The NPG’s response to the Wikimedia kerfuffle

[Apparently responses are being listed on a Wikimedia page, which I suppose makes sense but please bear in mind this is usually read by about five people who know my flippant self in real life]

I haven’t been able to get the press release section of the National Portrait gallery to load, so I’m linking to an email from the NPG posted as a comment on another blog.  I’m still thinking this through, but currently the important bit, to me, is this:

The Gallery is very concerned that potential loss of licensing income from the high-resolution files threatens its ability to reinvest in its digitisation programme and so make further images available. It is one of the Gallery’s primary purposes to make as much of the Collection available as possible for the public to view.

Digitisation involves huge costs including research, cataloguing, conservation and highly-skilled photography. Images then need to be made available on the Gallery website as part of a structured and authoritative database.

Obviously, I am paid by a museum to put things online so I might be biased towards something that ultimately means my job exists – but while a government funding gap exists, someone has to pay the magical digitisation fairies. [This doesn’t mean I think it’s right, but the situation is not going to be changed by an adversarial relationship between WMF and the cultural heritage sector, which is why this whole thing bothers me.  Lots of good work explaining the Commons models and encouraging access is being undone.]

You can’t even argue that the NPG is getting increased exposure or branding through the use of their images, as there’s a big question over whether images hosted on Wikimedia are being incorrectly given new attribution and rights statements.  Check the comment about the image on this blog post, and the Wikipedia statement from Wikimedia about the image and the original image page.  

To use a pub analogy, is Wikimedia the bad mate who shouts other people a round on your tab?

Soliciting conversation and listening actively while isolating discussion

I’ve been paying more attention to The Age‘s “what’s on” listings and reviews while I’m actually in Melbourne, and noticed that their film critic, Jim Schembri, is doing a fine job soliciting responses on his film reviews.  At the end of a piece on ‘Bruno: Comic genius or witless git?‘, he asks:

What do you think? Is Bruno funny? Half funny? Not funny? What do you think of Sacha Baron Cohen? Do you agree with anything in this article? Does the author make any valid points? Is there skill involved in this brand of comedy? Or is he a middle-aged fud who just doesn’t get reality humour?

What do you think of the Shock and Guffaw School of Comedy? Should ethics factor in to it? Or are the laughs worth it, whatever the cost?

And what did you think of the saturation Bruno media blitz? Did you enjoy it? Or was it a case of “enough already”?

What is you favourite Sacha Baron Cohen moment? Is there a scene from his films or TV shows that make you laugh every time you think of it?

And if you had to choose between Bruno, Borat or Ali G, who would you most take to: (1) a wedding? (2) a funeral? (3) a kid’s birthday party?

Your valued thoughts are hereby sought.

These direct questions are a good attempt at provoking discussion. I’m never sure how well specific questions soliciting audience response work, and in this case I’m not sure what prompted them – does it lead to a more constructive discussion? Reduce flame wars or trolling? Your valued thoughts are hereby sought.

But this is the best bit, and the point I’d like to make to museum bloggers – he also responds to comments:

The design is subtly clever, in that the blog author’s responses appear inline, but are distinguished from audience comments with a heavier typeface. They’re also attributed differently – “Schembri note” versus the ‘Posted by blah on blah at blah’. This provides a level of authority while allowing direct responses to specific comments. I’m not sure how he’d respond to a bunch of similar comments – does it work if it appears as a separate comment? Would it display differently?

It’s a great example of starting a discussion and actually sticking around to listen to the results – it turns a blog post into a conversation.

The other interesting point is that there’s a very similar piece of content by the same author, Borat’s bro is fully sick in the film section of the ‘main’ site, and the sub-heading makes it sound like it’s also a participatory piece – “Bruno: a comic genius or a witless git? You be the judge” – but it’s not.  And there are no links to the blog piece, so at a guess the majority of readers would never know they could comment on the film.  Effectively, the discussion is isolated from the main site, the general reader.  I can think of a few reasons why this might be the case, but a more interesting question might be – what effect does this have?

I’m still thinking this through (particularly in relation to cultural heritage and social media) – your thoughts would be welcome in the meantime.

Melbourne museum 3.0 meetup/pecha kucha July 16

More details about the museum 3.0 meetup/pecha kucha in Melbourne on July 16:

Drinks @ ACMI Lounge from 5:30pm
About 6pm take our drinks to Studio 1 for the Pecha Kutcha sessions
After that: a selection of this side of the city’s finer drinking establishments…

We have four pecha kucha speakers so far – you could volunteer yourself (or a workmate) on the museum 3.0 ning thread.  It might sound intimidating, but it’s a lot of fun, and as a speaker it’s good because it’s all over in 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

The London museum pecha kucha was a lot of fun and I’m generally looking forward to meeting some people working in cultural heritage in Melbourne and finding out about some of the cool work going on here.

‘Shownar: reflecting online buzz around BBC programmes’ [read: museum objects]

Call me mildly obsessive (sad, even), but I got really excited when I read this and mentally replaced ‘BBC programme’ with ‘museum object’. From the BBC Internet Blog:

Today sees the launch of Shownar; a new prototype from BBC Vision which aims
to track online buzz around BBC TV and radio programmes and reflect it back in
useful and interesting ways, aiding programme discovery and providing onward
journeys to discussion about those programmes on the wider web.

Shownar aims to track the wealth of activity that takes place around BBC progammes online and work out which are currently gaining the most attention.

So, how does it work? In the first instance, we decided to focus on tracking in-bound links to programme-related pages on bbc.co.uk, so we could be confident that the discussions were actually about a BBC programme … We took a look at a range of possible suppliers, and for this initial prototype chose data provided by Yahoo! Search BOSS, Nielson Online’s BlogPulse (which indexes over 100 million blogs), and Twingly (which searches microblogging services like Twitter, Jaiku and Identi.ca for links, even when they are shortened using URL shortening services such as TinyURL and bit.ly). We are also ingesting data from LiveStats, the BBC’s own real-time indicator of traffic. Once ingested, this data is processed according to a specially created algorithm to calculate the ‘buzz measure’ for every BBC programme – more detail on the algorithm can be found on Shownar’s Technical information page.

The post discusses some of the interfaces and benefits – I think the possibilities are pretty endless, and will be exploring how it might enhance the discoverability of and harness conversations about the Science Museum’s online collections over the year.

Hat tip: @giv_p

Museum pecha kucha night

The first museum pecha kucha night was held in London at the British Museum on June 18, 2009. I took rough notes during the presentations, and have included the slides and notes from my own presentation. The event used the tag ‘mwpkn’ to gather together tweets, photos, etc. The focus of this first museum pecha kucha was on sharing insights and inspiration from the Museums and the Web conference held in Indianapolis in April.

The event was organised by Shelley Mannion, who introduced the event, emphasising that it was about fun and connecting the museum tech community in an interesting way.

Gail Durbin (V&A), takeaways from MW2009
She’s a practical person, looks for ideas to nick. Good idea as things get hazy after a conference, good intentions disappear.

First takeaway – Dina Helal let her play with her iPhone, decided she had to have one. She liked her mobile for the first time in her life.

Second – twittering was very important. Decided to do something with it. Twittering is hard, sending out messages that are interesting is difficult.

Enthusiasm at conferences is short lived – e.g. people excited about wedding site, but did they send in wedding photos? She talked to people about a self-portraiture idea, ‘life on a postcard’, but hasn’t had a single response.

RSS feeds – came away knowing we had to review our RSS feeds, had been without attention for a long time.

Learnt that wikis are very hard work, they don’t automatically look after themselves.
Creative use of Flickr – museum ‘my karsh‘ collection

Resolved that had to work with Development. Looking at something like the British Library’s – adopt a book for fathers day.

Something that bothers her – many museums think of ‘Web 2.0’ just as more channels to push out information, there’s no sense of pulling in information about visitors.

Beck Tench, one of the most interesting people she met at the conference – practice and work go together very closely. Flickr plant project. She wants to get staff involved – has meeting on Fridays, in local bar, tweets to everyone, conducts something called Experimonth.

Last thing learnt – librarians have better cakes.

Silvia Filippini Fantoni (British Museum and Sorbonne University)
Silvia makes a plea for extra seconds as a non-native speaker (and synthesis not the best feature of Italians). Lecturer in museum informatics and evaluation methods at Sorbonne and project manager for multimedia guide project at British Museum.

So her focus at the conference was mostly on guides. Particularly Samis and Pau and others. Mini workshops and workshops on the topic before and during the conference. Demos from Paul Clifford (Museum of London). Exhibitors. Lots of museums are planning to develop applications.

Interest in using mobile technology as an interpretive tool is constantly growing, especially delivered on visitors own devices. Proliferations of mobile platforms. Proliferation of different functionalities – not just audio – visual, games, way finding, web access and communication, notes and comments. Have all these new platforms and functionalities improved the visitor experience? Yes, but there are some disadvantages.

Asks: aren’t we trying to do too much? Are we trying to turn a useful interpretive tool into something too complex? Aren’t we forgetting about core audio guide audience?

Are people interested in using their own devices? Do they have the time to pre-download, do they bring their devices? Samis and Pau – the answer is no/not yet. For the medium and short term still need to provide media in the museums. Touch screen devices are easier to use. Limited functionality makes interface simpler. Focus on content – AV messages, touch and listen.
Importance of sharing and learning from best practice. Some efforts at and after MW2009 – handheldconference.org. Discussion of developing open source content management system for mobile devices – contact Nancy Proctor.

Daniel Incandela (Indianapolis Museum of Art)
He’s from America so should have extra time too. Also sick and medicated (so at least one of us will have a good time during the presentation).

Enjoys robots, dinosaurs, football and a good point. On holiday while here.

Slide – Shelley’s twitter profile – she’s responsible for him being here while on holiday.

He blogged about preparing for the presentation and got a comment from one of the pecha kucha founders – the main thing is to have fun, be passionate about something you love.

Twitterfall on the big screen was a major breakthrough at MW2009, (#mw2009 trended as a topic and attracted the attention of) pantygirl.

Digital story telling and tech can’t happen without support, Max Anderson has been dream leader.

He’s here representing IMA so going to showcase some projects – Roman Art from Louvre webisodes – paved the way for informal, agile, multiple content source creation.

Art Babble. IMA blog – ripped off other museums – gives many departments from museum a digital voice.

Half time experiment with awkward silence (blank slide). [In the pub afterwards, I discovered that this actually made at least one of the English people feel socially awkward!]

Brooklyn Museum – for him the real innovators for digital content for museums, won many awards at MW2009.

Te Papa’s ‘build a squid’ had him at ‘hello’. First example of a museum project that actually went viral?

Perhaps we could upgrade MW site? Better integration of social media, multimedia from previous conferences.

Loves Bruce Wyman – reason to go to MW2010.

art:21 – smart team, good approaches to publishing across platforms.

Wonders about agility – love new and emerging projects (?) we hear about at conferences, but how do we face an idea and deal with own internal issues?

The Dutch at Indy (were great) – but somewhere outside north America next for Museums and the Web?

Philip Poole (British Museum)
Everything I got from MW2009 can be put into one statement – spread it about. Enable your content to be spread by other people through APIs.

Does spreading out content dilute our authority? By putting it onto other websites, putting it in contact with other people. No, of course not.

Video was big at MW2009.

If going to use different platforms, will people come? We need to tailor content to different websites – can’t just build it and assume people will come. Persian coins vs. ritual Mayan sacrifice on YouTube – which will get bigger audience? [Pick content delivery to suit audience and context.]

Platforms include ArtBabble, YouTube (shorter, edgier), iTunes U. Viral content – we can put features on our website, but a YouTube or Vimeo audience are going to spread things better. iTunes, U, can download and listen on train – takes out of website entirely.

Stats are important – e.g. need to include stats of video on different platforms, make sure people above you recognise the value in that. DCMS – very basic stats – perhaps they should be asking for different stats. “If DCMS ask how much video we put on YouTube, we’d all start doing it.” [Brilliant point]

API – take content from website and put elsewhere. IMA Explore section – advertise the repeating pattern in their URLs – someone used them but wasn’t going very well, they got in contact with him and helped him succeed, now biggest referrer outside search engines. He wants to do that for the British Museum – he knows the quirks, the data.

Why the ‘softly softly’ approach? Creating an entire API interface is huge mountain, people above you will want to avoid it if you show them the size of the whole mountain.

Digital NZ – fantastic example. Can create custom search, embed on website, also into gallery and people can vote for it

The British Museum is a museum of the world for the world, why should their web presence be any different?

Mia Ridge (Science Museum)
Yes, that’s me. My slides on ‘Bubbles and Easter eggs – Museum Pecha Kucha’ are on slideshare – scroll down the page for full text and notes – or available as a PDF (2mb).

I talked about:

  • keeping the post-conference momentum going, particularly the ‘do one thing’ idea;
  • museum technologists as ‘double domain experts’;
  • not hiding museum geeks like Easter eggs but making more of them as a resource;
  • the responsibilities of museum geeks as their expertise is recognised;
  • breaking down internal silos; intelligent failure;
  • broken metrics and better project design (pitch the goal, not the method);
  • audience expectations in 2009;
  • possible first questions for digital projects and taking a whole museum view for new projects;
  • who’s talking/listening to your audiences? trust and respect your audiences;
  • your museum is an iceberg (lots of the good stuff is hidden);
  • (s)mash the system (hold a mashup day);
  • and a challenge for your museum – has the web fundamentally changed your organisation?

Frankie Roberto (Rattle)
Went to the conference with a ‘fan’ hat on, just really enjoys museums. Loved the zoo – live exhibits are interactive, visceral. Role of live interpretation – how could it work with digital technology? Everyone loves dinosaur – Indy Children’s Museum. All museums should have a carousel (can’t remember what he was going to say about it).

The Power of Children; making a difference – really powerful stories.

Still thinking about the idea of creating visceral experiences.

ArtBabble – shouldn’t generally create silos but ArtBabble spotted that YouTube wasn’t working for certain types of content.

Davis LAB – kiosks and sofa. Said ‘we are on the web’.

Drupal – lots of museums switching to it.

Richard Morgan (V&A) on APIS – ask, what is your museum good at?, and build an API for that – it may not be collections stuff.

‘Things to do’ page on V&A. Good way of highlighting ways to interact on website.

Semantic data, Aaron’s talk on interpretation of bias, relocation from Flickr photos.
Breaking down ideas about authority on where an area is bounded by. OpenStreetMap – wants to add a historical layer to that so can scroll backwards and forwards in time. [I should ask whether this means layering old maps (with older street layouts like pre-Great Fire of London, or earlier representations?). Geo-rectification is expensive because it’s time-consuming, but could it be crowdsourced? Geo-locating old images would be easier for the average person to do.]

Open Plaques – alpha project.

Thinks we won’t need to digitise in the future as stuff will be born digital (ha, as if! Though it depends where you draw the lines about the end of collections – in my imagination they’re like that warehouse scene at the end of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc and we won’t run out of things to properly digitise any time soon. Still, it’s a useful question.)

Dan Zambonini (Box UK)
‘Every film needs a villain’. In his impressions and insights from MW2009 he’ll say things we may or may not agree with.

Slide – stuff we can do vs. stuff we can’t do on either side of a gulf of perceived complexity. It’s hard to progress from one to the other. Three questions to bridge gap – how to make relevant to everyday job, how to show advantages, how to make it easy.

Then he realised should talk about personal things – people and connections made. About people, stuff that happens in the evening. The evening drinks don’t happen at UKMW – it’s a shame we have to go to the other side of the world to talk to each other. [It does it you’re at an event like mashed museum the day before – another reason to open it up to educators, curators, etc.]

Small museums vs. big museums – [should make stuff accessible to small museums.] Can get value by helping people. (He tells his ex-girlfriend that ) small is the new big. Also small quick wins. Break down the big things into smaller things, find ways can get to them through small changes in behaviour, bits of information.

How small is small? Greater or less than one day. If less than a day, might as well try it. If it’s going to take a week, not small.

Museums should share data – not just as API – share data on traffic, spill gossip on marketing costs, etc. [Information is power, etc]

Celebrate failure – admit that some things go wrong.

Bigger picture – be honest. Tell us when to shut up (on e.g. the Museum Tech Pecha Kucha‘ event on slideshare (and mine has now got an audio track, thanks to Shelley).

‘Reshaping the Art Museum’

I’m sneaking a moment from revision to point you to this thought-provoking article ‘Reshaping the Art Museum‘ in Artnews:

To an unprecedented degree, market research about the needs, wants, fears, and anxieties of visitors is shaping how museums are designed. “We got a lot of comments that it’s just overwhelming to come to museums,” says Lori Fogarty, director of the Oakland Museum of California, which inaugurates a complete reinstallation of its art, natural history, and science collections this fall. So the new galleries will feature “loaded lounges” where visitors can relax, read catalogues, or do hands-on activities, along with open spaces that accommodate up to 25 people for concerts, storytelling, or other such programs.

But a bigger change in her plan is connecting people who might never have visited art museums with the people who curate them. Fogarty calls it transparency—”breaking the fourth wall”—having curators answer questions about how and why they choose works. Visitor feedback will be encouraged, and the exhibitions, in turn, will be based on the “wiki model,” with curators representing only one voice in a mix that includes conservators, community members, and artists. “We can’t count on the fact that potential visitors were brought to museums as kids,” Fogarty says. “Many have no cultural or experiential reference; they don’t think of the museum as a place that welcomes them or has anything of interest to them.”

At the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, director Olga Viso is also using a major reinstallation as an opportunity to remake the museum into a more civic space. “We want to be in dialogue with the audience instead of in the place of authority,” as she puts it. Such efforts may mean involving the community in the organization of shows or asking people to vote on the selection of artworks. When the new installation opens in November, says chief curator Darsie Alexander, curators will hold in-gallery office hours—giving visitors insights into the way exhibitions happen, and giving the staff a chance to find out “how visitors encounter work in space—the kinds of questions they ask about art, what they find interesting, and how long they stay.”

And for all the innovations in programming, marketing, and education, Campbell argues, the core mission remains the same. “We can make ourselves more user-friendly, but ultimately one of the key experiences of visiting a museum is that moment of standing in front of an object,” he says. “Suddenly you’re responding to something physical, real, that changes your own perspective. And great museums will always do that, as long we get people through the doors.”

Final thoughts on open hack day (and an imaginary curatr)

I think hack days are great – sure, 24 hours in one space is an artificial constraint, but the sheer brilliance of the ideas and the ingenuity of the implementations is inspiring. They’re a reminder that good projects don’t need to take years and involve twenty circles of sign-off, even if that’s the reality you face when you get back to the office.

I went because it tied in really well with some work projects (like the museum metadata mashup competition we’re running later in the year or the attempt to get a critical mass of vaguely compatible museum data available for re-use) and stuff I’m interested in personally (like modern bluestocking, my project for this summer – let me know if you want to help, or just add inspiring women to freebase).

I’m also interested in creating something like a Dopplr for museums – you tell it what you’re interested in, and when you go on a trip it makes you a map and list of stuff you could see while you’re in that city.

Like: I like Picasso, Islamic miniatures, city museums, free wine at contemporary art gallery openings, [etc]; am inspired by early feminist history; love hearing about lived moments in local history of the area I’ll be staying in; I’m going to Barcelona.

The ‘list of cultural heritage stuff I like’ could be drawn from stuff you’ve bookmarked, exhibitions you’ve attended (or reviewed) or stuff favourited in a meta-museum site.

(I don’t know what you’d call this – it’s like a personal butlr or concierge who knows both your interests and your destinations – curatr?)

The talks on RDFa (and the earlier talk on YQL at the National Maritime Museum) have inspired me to pick a ‘good enough’ protocol, implement it, and see if I can bring in links to similar objects in other museum collections. I need to think about the best way to document any mapping I do between taxonomies, ontologies, vocabularies (all the museumy ‘ies’) and different API functions or schemas, but I figure the museum API wiki is a good place to draft that. It’s not going to happen instantly, but it’s a good goal for 2009.

These are the last of my notes from the weekend’s Open Hack London event, my notes from various talks are tagged openhacklondon.

Tom Morris, SPARQL and semweb stuff – tech talk at Open Hack London

Tom Morris gave a lightning talk on ‘How to use Semantic Web data in your hack‘ (aka SPARQL and semantic web stuff).

He’s since posted his links and queries – excellent links to endpoints you can test queries in.

Semantic web often thought of as long-promised magical elixir, he’s here to say it can be used now by showing examples of queries that can be run against semantic web services. He’ll demonstrate two different online datasets and one database that can be installed on your own machine.

First – dbpedia – scraped lots of wikipedia, put it into a database. dbpedia isn’t like your averge database, you can’t draw a UML diagram of wikipedia. It’s done in RDF and Linked Data. Can be queried in a language that looks like SQL but isn’t. SPARQL – is a w3c standard, they’re currently working on SPARQL 2.

Go to dbpedia.org/sparql – submit query as post. [Really nice – I have a thing about APIs and platforms needing a really easy way to get you to ‘hello world’ and this does it pretty well.]

[Line by line comments on the syntax of the queries might be useful, though they’re pretty readable as it is.]

‘select thingy, wotsit where [the slightly more complicated stuff]’

Can get back results in xml, also HTML, ‘spreadsheet’, JSON. Ugly but readable. Typed.

[Trying a query challenge set by others could be fun way to get started learning it.]

One problem – fictional places are in Wikipedia e.g. Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto.

Libris – how library websites should be
[I never used to appreciate how much most library websites suck until I started back at uni and had to use one for more than one query every few years]

Has a query interface through SPARQL

Comment from the audience BBC – now have SPARQL endpoint [as of the day before? Go BBC guy!].

Playing with mulgara, open source java triple store. [mulgara looks like a kinda faceted search/browse thing] Has own query language called TQL which can do more intresting things than SPARQL. Why use it? Schemaless data storage. Is to SQL what dynamic typing is to static typing. [did he mean ‘is to sparql’?]

Question from audence: how do you discover what you can query against?
Answer: dbpedia website should list the concepts they have in there. Also some documentation of categories you can look at. [Examples and documentation are so damn important for the update of your API/web service.]

Coming soon [?] SPARUL – update language, SPARQL2: new features

The end!

[These are more (very) rough notes from the weekend’s Open Hack London event – please let me know of clarifications, questions, links or comments. My other notes from the event are tagged openhacklondon.

Quick plug: if you’re a developer interested in using cultural heritage (museums, libraries, archives, galleries, archaeology, history, science, whatever) data – a bunch of cultural heritage geeks would like to know what’s useful for you (more background here). You can comment on the #chAPI wiki, or tweet @miaridge (or @mia_out). Or if you work for a company that works with cultural heritage organisations, you can help us work better with you for better results for our users.]

There were other lightning talks on Pachube (pronounced ‘patchbay’, about trying to build the internet of things, making an API for gadgets because e.g. connecting hardware to the web is hard for small makers) and Homera (an open source 3d game engine).

Google updates search, playing catch-up?

A quick post in case you’ve missed it elsewhere – whether in response to the ridiculously-titled ‘Wolfram Alpha‘ or to Yahoo’s ‘open strategy’ (YOS) and work on enhancing search engine results pages (SERPs) with structured data, Google have announced a “new set of features that we call Search Options, which are a collection of tools that let you slice and dice your results and generate different views to find what you need faster and easier” and “rich snippets” that “show more useful information from web pages than the preview text”. Searchengineland have compared Google and Yahoo’s offerings.

Update: some of the criticism rumbling on twitter yesterday has been neatly summarised by Ian Davis in ‘Google’s RDFa a Damp Squib‘:

However, a closer look reveals that Google have basically missed the point of RDFa. The RDFa support is limited to the properties and classes defined on a hastily thrown together site called data-vocabulary.org. There you will find classes for Person and Organization and properties for names and addresses, completely ignoring the millions of pieces of data using well established terms from FOAF and the like. That means everyone has to rewrite all their data to use Google’s schema if they want to be featured on Google’s search engine. Its like saying you have to write your pages using Google’s own version of html where all the tags have slightly different spellings to be listed in their search engine!

The result is a hobbled implementation of RDFa. They’ve taken the worst part – the syntax – and thrown away the best – the decentralized vocabularies of terms. It’s like using microformats without the one thing they do well: the simplicity.

Further, in the comments:

the point of decentralization is not to encourage fragmentation and isolation, but to allow people to collaborate without needing permission from a middleman. Google’s approach imposes a centralized authority.

There’s also a (slightly disingenuous, IMO) response from Google:

For Rich Snippets, Google search need to understand what the data means in order to render it appropriately. We will start incorporating existing vocabularies like FOAF, but there’s no way for us to have a decent user experience for brand-new vocabularies that someone defines. We also need a single place where a webmaster can come and find all the terms that Google understands. Which is why we have data-vocabulary.org.

Isn’t the point of Google that it can figure stuff out without needing to be told?