Presenters – same attitude to communication as educators, but more advanced in web technology.
Interactors – already working with the public, do want to have interaction with public, but not advanced with technology. Old school education departments
Connectors – same attitudes to public, but advanced in using web technology.
Mapped staff into the categories. Difficult diagram to show internally! Scale of communication style (one way, two way focused) and use of technology. Difficult to get everyone into connectors corner, but at least get people to move up scale on use of technology.
Communities of practice.
Everything that goes onto desk goes onto website.
Still needs a lot of social skills, persuasion.

After the Heroism, Collaboration: Organizational Learning and the Mobile Space
Peter Samis and Stephanie Pau, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, USA. Slides: http://www.slideshare.net/psamis/after-the-heroism-collaboration-organizational-learning-and-the-mobile-space

Stephanie and Peter: digital and analogue resources. Benefiting from experience of other institutes either as staff change or working with other orgs.
Interpretive goal process. Cross departmental dialogue and interpretive brainstorm process. Workshop – answers to basic questions to help formulate a strategy.
Key questions – what’s the rationale for this project? Why here, why now?
List 1 – 3 main visitor take aways.
Who’s the intended audience, and why?
What didactic elements are planned? What other modes of interp inc multimedia should we consider?
Case studies. Showing how the process worked in exhibs with really different requirements.
Peter – evaluation studies. Different modes of use – wall texts vs multimedia guides.
“What a visual interface brings to the party…” Break picture into components, not a slave to a minute and a half overview.
What people want – pre-loaded vs call in.
Sharing usage figures – ace.
What information did on-site visitors not get? if they didn’t have the cell phones. Breakdown of what content was available by which methods.

Running notes, day 3 (Saturday) of MW2009

These are my running notes from day 3 of the Museums and the Web conference – as the perfect is the enemy of the good I’m getting these up ‘as is’. I did a demo [abstract] in the morning but haven’t written up my notes yet – shame on me!

The session ‘Building and using online collections‘ included three papers, I’ve got notes from all three but my laptop battery died halfway through the session so only some of them are already typed – I’ll update this entry when I can sneak some time.

Paul Rowe presented on NZMuseums: Showcasing the collections of all New Zealand museums (the linked abstract includes the full paper and slides).

National Services Te Paerangi (NSTP).

4 million NZers, 400 museums.  NZMuseums website – focal point for all NZ museums. NSTP administers the site, Vernon Systems is solution provider.

Each museum has a profile page including highlights of their collections. Web-based collection management system.

What needs to be in place for small museums to contribute? How can a portal be built with limited resources? What features of the website would encourage re-use of the data?

Some museums had good web presences, but what about the small museums? Facing same issues that small or local govt museums in the UK face.

Museums are treasures of the country, they show who we are. Website needs to reflect that.

Focus groups – volunteers are important – keep it simple; keep costs low; some places had limited internet connectivity; reservations about content being on the internet were common.

Promoting involvement to the sector – used existing national monthly newsletters to advertise workshops and content deadlines. Minimum of 20 items for placement on site to avoid ‘box ticking’ [some real commitment required]. Used online forum for FAQs.

Lack of skills – NSTP were trained so could then train staff and volunteers in museums. Digitising, photography for the web.

Had to explain benefits to small museums. It gave them an easy start to getting an online presence.

They overcame resistance by allowing watermarking and clear copyright statements; they showed existing museums sites that allowed tagging; promoted that would help them reach a diverse dispersed audience.

First tag on site – ‘shiny nose‘. First comment was someone admitting they’d touched the nose on a bronze sculpture.


Could also import Excel spreadsheets as content management system didn’t exist at early stage of project. Also provided a workaround for people with lack of internet – the spreadsheet could be posted on CD.

API provides glue to connect eHive (Collections Management System) and NZMuseums site together.  

Tips for success
Use OS software where possible; use existing online forums and communication networks to save answering questions over again.

90% of these collection items not previously available on the internet. 99% of collection items have images.

[Kiwis are heroes!  Everyone was incredibly modest about their achievements, but I think they’re amazing.]

Next was Eero Hyvönen on CultureSampo – Finnish Culture on the Semantic Web 2.0: Thematic Perspectives for the End-user (the linked abstract includes the full paper and slides).

Helsinki semantic web thingies
Part of national ontology project, Finland
Vision – international semantic web of cultural heritage. Marriage between semweb and web 2.0

Challenges – content heterogeneity, complexity 

Other challenge relates to the way cultural content is produced – Freebase, Wikipedia, open street maps, etc, 

Semweb for data integration; web.2 0 approach for content production

Automatically enriched by each piece of knowledge.

In Finnish the sampo is a magic drum that makes everything possible.  

Portal intended for human users and machines. Trying to establish a national way of producing content so can be published automatically.  

Infrastructure – 37,000 class concepts in ontology. MAO, TAO – museum ontologies, collaboratively built ontologies, then mapped to national system. End user sees one unified ontology. [A little pause while I pick my jaw up from the ground.]  66 vocabularies, taxonomies and ontologies available online as services, can be used as AJAX widgets. Some vocabularies are proprietary so can’t be published online in the service.

28 content providers, 22 libraries and museums and some international associates like Getty places, Wikipedia.

16 different metadata schemas. [Including some for poetry!]

134,000 cultural collection items (artefacts, books, videos, etc)

285,000 other resources (places, people etc)

Annotation channel for content items – web 2.0 type interface.

Semantic web 2.0 portal

Portal users – for humans, Google-like but semantic search. Nine perspectives into cultural heritage. Three languages. Recently view items, recently commented items.  

Map view.

With one line of JavaScript on own website, can incorporate CultureSampo on own website.

[Sadly my laptop died here and the rest of my notes are handwritten.  You can probably get the gist from the published paper and the slide, but the coolness of their project was summed up by this tweet: Musebrarian: What can you do with a semantic knowledgebase? Search for “beard fashion in Finland” across time and place. #mw2009

It might not sound like much, but the breadth of content, and the number of interfaces onto it was awe-inspiring.]

Sadly my notes from Brian Dawson’s paper, Collection effects: examining the actual use of on-line archival images are also still on notepaper.  The paper was a really useful examination of analytical approaches to understanding the motivations of people using cultural heritage collections.

A quick summary of my MW2009

I’m posting this now to get it out of the way (and done in April) though I still haven’t caught up on the Museums and the Web 2009 ‘backchannel’, tidied my notes or read all the papers I wanted to read. I may update this later as I remember things I wanted to say.

Some strong themes (memes?) emerged during the conference. In general, while lots of great sites and projects were presented, including some lovely examples of projects breaking new ground in best practice, some of the most important ideas weren’t about presenting new, flashy things but rather reflected a maturity in approach, and a consolidation of the role of the web in museums.

Breaking out of the bubble
From the informal conversations and unconference sessions proposed it seems to be an issue lots of people are struggling with – how do we communicate with managers, curators, educators to get them excited about the possibilities of the web; Nina‘s question about how we bring the levels of participation we’re seeing on museum websites into the physical museum; how does (or how should) an integrated web program change an organisation; how do web teams go from mavericks to maturity?

And leading on from that: the post-conference challenge – do one thing in April

Conferences are great, especially one as social as Museums and the Web. Those inspiring late night conversations, the unexpected connections, putting faces to names… but I sometimes come away from conferences as cynical as I am enthused because before you know it, you’re back at the same conference next year and nothing has changed.
The ‘do one thing different when you get back’ idea that suffused the crowd-sourced closing plenary really inspired me. Using the post-conference high to make one small change or proactively share with colleagues rather than letting it dissipate seemed to appeal to lots of people – I wonder if there’s a way of finding out who’s taken up the challenge. I hope I’m going to keep the inspiration to do the Right Thing, to keep pushing for quality when resources and energy are limited and projects are many.
I also realised that after all the inspiring conversations of last year some of us came back from MW2008 and ended up with BathCamp, so while the post-conference crash back to reality may be unavoidable, it doesn’t mean you can’t get something done anyway.
So I’ve been working away on the museums API wiki (possibly better known as ‘museums and re-usable shareable data’ but hey ho), tagging links ‘mw2009’ in delicious, and following up some contacts with email conversations. There’s a lot more I should be doing, and if I haven’t yet been in contact with you about something we discussed, let me know.

The unconference
I want to write a proper post about how it worked so that other people would feel comfortable running one of their own, but in the meantime, I’ll just say that I was thrilled that it seems to have been so useful for people.

The impact of Twitter was really evident at this conference. Apart from finding people for food or drinks, I used it most usefully to suggest an informal meetup of people interested in museum APIs during the Friday, and to find a whole bunch of people to go and eat noodles with. You can get a sense of the progress of the conference from my MW2009 tweets (from my ‘event’ twitter account).

On a personal note, I also made up a new description for myself as I needed one in a hurry for moo cards: cultural heritage technologist. I felt like a bit of a dag but then the lovely Ryan from the George Eastman House said it was also a title he’d wanted to use and that made me feel better. And I won a ‘backchannel award‘ for blogging from the conference, woo!

As well as earlier posts on the opening plenary and the unconference session on failure I still have more notes to dump into posts, I’ll tag them all so you can find them under MW2009.

Notes from the closing plenary, MW2009

These are my quick and dirty notes from the closing plenary of the 2009 Museums and the Web conference .  If I’ve quoted you but gotten your name wrong, I’m very sorry – please let me know and I’ll correct it.  I haven’t put links in for anyone yet so I’ll be editing the entry anyway.

‘We are the program.’  Awards for blog posts, tweets, Flickr photos then David Bearman invited people to come up and talk about what they’ve learnt, what they’ll take away.

Nina, Museum 2.0 – inspired by Max’s keynote address. But she didn’t feel that difference in the institution. Didn’t see the transparency and openness that you get on the web, on their dashboard. Not saying they have to do that, but wants to bring up idea of participatory ghetto… forming relationships with visitors on the web, who’ll show up at museums and wonder why the same relationship isn’t reflected in the building. Pushing in institutions to establish parity, not to give up on physical space also being somewhere for openness and transparency. IMA – had experience of extreme cognitive dissonance. How can you start the conversation, taking great stuff from web world into physical environment of institutions. Her first time at MW.

Heather from Balbao – new to conference and museum world, great introduction.

Nate, Walker Art Centre – I always leave inspired, seen it happen every time- a month worth of trying new things, then it trickles off and fades… go to the wiki and take the post-conference challenge to do one thing in April – choose one task that you can achieve by the end of April. Distributed agile development … beyond API, everyone can benefit from going home and immediately doing just one thing. [eek I feel weird taking notes about my ideas]

Frankie, Rattle – be excited about tin mining.

Brian, UKOLN – danger that losing accessibility cos doing innovative things, but there have been some really great examples. Universally accessible – pushing it (the definition) of it forward.

Seb, Powerhouse – need to bring people in, curators, management.

Julie (?) – boundaries between web and physical boundaries – problematising the name of the conference. Is ‘web’ starting to constrain what we’re about?

Nina – comment on that – conference in US called WebWise – lousy content but less funded projects, mostly director level people who go. How do we get these people in a situation that’s more blended with the kind of people who are here?

Victoria, Smithsonian? carrying on Nina and Seb’s point – spends first month being excited, but directors etc aren’t going to come to conferences like this. You may have five minutes to articulate why something is important – and it’s not heard when it’s someone outside, even if you’ve been saying it on the inside for years. Having someone who’s succeeded from outside, doing snippets of video or whatever – convincing.

David – seeing what can share back. Spend time at conference demanding people write papers, share slides… would really love for the post-conference discussion that takes place online to incorporate thoughts, experience about what doing. Extension into social space of a discourse we’ve never really had – how do you use that post-conference excitement… how do organisations change, which is becoming the centre of the discourse… take it further, keep talking to each other about how do you make it work.

Jennifer – the thing we can do by the end of April, if you write a report, share it with your colleagues. Let people pinch your ideas, send it out. Share the reports as well as the stuff that happens when we’re right here.

Jon Pratty – we need a more social media within the museum.

Peter Samis – can remember this camaraderie in 1991… hearing it just as fresh now with people who are coming to their first conference, loving it… this is going to have legs, it’s going to keep running, continue this spirit throughout the year.

Rich (another Rich) – haven’t really felt the amount of community before, but have been coming since 1999. Being able to catch up on the things he missed while he was here.

Brian – people in the community can fall out, it’s happened in the UK. People have strongly held views, need to depersonalise disputes, constructive criticism.

Scott (?) – we’re not the only people talking about these subjects, it’s happening in higher education, the commercial sector, not a whole of discussion here about what’s happening out there and what impact it has here. Would be neat to do some headlines on what’s going on in the world outside museum, add to the implications for this audience.
[This final session probably contributed quite a bit to my summary of MW2009 – I’d written the ‘MW2009 challenge’ a little while before (after discussions at the ice cream API meet) and it was wonderful to feel so much excitement (tempered with realistic cynicism) in the room about the positive changes we could make when we went back to our home institutions.]

The museum/academic divide, museum labels and mobile-accessible interpretation…

This post from the Smarthistory blog, Writing the Museum Label on a Wiki (and some other ideas), very neatly brings together some of the proposals and conversations from MW2009.

The authors suggest two ‘notions’ to bring about greater collaboration between museum educators (in the broadest sense) and academics, starting with the premise that:

For some time now, we have been publicly questioning the division that exists between two professional groups tasked with educating the public about art: those in museums (curators and educators) and those in the academy (art historians). These two communities share expertise that is sought by the museum visitor and the student, yet they rarely meet, too often do not attend the same conferences, and almost never collaborate.

I won’t pre-empt their notions here – go and read the article, but I just wanted to highlight this quote:

Can the tired modernist fiction that the direct experience of the object must remain unencumbered by the frame of context really still be operative?

I really hope not!

(As an aside, my inner web geek is hugely amused by the irony of the ‘403’ contained within the URL of the article – 403 is the HTTP status code for ‘access forbidden’.)

Max Anderson, Indianapolis Museum of Art, ‘Moving from virtual to visceral’

[My very rough notes, I’ve been distracted and missed bits, probably misheard things, etc, but at least it gives people who weren’t there an idea of the flavour of the event.]

[Update – the video is online, you may find that easier to digest.]

Max Anderson, director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art – opening plenary at Museums and the Web 2009, ‘Moving from virtual to visceral’.

Behind the applications we’re producing, for an art museum in particular, we’re looking for something beyond exposure to things. Felt, deep, elemental emotions.

Museums tend to define selves in terms of number of objects, acres, visitors… difficult to translate that endeavour online in a way that sticks. If you get too caught up in plumbing of technology, you forget about the outcomes. “In addition to bragging rights, what features of a museum should be online?”

[missed bits]

So much of what goes on behind scenes is critical to experience of front of house, give visitors an experience of that behind the scenes stuff.

Volunteers are important. Enormous swathe of public who could be continually engaged…

Review of what happens on site in museums: flirting, gossiping, looking, shopping, eating. Looking is wedged among all other activities. Is it heresy to admit that looking and learning are only a small part of a museum visit?

George Hein, visitor survival curves… pathways through museums. Opportunities to construct a narrative – but this isn’t the normal approach to museum attendance. Choice and opportunity should govern what happens, rather than doing what we think the public demands.

Average time in front of a work of art is 3 seconds, it’s ‘glancing at picture to confirm that’s what you’ve just read about’ on the wall label. There are precious few moments when people linger in front of objects – it’s like the Museum of Drag Racing. But look at the percentage of time learning versus that spent living in university. So much of time in college is extrinsic to learning. Give permission for that kind of experience in institutions, make a bond with visitors that’s visceral, not just virtual.

Excessive orientation can compromise the experiential/learning environment.

There’s too much clutter in experiential terms, we’re torn constantly by stimuli. ‘Virtual’ museum programs – we fall in love with the technical solutions, but it’s not obvious that they have the intended effect, and are also good for audiences.

An interactive map is still a map – show what’s behind the velvet rope, it’s sensual, appealing.

Databases – data cleaning before putting things online vs put everything online now and see how much have to clean up. Publishing databases about collections is just a baseline, just the beginning of something. Having high resolution images is, for lots of visitors, not much better than credits at the end of a movie. It’s necessary, but not sufficient. We’ve only gotten to building the ground floor – we need to take visitors to the whole movie, get beyond showing them the credits.

Eschew the virtual, promote the visceral. What we collect has stories behind it, telling the stories is the key issue. What are the avenues for achieving something visceral in a museum visit?

Suspend commercial intrusion and attempts at mind control. Bruegel King.

Privatisation takes away the possibilities of adventure and play. Encourage voyeurism – show staff in action. Public wants to see how museums operate and function. CSI is a hit because it shows what goes on behind police work. We should take a cue from that appetite and enthusiasm.

[Missed a bit]

People enjoy being near original objects. Revel in the thrill of proximity to the original object.

Foster projection into another time, place or condition.

Disorient visitor, give them permission to move away from comfort zone. Encourage playtime, dream time.

Help visitors savour and retain memories and empathetic response. The empathetic response is the memory maker.

Help visitors apply that memory and empathetic response to daily life. Take the lesson embedded in museum objects, find the link to continued application to life after you’ve left the museum. Extensions of learning beyond what happens on site.

Teach now to practice connoisseurship at the mall – aesthetic standards around quality, etc.

Preferable scenario to onsite orientation – use pre-visit planning and post-visit environment. Encourage visitors to get ready before visit online beforehand. Kids who come on school visits to the Indianapolis Museum of Art get memberships for families, they can come back and share their learning with their parents.

Pre-visit – choose a path based on visit duration or thematic interest. Wander through the museum behind the scenes online. Show how complicated it is to run museums, “not as simple as switching on the lights and admiring things”. Sharing this is useful, particularly given current climate.

On-site: deviate from planned path, improvise. The visitor doesn’t need to be tied to our taxonomies. Make room, permission for visitor to experience it that way.

Post-visit – join Facebook, etc. We want to be part of your lives, not just a visit.

Encourage participation by telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We’ve been good at promoting and marketing and cheering ourselves on but not necessarily good at telling the truth.

It’s about shining a light on how far you’ve got to go, not just what you’ve got to show off.

IMA had layoffs, their dashboard showing employee count dropped. If a museum has more people in development than in education or interpretation, then is bereft.

One of the truths we need to get out to visitors… permanent collection isn’t permanent. Refreshment of new works of art on view. Objects are not permanently on display, they’re in storage, lent, borrowed. Rhythm [of display, I think]. Permanent collections are invitational as well.

Attendance figures – “we don’t necessarily think that’s true but that’s the number we quote”. Is it a clicker with guards, estimates?

Mapping visitors by postcode, what postcodes aren’t represented? Did he just say ‘statistical porn’??

Making institutions more a part of your life, talking about collections. Also showing deaccessioning. Policy on deaccessioning on web – ‘a no brainer’. Also put up db of works planning to deaccession as well as ones have deaccession. He has the uncomfortable feeling that he shilling for deaccession but they’re really just trying to be transparent about process. Next process is to link funds from deaccession to artworks acquired with funds from its sale.

Charity Navigator. Don’t trust what you see on the web. Methodology is flawed. We should present those stats ourselves, don’t wait for someone else to be arbiter of our fortunes.

Why wait for someone else to publish your financial info, do it yourselves when it’s ready.

Steve.museum – more empathetic. Opera in Italy in 19thC was riotous but now is antiseptic – don’t make that mistake in museums.

Transcriptions, search terms is the magic of ArtBabble. Search results will take you to that second in the video. [Awesome!]

Click, Brooklyn Museum. Crowd-curated exhibition. Brooklyn Museum API – on screen, [missed stuff]. Te Papa. [Woo, check the love!]

Don’t bet the farm on commercial applications that may go away.

[The end! I’ll update when slides go online and tidy and correct if I can get more accurate info. Questions to come when I get a moment.]

Oh noes, a FAIL! Notes from the unconference session on ‘failure’ at MW2009

These are my really rough notes from the unconference session at Museums and the Web, written up quickly in order to capture the essence of the discussion and open it up for comment.

Susan Chun, Dana Mitroff Silvers, Bruce Wyman and I began and were later joined by Seb Chan and Jennifer Trant.

I explained my motivation in suggesting the session – intelligent, constructive failure is important. Finding ways to create a space for that conversation isn’t something we do well at the moment.

Susan started the conversation by pointing out that there were different definitions or types of failure. Defining ‘failure’ more precisely is useful.

Types of failures include: over budget, badly implemented, badly specified, future failures.

Dana pointed out that we needed to define success as well as defining failure. A more nuanced understanding of failure is important, especially when hoping to encourage more people to talk about failure. Discussion about choosing the right metrics for success – the right metrics may vary depending on whether you’re a funder or a department or whoever.

Funding models can set you up for failure.

Bruce pointed out that it’s not the failure that matters, it’s what you do with the failure.

Some apparent failures may not really be failures.

Are you funding the process or the product?

Not having the mechanism for exposing the knowledge is a failure.

The definitions of failure and success need to include the net gain for an organisation or in new/improved processes as well as the product.

What kind of environment is needed so that people can publish judgements of their own success or failure?

Susan suggested the MCN project registry would be a good place for this information.

What if it was routine to talk about what failed or succeeded in each project? Funding should reward people who talk about failures. Discussion about space for reflection on ‘lessons learned’ in project summation.

Agency is important – you talk about the failures of your own projects, other people don’t dob you in.

Dana – talking about failures in a project should be a normal part of MW papers.

Label it ‘lessons learned’, not ‘failure’.

Susan – [Remove roadblocks about what happens if funders hear you think your project failed in some way -] Talk to funders about requiring an examination or reflection of each project for failure in the same way the issue of open source development was tackled. Pro-active approach!

Me: when you’re putting in for funding, you should have to show that you’ve talked to people with similar projects about the lessons they learned.

Susan – put ILMS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) reports online. [A small but practical thing to do]. Change the culture of secrecy.

Funding can be a carrot and a stick. Without that, institutional change is hard.

Points of resistance (some summing up):
understanding how to define failure/success
culture of secrecy
fear of exposure to funders
lacking the jargon to describe failure (which would also help normalise the process of discussing it openly)

Jennifer – if there aren’t any negative consequences, why can’t you talk about it?

General discussion about the need for early, continual dialogue about projects. It’s difficult to talk about failures if you’re not already talking about the project. Paraphrasing Seb -talking about it already in an informal context, like a blog, may help here.

Iterative, transparent reporting is important. It also helps other people talk about failures.

Susan – other causes of failures are project that never happened. Whether they missed their time, didn’t get funding, whatever. Consider those as failures too, and talk about them. Everyone benefits, whether that’s the person with the great idea that never got to see it happen, or people who’ve built on it later.

Talk about nascent projects. Exposing them to comment early can help prevent failure. Like the old crack about voting, public discussion about projects should happen early and often!

Hoarding ideas is pointless.

We need a template for talking about failure. Prompts or questions for consideration.

It’s not just overall project failures, it can include institutional, departmental or structural failures.

Dana suggested confessional sessions, perhaps at the next Museums and the Web conference. Jennifer and Seb took it up, suggesting YouTube captures with disguised voices and silhouettes to make it easier, and encouraging discussion of failures by type or theme.

Discussion about the role of commentators, respondents in sessions. The voice of the one that didn’t work.

Find an acceptable form of critical questions so that people can help prevent other projects failing, make the most of the experience out there.

Putting my money where my mouth is, one final comment from Seb was about a possible failure of the unconference sessions in not getting people together again at the end to report back. This was received constructively, and might happen during the final plenary.

Clay Shirky at Smithsonian 2.0

Below are my notes from watching the video of Clay Shirky at the Smithsonian 2.0 event on YouTube. I figure they might be useful to someone, though I’m sure I missed interesting points, and I didn’t take notes on bits that sounded like his talk in London a little while later.

[I’ve been thinking generally about the Smithsonian 2.0 event, and realised that it doesn’t matter that from the outside, the outcomes weren’t groundbreaking – a lot of what they were saying seemed self-evident, or least what is generally seen as The Right Thing to do in cultural heritage tech circles – the process was the important part.

It’s not so much what they’re saying, it’s the fact they’re having the conversation. Their institution made room, literal as well as metaphoric, for the conversation, and they (presumably) invited people from all over their organisations to participate in those conversations. It’s the importance of the visibility of the project, the big name guests, the resources invested – that’s the groundbreaking part.]

Anyway, onto the talk.   There were some good soundbits – for ten years we had ‘new media capabilities but old media messages’. In the days of super-distribution, ‘the critical moment for media isn’t production, it’s distribution’.

[This next paragraph (or 16’50” – 19′ in the video) is transcribed a bit more closely as I wanted to quote it in an article]
‘Look at what Flickr’s done. They’ve reversed the usual pattern of interest groups. Usually it’s ‘let’s get everybody who cares about High Dynamic Range photography in a room, and then we’ll share what we know’. Gather, then share. On Flickr, the pattern is ‘share, then gather’. The artifact itself has created the surface to which the people adhere. It’s created the environment for the conversation. Every artifact is a latent community. Which is to say, every artifact, in addition to being interesting to the people who come to look at it, or read it or watch it or what have you, has additional potential value in that all the people who are looking at it might also be interested in talking to each other. You can imagine a hub and spoke system, where the artifact is at the hub… the group that assembled here didn’t have to know in advance they cared about High Dynamic Range photography, all they had to know about was that they liked that picture. If you think of the artifact as a hub, and there are spokes leading into it, which are the people who care about it, you can draw the line now going in both directions, it’s not just that the artifact goes outwards and people can view it, people can talk back. Everybody sort of gets that hub and spoke model.  What’s really astonishing is the lateral lines, the lines you can draw among the spokes, because there are many more of those lines to be drawn than there are [of] the hub and spoke. So if every artifact is a latent community, much of social value comes from having these kinds of convening platforms available for people to start sharing value in communities of practice.’

The enormous cost of professionally managed artefacts… Library of Congress project on preserving digital artefacts… metadata in cataloguing system not about managing ideas, about managing artefacts. (Ontologies) force organisations to be mind readers and fortune tellers.

What could go wrong? People take digital assets, repurpose them. It’s already happened.  [So it’s ok.]  So if repurposing already happens, how do we get value out of it?

Fear of being expected to control everything with your name on it; society has internalised idea that you’re not.  [So it’s really ok.]  As well as the kinds of uses you don’t have to expect, you get the kinds of uses you don’t have to feel responsible for.

If taking tax dollars, should do something for the public. When implement new forms of sharing, it also changes the way things happen in the institution. It would be easier for a curator to find something from one of the Smithsonian museums because of the Commons.

Question – if it’s good, will they always come? Ans: no. Qu: how do you deal with that? Ans: the effect of failure on an institution is likelihood times cost. Spend more time discussing whether something is a good idea than would have spent just trying it (yes!). It’s easy digitally to fail fast, cheaply, easy to learn from failure.

If you want to have something spread to the public, try it a few different ways. Don’t make one perfect system then assume it will pass on to the public, be propagated. Have a few different ways of trying things. On average, the stuff that interests people propagates; you can’t treat it as a distributed media buy. Have an economic structure where you can afford prizes cos haven’t put all eggs in one basket.

Question – following up on tagging on Flickr – reactions to when moustaches were being tagged – people felt it degraded the value of the content.  Ans: aggregate value of tag is high, create cross-cutting collection. But it’s always possible to find the banal stuff. Objection is not that people are saying these things, it’s that “we have to hear it now”. Previously separated spheres of expert and public discourse…

Question – how do you measure value – two different ways of measuring it, how do you bring them together?  Ans: so many different kinds of value, no institution can create them all, but they can host them. So, how much is this costing us and is there any reason to stop it from happening?  (But was the qu about digitisation and other things with up-front costs?)

If you think value is only things that you buy and manage and control… being a platform increases value for and the loyalty of the people who go there.


The results of JISC’s dev8D ‘developer happiness’ prize have been announced – congratulations to List8D and their “web 2.0-friendly reading lists” – it’s something I’d love to see in my own uni course.

And yay the Three Lazy Geeks, because we came second! That was a lovely surprise, and really the glace cherry on the icing of the cake because the whole event was a great experience, and I really enjoyed working with Ian and Pete, as rushed as the whole thing was.