Design constraints and research questions: museum metadata games

Back in June I posted parts of my dissertation project outline in ‘Game mechanics for social good: a case study on interaction models for crowdsourcing museum collections enhancement‘. Since then, I’ve been getting on with researching, designing, building and evaluating museum metadata games (in my copious spare time after work, in a year when we launched three major galleries).

I’m planning to blog bits of my dissertation as I write it up so there’ll be more posts over the next month, but for now I wanted to contextualise the two games I’m evaluating at the moment.  In the next post I’ll talk about the changes I made after the first solid round of evaluation.

Casual games
The two games, nicknamed ‘Dora‘ and ‘Donald‘ are designed as casual games – something you can pick up and play for five minutes at a time.  Design goals included: an instantly playable game that provides stress relief, supports a competitive spirit (but not necessarily against other people), inherently rewarding experience, simple game play and puts ‘fun before do-gooding’.  The games were designed around a specific research-based persona (‘Meet Janet‘, pdf link) – hopefully it’s exactly right for some people who are close to the persona in various ways, and quite fun for a wider group.  It won’t suit everyone, not least because definitions of ‘fun’ and expectations around ‘games’ can be deeply individual.

Design constraints
The games are also designed to test ideas about the types of objects and records that can be used successfully, and the types of content people would be able to contribute about the less charismatic and emotionally accessible reaches of science, technology and social history collections – this means that some of the objects I’ve used are quite technical, not all the images are great and small variations on object records are repeated (risking ‘not another bloody telescope’).  While this might match the reality of museum catalogues, would it still allow for a fun game?

The realities of a project I was building in my free time and my lack of graphic design and illustration skills also provided constraints – it had to be browser-based, it couldn’t rely on a critical mass of concurrent players to validate actions or content, it had to help the player dive straight into playing and overcome any fears about creating content about museum objects, and it had to use objects ingested through available museum APIs (I selected broad subjects for testing but didn’t individually select any objects).

I then added a few extra constraints by deciding to build it as a WordPress plugin – I wanted to take advantage of the CMS-like framework for user logins, navigation and page layout, and I wanted the code I wrote to be usable by others without too much programming overhead.  I’ll need to tidy up the code at the end, but once that’s done you should be able to install it on any hosted WordPress installation.  I’m making a related plugin to help you populate the database with objects (also part of an experiment in the effectiveness of letting people choose their own subject areas or terms to select playable objects).  I’ll talk more about how I worked with those constraints and how they informed the changes I made after evaluation in a later post.

Different games for different purposes
I’ve been thinking about a museum metadata game typology, which not only considers different types of fun, but also design constraints like:

  • the type and state of the collection (e.g. art works, technical/specialist and social history objects; photographs and other media vs objects; reference collections vs selected highlights; ‘tombstone’ vs general vs interpretative records)
  • the type of data sought including information curators could add if they had infinite time (detail on the significance of the object, links to other subjects, people, events, objects, collections, etc); information that can be extrapolated from the existing catalogue record; things curators couldn’t know (personal history, experiential accounts about the design, manufacture, use, disposal etc of objects); emotional responses; external specialist knowledge; amateur/hobbyist specialist knowledge; synonyms in every day language; terms in other spoken languages

I’ve also been playing with the idea of linking different game types to different ‘life stages’ of museum collection metadata.  For example, some games could help a museum work out which of its catalogued items seem more interesting to the public, others help gather tags, create links between items or encourage players to research objects and record new information or links about them, and others still could work well for validating data created in earlier games.  The data I gather through evaluating the games I’ve designed will help test this model.

So, all that said, if you’d like to play (and help with my evaluation), the two games are:

Donald’s detective puzzle – find a fact about an object
Dora’s lost data – a simpler tagging game

What would a digital museum be like if there was never a physical museum?

This is partly an experiment in live-blogging a conversation that’s mostly happening on twitter – in trying to bridge the divide between conversation that anyone can jump into, and a sometimes intimidating comment box on an individual blog; and partly a chance to be brave about doing my thinking in public and posing a question before I’ve worked out my own answer…

I’ve been thinking about the question ‘if physical museums were never invented, how would we have invented digital museums?‘ for a while (I was going to talk about this at GLAM-WIKI but decided not to subject people to a rambling thought piece exploring the question).  By this I don’t mean a museum without objects, rather ‘what if museums weren’t conceived as central venues?’.  Today, in the spirit of avoiding a tricky bit of PHP I have to deal with on my day off, I tweeted: “Museums on the web, social media, apps – stories in your everyday life; visiting physical museum – special treat, experience space, objects?”.  By understanding how the physical museum has shaped our thinking, can we come up with models that make the most of the strengths, and minimise the weaknesses, of digital and physical museums? How and where can people experience museum collections, objects, stories, knowledge? How would the phenomenology of a digital museum, a digital object, be experienced?

And what is a ‘museum’ anyway, if it’s not represented by a building?  In another twitter conversation, I realised my definition is something like: museums are for collections of things and the knowledge around them.

Then a bit of explanation: “Previous tweet is part of me thinking re role of digital in museums; how to reconcile internal focus on physical with reach of digital etc” (the second part has a lot to do with a new gallery opening today at work, and casting my mind back to the opening of Who Am I? and Antenna in June).

Denver Art Museum’s Koven J. Smith has been discussing similar questions: ‘What things do museums do *exclusively* because of tradition? If you were building a museum from scratch, what would you do differently?’. My response was “a museum invented now would be conversational and authoritative – here’s this thing, and here’s why it’s cool”.

Other questions: Did the existence of the earlier model muddy our thinking?  How can we make online, mobile or app visitors as visible (and as important) as physical visitors?  (I never want to see another email talking about ‘real [i.e. physical] and online’ visitors).

So, what do you think?  And if you’ve come here from twitter, I’d be so thrilled if you bridged the divided and commented!  I’ll also update with quotes from tweets but that’ll probably be slower than commenting directly.

Anyway, I can see lots of comments coming in from twitter so I’m going to hit ‘publish post’ now…

[Update – as it turns out, ‘live blogging’ has mostly turned into me updating the post with clarifications, and continuing discussion in the comments. I find myself reluctant to re-contextualise people’s tweets in a post, but maybe I’m just too sensitive about accidentally co-opting other people’s voices/content.  If you want to share something on twitter rather than in a comment, I’m @mia_out.]

Museums and iterative agility: do your ideas get oxygen?

Re-visiting the results of the survey I ran about issues facing museum technologists has inspired me to gather together some great pieces I’ve read on museum projects moving away from detailed up-front briefs and specifications toward iterative and/or agile development.

In ‘WaterWorx – our first in-gallery iPad interactive at the Powerhouse Museum‘, Seb Chan writes:

“the process by which this game was developed was in itself very different for us. … Rather than an explicit and ‘completed’ brief be given to Digital Eskimo, the game developed using an iterative and agile methodology, begun by a process that they call ‘considered design‘. This brought together stakeholders and potential users all the way through the development process with ‘real working prototypes’ being delivered along the way – something which is pretty common for how websites and web applications are made, but is still unfortunately not common practice for exhibition development.”

I’d also recommend the presentation ‘Play at Work: Applying Agile Methods to Museum Website Development‘ given at the 2010 Museum Computer Network Conference by Dana Mitroff Silvers and Alon Salant for examples of how user stories were used to identify requirements and prioritise development, and for an insight into how games can be used to get everyone working in an agile way.  If their presentation inspires you, you can find games you can play with people to help everyone understand various agile, scrum and other project management techniques and approaches at

I’m really excited by these examples, as I’m probably not alone in worrying about the mis-match between industry-standard technology project management methods and museum processes. In a ‘lunchtime manifesto‘ written in early 2009, I hoped the sector would be able to ‘figure out agile project structures that funders and bid writers can also understand and buy into’ – maybe we’re finally at that point.

And from outside the museum sector, a view on why up-front briefs don’t work for projects that where user experience design is important.  Peter Merholz of Adaptive Path writes:

“1. The nature of the user experience problems are typically too complex and nuanced to be articulated explicitly in a brief. Because of that, good user experience work requires ongoing collaboration with the client. Ideally, client and agency basically work as one big team.

2. Unlike the marketing communications that ad agencies develop, user experience solutions will need to live on, and evolve, within the clients’ business. If you haven’t deeply involved the client throughout your process, there is a high likelihood that the client will be unable to maintain whatever you produce.”

Finally, a challenge to the perfectionism of museums.  Matt Mullenweg (of WordPress fame), writes in ‘1.0 Is the Loneliest Number‘: ‘if you’re not embarrassed when you ship your first version you waited too long’.  Ok, so that might be a bit difficult for museums to cope with, but what if it was ok to release your beta websites to the public?  Mullenweg makes a strong case for iterating in public:

“Usage is like oxygen for ideas. You can never fully anticipate how an audience is going to react to something you’ve created until it’s out there. That means every moment you’re working on something without it being in the public it’s actually dying, deprived of the oxygen of the real world.

By shipping early and often you have the unique competitive advantage of hearing from real people what they think of your work, which in best case helps you anticipate market direction, and in worst case gives you a few people rooting for you that you can email when your team pivots to a new idea. Nothing can recreate the crucible of real usage.

You think your business is different, that you’re only going to have one shot at press and everything needs to be perfect for when Techcrunch brings the world to your door. But if you only have one shot at getting an audience, you’re doing it wrong.”

* The Merholz article above is great because you can play a fun game with the paragraph below – in your museum, what job titles would you put in place of ‘art director’ and ‘copywriter’?  Answers in a comment, if you dare!  I think it feels particularly relevant because of the number of survey responses that suggested museums still aren’t very good at applying the expertise of their museum technologists.

“One thing I haven’t yet touched on is the legacy ad agency practice where the art director and copywriter are the voices that matter, and the rest of the team exists to serve their bidding. This might be fine in communications work, but in user experience, where utility is king, this means that the people who best understand user engagement are often the least empowered to do anything about it, while those who have little true understanding of the medium are put in charge. In user experience, design teams need to recognize that great ideas can come from anywhere, and are not just the purview of a creative director.”

If you liked this post, you may also be interested in Confluence on digital channels; technologists and organisational change? (29 September 2012) and A call for agile museum projects (a lunchtime manifesto) (10 March 2009).

Survey results: issues facing museum technologists

In August 2010 I asked museum technologists to take a survey designed to help me understand and communicate the challenges faced by other museum technologists (as reported in ‘What would you change about your workplace? A survey for museum technologists‘, and as promised, I’m sharing the results (a little later than intended, but various galleries and my dissertation have been keeping me busy).

There were 79 responses in total, (49 complete responses, the rest were partial).  According to SurveyGizmo’s reporting the survey had responses from 10 countries.  The vast majority were from the UK (36%) and the US (49%), possibly reflecting the UK and US focus of the email lists where I publicised the survey.  Respondents were based in a wide range of art, history, science, local authority/government, university and specialist museums (in almost any combination you can think of) and had a variety of roles, including content, technical, project managers and managerial titles.  As reported originally, for the purposes of the survey I defined ‘museum technologist’ as someone who has expertise and/or significant experience in the museum sector and with the application or development of new technologies.

I’ve done my own coding work on the results, which I could also share, but I suspect there’s more value in the raw results.  I’m also sharing the results to the first two questions as CSV files (compatible with most applications) so you can download and analyse the data: CSV: As a museum technologist, what are the three most frustrating things about your job?, CSV: List any solutions for each of the problems you listed above.  Please note that the data in these files is alphabetised by row, so you should not correlate responses by row number.

My thanks to the people who took the time to respond – I hope there’s some value for you in this sampling of the challenges and joys of digital work in museums.  I’d love to hear from you if you use the results, either in a comment or via email.

Question 1: As a museum technologist, what are the three most frustrating things about your job?

First response box:

An institutional culture that values curatorial opinion over the expertise of technologists
Bad management
Becoming impossible to do new work AND maintain existing sites.
Central ICT department not being supportive
Colleagues who think of things digital as somehow separate and of lesser importance
Convincing administration of the value of new technology
Difficulty accessing social networking sites/FTP/etc through Council systems
Funding (lack of)
Going over the same ground again and again
I spend a lot of time doing non-tech work, or helping people with basic IT issues
IT department not implementing effective change management and training.
IT dept walls
IT infrastructure – restrictions and problems
Image rights
Institutional IT provision
Justifying new technologies
Lack of Resources (People)
Lack of clear copyright procedure hampers the greatest ideas
Lack of committment reuslting in long drawn out meetings that never go anywhere
Lack of communication
Lack of decision making from senior management at early stages in the project
Lack of interest in updating technology
Lack of planning
Lack of power to influence major decision making
Lack of resources for web tools/infrastructure
Lack of understanding of what we (as technologists) are trying to achieve
Lack of updated skills in co-workers
Lukewarm funding
Overcoming bureaucracy and overly cautious policy to try new technologies in a timely manner
Pace of sign off
People assuming I know everything about every technology
Senior managment attitudes
Trying to encourage change for the greater good
Unreasonable objectives
Varying age of equipment
Working within IT limitations
Working within existing budgets
bureaucratic oversight
clarity & simplicity of goals
data migration
fear of change
getting buy in from people who don’t understand the technology
imprecise demands
insufficient staff resources
lack of communication between team members
lack of vision
lengh of time from concept to implementation (it is too long)
no $$ for training
not being included early enough in planning processes
not enough time
reactionary IT managers
too many stakeholders and a very conservative attitude to sign off
unrealistic expectations
Getting the management of the museum to take the web seriously and use it themselves to try to understand it
The decentralized culture of our Museum. Each department is doing their own thing, which makes it difficult to access needs, plan for improvements, allocate resources and staff efficiently.
The little understanding colleagues have of the challenges faced (e.g. building a professional website is doable in 1 week with a 300€ budget)
Lack of understanding of digital audiences, trends, issues and technologies by those commissioning digital projects (I call it ‘and then it needs a website’ syndrome
The organizational structure of the museum. The IT Department should be for networking, desktop support and infrastructure but instead they end up being the ones who call the shots about applications and systems.
Integrating our technologies and ideas into the museum’s IT infrastructure e.g. wireless hubs, installing software, updating software etc.

Second response box:

“shiny new toy” syndrom
Assortment of operating systems
Changing priorites
Enforcing efficient use of storage space (delete your DUPES!)
Excessive review cycles
Gaining buy-in from overworked staff who need to contribute to tech project
Getting curators to take the web seriously and want to use it
Having other people re-invent things I invented 10 years ago
Institutional IT provision
Institutional blindness to the outside world (i.e., “nobody actually trusts Wikipedia”)
Interdepartmental Workflow
Internal “Ownership” of information
Justifying the expense/time of trialling and sharing new ideas
Lack of Finance
Lack of appreciation for the amount of work involved
Lack of funding
Lack of medium/long term visions
Lack of shared museum assets (inter and intra)
Lack of understanding of digital media by senior executives
Lack of understanding of my role at more senior levels and by my peers
Non-existent budgets
Ph.D syndrome.
Some staff negativity about integrating new technologies
Stodgy curators
Tempering desire with reality
Time to just ‘play’ with new technologies
Too many egos
Too many people involved
Too many tasks seen as top-priority without enough support to get them done.
Understaffed and underfunded
Unwillingness to try small cheap ideas (on the understanding that if they don’t work you stop)
Upper management not grasping value of online outreach
Working in isolation
board and execs who are focused on shiny objects, not mission
dealing with the ramifications of technology decisions made by non-technical employees
entrenched views on how things should be done
funding and management structures that lead to short term, siloed thinking
inability to ack quickly and be flexible (cumbesome review process ties up projects)
inablility of coworker to understand projects
institutional resources
lack of staff time or positions alotted to technology (two minds are better than one)
no say over even how our web page is designed
not enough money
poor instructions
sparse training
tendency for time to get sucked into general office work
unreasonable expectations
unwillingness to fund projects
Lack of understanding in the wider museum of the work that we do and the potentials of technologies in learning.
People in museum administration often know less about technologies than their counterpart in the private sector.
Lack of training offered on national scale for those who are beyond beginner level with technology but not an expert
Not having admin rights to my computer and not being allowed to connect my own laptop to the work network
The expectation of a high-impact web presence without making the appropriate content available (in time)
Never knowing what others departments are doing, but still being expected to “fix” whatever when it goes down.
The little commitment others (even people asked/hired to do so) have towards social media, even after tons of workshops.
Turf wars – different staff not working toward a consensus; arguments are recycled and nothing is ever finalized
redundancy–for example, entering metadata for an image from an external source and entering it into our DAM
Funding is spread unevenly. New galleries might come with big pots of money but it’s much harder to fund work on existing sites and sections.
Lack of IT understanding by other staff in the museum and in some cases a negative attitude to putting stuff online

Third response box:

“non-profit” pay and no insurance
Always defending my position to condescending curators
Assortment of learning curves among staff
Balancing the demands of day to day tasks with the desire to expand IT use
Bending commercial products to our own needs.
Communication barriers
Conflicting messages about the purpose of online – is it to generate income or provide access?
Cross departmental walls
Cultural stigmatism
Curators/educators living in the dark ages!
Difficulty finding funding/support for less visible tech projects (content architecture, etc.)
Division between web/curatorial/education/etc.
Everyone is scared
Explaining complex systems to co-workers with limited tech background
Getting “sign off”
Hard to sell technology (APIs, etc) to staff who just want their event on the homepage.
Institutional IT provision
Keeping up with web science/standards
Lack of by in by senior management
Lack of change management at institutions
Lack of communication
Lack of professional development
Lack of support
Little allowance to “try out” tech tools/software/web
No time to experiment and try out new things
Projects never finished
Reliance on external consultants
Secret stakeholders appearing late in the production cycle
Software provider lack of focus on end users and Web
That every bit of the organisation has to be involved in every project
Too much dependence on content producers, e.g. curators, gallery authors, education staff
Trying to get other colleagues involved in technology!
Willingness of colleague tech adoption
capacity of organizations to take leaps of faith
dealing with art historians
defining projects in terms of ROI
frequent interruptions during thought-intensive work
lack of adminstrative support in the way of $$
lack of forward planning
misunderstanding of implications
not enough focus on early prototyping before the tech comes in
not enough staff
not enough staff and too many things to do…
not enough time
passive/aggressive behavior
resistance to new technologies on the basis of their perceived danger/risk
strong aversion to risk-taking, which hampers innovation
supporting software that was incorrectly chose (e.g. retrofitting a CMS to act as a DAMS)
user incompetence
wide range knowledgement needed
Magical thinking about technology: somehow hoping projects will be cheap and cutting edge with few resources devoted to them
There’s a web/multimedia team, but all the exhibition design is outsourced, so it’s difficult to mount integrated digital projects (that work both online and onsite)
disconnects between depts in larger museums, that make it hard to get all those who could contribute to and benefit from digital projects really engaged
Irrational fear of open source; irrational fears concerning access to collection information and even low-res images.
The fact that doing “online stuff” means you have to solve every problem related to technology (“My iPhone doesn’t synch my music, help!”)
Convincing staff to use project results (this is true for some staff in key positions. Other staff happy to use the results)
my department uses a DAM system, but others outside my department won’t use it but want access to the content archived there

Question 2: List any solutions for each of the problems you listed above

First response box:

$$ for training would be easy to get
Better IT training and also digital awareness training for all staff
Better investment
Better organisational understanding of the importance of project management
Better qualified staff – training
Circumnavigating IT when they sya can’t do and supporting it all ourselves.
Cloud based
Creative use of budgets – taking parts from several budgets to make a whole
Fewer and smaller
Focusing on the benefits of the new technology when presenting changes to staff
Good management
Greater funding support for equipment
Hiring further staff
IT managers who are less about security and NO and more about innovation
Improve communication by removing large egos
Keeping to meeting agendas and ensuring people involved are enthusiastic about the project
Long term strategy agreed at top levels to ringfence time and money for non-project based work
Lots of demonstrations
Make responsibilities of depts clearer
Meetings, Meetings, Meetings
More independence from IT
More staff!
Much clearer policy on approach to copyright, possibly by museums supporting one another
New, professionally trained management
Sack the lot of them and start again
Strict procedures and continuously stressing how things work and how they don’t.
The acknowledgement at senior levels of competence and experience further down the scale
Training in Project Management
Upgrade technology to a consistent level
Willingness to learn
come up with your own
educate administration, show them how other museums are taking advantage, find funding
no foreseeable increase in staffing, so no luck here
none in sight
solutions that we have found or solutions we wish for? The questions is confusing.
steel myself to do it once more in a way that means they can’t forget it
umm..if I had a solution I’d be rich 🙂
Adjust the expectations by explaining the process more in depth and always provide more conservative time estimates, and times that by 150%
We are now submitting a business case to our IT department for us to have access to these sites. Hopefully this will be widened in the future as Council’s become more aware of the essential part technology plays in museums.
reallocation of institutional resources to recognise changing technological and social environment
Having highly-placed technologists who are trusted by the museum involved in projects at an early state can help significantly to teach the institution the value of technological expertise.
Advocate your work to anyone who will listen, get involved in projects from the beginning – and try not to let technology lead, only support good ideas
Rethinking contracting policies–especially for Web 2.0 services that are free–and approval processes
Look to private sector technology vendors for workflow and project management techniques and tools or hire consultants (voices from outside are often heard louder than those inside).

Second response box:

$$ we are given we do not always get
Allowing staff to make their own decisions
Cost effective training or events or ‘buddying up’ to share expertise and experiences
Crossover training
Don’t tell, stay away from committees until you have something (good) to show
Encouraging positive comment and activity from outside
Establish an agreed level of autonomy and freedom for web projects
Fix to IT issues that take up so much of my time!
Fundraising specifically for technology as an ongoing need–not just project by project
Involvement of Technologists before design
More educated staff about abilities and weaknesses of technology
More funding and resources for projects
More rewarding work environment
More tech-savvy upper management (happened recently)
More training being offered via bodies such as Museums Galleries Scotland
More trust in teams
New, professionally developed board
Outside normzl dept relationships
Priorities either need coherent justification or to be realigned.
Reassigning permissions
Recruit more staff and do more work in house
Remove large egos
Request more specificity and detail
Speaking to people to explain the complexity and time necessary for project?
Streamlining Project Management
The creation of roles at a senior level with understanding of technology
Training for staff
Trying to get a pot on our web page for e-learning which displays and advocates our work.
agreement on acceptable standards for public facing databases
occasionally half-successful compartmentalization of time spent on specialized and general work
question assumptions
shoot the current managers
strong compromise with staff training
technology being an embedded part of the work, like education
would require a wholesale change in Museum culture – not likely to happen quickly
institution-wide training in Word, PowerPoint, Excel etc AND in newer more interesting tools for presentations (eg Prezi), data visualisation (ManyEyes, Wordle) etc
Increase levels of digital literacy through out organisation and sector by training, workshops and promotion
Write in the importance of technology projects to accomplishing the mission in strategic planning and grant documents and form interdepartmental teams of people to address technology issues and raise technology’s profile and comfort level within the institutional culture.
make sure to ‘copyright’ my own inventions and publicise them before anyone else needs to re-invent them
Show them that colleagues in their field are using the same technology, once they’re willing to listen, show how the results will help them, then make participation as easy as possible for them.
If, for every bit of unfounded, unresearched opinion, the technologist can counter with facts about how people actually behave in the world outside the museum, over (large stretches of) time this problem can be gradually allayed.
Presenting the case for how technology can do certain things really well and how it is best find the better fit than to force technology to be what it isn’t
Our institution could benefit from professional training on effective communication, but it’s not in the budget.
Organising lunches and other team activities to continuously explain and inspire people about new and social media

Third response box:

(Sadly) winning awards
Admin-down promotion of tech initiative adoption
Agreement on stakeholders and sign off processes up front – and sticking to that
Be very strict with project deadlines!
Better communications from the top
Developing a Museum Service strategy for everyone to use IT – like V&A have!
Ensuring that people at senior levels support digital projects
Go and do. Prototype to prove point
Good management
Hired more competent users or remove technically-involved tasks from users
I think we need new ways of demonstrating value other than £s or people through the door
Identify internal skills before commissioning outside consultants
Improved communications – more vision
Informal brown-bag lunches where ideas are pitched and potential explained.
Longer timelines, adequate staffing levels
Look for oppurtunity to learn more and implement new systems that help with the day to day work
Make it as easy as possible to use the results
Museums need to start thinking more like libraries
No idea how we can make LA central ICt departments more helpful
Outsource all IT relating to web projects
Professional development for staff
Remove large, scary egos
Smile, help them, and complain in silence.
Some inovative young blood in these roles
Technologists in upper management
Try something small as a pilot to reveal realistic benefits and pitfalls
act of God
bringing techies into the development process earlier in a new exhibit etc.
effective allocation of scarce resources
rewriting job descriptions to incorporate tech initiatives into everyday tasks
there is no solution for art historians except possibly to keep them out of museums and galleries
time-shifting certain kinds of work to early morning or evening, outside regular hours
Trying to find public outputs of infrastructure-related technology can help with this problem. The way some museums have begun using collections APIs as, in essence, a PR tool, is a good example of this approach.

Selected responses to Question 3: Any comments on this survey or on the issues raised?

Some comments were about the survey itself (and one comment asked not to be quoted, so I’ve played it safe and not included it) and didn’t seem relevant here.

  • Would like to know what other museum staff feel, but am guessing response may be very similar
  • There is still some trepidation and lack of understanding of what it is exactly that digital technology can play in display, interpretation and education programming. Though there are strong peer networks around digital technology, somehow this doesn’t get carried over into further advocacy in the sector in general. In my learning department there is some resistance to the idea of technology being used as a means in itself working across audiences, and it instead has to be tied in to other education officers programmes. The lack of space to experiment and really have some time to develop and explore is also sadly missed as we are understaffed and overstretched.
  • Not enough time, money or staff is true of most museum work, but particularly frustrating when looking at the tools used by the private sector. This imbalance may be part of the source of unreasonable expectations – we’ve all seen fantastic games and websites and expect that level of quality, but museums have 1/1000th of the budget of a video game studio.
  • The interdepartmental nature of many tech projects has challenged us to define under whose purview these projects should be managed.
  • In my organisation I find the lack of awareness and also lack of desire to do things online difficult to comprehend in this day and age. It is not universal, fortunately the Head of Service gets it but other managers don’t. I’m fed up hearing ‘if its online they won’t visit’ and I’m afraid I’ve given up trying to convince them, instead I tend to just work with the people who can see that putting stuff online can encourage visitors and enhance visits for visitors.
  • Being a federal institution, we receive funds for physical infrastructure, but rarely for technical infrastructure. I would say fear around copyright of digitized collections is a barrier as well.
  • Until the culture of an institution of my size changes at the top, it will continue to be a challenge to get anything through in a timely manner.
  • Funding and resources (staff, time, etc.) are the main roadblock to taking full advantage of the technology that’s out there.
  • There needs to be a way to build a proper team within the museum structure and make silos of information available.
  • I think the frustrations I raised are exactly the reason why some of us are in the museum sector – for the challenge.
  • We are fortunate in that we have a very forward-looking Board of Trustees, a visionary CEO and a tech team that truly loves what they do. But we – like any non-profit – are always limited by money and time. We’ve got loads of great ideas and great talent – we just need the means and the time to be able to bring them to fruition! We have actually rewritten job descriptions to make certain things part of people’s everyday workflow and that has helped. Our CEO has also made our technological initiatives (our IVC studios, our online presence, our virtual museum….) part of our strategic plan. So we are extremely fortunate in those respects!
  • I am a content creator, rather than a technie, but as my role is digital, everyone assumes I understand every code language and technological IT issue that there is. And I don’t.
  • why is it that those who are not involved in our work have so much to say about how we do our work down to the last detail
  • One of the largest problems faced by IT staff in museums is the need to push the envelop of technology while working within very limited budgets. There is always a desire to build the newest and best, but a reluctance to staff and budget for the upkeep and eventual use and maintenance of the new systems. That said, working for a museum environment offers more variety and interesting projects than any for-profit job could ever provide.

Notes on ‘User Generated Content’ session, Open Culture Conference 2010

My notes from the ‘user generated content’ parallel track on first day of the Open Culture 2010 conference. The session started with brief presentations by panellists, then group discussions at various tables on questions suggested by the organisers. These notes are quite rough, and of course any mistakes are mine. I haven’t had a chance to look for the speakers’ slides yet so inevitably some bits are missing, and I can only report the discussion at the table I was at in the break-out session. I’ve also blogged my notes from the plenary session of the Open Culture 2010 conference.

User-generated content session, Open Culture, Europeana – the benefits and challenges of UGC.
Kevin Sumption, User-generated content, a MUST DO for cultural institutions
His background – originally a curator of computer sciences. One of first projects he worked on at Powerhouse was D*Hub which presented design collections from V&A, Brooklyn Museum and Powerhouse Museum – it was for curators but also for general public with an interest in design. Been the source of innovation. Editorial crowd-sourcing approach and social tagging, about 8 years ago.

Two years ago he moved to National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory, Greenwich. One of the first things they did was get involved with Flickr Commons – get historic photographs into public domain, get people involved in tagging. c1000 records in there. General public have been able to identify some images as Adam Villiers images – specialists help provide attribution for the photographer. Only for tens of records of the 000s but was a good introduction to power of UGC.

Building hybrid exhibition experiences – astronomy photographer of the year – competition on Flickr with real world exhibition for the winners of the competition. ‘Blog’ with 2000 amateur astronomers, 50 posts a day. Through power of Flickr has become a significant competition and brand in two years.

Joined citizen science consortia. Galaxy Zoo. Brainchild of Oxford – getting public engaged with real science online. Solar Stormwatch c 3000 people analysing and using the data. Many people who get involved gave up science in high school… but people are getting re-engaged with science *and* making meaningful contributions.

Old Weather – helping solve real-world problems with crowdsourcing. Launched two months ago.
Passion for UGC is based around where projects can join very carefully considered consortia, bringing historical datasets with real scientific problems. Can bring large interested public to the project. Many of the public are reconnecting with historical subject matter or sciences.

Judith Bensa-Moortgat, Nationaal Archief, Netherlands, Images for the Future project
Photo collection of more than 1 million photos. Images for the future project aims to save audio-visual heritage through digitisation and conservation of 1.2 million photos.

Once digitised, they optimise by adding metadata and context. Have own documentalists who can add metadata, but it would take years to go through it all. So decided to try using online community to help enrich photo collections. Using existing platforms like Wikipedia, Flickr, Open Street map, they aim to retrieve contextual info generated by the communities.  They donated political portraits to Wikimedia Commons and within three weeks more than half had been linked to relevant articles.

Their experiences with Flickr Commons – they joined in 2008. Main goal was to see if community would enrich their photos with comments and tags. In two weeks, they had 400,000 page views for 400 photos, including peaks when on Dutch TV news. In six months, they had 800 photos with over 1 million views. In Oct 2010, they are averaging 100,000 page views a month; 3 million overall.

But what about comments etc? Divided them into categories of comments [with percentage of overall contributions]:

  • factual info about location, period, people 5%; 
  • link to other sources eg Wikipedia 5%; 
  • personal stories/memories (e.g. someone in image was recognised); 
  • moral discussions; 
  • aesthetical discussions; 
  • translations.

The first two are most important for them.
13,000 tags in many languages (unique tags or total?).
10% of the contributed UGC was useful for contextualisation; tags ensure accessibility [discoverability?] on the web; increased (international) visibility. [Obviously the figures will vary for different projects, depending on what the original intent of the project was]

The issues she’d like to discuss are – copyright, moderation, platforms, community.

Mette Bom, 1001 Stories about Denmark
Story of the day is one of the 1001 stories. It’s a website about the history and culture of Denmark. The stories have themes, are connected to a timeline.  Started with 50 themes, 180 expert writers writing the 1001 stories, now it’s up to the public to comment and write their own stories. Broad definition of what heritage is – from oldest settlement to the ‘porn street’ – they wanted to expand the definition of heritage.

Target audiences – tourists going to those places; local dedicated experts who have knowledge to contribute. Wanted to take Danish heritage out of museums.

They’ve created the main website, mobile apps, widget for other sites, web service.  Launched in May 2010.  20,000 monthly users. 147 new places added, 1500 pictures added.

Main challenges – how to keep users coming back? 85% new, 15% repeat visitors (ok as aimed at tourists but would like more comments). How to keep press interested and get media coverage? Had a good buzz at the start cos of the celebrities. How to define participation? Is it enough to just be a visitor?

Johan Oomen, Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Vrij Uni Amsterdam. Participatory Heritage: the case of the Waisda? video labelling game.
They’re using game mechanisms to get people to help them catalogue content. [sounds familiar!]
‘In the end, the crowd still rules’.
. Tagging is a good way to facilitate time-based annotation [i.e. tag what’s on the screen at different times]

Goal of game is consensus between players. Best example in heritage is; much of the thinking about using tagging as a game came from Games with a Purpose (  Basic rule – players score points when their tag exactly matches the tag entered by another within 10 seconds. Other scoring mechanisms.  Lots of channels with images continuously playing.

Linking it to twitter – shout out to friends to come join them playing.  Generating traffic – one of the main challenges. Altruistic message ‘help the archive’ ‘improve access to collections’ came out of research with users on messages that worked. Worked with existing communities.

Results, first six months – 44,362 pageviews. 340,000 tags to 604 items, 42,068 unique tags.
Matches – 42% of tags entered more than 2 times. Also looked at vocab (GTAA, Cornetto), 1/3 words were valid Dutch words, but only a few part of thesauruses.  Tags evaluated by documentalists. Documentary film 85% – tags were useful; for reality series (with less semantic density) tags less useful.

Now looking at how to present tags on the catalogue Powerhouse Museum style.  Experimenting with visualising terms, tag clouds when terms represented, also makes it easy to navigate within the video – would have been difficult to do with professional metadata.  Looking at ‘tag gardening’ – invite people to go back to their tags and click to confirm – e.g. show images with particular tags, get more points for doing it.

Future work – tag matching – synonyms and more specific terms – will get more points for more specific terms.

Panel overview by Costis Dallas, research fellow at Athena, assistant professor at Panteion University, Athens.
He wants to add a different dimension – user-generated content as it becomes an object for memory organisations. New body of resources emerging through these communication practices.
Also, we don’t have a historiography anymore; memory resides in personal information devices.  Mashups, changes in information forms, complex composed information on social networks – these raise new problems for collecting – structural, legal, preservation in context, layered composition.  What do we need to do now in order to be able to make use of digital technologies in appropriate, meaningful ways in the future? New kinds of content, participatory curation are challenges for preservation.

Group discussion (breakout tables)
Discussion about how to attract users. [It wasn’t defined whether it was how to attract specifically users who’ll contribute content or just generally grow the audience and therefore grow the number of content creators within the usual proportions of levels of participation e.g. Nielsen, Forrester; I would also have liked to discussed how to encourage particular kinds of contributions, or to build architectures of participation that provided positive feedback to encourage deeper levels of participation.]

Discussion and conclusions included – go with the strengths of your collections e.g. if one particular audience or content-attracting theme emerges, go with it.  Norway has a national portal where people can add content. They held lots of workshops for possible content creators; made contact with specialist organisations [from which you can take the lesson that UGC doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and that it helps to invest time and resources into enabling participants and soliciting content].  Recording living history.  Physical presence in gallery, at events, is important.  Go where audiences already are; use existing platforms.

Discussion about moderation included – once you have comments, how are they integrated back into collections and digital asset management systems?  What do you do about incorrect UGC displayed on a page?  Not an issue if you separate UGC from museum/authoritative content in the interface design.  In the discussion it turned out that Europeana doesn’t have a definition of ‘moderation’.  IMO, it should include community management, including acknowledging and thanking people for contributions (or rather, moderation is a subset of community management).  It also includes approving or reviewing and publishing content, dealing with corrections suggested by contributors, dealing with incorrect or offensive UGC, adding improved metadata back to collections repositories.

User-generated content and trust – British Library apparently has ‘trusted communities’ on their audio content – academic communities (by domain name?) and ‘everyone else’.  Let other people report content to help weed out bad content.

Then we got onto a really interesting discussion of which country or culture’s version of ‘offensive’ would be used in moderating content.  Having worked in the UK and the Netherlands, I know that what’s considered a really rude swear word and what’s common vocabulary is quite different in each country… but would there be any content left if you considered the lowest common standards for each country?  [Though thinking about it later, people manage to watch films and TV and popular music from other countries so I guess they can deal with different standards when it’s in context.]  To take an extreme content example, a Nazi uniform as memorabilia is illegal in Germany (IIRC) but in the UK it’s a fancy dress outfit for a member of the royal family.

Panel reporting back from various table discussions
Kevin’s report – discussion varied but similar themes across the two tables. One – focus on the call to action, why should people participate, what’s the motivation? How to encourage people to participate? Competitions suggested as one solution, media interest (especially sustained). Notion of core group who’ll energise others. Small groups of highly motivated individuals and groups who can act as catalysts [how to recruit, reward, retain]. Use social media to help launch project.

1001 Danish Stories promotional video effectively showed how easy the process of contributing content was,  and that it doesn’t have to to be perfect (the video includes celebrities working the camera [and also being a bit daggy, which I later realised was quite powerful – they weren’t cool and aloof]).
Giving users something back – it’s not a one-way process. Recognition is important. Immediacy too – if participating in a project, people want to see their contributions acknowledged quickly. Long approval processes lose people.
Removal of content – when different social, political backgrounds with different notions of censorship.

Mette’s report – how to get users to contribute – answers mostly to take away the boundaries, give the users more credit than we otherwise tend to. We always think users will mess things up and experts will be embarrassed by user content but not the case. In 1001 they had experts correcting other experts. Trust users more, involve experts, ask users what they want. Show you appreciate users, have a dialouge, create community. Make it a part of life and environment of users. Find out who your users are.

Second group – how Europeana can use the content provided in all its forms. Could build web services to present content from different places, linking between different applications.
How to set up goals for user activity – didn’t get a lot of answers but one possibility is to start and see how users contribute as you go along. [I also think you shouldn’t be experimenting with UGC without some goal in mind – how else will you know if your experiment succeeded?  It also focusses your interaction and interface design and gives the user some parameters (much more useful than an intimidating blank page)].

Judith’s report (including our table) – motivation and moderation in relation to Europeana – challenging as Europeana are not the owners of the material; also dealing with multilingual collections. Culturally-specific offensive comments. Definition and expectations of Europeana moderation. Resources need if Europeana does the moderation.
Incentives for moderation – improving data, idealism, helping with translations – people like to help translate.

Johan’s report – rewards are important – place users in social charts or give them a feeling of contributing to larger thing; tap into existing community; translate physical world into digital analogue.
Institutional policy – need a clear strategy for e.g. how to integrate the knowledge into the catalogue. Provide training for staff on working with users and online tools. There’s value in employing community managers to give people feedback when they leave content.
Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk for annotations…
Doing the projects isn’t only of benefit in enriching metadata but also for giving insight into users – discover audiences with particular interests.

Costis commenting – if Europeana only has thumbnails and metadata, is it a missed opportunity to get UGC on more detailed content?

Is Europeana highbrow compared to other platforms like Flickr, FB, so would people be afraid to contribute? [probably – there must be design patterns for encouraging participation from audiences on museum sites, but we’re still figuring out what they are]
Business model for crowdsourcing – producing multilingual resources is perfect case for Europeana.

Open to the floor for questions… Importance of local communities, getting out there, using libraries to train people. Local newspapers, connecting to existing communities.

Notes from Europeana’s Open Culture Conference 2010

The Open Culture 2010 conference was held in Amsterdam on October 14 – 15. These are my notes from the first day (I couldn’t stay for the second day). As always, they’re a bit rough, and any mistakes are mine. I haven’t had a chance to look for the speakers’ slides yet so inevitably some bits are missing.  If you’re in a hurry, the quote of the day was from Ian Davis: “the goal is not to build a web of data. The goal is to enrich lives through access to information”.

The morning was MCd by Costis Dallas and there was a welcome and introduction from the chair of the Europeana Foundation before Jill Cousins (Europeana Foundation) provided an overview of Europeana. I’m sure the figures will be available online, but in summary, they’ve made good progress in getting from a prototype in 2008 to an operational service in 2010. [Though I have written down that they had 1 million visits in 2010, which is a lot less than a lot of the national museums in the UK though obviously they’ve had longer to establish a brand and a large percentage of their stats are probably in the ‘visit us’ areas rather than collections areas.]

Europeana is a super-aggregator, but doesn’t show the role of the national or thematic aggregators or portals as providers/collections of content. They’re looking to get away from a one-way model to the point where they can get data back out into different places (via APIs etc). They want to move away from being a single destination site to putting information where the user is, to continue their work on advocacy, open source code etc.

Jill discussed various trends, including the idea of an increased understanding that access to culture is the foundation for a creative economy. She mentioned a Kenneth Gilbraith [?] quote on spending more on culture in recession as that’s where creative solutions come from [does anyone know the reference?]. Also, in a time of Increasing nationationalism, Europeana provided an example to combat it with example of trans-Euro cooperation and culture. Finally, customer needs are changing as visitors move from passive recipients to active participants in online culture.

Europeana [or the talk?] will follow four paths – aggregration, distribution, facilitation, engagement.

  • Aggregation – build the trusted source for European digital cultural material. Source curated content, linked data, data enrichment, multilinguality, persistent identifiers. 13 million objects but 18-20thC dominance; only 2% of material is audio-visual [?]. Looking towards publishing metadata as linked open data, to make Europeana and cultural heritage work on the web, e.g. of tagging content with controlled vocabularies – Vikings as tagged by Irish and Norwegian people – from ‘pillagers’ to ‘loving fathers’. They can map between these vocabularies with linked data.
  • Distribution – make the material available to the user wherever they are, whenever they want it. Portals, APIs, widgets, partnerships, getting information into existing school systems.
  • Facilitate innovation in cultural heritage. Knowledge sharing (linked data), IPR business models, policy – advocacy and public domain, data provider agreements. If you write code based on their open sourced applications, they’d love you to commit any code back into Europeana. Also, look at Europeana labs.
  • Engagement – create dialogue and participation. [These slides went quickly, I couldn’t keep up]. Examples of the Great War Archive into Europe [?]. Showing the European connection – Art Nouveau works across Europe.

The next talk was Liam Wyatt on ‘Peace love and metadata’, based in part on his experience at the British Museum, where he volunteered for a month to coordinate the relationship between Wikipedia as representative of the open web [might have mistyped that, it seems quite a mantle to claim] and the BM as representatiave of [missed it]. The goal was to build a proactive relationship of mutual benefit without requiring change in policies or practices of either. [A nice bit of realism because IMO both sides of the museum/Wikipedia relationship are resistant to change and attached firmly to parts of their current models that are in conflict with the other conglomeration.]

The project resulted in 100 new Wikipedia articles, mostly based on the BM/BBC A History of the World in 100 Objects project (AHOW). [Would love to know how many articles were improved as a result too]. They also ran a ‘backstage pass’ day where Wikipedians come on site, meet with curators, backstage tour, then they sit down and create/update entries. There were also one-on-one collaborators – hooking up Wikipedians and curators/museums with e.g. photos of objects requested.

It’s all about improving content, focussing on personal relationshiips, leveraging the communities; it didn’t focus on residents (his own work), none of them are content donation projects, every institution has different needs but can do some version of this.

[I’m curious about why it’s about bringing Wikipedians into museums and not turning museum people into Wikipedians but I guess that’s a whole different project and may be result from the personal relationships anyway.]

Unknown risks are accounted for and overestimated. Unknown rewards are not accounted for and underestimated. [Quoted for truth, and I think this struck a chord with the audience.]

Reasons he’s heard for restricting digital access… Most common ‘preserving the integrity of the collection’ but sounds like need to approve content so can approve of usages. As a result he’s seen convoluted copyright claims – it’s easy tool to use to retain control.

Derivative works. Commercial use. Different types of free – freedom to use, freedom to study and apply knowledge gained; freedom to make and redistribute copies; [something else].

There are only three applicable licences for Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a non-commercial organisation, but don’t accept any non-commercially licenced content as ‘it would restrict the freedom of people downstream to re-use the content in innovative ways’. [but this rules out much museum content, whether rightly or not, and with varying sources from legal requirements to preference. Licence wars (see the open source movement) are boring, but the public would have access to more museum content on Wikipedia if that restriction was negotiable. Whether that would outweight the possible ‘downstream’ benefit is an interesting question.]

Liam asked the audience, do you have a volunteer project in your institution? do you have an e-volunteer program? Well, you do already, you just don’t know it. It’s a matter of whether you want to engage with them back. You don’t have to, and it might be messy.

Wikipedia is not a social network. It is a social construction – it requires a community to exist but socialising is not the goal. Wikipedia is not user generated content. Wikipedia is community curated works. Curated, not only generated. Things can be edited or deleted as well as added [which is always a difficulty for museums thinking about relying on Wikipedia content in the long term, especially as the ‘significance’ of various objects can be a contested issue.]

Happy datasets are all alike; every unhappy dataset is unhappy in its own way. A good test of data is that it works well with others – technically or legally.

According to Liam, Europeana is the 21st century of the gallery painting – it’s a thumbnail gallery but it could be so much more if the content was technically and legally able to be re-used, integrated.
Data already has enough restrictions already e.g. copyright, donor restrictions. but if it comes without restrictions, its a shame to add them. ‘Leave the gate as you found it’.

‘We’re doing the same thing for the same reason for the same people in the same medium, let’s do it together.’

The next sessions were ‘tasters’ of the three thematic tracks of the second part of the day – linked data, user-generated content, and risks and rewards. This was a great idea because I felt like I wasn’t totally missing out on the other sessions.

Ian Davis from Talis talked about ‘linked open culture’ as a preview of the linked data track. How to take practices learned from linked data and apply them to open culture sector. We’re always looking for ways to exchange info, communicate more effecively. We’re no longer limited by the physicality of information. ‘The semantic web fundamentally changes how information, machines and people are connected together’. The semantic web and its powerful network effects are enabling a radical transformation away from islands of data. One question is, does preservation require protection, isolation, or to copy it as widely as possible?

Conjecture 1 – data outlasts code. MARC stays forever, code changes. This implies that open data is more important than open source.
Conjecture 2 – structured data is more valuable than unstructured. Therefore we should seek to structure our data well.
Conjecture 3 – most of the value in our data will be unexpected and unintended. Therefore we should engineer for serendipity.

‘Provide and enable’ – UK National Archives phrase. Provide things you’re good at – use unique expertise and knowledge [missed bits]… enable as many people as possible to use it – licence data for re-use, give important things identifiers, link widely.

‘The goal is not to build a web of data. The goal is to enrich lives through access to information.’
[I think this is my new motto – it sums it up so perfectly. Yes, we carry on about the technology, but only so we can get it built – it’s the means to an end, not the end itself. It’s not about applying acronyms to content, it’s about making content more meaningful, retaining its connection to its source and original context, making the terms of use clear and accessible, making it easy to re-use, encouraging people to make applications and websites with it, blah blah blah – but it’s all so that more people can have more meaningful relationships with their contemporary and historical worlds.]

Kevin Sumption from the National Maritime Museum presented on the user-generated content track. A look ahead – the cultural sector and new models… User-generated content (UGC) is a broad description for content created by end users rather than traditional publishers. Museums have been active in photo-sharing, social tagging, wikipedia editing.

Crowdsourcing e.g. – reCAPTCHA [digitising books, one registration form at a time]. His team was inspired by the approach, created a project called ‘Old Weather’ – people review logs of WWI British ships to transcribe the content, especially meterological data. This fills in a gap in the meterological dataset for 1914 – 1918, allows weather in the period to be modelled, contributes to understanding of global weather patterns.

Also working with Oxford Uni, Rutherford Institute, Zooniverse – solar stormwatch – solar weather forecast. The museum is working with research institutions to provide data to solve real-world problems. [Museums can bring audiences to these projects, re-ignite interest in science, you can sit at home or on the train and make real contributions to on-going research – how cool is that?]

Community collecting. e.g. mass observation project 1937 – relaunched now and you can train to become an observer. You get a brief e.g. families on holidays.

BBC WW2 People’s War – archive of WWII memories. [check it out]

RunCoCO – tools for people to set up community-lead, generated projects.

Community-lead research – a bit more contentious – e.g. Guardian and MPs expenses. Putting data in hands of public, trusting them to generate content. [Though if you’re just getting people to help filter up interesting content for review by trusted sources, it’s not that risky].

The final thematic track preview was by Charles Oppenheim from Loughborough University, on the risks and rewards of placing metadata and content on the web. Legal context – authorisation of copyright holder is required for [various acts including putting it on the web] unless… it’s out of copyright, have explicit permission from rights holder (not implied licence just cos it’s online), permission has been granted under licensing scheme, work has been created by a member of staff or under contract with IP assigned.

Issues with cultural objects – media rich content – multiple layers of rights, multiple rights holders, multiple permissions often required. Who owns what rights? Different media industries have different traditions about giving permission. Orphan works.

Possible non-legal ramifiations of IPR infringements – loss of trust with rights holders/creators; loss of trust with public; damage to reputation/bad press; breach of contract (funding bodies or licensors); additional fees/costs; takedown of content or entire service.

Help is at hand – Strategic Content Alliance toolkit [online].

Copyright less to do with law than with risk management – assess risks and work out how will minimise them.

Risks beyond IPR – defamation; liability for provision of inaccurate information; illegal materials e.g. pornography, pro-terrorism, violent materials, racist materials, Holocaust denial; data protection/privacy breaches; accidental disclosure of confidential information.

High risk – anything you make money from; copying anything that is in copyright and is commercially availabe.
Low risk – orphan works of low commercial value – letters, diaries, amateur photographs, films, recordings known by less known people.
Zero risk stuff.
Risks on the other side of the coin [aka excuses for not putting stuff up]

One reason why (science) museums rock

When I started work at the Science Museum a few years ago, after five years with a social history museum and archaeology service, I was curious about how the additional tasks of communicating scientific principles, contemporary science news and the history of science and technology would affect interpretation, collections and exhibitions. With that in mind, I did some research about science museums and came across an article about the impact of the Palais de la Découverte (a science museum in Paris) translated for me as:

In a recent work entitled ‘Comment devient-on scientifique?‘ (How does one become a scientist?) published by Editions EDP, Florence Guichard indicates the results of a survey undertaken in the Ile-de-France: 60% of scientists over 30 and 40% of scientists under 30 claim, without prompting, that the Palais de la Découverte triggered their vocation. Pierre Gilles of Gennes, the winner of the Nobel prize for Physics is one of those ‘lovers’ of thePalais de la Découverte who was still visiting the place a few years before his death in 2007.

[Update – coincidentally, the day after posting, I came across another reference to the impact of science museums on children’s interest in science:] The evolution of the science museum:

When did scientists first become interested in science? A 1998 survey of 1400 scientists, conducted by the Roper Starch organization for the Bayer Foundation and NSF, reported that a respected adult, such as a parent, was the biggest factor in stimulating childhood interest in science. […] a variety of informalactivities had an effect. […] 76 percent said science museum visits

That’s pretty amazing.  But ok, for people who aren’t scientists, why does science matter?  Well, for a start, the UK needs to keep up with the rest of the world, and there are global problems that we need scientists to help solve.  At about the same time, President Obama stated in his inaugural address that he would “restore science to its rightful place”. Ed Yong, among others, answered the question, so ‘what is science’s rightful place?’:

…underneath all of the detail lie some basic principles that science is built upon and these, I feel, ought to be more mainstream than they perhaps are. We should be strive to be unceasing in our curiosity, rational in our explanations and accurate in our communication. We should value inquiry and the power of evidence to change opinions. We should be unflinching in our search for understanding and the desire to test the world around us.

There is no question in my mind that these tenets should act as guides to our lives (albeit not exclusively; they are necessary, rather than sufficient). This is the greatest contribution of science to society. It acts as a stimulant that keeps us from sleepwalking through a wonderland. It is a cloth that wipes away superstition and myths to reveal an ever-closer approximation of the truth. It is a mental prophylactic that shields our minds from the folly of confirmation bias or the lure of unrepresentative anecdotes.

Tell people about the latest discoveries and many will ask what the significance is to their lives. In some cases, there’s no way to answer that – they either appreciate it or they don’t. But the very question misses an important point. The actual results may not be relevant but the principles that underlie them most definitely are, and they are omnipresent. Curiosity. Investigation. Communication. What could be more human or more pertinent to our casual existence?

The UK curriculum (key stage 1, key stage 3) aims to teach the value of scientific enquiry and perhaps fire a lifelong ‘curiosity about phenomena in the world around them’, and I suspect science museums make that teaching just a bit easier.  I know that the majority of people I talk to can still remember their school visit to science museums, but I haven’t yet asked them what effect it might have had on their lives – does anyone know of any research?

‘Go forth and digitise’ – Bill Thompson at OpenTech 2010

I’ve realised events like OpenTech are a bit like geek Christmas – a brief intense moment of brilliant fun with inspiring people who not only get what you’re saying, they’ll give you an idea back that’ll push you further… then it’s back to the inching progress of everyday life, but hopefully with enough of that event energy to make it all easier. Anyway, enough rambling and onto my sketchy notes from the talk. Stuff in square brackets is me thinking aloud, any mistakes are mine, etc.

Giving the Enlightenment Another Five Hundred Years, Bill Thompson
Session 3, Track A #3A
[A confession – working in a museum, and a science museum at that, I have a long-standing interest in conserving enough of the past to understand the present and plan for the future, and just because it’s fascinating. It was ace to hear from someone passionate about the role of archives and cultural heritage in the defence of reason, and even more ace to see the tweets flying around as other people got excited about it too.]

The importance of the scientific method; of asking hard questions and looking for refutation not confirmation.

But surely history is all about progress – what could go wrong? But imagine President Palin… History has shown that it’s possible for progress to go backwards.

What can we do? He’s not speaking on behalf of the BBC here, but his job is to figure out what you can do with the BBC’s archive. [Video of seeing the BBC charter – the powerful impact of holding the actual physical object is reason enough to conserve things from the past, it’s an oddly visceral connection to the people who made it that I’ve noticed again and again while working in museums and archaeology.]

We need to remember. To remember is to understand, to resist. We need to digitise. Remembering comes along with digitising; our experience of the world is so mediated by bits that unless we makes archives digital in some form, there’s a real danger that they will be forgotten, inaccessible. Also need to build mechanisms so that stuff that’s created now are preserved alongside the records of the past. We need to do it all. If we do it well, we’ll give current and future generations the evidence they need to resist the onslaught of ignorance, the tide of unreason that’s sweeping the world. Need to create reasonable digitisation of solid artefacts too.

We need to do it soon ‘because the kids may not want to’. The technology exists but thinks there’s a real danger that if not done in the next ten years, it won’t be done; people won’t realise the value of the archives and understand why it has to be done. Kids who’ve grown up on Google will never do the deep research that will take them to the stuff that’s not digitised; non-digital stuff will fall into disuse; conservation/preservation will stop.
Don’t let Google do it, they don’t value the right things.

Once it’s in bits, preserve the data and the artefact; catalogue it, make it findable, make it usable – open data world meets open knowledge world. Access to APIs and datasets is important to make sure material can be found. If you know it’s there you can ask for it to be digitised. Build layers on top of the assets that have been digitised.

Need to make it usable so have to sort out the rights fiasco… Need a place to put it all, not sure that exists yet. New tools, services, standards so it can be preserved forever and found in future. Not a trivial task but vitally important. The information in the archives supports true understanding. Possibility of doing something transformative at the moment. [He finished with:] ‘Go forth and digitise. And don’t forget the metadata’.

Crowdsourcing metadata seems like a good idea; V&A gets a shout-out for crowdsourcing image cropping [with an ad hoc description ‘which one of these are in focus’ – they might be horrified to hear their photography described like that. I got all excited that other people were excited about crowdsourcing metadata, because creating interfaces with game dynamics to encourage people to create content about collections is my MSc dissertation project.]

OCRing text in digitised images – amazing [I need to find a reference to that – if we can do it it’d instantly make our archives and 2D collections much more accessible and discoverable]

Question re Internet Archive – ans that it doesn’t have enough curation – ‘like throwing your archives down a well before the invaders arrive’ – they might be there in a usable form when you come back for them, they might not be.

Question: preservation and digital archaeology are two different things, how closely are they aligned? [digital archaeology presumably not destructive though]

[And that’s the end of my notes for that session, notes on the Guardian platform and game session to come]