Some leads on game design in the UK

Today I passed on a query from @fayenicole: ‘…know anybody who could run a retro-style game design workshop for teenagers at the British Museum?’ on twitter and got a bunch of responses. Since people were so generous with their time, I thought I’d take a few minutes to collate them so they’re available the next time someone has a similar query.  Feel free to add further suggestions in the comments, particularly for people or agencies who are keen to work with museums and cultural heritage organisations.

In other news, I learned this week that ‘MT’ means ‘modified tweet’ and signifies when someone’s shortened or otherwise changed something they’re retweeting.  Mmm, learning.

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.]

Survey results: is it friendly or weird when a museum twitter account follows you back?

Last Tuesday, I asked ‘If you follow a museum on twitter, is it friendly or weird if it follows you back?‘ after calls from some quarters for #followavisitor #followamember or #MuseumsFollowYouBack days after followamuseum day on Twitter.  The poll gathered 50 responses overall and I’ve presented an overview of the results here.

Question 2 was added in response to a suggestion from a respondent after 20 responses had already been given, so for this reason alone, the results should not be taken as anything other than an interesting indication of responses.  I’ve shared the written responses to various questions, and provided a quick and dirty analysis of the results.

1. If you follow a museum on twitter, do you want it to follow you back?

Yes 49%
No 26.50%
It depends 26.50%

13 further comments were given for ‘it depends’:

  • if they’re conversational or broadcasting
  • I hope they do, they don’t have to.
  • Depends on what the account is doing. If it’s just sending out announcements, who cares if it follows you back? If they’re actually using Twitter, and there’s an actual person back there somewhere doing something interesting, I’d be pleased if they decided to follow me, like any other user.
  • Of couirse I’d like it, but I understand if they don’t due to over-following capacity!
  • If the museum is going to engage w/ me then yes; if it’s just to broadcast I’m on the fence
  • I’m an art historian, so if an art museum started to follow me, I would be flattered! But if another kind of museum followed me, I would be slightly confused. So I think it would depend entirely on the profession of the person and if they use their account in a professional way
  • If they start wanting to be my best bud, I’d probably get creeped out and block them.
  • I wouldn’t mind being followed, but not as a data point in a marketing database or to get impersonal spam.
  • I don’t think I really have a strong view either way.
  • Why?
  • If I’ve started a discussion with said museum through twitter
  • Don’t mind either way in most cases
  • it has no material effect — I don’t gain anything from it following me.
I also posted the question on Facebook, and two people said it was weird. One went further, “I think it’s weird, unless you primarily tweet about museums. I assume that anyone following me that is following more than 200 people doesn’t actually read my tweets.”.

2. If you follow a museum on twitter, do you mind if it follows you back?

Yes 2%
No 44%
It depends 14%
Skipped 40%
[See note above about the number of ‘skipped’ responses]

7 further comments were given for ‘it depends’:

  • I’d rather be able to look at who you follow to find other twitterers of interest. Can’t do that if you follow thousands of people back. Be selective so we can look thru them.
  • not unless my tweet is museum related
  • It depends on whether I know who is behind the tweets. Being a museum professional, sometimes they are colleagues, and that’s okay with me.
  • I don’t really care, but I think it’s silly.
  • I just don’t see why they would, it doesn’t help either of us
  • See above 🙂
  • I would prefer it to follow back, especially if it’s relevant to my own areas of historical interest, but no one has to follow anyone they don’t want to.

So it looks like you can’t win – almost 50% of new followers expect you to follow them and 50% either don’t, or only do under some circumstances.  As you can see from the responses to questions 3 and 4 (below), the results have presumably been skewed as 50% of respondents have a close involvement with museums, and a whopping two-thirds have a professional or academic interest in social media. I’m using the free version of SurveyMonkey so can’t easily split out the ‘social media’ or ‘museum professional’ responses from the rest to see if people who are neither have different views on reciprocal following.

The only way to get a sense of whether followers of your particular museum account expect to be followed back, or mind being followed back, may be to ask them directly.

Of the people who were able to answer question 2, a very small minority unequivocally minded being followed by a museum account, but 44% of those who answered don’t mind if a museum account doesn’t follow them back.

Another interesting question would have been ‘is it friendly or weird if an organisation follows you after you mention them?’ – if you do any more research into the issue, let me know.

Question 6 asked for ‘Any other comments?’.

  • Though I don’t work in a museum, I work in or with museums. I think the main issue is that museums tweeting should have personality, you should feel it’s a person (or group of people) that want to engage with you. I think if they follow me, it’s more likely they will hear me and engage.
  • By following and being followed by a museum it creates a sense of community (although of course I realize the museums won’t have time to read all the tweets).
  • I run a twitter account on behalf of a library, and think it’s good manners to follow back someone who follows you (like returning a hello). I always try to reply to people who want to talk to us, but try not to butt into conversations that are *about* us, but which don’t want us to reply to them (this can be tricky). As a user, by and large – I only want to talk to museums when I know the people doing the tweeting – and in New Zealand, I know most of these people anyway. Internationally, I do the same thing. Courtney Johnston, @auchmill, @nlnz
  • I like when museums respond to my comments or @ replies, but I’m not as comfortable with them following me. Being responsive is different than following.
  • Twiter has become one of the best sources for professional info & contacts @innova2
  • It would be more useful for the museum to keep track of hashtags, etc.
  • I want to communicate with people I follow, so following me back makes it easier. I don’t expect them to read all/most of what I say, but it’s nice…especially on my protected account (otherwise they never see the @)
  • Museums rock!
  • I don’t really mind either way. I find it flattering if an institution wants to follow me. They must think I have something to say!
  • I feel that museums have a great opp to get more individuals involved in history and the arts via social media – personally I follow a few and am always pleased to hear about new exhibits, events, etc.
  • I work with museums, that’s why I would like them to follow me back. I use Twitter for work, so I don’t mind if they follow back. If I would talk to my friends over Twitter about private stuff maybe I WOULD mind….
  • If a museum (or anyone) didn’t follow back, I would probably unfollow after a while unless their tweets were really something special.
  • I want people/institutions to follow me if they have genuine interest in my tweets – the same criteria I apply when choosing who to follow myself!
  • The real question probably should have been (or maybe an additional question should have been): do you MIND if a museum you follow follows you back. Because really, I don’t necessarily want them to, but I don’t mind if they do. I have the power to block if need be.
  • I think if the Museum was clear about WHY it was following me on twitter it would be less “stalkerish”. In general I somewhat expect to be followed by those I am following. Although I am not sure if organizations (Museums) really need to follow individuals. I would imagine the Museum’s staff would be overwhelmed with the number of completely unrelated tweets. What would be the advantage that couldn’t be obtained better by simply searching twitter for key terms related to the museum, content, exhibit, etc? (Note: I do not work “in” a museum but have worked with over 6 museums to define and develop their websites and web marketing activities)
  • I manage a twitter feed for a project at a science center. I follow people, organizations and businesses that are in the service area for the project (a watershed). I also follow other organizations that are working on similar issues (water quality).
  • I think not following people back is poor Twitter etiquette. That is like saying to someone, “Listen to me! But I won’t listen to you!”
  • 1. Personally, I find follow bots mildly more insulting than not being followed back. 2. In my professional capacity tweeting for a museum, if someone @mentions us, I follow them (I consider it friendly). The fact that this could be done equally well (and more efficiently) by a bot disturbs me a bit.
  • I tweet with an interest in culture, art, and museums in mind. It’s more of a compliment for museums to follow back than a feeling of being stalked, as it shows interest in its reader’s tweets.
  • Leave the poor souls alone, they only want to know what’s going on at your museum. I’ve blocked Museum of London (and I have every reason to trust them. Or not)
  • How is it stalkerish…dumb survey
  • Happy to be followed if it would help the museum understand more about its audience  
So that’s that.   I thought ‘being responsive is different than following’ summed things up quite nicely, but whatever your view, some interesting opinions have been expressed above.
I hadn’t considered before that not following someone back was rude – I must appear terribly rude on my personal accounts but I just can’t keep up with so many accounts, especially as I can have lots of time away from the keyboard.

Finally, the demographic questions (kept brief to keep the survey short)
3. Do you work, study or volunteer in a museum?
Yes 56%
No 44%

4. Do you work, study or volunteer in social media?
Yes 68%
No 32%

5. Where in the world are you?

Countries Total respondents
Australia 2
Belgium 1
Canada 2
Germany 1
Netherlands 4
New Zealand 1
Norway 1
Spain 2
Switzerland 1
UK 17
USA 18

If you follow a museum on twitter, is it friendly or weird if it follows you back?

Another Quick and Dirty Completely Unscientific Survey [tm].  Today was #followamuseum day on Twitter, and it’s all lovely and stuff, but I noticed some comments tagged #followavisitor #followamember or #MuseumsFollowYouBack suggesting that museums should follow you back. Now, I personally hate it* when an institution I’ve followed or mention follows me – particularly when I’ve only mentioned them in twitter conversation and not actually directed a comment at their username.  Ugh, creepy.

So we clearly have two different sets expectations about our relationships with institutional accounts. I wanted to know what the expectations ‘out there’ were, so I whipped up a quick survey and tweeted it, asking ‘Friendly or stalkerish?’.  I’ve also asked the question on Facebook, where my network is much less museum-y and social network-y**. You can go add your opinion now: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CSVXVCM

A supplementary question I didn’t add: “if a museum follows you back, do you really think they have time to read your tweets, or just respond to @ replies?”

* nearly all the time, anyway. I’d never think ‘ooh, they’re interested in me as an individual’, even though, y’know, I’m really interesting and stuff.

** You can tell, because my brother thought it was hilarious to respond: “You should go further and, whenever anyone visits the museum, pay them a return visit to check out all the stuff at their place. Imagine that! They’ll love it!”, but someone, somewhere, is adding that to their museum marketing plan.

Why do museums prefer Flickr Commons to Wikimedia Commons?

A conversation has sprung up on twitter about why museums prefer Flickr Commons to Wikimedia Commons after Liam Wyatt, Vice President of Wikimedia Australia posted “Flickr Commons is FULL for 2010. GLAMs, Fancy sharing with #Wikimedia commons instead?” and I responded with “has anyone done audience research into why museums prefer Flickr to Wikimedia commons?”.  I’ve asked before because I think it’s one of those issues where the points of resistance can be immensely informative.

I was struck by the speed and thoughtfulness of responses from kajsahartig, pekingspring, NickPoole1, richardmccoy and janetedavis, which suggested that the question hit a nerve.

Some of the responses included:

Kasja: Photos from collections have ended up at wikipedia without permission, that never happened with Flickr, could be one reason [and] Or museums are more benevolent when it happens at Flickr, it’s seen more as individuals’ actions rather than an organisations’?

Nick: Flickr lets you choose CC non-commercial licenses, whereas Wikimedia Commons needs to permit potential commercial use?

Janet: Apart fr better & clear CC licence info, like Flickr Galleries that can be made by all! [and] What I implied but didn’t say before: Flickr provides online space for dialogue about and with images.

Richard: Flickr is so much easier to view and search than WM. Commons, and of course easier to upload.

Twitter can be a bit of an echo chamber at times, so I wanted to ask you all the question in a more accessible place.   So, is it true that museums prefer Flickr Commons to Wikimedia Commons, and if so, why?

[Update: Liam’s new blog post addresses some of the concerns raised – this responsiveness to the issues is cheering.  (You can get more background at Wikipedia:Advice for the cultural sector and Wikipedia:Conflict of interest.)

Also, for those interested in wikimedia/wikipedia* and museums, there’s going to be a workshop ‘for exploring and developing policies that will enable museums to better contribute to and use Wikipedia or Wikimedia Commons, and for the Wikimedia community to benefit from the expertise in museums’, [email protected], at Museums at the Web 2010. There’s already a thread, ‘Wikimedia Foundation projects and the museum community’ with some comments.  I’d love to see the ‘Incompatible recommendations‘ section of the GLAM-Wiki page discussed and expanded.

* I’m always tempted to write ‘wiki*edia’ where * could be ‘m’ or ‘p’, but then it sounds like South Park’s plane-rium in my head.]

[I should really stop updating, but I found Seb Chan’s post on the Powerhouse Museum blog, Why Flickr Commons? (and why Wikimedia Commons is very different) useful, and carlstr summed up a lot of the issues neatly: “One of the reasons is that Flickr is a package (view, comment search aso). WC is a archive of photos for others to use. … I think Wikipedia/Wikimedia have potential for the museum sector, but is much more complex which can be deterrent.”.]

Microupdates and you (a.ka. ‘twits in the museum’)

I was trying to describe Twitter-esque applications for a presentation today, and I wasn’t really happy with ‘microblogging’ so I described them as ‘micro-updates’. Partly because I think of them as a bit like Facebook status updates for geeks, and partly because they’re a lot more actively social than blog posts.

In case you haven’t come across them, Twitter, Pownce, Jaiku, tumblr, etc, are services that let you broadcast short (140 characters) messages via a website or mobile device. I find them useful for finding like-minded people (or just those who also fancy a drink) at specific events (thanks to Brian Kelly for convincing me to try it).

You can promote a ‘hash tag’ for use at your event – yes, it’s a tag with a # in front of it, low tech is cool. Ideally your tag should be short and snappy yet distinct, because it has to be typed in manually (mistakes happen easily, especially from a mobile device) and it’s using up precious characters. You can use tools like Summize, hashtags, Quotably or Twemes to see if anyone else has used the same tag recently.

You can also ask people to use your event tag on blog posts, photos and videos to help bring together all the content about your event and create an ad hoc community of participants. Be aware that especially with Twitter-type services you may get fairly direct criticism as well as praise – incredibly useful, but it can seem harsh out of context (e.g. in a report to your boss).

More generally, you can use the same services above to search twitter conversations to find posts about your institution, events, venues or exhibitions. You can add in a search term and subscribe to an RSS feed to be notified when that term is used. For example, I tried http://summize.com/search?q=”museum+of+london” and discovered a great review of the last ‘Lates’ event that described it as ‘like a mini festival’. You should also search for common variations or misspellings, though they may return more false positives. When someone tweets (posts) using your search phrase it’ll show up in your RSS reader and you can then reply to the poster or use the feedback to improve your projects.

This can be a powerful way to interact with your audience because you can respond directly and immediately to questions, complaints or praise. Of course you should also set up google alerts for blog posts and other websites but micro-update services allow for an incredible immediacy and directness of response.

As an example, yesterday I tweeted (or twitted, if you prefer):

me: does anyone know how to stop firefox 3 resizing pages? it makes images look crappy

I did some searching [1] and found a solution, and posted again:

me: aha, it’s browser.zoom.full or “View → Zoom → Zoom Text Only” on windows, my firefox is sorted now

Then, to my surprise, I got a message from someone involved with Firefox [2]:

firefox_answers: Command/Control+0 (zero, not oh) will restore the default size for a page that’s been zoomed. Also View->Zoom->Reset

me: Impressed with @firefox_answers providing the answer I needed. I’d been looking in the options/preferences tabs for ages

firefox_answers: Also, for quick zooming in & out use control plus or control minus. in Firefox 3, the zoom sticks per site until you change it.

Not only have I learnt some useful tips through that exchange, I feel much more confident about using Firefox 3 now that I know authoritative help is so close to hand, and in a weird way I have established a relationshp with them.

Finally, twitter et al have a social function – tonight I met someone who was at the same event I was last week who vaguely recognised me because of the profile pictures attached to Twitter profiles on tweets about the event. Incidentally, he’s written a good explanation of twitter, so I needn’t have written this!

[1] Folksonomies to the rescue! I’d been searching for variations on ‘firefox shrink text’, ‘firefox fit screen’, ‘firefox screen resize’ but since the article that eventually solved my problem called it ‘zoom’, it took me ages to find it. If the page was tagged with other terms that people might use to describe ‘my page jumps, everything resizes and looks a bit crappy’ in their own words, I’d have found the solution sooner.

[2] Anyone can create a username and post away, though I assume Downing Street is the real thing.