The Future of the Web with Sir Tim Berners-Lee @ Nesta

The Future of the Web with Sir Tim Berners-Lee at Nesta, London, July 8.

My notes from the Nesta event, The Future of the Web with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, held in London on July 8, 2008.

nesta panel
Panel at ‘The Future of the Web’ with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Nesta

As usual, let me know of any errors or corrections, comments are welcome, and comments in [square brackets] are mine. I wanted to get these notes up quickly so they’re pretty much ‘as is’, and they’re pretty much about the random points that interested me and aren’t necessarily representative. I’ve written up more detailed notes from a previous talk by Tim Berners-Lee in March 2007, which go into more detail about web science.

[Update: the webcast is online at http://www.nesta.org.uk/future-of-web/ so you might as well go watch that instead.]

The event was introduced by NESTA’s CEO, Jonathan Kestenbaum. Explained that online contributions from the pre-event survey, and from the (twitter) backchannel would be fed into the event. Other panel members were Andy Duncan from Channel 4 and the author Charlie Leadbeater though they weren’t introduced until later.

Tim Berners-Lee’s slides are at http://www.w3.org/2008/Talks/0708-ws-30min-tbl/.

So, onto the talk:
He started designing the web/mesh, and his boss ‘didn’t say no’.

He didn’t want to build a big mega system with big requirements for protocols or standards, hierarchies. The web had to work across boundaries [slide 6?]. URIs are good.

The World Wide Web Consortium as the point where you have to jump on the bob sled and start steering before it gets out of control.

Producing standards for current ideas isn’t enough; web science research is looking further out. Slide 12 – Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI) – analysis and synthesis; promote research; new curriculum.

Web as blockage in sink – starts with a bone, stuff builds up around it, hair collect, slime – perfect for bugs, easy for them to get around – we are the bugs (that woke people up!). The web is a rich environment in which to exist.

Semantic web – what’s interesting isn’t the computers, or the documents on the computers, it’s the data in the documents on the computers. Go up layers of abstraction.

Slide on the Linked Open Data movement (dataset cloud) [Anra from Culture24 pointed out there’s no museum data in that cloud].

Paraphrase, about the web: ‘we built it, we have a duty to study it, to fix it; if it’s not going to lead to the kind of society we want, then tweak it, fix it’.

‘Someone out there will imagine things we can’t imagine; prepare for that innovation, let that innovation happen’. Prepare for a future we can’t imagine.

End of talk! Other panelists and questions followed.

Charles Leadbeater – talked about the English Civil War, recommends a book called ‘The World Turned Upside Down’. The bottom of society suddenly had the opportunity to be in charge. New ‘levellers‘ movement via the web. Participate, collaborate, (etc) without the trappings of hierarchy. ‘Is this just a moment’ before the corporate/government Restoration? Iterative, distributed, engaged with practice.

Need new kinds of language – dichotomies like producer/consumer are disabling. Is the web – a mix of academic, geek, rebel, hippie and peasant village cultures – a fundamentally different way of organising, will it last? Are open, collaborative working models that deliver the goals possible? Can we prevent creeping re-regulation that imposes old economics on the new web? e.g. ISPs and filesharing. Media literacy will become increasingly important. His question to TBL – what would you have done differently to prevent spam while keeping the openness of the web? [Though isn’t spam more of a problem for email at the moment?]

Andy Duncan, CEO of Channel 4 – web as ‘tool of humanity’, ability for humans to interact. Practical challenges to be solved. £50million 4IP fund. How do we get, grow ideas and bring them to the wider public, and realise the positive potential of ideas. Battle between positive public benefit vs economic or political aspects.

The internet brings more/different perspectives, but people are less open to new ideas – they get cosy, only talk to like-minded people in communities who agree with each other. How do you get people engaged in radical and positive thinking? [This is a really good observation/question. Does it have to do with the discoverability of other views around a topic? Have we lost the serendipity of stumbling across random content?]

Open to questions. ‘Terms and conditions’ – all comments must have a question mark at the end of them. [I wish all lectures had this rule!]

Questions from the floor: 1. why is the semantic web taking so long; 2. 3D web; 3. kids.
TBL on semantic web – lots of exponential growth. SW is more complicated to build than HTML system. Now has standard query language (SPARQL). Didn’t realise at first that needed a generic browser and linked open data. (Moving towards real world).

[This is where I started to think about the question I asked, below – cultural heritage institutions have loads of data that could be open and linked, but it’s not as if institutions will just let geeks like me release it without knowing where and why and how it will be used – and fair enough, but then we need good demonstrators. The idea that the semantic web needs lots of acronyms (OWL, GRDDL, RDF, SPARQL) in place to actually happen is a perception I encounter a lot, and I wanted an answer I could pass on. If it’s ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’, then even better…]

Questions from twitter (though the guy’s laptop crashed): 4. will Google own the world? What would Channel 4 do about it?; 5. is there a contradiction between [collaborative?] open platform and spam?; 6. re: education, in era of mass collaboration, what’s the role of expertise in a new world order? [Ooh, excellent question for museums! But more from the point of view of them wondering what happens to their authority, especially if their collections/knowledge start to appear outside their walls.]

AD: Google ‘ferociously ambitious in terms of profit’, fiercely competitive. They should give more back to the UK considering how much they take out. Qu to TBL re Google, TBL did not bite but said, ‘tremendous success; Google used science, clustering algorithms, looked at the web as a system’.
CL re qu 5 – the web works best through norms and social interactions, not rules. Have to be careful with assumption that can regulate behaviour -> ‘norm based behaviour’. [But how does that work with anti-social individuals?]
TBL re qu 6: e.g. MIT Courseware – experts put their teaching materials on the web. Different people have different levels of expertise [but how are those experts recognised in their expert context? Technology, norms/links, a mixture?]. More choice in how you connect – doesn’t have to be local. Being an expert [sounds exhausting!] – connect, learn, disseminate – huge task.

Questions from the floor: 7. ISPs as villains, what can they do about it?; 9. why can’t the web be designed to use existing social groups? [I think, I was still recovering from asking a question] TBL re qu 7 and ISPs ‘give me non-discriminatory access and don’t sell my clickstream’. [Hoorah!]

So the middle question  (Question 8) was me. It should have been something like ‘if there’s a tension between the top-down projects that don’t work, and simple protocols like HTML that do, and if the requirements of the ‘Semantic Web’ are top-down (and hard), how do we get away from the idea that the semantic web is difficult to just have the semantic web?’* but it came out much more messily than that as ‘the semantic web as proposed is a top-down system, but the reason the web worked was that it was simple, easy to participate, so how does that work, how do we get the semantic web?’ and his response started “Who told you SW is top down?”. It was a leading question so it’s my fault, but the answer was worth asking a possibly stupid/leading question. His full answer [about two minutes at 20’20” minutes in on the Q&A video] was: ‘Who on earth told you the semantic web was a top-down designed system? It’s not. It is totally bottom-out. In fact the really magic thing about it is that it’s middle-out as well. If you imagine lots of different data systems which talk different languages, it’s a bit like imagine them as a quilt of those things sewn together at the edges. At the bottom level, you can design one afternoon a little data system which uses terms and particular concepts which only you use, and connect to nobody else. And then, in a very bottom-up way, start meeting more and more people who’ll start to use those terms, and start negotiating with people, going to, heaven forbid, standards bodies and committees to push, to try to get other people to use those terms. You can take an existing set of terms, like the concepts when you download a bank statement, you’ll find things like the financial institution and transaction and amount have pretty much been defined by the banks, you can take those and use those as semantic web terms on the net. And if you want to, you can do that at the very top level because you might decide that it’s worth everybody having exactly the same URI for the concept of latitude, for the number you get out of the GPS, and you can join the W3C interest group which has gotten together people who believe in that, and you’ve got the URI, [people] went to a lot of trouble to make something which is global. The world works like that plug of stuff in the sink, it’s a way of putting together lots and lots of different communities at different levels, only some of them, a few of them are global. The global communities are hard work to make. Lots and lots and lots of them are local, those are very easy to make. Lots of important benefits are in the middle. The semantic web is the first technology that’s designed with an understanding of that’s how the world is, the world is a scale-free, fractal if you like, system. And that’s why it’s all going to work.’

[So I was asking ‘how do we get to the semantic web’ in the museum sector – we can do this. Put a dataset out there, make connections to the organisation next to you (or get your users to by gathering enough anonymised data on how they link items through searching and browsing). Then make another connection, and another. We could work at the sector (national or international) level too (stable permanent global identifiers would be a good start) but start with the connections. “Small pieces loosely joined” -> “small ontologies, loosely joined”. Can we make a manifesto from this?

There’s also a good answer in this article, Sir Tim Talks Up Linked Open Data Movement on internetnews.com.

“He urged attendees to look over their data, take inventory of it, and decide on which of the things you’d most likely get some use out of re-using it on the Web. Decide priorities, and benefits of that data reuse, and look for existing ontologies on the Web on how to use it, he continued, referring to the term that describes a common lexicon for describing and tagging data.”

Anyway, on with the show.]

[*Comment from 2015: in hindsight, my question speaks to the difficulties of getting involved in what appeared to be distant and top-down processes of ontology development, though it might not seem that distant to someone already working with W3C. And because museums are tricky, it turns out the first place to start is getting internal museum systems to talk to each other – if you can match people, places, objects and concepts across your archive, library and museum collections management systems, digital asset management system and web content management system, you’re in a much better position to match terms with other systems. That said, the Linking Museums meetups I organised in London and various other museum technology forums were really helpful.]

Questions from the floor: 10. do we have enough “bosses who don’t say no”?; 11. web to solve problems, social engineering [?]; 12. something on Rio meeting [didn’t get it all].

TBL re 10 – he can’t emulate other bosses but he tries to have very diverse teams, not clones of him/each other, committed, excited people and ‘give them spare time to do things they’re interested in’. So – give people spare time, and nurture the champions. They might be the people who seem a bit wacky [?] but nurture the ones who get it.

Qu 11 – conflicting demands and expectations of web. TBL – ‘try not to think of it as a thing’. It’s an infrastructure, connections between people, between us. So, are we asking too much of us, of humanity? Web is reflection of humanity, “don’t expect too little”.

TBL re qu 12 – internet governance is the Achilles heel of the web. No permission required except for domain name. A ‘good way to make things happen slowly is to get a bureaucracy to govern it’. Slowness, stability. Domain names should last for centuries – persistence is a really important part of the web.

CL re qu 11 – possibilities of self-governance, we ask too little of the web. Vision of open, collaborative web capable of being used by people to solve shared problems.

JK – (NESTA) don’t prescribe the outcome at the beginning, commitment to process of innovation.

Then Nesta hosted drinks, then we went to the pub and my lovely mate said “I can’t believe you trolled Tim Berners-Lee”. [I hope I didn’t really!]

Quick and light solutions at ‘UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008’

These are my notes from session 4, ‘Quick and light solutions’, of the UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008. In the interests of getting my notes up quickly I’m putting them up pretty much ‘as is’, so they’re still rough around the edges. There are quite a few sections below which need to be updated when the presentations or photos of slides go online. [These notes would have been up a lot sooner if my laptop hadn’t finally given up the ghost over the weekend.]

Frankie Roberto, ‘The guerrilla approach to aggregating online collections’
He doesn’t have slides, he’s presenting using Firefox 3. [You can also read Frankie’s post about his presentation on his blog.]

His projects came out of last year’s mashed museum day, where the lack of re-usable cultural heritage data online was a real issue. Talk in the pub turned to ‘the dark side’ of obtaining data – screen scraping was one idea. Then the idea of FoI requests came up, and Frankie ended up sending Freedom of Information requests to national museums in any electronic format with some kind of structure.

He’s not showing site he presented at Montreal, it should be online soon and he’ll release the code.

Frankie demonstrated the Science Museum object wiki.

[I found ‘how it works’ as focus of the object text on the Science Museum wiki a really interesting way of writing object descriptions, it could work well for other projects.]

He has concerns about big top down projects so he’s suggesting five small or niche projects. He asked himself, how do people relate to objects?
1. Lots of people say, “I’ve got one of these” so: ivegotoneofthose.com – put objects up, people can hit button to say ‘I have one of those’. The raw numbers could be interesting.
[I suggested this for Exploring 20th Century London at one point, but with a bit more user-generated content so that people could upload photos of their object at home or stories about how they got it, etc. I suppose ivegotoneofthose.com could be built so that it also lets people add content about their particular thing, then ideally that could be pulled back into and displayed on a museum site like Exploring. Would ivegotoneofthose.com sit on top of a federated collections search or would it have its own object list?]
2. Looking at TheyWorkForYou.com, he suggests: TheyCollectForYou.com – scan acquisition forms, publish feeds of which curators have bought what objects. [Bringing transparency to the acquisition process?]
3. Looking at howstuffworks.com, what about howstuffworked.com?
4. ‘what should we collect next?’ – opening up discourse on purchasing. Frankie took the quote from Indiana Jones: thatbelongsinamuseum.com – people can nominate things that should be in a museum.
5. pricelessartefact.com – [crowdsourcing object evaluation?] – comparing objects to see which is the most valuable, however ‘valuable’ is defined.
[Except that possibly opens the museum to further risk of having stuff nicked to order]

Fiona Romeo, ‘Different ways of seeing online collections’
I didn’t take many detailed notes for this paper, but you can see my notes on a previous presentation at Notes from ‘Maritime Memorials, visualised’ at MCG’s Spring Conference.

Mapping – objects don’t make a lot of sense about themselves, but are compelling as part of information about an expedition, or failed expedition.

They’ll have new map and timeline content launching next month.

Stamen can share information about how they did their geocoding and stuff.

Giving your data out for creative re-use can be as easy as giving out a CSV file.
You always want to have an API or feed when doing any website.
The National Maritime Museum make any data set they can find without licensing restrictions and put it online for creative re-use.

[Slide on approaches to data enhancement.]
Curation is the best approach but it’s time-consuming.

Fiona spoke about her experiments at the mashed museum day – she cut and paste transcript data into IBM’s Many Eyes. It shows that really good tools are available, even if you don’t have resources to work with a company like Stamen.

Mike Ellis presented a summary of the ‘mashed museum’ day held the day before.

Questions, wrap up session
Jon – always assume there (should be) an API

[A question I didn’t ask but posted on twitter: who do we need to get in the room to make sure all these ideas for new approaches to data, to aggregation and federation, new types of experiences of cultural heritage data, etc, actually go somewhere?]

Paul on fears about putting content online: ‘since the state of Florida put pictures of their beaches on their website, no-one goes to the beach anymore’.

Metrics:
Mike: need to go shout at DCMS about the metrics, need to use more meaningful metrics especially as thinking of something like APIs
Jon: watermark metadata… micro-marketing data.
Fiona: send it out with a wrapper. Make it embeddable.

Question from someone from Guernsey Museum about images online: once you’ve downloaded your nice image its without metadata. George: Flickr like as much data in EXIF as possible. EXIF data isn’t permanent but is useful.

Angela Murphy: wrappers are important for curators, as they’re more willing to let things go if people can get back to the original source.

Me, referring back to the first session of the day: what were Lee Iverson’s issues with the keynote speech? Lee: partly about the role of institution like the BBC in modern space. National broadcaster should set social common ground, be a fundamental part of democratic discussion. It’s even more important now because of variety of sources out there, people shutting off or being selective about information sources to cope with information overload. Disparate source mean no middle ground or possibility of discussion. BBC should ‘let it go’ – send the data out. The metric becomes how widely does it spread, where does it show up? If restricted to non-commercial use then [strangling use/innovation].

The ‘net recomender’ thing is a flawed metric – you don’t recommend something you disagree with, something that is new or difficult knowledge. What gets recommended is a video of a cute 8 year old playing Guitar Hero really well. People avoid things that challenge them.

Fiona – the advantage of the ‘net recomender’ is it’s taking judgement of quality outside originating institution.

Paul asked who wondered why 7 – 8 on scale of 10 is neutral for British people, would have thought it’s 5 – 6.

Angela: we should push data to DCMS instead of expecting them to know what they could ask for.

George: it’s opportunity to change the way success is measured. Anita Roddick says ‘when the community gives you wealth, it’s time to give it back’. [Show, don’t tell] – what would happen if you were to send a video of people engaging instead of just sending a spreadsheet?

Final round comments
Fiona: personal measure of success – creating culture of innovation, engagement, creating vibrant environment.

Paul: success is getting other people to agree with what we’ve been talking about [at the mashed museum day and conference] the past two days. [yes yes yes!] A measure of success was how a CEO reacted to discovering videos about their institution on YouTube – he didn’t try to shut it down, but asked, ‘how we can engage with that’

Ross on ‘take home’ ideas for the conference
Collections – we conflate many definitions in our discussions – images, records, web pages about collections.

Our tone has changed. Delivery changed – realignment of axis of powers, MLA’s Digital portfolio is disappearing, there’s a vacuum. Who will fill it? The Collections Trust, National Museum Directors’ Conference? Technology’s not a problem, it’s the cultural, human factors. We need to talk about where the tensions are, we’ve been papering over the cracks. Institutional relationships.

The language has changed – it was about digitisation, accessibility, funding. Three words today – beauty, poetry, life. We’re entering an exciting moment.

What’s the role of the Museums Computer Group – how and what can the MCG do?

Notes from ‘Maritime Memorials, visualised’ at MCG’s Spring Conference

There are my notes from the data burst ‘Maritime Memorials, visualised’ by Fiona Romeo, at the MCG Spring meeting. There’s some background to my notes about the conference in a previous post. Any of my comments are in [square brackets] below.

Fiona’s slides for ‘Maritime Memorials, visualised’ are online.

This was a quick case study: could they use information visualisation to make more of collections datasets? [The site discussed isn’t live yet, but should be soon]

A common visualisation method is maps. It’s a more visual way for people to look at the data, it brings in new stories, and it helps people get sense of the terrain in e.g. expeditions. They exported data directly from MultiMimsy XG and put it into KML templates.

Another common method is timelines. If you have well-structured data you could combine the approaches e.g. plotting stuff on map and on a timeline.

Onto the case study: they had a set of data about memorials around the UK/world. It was quite rich content and they felt that a catalogue was probably not the best way to display it.

They commissioned Stamen Design. They sent CSV files for each table in the database, and no further documentation. [Though since it’s MultiMimsy XG I assume they might have sent the views Willo provide rather than the underlying tables which are a little more opaque.]

Slide 4 lists some reasons arguments for trying visualisations, including the ability to be beautiful and engaging, provocative rather than conclusive, appeal to different learning styles and to be more user-centric (more relevant).

Some useful websites were listed, including the free batchgeocode.com, geonames and getlatlong.

‘Mine the implicit data’ to find meaningful patterns and representations – play with the transcripts of memorial texts to discover which words or phrases occur frequently.

‘Find the primary objects and link them’ – in this case it was the text of the memorials, then you could connect the memorials through the words they share.

The ‘maritime explorer’ will let you start with a word or phrase and follow it through different memorials.

Most interesting thing about the project is the outcome – not only new outputs (the explorer, KML, API), but also a better understanding of their data (geocoded, popular phrases, new connections between transcripts), and the idea that CSV files are probably good enough if you want to release your data for creative re-use.

Approaches to metadata enhancement might include curation, the application of standards, machine-markup (e.g. OpenCalais), social tagging or the treatment of data by artisans. This was only a short (2 – 3 weeks) project but the results are worth it.

[I can’t wait to try the finished ‘explorer’, and I loved the basic message – throw your data out there and see what comes back – you will almost definitely learn more about your data as well as opening up new ways in for new audiences.]

Notes from ‘Unheard Stories – Improving access for Deaf visitors’ at MCG’s Spring Conference

These are my notes from the presentation ‘Unheard Stories – Improving access for Deaf visitors’ by Linda Ellis at the MCG Spring Conference. There’s some background to my notes about the conference in a previous post.

Linda’s slides for Unheard Stories – Improving access for Deaf visitors are online.

This was a two year project, fit around their other jobs [and more impressive for that]. The project created British Sign Language video guides for Bantock House. The guides are available on mp3 players and were filmed on location.

Some background:
Not all ‘deaf’ people are the same – there’s a distinction between ‘deaf’ and ‘Deaf’. The notation ‘d/Deaf’ is often used. Deaf people use sign language as their first language and might not know English; deaf people probably become deaf later in life, and English is their first language. The syntax of British Sign Language (BSL) is different to English syntax. Deaf people will generally use BSL syntax, but deaf people might use signs with English grammar. Not all d/Deaf people can lip-read.

Deaf people are one of the most excluded groups in our society. d/Deaf people can be invisible in society as it’s not obvious if someone is d/Deaf. British sign language was only recognised as an official language in March 2003.

Their Deaf visitors said they wanted:
Concise written information; information in BSL; to explore exhibits independently; stories about local people and museum objects; events just for Deaf people (and dressing up, apparently).

Suggestions:
Put videos on website to tell people what to expect when they visit. But think about what you put on website – they’re Deaf, not stupid, and can read addresses and opening hours, etc. Put a mobile number on publicity so that Deaf people can text about events – it’s cheap and easy to do but can make a huge difference. If you’re doing audience outreach with social software, don’t just blog – think about putting signed videos on YouTube. Use local Deaf people, not interpreters. Provide d/Deaf awareness training for all staff and volunteers. Provide written alternatives to audio guides; add subtitles and an English voice over signed video if you can afford it.

Notes from Museums Computer Group (MCG) Spring Conference, Swansea

These are my notes from the Museums Computer Group (MCG) Spring meeting, held at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea, Wales, on April 23, 2008.

Nearly all the slides are online and I also have some photos and video from the National Waterfront Museum. If you put any content about the event online please also tag it with ‘MCGSpring2008’ so all the content about this conference can be found.

The introduction by Debbie Richards mentioned the MCG evaluation project, of which more later in ‘MCG Futures’.

I have tried to cover points that would be of general interest and not just the things that I’m interested in, but it’s still probably not entirely representative of the presentations.

Debbie did a great job of saying people’s names as they asked questions and I hope I’ve managed to get them right, but I haven’t used full names in case my notes on the questions were incorrect. Please let me know if you have any clarifications or corrections.

If I have any personal comments, they’ll be in [square brackets] below. Finally, I’ve used CMS for ‘content management systems’ and CollMS for ‘collections management systems’.

I’ve made a separate post for each paper, but will update and link to them all here as I’ve make them live. The individual posts include links to the specific slides.

‘New Media Interpretation in the National Waterfront Museum’

‘Catch the Wind: Digital Preservation and the Real World’

‘The Welsh Dimension’

‘Museums and Europeana – the European Digital Library’

‘MCG Futures’

‘Building a bilingual CMS’

‘Extending the CMS to Galleries’

‘Rhagor – the collections based website from Amgueddfa Cymru’

‘Maritime Memorials, visualised’

‘Unheard Stories – Improving access for Deaf visitors’

‘National Collections Online Feasibility Study’

Notes from ‘National Collections Online Feasibility Study’ at MCG’s Spring Conference

These are my notes from Bridget McKenzie’s presentation, ‘National Collections Online Feasibility Study’ at the MCG Spring meeting. Bridget’s slides are online: National Collections Online Feasibility Study’. There’s some background to my notes about the conference in a previous post. Any of my comments are in [square brackets] below.

The partners in the National Collections Online Feasibility Study are the National Museum Director’s Conference, the V&A, the National Museum of Science and Industry, the National Maritime Museum, and Culture 24 (aka the 24 Hour Museum).

The brief:
Is it possible to create a discovery facility that integrates national museum collections; provides seamless access to item-level collections; a base on which build learning resources and creative tools? And can the nationals collaborate successfully?

The enquiry:
What’s the scope? What’s useful to different partners? What can be learnt from past and current projects? How can it help people explore collections? How can it be delivered?

There’s a workshop on May 9th, with some places left, and another on June 18th; reports at the end of May and July.

Community of enquiry… people from lots of different places.

What are they saying?
“Oh no, not another portal!”
“You need to go to where the eyeballs are” – they’re at Google and social networking sites, not at portals (but maybe at a few museum brands too).

It has to be understood in the context of why people visit museums. We don’t know enough about how people use (or want to use) cultural collections online.

There’s some worry about collaborative projects taking visits from individual sites. [Insert usual shtick about the need to the online metrics for museums to change from raw numbers to something like engagement or reach, because this is an institutional concern that won’t go away.]

“Don’t reinvent the wheel, see how other projects shape up”: there’s a long list of other projects on slide 9!

It’s still a job to understand the options, to think about they can be influenced and interoperate.

“We have to build the foundations first”
Needs: audience research – is there a market need for integrated collections?; establish clarity on copyright [yes!]; agreement on data standards; organisational change – communicate possibilities, web expertise within museums; focus on digitising stuff and getting it out there.

[re: the audience – my hunch is that most ‘normal’ people are ‘museum agnostic’ when they’re looking for ‘stuff’ (and I mean ‘stuff’, not ‘collections’) – they just want to find 18th century pictures of dogs, or Charles and Di wedding memorabilia; this is different to someone looking for a ‘branded’ narrative, event or curated experience with a particular museum.]

“Let’s just do small stuff”
Need to enable experiment, follow the Powerhouse example; create a sandbox; try multiple approaches – microformats, APIs, etc. [Woo!]

Does a critical mass of experimentation mean chaos or would answers emerge from it?

What does this mean?
Lots of options; questions about leadership; use the foundations already there – don’t build something big; need an market- or audience-led approach; sector leadership need to value and understand emerging technology.

Notes from ‘Rhagor – the collections based website from Amgueddfa Cymru’ at MCG’s Spring Conference

There are my notes from the presentation ‘Rhagor – the collections based website from Amgueddfa Cymru’ by Graham Davies at the MCG Spring meeting.

This paper talked about the CMS discussed in Building a Bilingual CMS.

‘Rhagor’ is Welsh for more – the project is about showing more of the collections online. It’s not a ‘virtual museum’.

With this project, they wanted to increase access to collections and knowledge associated with those collections; to explain more about collections than can be told in galleries with space limitations; and to put very fragile objects online.

[He gave a fascinating example of a 17th century miniature portrait with extremely fragile mica overlays – the layers have been digitised, and visitors to the website can play dress-up with the portrait layers in a way that would never be physically possible.]

The site isn’t just object records, it also has articles about them. There’s a basic article structure (with a nice popout action for images) that deals with the kinds of content that might be required. While developing this they realised they should test the usability of interface elements with general users, because the actions aren’t always obvious to non-programmers.

They didn’t want to dumb down their content so they’ve explain with a glossary where necessary. Articles can have links to related articles; other parts of the website and related publications, databases etc. Visitors can rate articles – a nice quick simple bit of user interactivity. Visitors can share articles on social networking sites, and the interface allows them to show or hide comments on site. Where articles are geographically based, they can be plotted onto a map. Finally, it’s all fully bilingual. [But I wondered if they translate comments and the replies to them?]

In their next phase they want to add research activities and collections databases. They’re also reaching out to new audiences through applications like Flickr and Google Earth, to go to where audiences are. If the content is available, audiences will start to make links to your content based on their interests.

The technology itself should be invisible, user has enriched experience through the content.

Questions:
Alex: to what extent is this linked with collection management system (CollMS)? Graham: it’s linked to their CMS (discussed in earlier papers), not their CollMS. They don’t draw directly from CollMS into CMS. Their CollMS is working tool for curators, needs lots of data cleaning, and doesn’t necessarily have the right content for web audiences; it’s also not bilingual.

Notes from ‘Extending the CMS to Galleries’ at MCG’s Spring Conference

These are my notes from the presentation, Extending the CMS to Galleries by Dafydd James at the MCG Spring meeting. Dafydd’s slides for Extending the CMS to Galleries are online. There’s some background to my notes about the conference in a previous post. Any of my comments are in [square brackets] below.

This paper talked about extending the CMS discussed in Building a Bilingual CMS. See also notes from the following talk on ‘Rhagor – the collections based website from Amgueddfa Cymru‘.

Oriel I [pronounced ‘Oriel Ee’ rather than ‘Oriel one’ as I first thought] is an innovative and flexible gallery, created under budget constraints. Dafydd worked with the curatorial departments and exhibition designer.

It feeds 15 interactive touchscreens, 7 video streams, sound, content can be updated by curatorial department. They’re using Flash, it was a better option at time than HTML/Javascript, and it can be used alongside PHP for data.

They assigned static IP addresses to all PCs in gallery. Web pages ran in kiosk software on Windows XP PCs.

They had to get across to curators that they didn’t have much room for lots of text, especially as it’s bilingual. The system responds quickly if user interacts – on release action, though interactions need to be tested with ‘normal’ people. Pre-loading images helps.

Future plans: considering changing some of the software to HTML/Javascript, as there are more Javascript libraries are available now, and it can be faster to load, and it’s open source. Also upgrading to a newer version of Flash as it’s faster.

They’re looking at using Linux, they want more flexibility than Site Kiosk which uses an IE6 engine.

They’re thinking about logging user actions to find out what the popular content is, get user feedback, and they’re trialling using handhelds with the CMS to deliver smaller versions of webpages.

Notes from ‘Building a bilingual CMS’ at MCG’s Spring Conference

These are my notes from Chris Owen’s presentation, ‘Building a bilingual CMS’ (for the National Museum of Wales) at the MCG Spring meeting. Chris’ slides for ‘Building a bilingual CMS’ are online. There’s some background to my notes about the conference in a previous post. Any of my comments are in [square brackets] below.

Why did they build (not buy) a CMS?
Immediate need for content updating, integration of existing databases.
Their initial needs were simple – small group of content authors, workflow and security weren’t so important.
Aims: simplicity, easy platform for development, extensible, ease of use for content authors, workflow tailored to a bilingual site, English and Welsh kept together so easier to maintain.

It’s used on main website, intranet, SCAN (an educational website), Oriel I (more on that later in a later talk), gallery touch-screens and CMS admin.

The website includes usual museum-y stuff like visitor pages, events and exhibitions, corporate and education information, Rhagor (their collections area – more on that later too) and blogs.

How did they build it?
[In rough order] They built the admin web application; created CMS with simple data structures, added security and workflow to admin, added login features to CMS, integrated admin site and CMS, migrated more complex data structures, added lots of new features.

They developed with future uses in mind but also just got on with it.

Issues around bilingual design:
Do you treat languages equally? Do you use language-selection splash screens or different domain names?
Try to localise URLs (e.g. use aliases for directories and pages so /events/ and /[the Welsh word for events]/ do the same [appropriate] thing and Welsh doesn’t seem like an afterthought). Place the language switch in a consistent location; consider workflow for translation, entering content, etc.

Use two-character language codes (en/cy), organise your naming conventions for files and for database fields so Welsh isn’t extra (e.g. collections.en.html and the equivalent .cy.html); don’t embed localised strings in code. [It’s all really nicely done in XML, as they demonstrated later.]

Coding tip: pull out the right lang at the start in SQL query; this minimises bugs and the need to refer to language later.

It’s built on XML, as they have lots of databases and didn’t want to centralise/merge them together; this means they can just add news ones as needed.

Slide 16 shows the features; it compares pretty well to bigger open-source projects out there. It has friendly URLs, less chance of broken links, built in AJAX features and they’ve integrated user authentication, groups so there’s one login for whole website for users. The site has user comments (with approval) and uses reCaptcha. There’s also a slide on the admin features later – all very impressive.

They’ve used OO design. Slide 18 shows the architecture.

Content blocks are PHP objects – the bits that go together that make the page. Localised. Because links are by ID they don’t break when pages are moved. They’re also using mootools.

The future: they want to have more user-centric features; work with the [Welsh project] People’s Collection and other collaborations; APIs with other sites for web 2.ish things; more use of metadata features; they will make it open source if people think it’s useful.

They would really open it up, via something like sourceforge, but would take lead.

[Overall it’s a really impressive bit of work, sensibly designed and well implemented. Between that and the Indianapolis Museum of Art I’ve seen some really nice IT web tools in museums lately. Well done them!]

Notes from ‘MCG Futures’ at MCG’s Spring Conference

These are my notes from ‘MCG Futures’ Jon Pratty and Ross Parry (presented by Jon Pratty) at the Museums Computer Group (MCG) Spring Conference. There’s some background to my notes about the conference in a previous post. If I’ve made any comments below they’re in [square brackets]. The slides for MCG Futures are online.

Jon: in this presentation will outline the evaluation process, present some of the feedback to date and the timescales.

We’ve got our work cut out getting level and quality of feedback we need.

Disclaimer: he’s not presenting the personal views of Jon or Ross; but presenting what the membership think so far.

The MCG has an ‘astonishing heritage’ of meetings and discussions held across the country and throughout the year [slide 2 is a list of all the meetings – this is the 51st]. There’s a rich archive of content, proceedings, papers, etc. The MCG has a valuable archive, culture, way of working and communal history.

As the web starts to move faster than the organisation, what do you do? What does the momentum of technology mean. Are we keeping up with changes?

Slide 3 is the timetable for consultation, formulation and action – changes to be agreed at the AGM in autumn 2008. Slides 5 – 10 present some of the feedback so far.

Are we reaching out far and hard enough? They’ve had 20 – 25 specific feedback emails, fewer from the online form. They will be asking other organisations how they do it to so can get more feedback. The big steps that might be coming require feedback from bigger sample of membership. [So if you want to see change, you have to send comments! It’s ok to be critical, and it’s ok to write about what you like already.]

The Autumn meeting will be crucial – if there are going to be changes, information has to go out before the Annual General Meeting so the membership have time and notice to consider those changes.

It’s going to happen relatively quickly – it’s ‘not a long period of navel-gazing’.

Some thoughts based on comments so far:
Is MCG a collection of voices or a unified voice?
Do we set agendas or reflect them?
Are we as technologists [doers] disenfranchised from the people who make decisions?
Web or print?
What’s the role of newsletter?
Would you want a blog? (As this asks more of a group of people or MCG committee if so, how would that work?)
What about membership fees.

Questions – what about the:
Function: advocacy, research, collaboration?
Governance: structure, responsibility, size?
Interactions: frequency, location, focus?
Membership: composition, benefits, cost?
Outputs: newsletter, reports, web?
Affiliations: professional, governmental, commercial?

[If you missed the first call for feedback, you can email Debbie Richards, use the feedback form, or discuss it on the MCG list. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a member, or not in IT/a technologist or not a web person – your opinion is valuable.]

The UK Museums and the Web Conference will be at the University of Leicester on June 19, 2008.