Responsibility to users?

What responsibility do the providers of a platform have to the communities that use that platform? The example below is slightly different because it was a commercial company, not a cultural heritage organisation, but it raises interesting issues.

Discussing Disney’s deletion of their Virtual Magic Kingdom in Considering New Ethics in Virtual Communities and Cultures, radical trust says:

Let’s not hide behind the word “virtual”. Connections made in online communities are real. When considering the totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns – arts, beliefs, institutions and all other products of human work, thought and emotion – we are well beyond the basic definitions of community and entering the realm of culture. Although Disney owned the virtual-estate, do they have the ethical right to disintegrate the culture within?

As online communities continue to aid and develop human connections, do we need to start considering the ethical responsibilities of the platform controllers to maintain these cultures?

Next-generation approaches at ‘UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008’

Session 3, Next-generation approaches, of the UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008 was introduced by Jon Pratty.

Jon questioned, ‘what is a virtual museum?. It can be pretty much anything. Lots of valuable historical documents aren’t in ‘online museum’, they’re just out there to be found by search. It raises the question – how much permanence should digital objects have?’.

George Oates, ‘Sharing museum collections through Flickr’
Introducing the Flickr Commons project and talking about some early results. Some practical information on what it means to join the program, and things that have come out of it.

Flickr ‘swerved in from left field’ and bumped into museum people and librarians and archivists.

It started with Library of Congress thinking about how to engage with Web 2.0. They were looking for a Web 2.0 partner. They have 14 million images, about a million digitised.

Flickr is designed specifically to search and browse photos. It has a big infrastructure and supports interfaces in 8 languages. It has lots of eyeballs – “it’s made of people”.

From the Commons point of view, it’s simply a service, organisations can publish content into it.

They hit a hurdle: can a collecting institution publish content onto a site like Flickr? As collecting institution, someone like the Library of Congress doesn’t necessarily own the copyright or know who the copyright holder was. They devised a new statement – ‘no known copyright restrictions’ – this provided a way to use this content once institution had done as much work as they could to trace copyright so they could still publish if not able to trace copyright holders.

Might open up to other sorts of content.

What’s it for? Increase access to public photography collections; gather context about them, [something else I missed].

Powerhouse – lots of the collection was geo-tagged. It means you can find photos from then and now, for example around the CBD of Sydney. [Cool! I love the way geo-tagging content lets you build up layers of history]

Brooklyn – it made sense to use their existing established Flickr account, so Flickr created functionality to support that. The Smithsonian joined on Monday.

Soon they’ll have content from other partners including a charming collection from a tiny local museum.

Results:
Last 28 days Library of Congress – 15,000 [or 50,000?] views per day, 8 million views over last six months, 72,000 tags.
Powerhouse – 77,000 views (more views of that collection in one month than in the whole previous year), 3500 tags.
Brooklyn – figures affected by merged account issue.
Smithsonian – 10,000 views in first day, 100 new contacts

The numbers are probably affected by the ratio of photos e.g. smaller numbers when an institution has put fewer photos online.

“But, is it any good”?”
Suddenly there are conversations between Flickr users and institutions, and between Flickr users, contributing information and identifications.

They contribute the identification of places and people, with information about the history behind photos.

Now and then – people are adding their recent photos of a location via comments on Flickr.

Library of Congress have made a list of types of interactions [slides], they include the transcription of text on signs, posters, etc in background, geo-tags, non-English tags.

Institutional context and Flickr – bind them together with hyperlink, but being on Flickr frees a program from institutional constraints.

Flickr has been designed as a vessel or platform where interactions and conversations can happen.

The information that the community provides is proving useful. The Library of Congress has updated 176 records in catalogue, recording that it’s based on ‘information provided by Flickr Commons Project 2008’.

The Smithsonian found it was opportunity for collaboration between institutions/departments and staff.

How to join: the process is publish – interact – feedback.

What to think about: give a broad representation of what’s in your collection. Think about placement of images in photostream and sets. Plan to attract special interest groups. Think about what is already digital, what is popular? It can direct your digitisation efforts with feedback from a live community. Or you could go into your stores or collections database and possibly digitised randomly.

How much metadata to include? How many fields from database into description of photo; more or less?

When: can be a challenge for institutions.

How? You could use the normal Flickr uploadr if you don’t have too many images; or you could use API to write applications that will work with Collections Management Systems.

Who? Might be web technician and curator.

The catch? It costs $24.95 for a Pro account. But you get unlimited storage, and could conceivably put whole collection online.

The future:
It’s a work in progress. Probably will end up developing tools like additional reporting
Grow gently (make sure institution can handle the changes and respond to interactions)
They will continue their focus on photographs, not photographs of objects “(sorry)”. “Flickr is about … empathic photography”
“Go local” e.g. small archives in little towns – people can still participate even if they don’t have a web team, or web site.
API methods, RSS
Searching, browsing, maps
Search across Commons coming soon. Maybe combine searches to see a map of photos taken in 1910.

‘Sector-wide initiatives’ at ‘UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008’

Session 2, ‘Sector-wide initiatives’, of the UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008 was chaired by Bridget McKenzie.

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. Updated posts should show in your RSS feed but you might need to check your settings.

[I hope Bridget puts some notes from her paper on her blog because I didn’t get all of it down.]

The session was introduced as case studies on how cross institutional projects can be organised and delivered. She mentioned resistance to bottom-up or experimental approach, institutional constraints; and building on emerging frames of web.

Does the frame of ‘the museum’ make sense anymore, particularly on the web? What’s our responsibilities when we collaborate? Contextual spaces – chance to share expertise in meaningful ways.

It’s easy to revert to ways previous projects have been delivered. Funding plans don’t allow for iterative, new and emergent technologies.

Carolyn Royston and Richard Morgan, V&A and NMOLP.
The project is funded by the ‘invest to save’ program, Treasury.

Aims:
Increase use of the digital collections of the 9 museums (no new website)
No new digitisation or curatorial content.
Encourage creative and critical use of online resources.
[missed one]
Sustainable high-quality online resource for partners.

The reality – it’s like herding cats.

They had to address issue of partnership to avoid problems later in project.

Focussed on developing common vision, set of principles on working together, identify things uniquely achievable through partnership, barriers to success, what added value for users.

Three levels of barriers to success – one of working in an inter-museum collaborative way, which was first for those nationals; organisational issues – working inter-departmentally (people are learning or web or whatever people and not used to working together); personal issues – people involved who may not think they are web or learning people.

These things aren’t necessary built in to project plan.

Deliverables: web quests, ‘creative journeys’, federated search, [something I missed], new ways of engaging with audiences.

Web Quests – online learning challenge, flexible learning tool mapped to curriculum. They developed a framework. It supports user research, analysis and synthesis of information. Users learn to use collections in research.

Challenges: creating meaningful collection links; sending people to collections sites knowing that content they’d find there wasn’t written for those audiences; provide support for pupils when searching collections. Sustainable content authoring tool and process.

[I wondered if the Web Quest development tools are extendible, and had a chance to ask Carolyn in one of the breaks – she was able to confirm that they were.]

Framework stays on top to support and structure.

Creative journeys:
[see slide]

They’re using Drupal. [Cool!]

[I also wondered about the user testing for creative journeys, whether there was evidence that people will do it there and not on their blogs, Zotero, in Word documents or hard drives – Carolyn also had some information on this.]

Museums can push relevant content.

What are the challenges?
How to build and sustain the Creative Journeys (user-generated content) communities, individually and as a partnership?
Challenge to curatorial authority and reputation
Work with messiness and complexity around new ways of communicating and using collections
Copyright and moderation issues

But partners are still having a go – shared risk, shared success.

Federated search
Wasn’t part of original implementation plan
[slide on reasons for developing]
Project uses a cross collection search, not a cross collection search project. The distinction can be important.

The technical solution was driven by project objectives [choices were made in that context, not in a constraint-free environment.]

Richard, Technical Solution
The back-end is de-coupled from front end applications
A feed syndicates user actions.

Federated search – a system for creating machine readable search results and syndicating them out.
Real time search or harvester. [IMO, ‘real time’ should always be in scare quotes for federated searches – sometimes Google creates expectations of instantaneous results that other searches can’t deliver, though the difference may only be a matter of seconds.]

Data manipulation isn’t the difficult bit

Creative Journeys – more machine readable data

Syndicated user interactions with collections.
Drupal [slide]

Human factor – how to sell to board
Deploy lightweight solutions. RAD. Develop in house, don’t need to go to agency.

[I’d love it if the NMOLP should have a blog, or a holding page, or something, where they could share the lessons they’ve learnt, the research they’ve done and generally engage with the digital museum community. Generally a lot of these big infrastructure projects would benefit from greater transparency, as scary as this is for traditional organisations like museums. The open source model shows that many eyeballs mean robust applications.]

Jeremy Ottevanger and Europeana/the European Digital Library
[I have to confess I was getting very hungry by this point so you might get more detailed information from Jeremy’s blog when he adds his notes.]
Some background on his involvement in it, hopes and concerns.
“cross-domain access to Europe’s cultural heritage”
Our content is more valuable together than scattered around.

Partnership, planning and prototyping
Not enough members from the UK, not very many museums.
Launch November this year
Won’t build all of planned functionality – user-generated content and stuff planned but not for prototype.

Won’t build an API or all levels of multiple linguality (in first release). Interface layer may have 3 or 4 major languages; object metadata (maybe a bit) and original content of digitised documents.

Originals on content contributors site, so traffic ends up there. That’s not necessarily clear in the maquette (prototype). [But that knowledge might help address some concerns generally out there about off-site searches]

Search, various modes of browsing, timeline and stuff.

Jeremy wants to hear ideas, concerns, ambitions, etc to take to plenary meeting.

He’d always wanted personal place to play with stuff.

[Similarly to my question above, I’ve always wondered whether users would rely on a cultural heritage sector site to collate their data? What unique benefits might a user see in this functionality – authority by association? live updates of data? Would they think about data ownership issues or the longevity of their data and the reliability of the service?]

Why are there so few UK museums involved in this? [Based on comments I’ve heard, it’s about no clear benefits, yet another project, no API, no clear user need] Jeremy had some ideas but getting in contact and telling him is the best way to sort it out.

Some benefits include common data standards, a big pool of content that search engines would pay attention to in a way they wouldn’t on our individual sites. Sophisticated search. Will be open source. Multi-lingual technology.

Good news:
“API was always in plans”.

EDLocal – PNDS. EU projects will be feeding in technologies.

Bad news: API won’t be in website prototype. Is EDLocal enough? Sustainability problems.
‘Wouldn’t need website at all if had API’. Natural history collections are poorly represented.

Is OAI a barrier too far? You should be able to upload from spreadsheet. [You can! But I guess not many people know this – I’m going to talk to the people who coded the PNDS about writing up their ‘upload’ tool, which is a bit like Flickr’s Uploadr but for collections data.]

Questions
Jim O’Donnell: regarding the issue of lack of participation. People often won’t implement their own OAI repository so that requirement puts people off.

Dan Zambonini: aggregation fatigue. ‘how many more of these things do we have to participate in’. His suggestion: tell museums to build APIs so that projects can use their data, should be other way around. Jeremy responded that that’s difficult for smaller museums. [Really good point, and the PNDS/EDL probably has the most benefits for smaller museums; bigger museums have the infrastructure not to need the functionality of the PNDS though they might benefit from cross-sector searching and better data indexing.]

Gordon McKenna commented: EDLocal starts on Wednesday next week, for three years.

George Oates: what’s been most surprising in collaboration process? Carolyn: that we’ve managed to work together. Knowledge sharing.

We know it’s worth doing, but how do we convince others?

Bootstrapping a Niche Social Network poses the question, “How do you bootstrap your social site if you’re targeting a group that doesn’t yet use software (or doesn’t seem interested in using software)? While software designers can often see how useful their tool can be, normal users aren’t so prescient. How do you get them to see the value in your software?”, and provides some answers:

People don’t want to be good at software. They want to be good at fun things like acting, writing, and ultimate frisbee.

Once you identify the areas where the software can improve the theatre folks life, you’ll have a much easier time convincing them to give it a shot. So in their mind they won’t be using “social network software”, they’ll be using a tool to help them be a better theatre group.

This is an unfortunate side-effect of the social networking craze. We have new words that we’re using to communicate among those of us who design the software, but for the vast majority of folks who will actually use the software, the terms don’t mean very much. So while you may understand what I mean by “niche social network”, the people actually in the niche social network think of themselves as performers, actors, or what-have-you.

See also: Social Media for Social Change Behind the Nonprofit Firewall (and the discussion in the comments).

The issues are a bit different for social networks – if you get it right then your users are your content creators, while you’ll probably need others outside of IT to contribute if you want blogs or videos or photos about your organisation.

Finding real world metaphors also seems to help – Andy Powell described the Ning site for the Eduserv Foundation Symposium 2008 as “a virtual delegate list – a place where people could find out who is coming on the day (physically or virtually) and what their interests are”. This description has made a lot of sense to people I’ve discussed it with – everyone knows what a conference delegate list looks like, and everyone has probably also wondered how on earth they’ll find the people who sound interesting. A social network meets a need in that context.

Notes from ‘Who has the responsibility for saying what we see?’ in the ‘Theoretical Frameworks’ session, MW2008

These are my notes from the second paper, ‘Who has the responsibility for saying what we see? mashing up Museum and Visitor voices, on-site and online‘ by Peter Samis in the Theoretical Frameworks session chaired by Darren Peacock at Museums and the Web 2008.

The other session papers were Object-centred democracies: contradictions, challenges and opportunities by Fiona Cameron and The API as Curator by Aaron Straup Cope; all the conference papers and notes I’ve blogged have been tagged with ‘MW2008‘.

It’s taken me a while to catch up on some of my notes – real life has a way of demanding attention sometimes. Any mistakes are mine, any comments corrections are welcome, and the comments in [square brackets] below are mine.

Peter Samis spoke about the work of SFMOMA with Olafur Eliasson. His slides are here.

How our perception changes how we see the world…

“Objecthood doesn’t have a place in the world if there’s not an individual person making use of that object… I of course don’t think my work is about my work. I think my work is about you.” (Olafur Eliasson, 2007)

Samis gave an overview of the exhibitions “Take your time: Olafur Eliasson” and “Your tempo” presented at SFMOMA.

The “your” in the titles demands a proactive and subjective approach; stepping into installations rather than looking at paintings. The viewer is integral to the fulfilment of a works potential.

Do these rules apply to all [museum] objects? These are the questions…

They aimed to encourage visitors in contemplation of their own experience.

Visitors who came to blog viewed 75% of pages. Comments were left by 2% of blog visitors.

There was a greater in interest in seeing how others responded than in contributing to the conversation. Comments were a ‘mixed bag’.

The comments helped with understanding visitor motivations in narratives… there’s a visual ‘Velcro effect’ – some artworks stay with people – the more visceral the experience of various artworks, the greater the corresponding number of comments.

[Though I wondered if it’s an unproblematic and direct relationship? People might have a relationship with the art work that doesn’t drive them to comment; that requires more reflection to formulate a response; or that might occur at an emotional rather than intellectual level.]

Visitors also take opportunity to critique the exhibition/objects and curatorial choices when asked to comment.

What are the criteria of values for comments? By whose standards? And who within the institution reads the blog?

How do you know if you’ve succeeded? Depends on goals.

“We opened the door to let visitors in… then we left the room. They were the only ones left in the room.” – the museum opens up to the public then steps out of the dialogue. [Slide 20]

[I have quoted this in conversation so many times since the conference. I think it’s an astute and powerful summary of the unintended effect of participatory websites that aren’t integrated into the museum’s working practices. We say we want to know what our visitors think, and then we walk away while they’re still talking. This image is great because it’s so visceral – everyone realises how rude that is.]

Typology/examples of museum blogs over time… based on whether they open to comments, and whether they act like docents/visitors assistants and have conversations with the public in front of the artworks.

If we really engage with our visitors, will we release the “pent up comments”?
A NY Times migraine blog post had 294 reflective, articulate, considered, impassioned comments on the first day.

[What are your audiences’ pent up questions? How do you find the right questions? Is it as simple as just asking our audiences, and even if it isn’t, isn’t that the easiest place to start? If we can crack the art of asking the right questions to elicit responses, we’re in a better position.]

Nina Simon’s hierarchy of social participation. Museums need to participate to get to higher levels of co-creative, collaborative process. “Community producer” – enlist others, get
cross fertilisation.

Even staff should want to return to your blogs and learn from them.

[Who are the comments that people leave addressed to? Do we tell them or do we just expect them to comment into empty space? Is that part of the reason for low participation rates? What’s the relationship between participation and engagement? But also because people aren’t participating in the forum you provide, doesn’t mean they’re not participating somewhere else… or engaging with it in other forums, conversations in the pubs, etc not everything is captured online even if the seed is online and in your institution. ]

Notes from ‘User-Generated Content’ session at MW2008

These are my notes from the User-generated content session at Museums and the Web, Montreal, 2008. All mistakes are mine, any corrections are welcome, my comments are in [square brackets] below.

The papers presented were The Art of Storytelling: Enriching Art Museum Exhibits and Education through visitor narratives by Matthew Fisher, Alexandra Sastre, Beth Twiss-Garrity; The Living Museum: Supporting the Creation of Quality User-Generated Content by Allison Farber, Paul Radensky and Getting ‘In Your Face’: Strategies for Encouraging Creativity, Engagement and Investment When the Museum is Offline by Martin Lajoie, Gillian McIntyre, Ian Rubenzahl, Colin Wiginton.

The “Art of Storytelling” project at the Delaware Art Museum.
The paper covered visitor-contributed content (VCC), the key factors to success, and the motivations behind allowing visitors to contribute. The paper goes into more of the theoretical foundations.

The key findings of the Art of Storytelling project evaluation:

What’s the value to the visitor who contributes? It engages visitors in thinking critically and creatively about and in response to art.
What’s the value to the museum? They get feedback and to engage new audiences
What’s the value to the other visitors? There is some confusion, but also it can be inspiring, enriching, and encourage others to participate.

It’s not appropriate or appealing for all collections, but it’s hard to predict which in advance.

[When looking at models of participation:] Allow the motivated to contribute, allow the rest to benefit; don’t penalise for non-participation.

Simplicity – remove barriers to entry (engage first, login last if at all).

Promote in traditional and non traditional venues; have a clear invitation to participate.

Motivating factors included curatorial encouragement (have curators there encouraging people), juried selections, stipends for selected storytellers.

What’s in it for the audience? They get 15 minutes next to an Andy Warhol. Establish an audience for your visitor-contributors – affiliation with an institution is valued, even if comes with caveats. [Theirs is an art museum – does that work for all audiences, or for all types of content?]

Don’t try and create communities beyond the your collections (because others with bigger budgets are after the same eyeballs).

They gave lots of examples from a summary of evaluation of other projects (but the slides were hard to see):
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston – thinking through art. Active looking skills.
The Wolfsonian Institute in Miami – Artful Citizenship Project.
Guggenheim – Learning Through Art.
Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum – Round by Halsey Burgund.
Denver Art museum – Frederic Remington exhibit, Hamilton building programming.
Philadelphia area art museums; art, literacy, museums.

They then provided some background information about the Art of Storytelling at the Delaware Art Museum – story telling kiosks in the museum.

Their ‘a-ha’ moment was realising that the experience was more transformational for the original story tellers (i.e. the adults) than the audience. Transcend traditional ideas re lack of authority.

In conclusion, visitor-contributed content programs are valuable to the original contributors and museums get valuable insight into audiences, but it’s an open question as to whether they’re valuable for other visitors.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage, supporting the creation of quality user-generated content in the “Living Museum”.
The project started as outreach project for Jewish communities without local museum.

The process: students visit a local museum, learn a bit about how museums are structured in terms of display of objects and organisation. The students choose an artefact to represent Jewish heritage at home, then write labels at school. They then organise artefacts into galleries, create gallery title and text panels, then create in-school and online exhibitions. Students research artefacts and tell their own stories. They include measurements because you can’t get a sense of scale on the internet. One piece of text tells story of artefact and the other tells significance of artefact to family.

[They aren’t promoting it until they feel the site is ready – a familiar story!]

They run seminars with teachers to help them submit quality content, but they still get objects unrelated to Jewish heritage, text with spelling and grammar errors, incomplete labels, unclear photos, factual errors.

The goals included: educational – a connection to Jewish heritage, parental involvements, museology, improve writing and research skills; institutional – high quality images so people can see what they’re looking at; privacy of students; motivation of students.

Teachers say students are motivated to get stuff right because it’s going online.

Unlike other user-generated content sites, the content is pre-reviewed, as the project has very specific educational goals. They control who creates content on the website (anyone can use but only teachers from Jewish schools can post content) and check that kids can’t be identified. They are trying not to expose the kids and their personal stories to comment or modification by other users.

They are going to implement a spell checker.

How can they help users to contribute quality content? Convey expectations, consider needs of both kinds of users, offer support, concentrate on process and product of exhibition creation, review submitted content and offer recommendations.

“In Your Face”, Art Gallery of Ontario
In Your Face: The People’s Portrait Project.
While the Art Gallery of Ontario building was under construction, they were interested in rethinking the way the organisation worked, and how to keep people connected to the institution.

They got the idea from UK’s National Portrait Gallery BP prize, but they didn’t want a contest.

They advertised on back of the national paper for a few weeks as they had free space. They wrote a copyright statement that people had to sign, specified a size, and said they would hang every piece that came in. They received 17,000 portraits.

First they got lots of entries from rural areas, then the rest of Canada and the world. There was an extraordinary variety in portraits, and also in the parcels. They also arrived with stories.

It was a one way thing – people knew they weren’t going to get the portraits back. It mattered to them to get them exhibited in the AGO.

There was more diversity in portraits and in the people who came to see them than usually seen in the gallery. People paid money to see the portraits as they were ‘after the gate’. It was lots of work for staff on top of their normal job cos it turned out to be huge, but gave them (the staff) energy. It also made their audiences real for the staff and helped make the institution inclusive.

Contemporary artists from their collection also sent in portraits, but their names weren’t shown so it was all egalitarian.

They also created a Flickr group (but weren’t able to get that projected in the gallery). It now has 10,000 portraits in it.

They had a parallel project – Collection X. It was an online project where visitors could make their own exhibition. Collect, connect and create. ‘Open source museum’ [- the online paper goes into more detail, including the use of RSS.]

Partly [?] as a result of the project, guiding principles developed for institution include relevance, responsiveness, creativity, transparency, diversity and forum.

Questions asked:
How do you balance museum’s agenda with visitor expectations? Is it possible to assert control and foster programming that is open-ended? How do we think about expertise, quality and standards? How do we integrate and manage creativity in ways that are dynamic and long-term? Is curatorial expertise or audience experience paramount? Some things curators are uneasy about. Dynamism also means some volatility – how does that work?

Lessons learned:
Take risks, experiment and be willing to make mistakes
Museums can function as catalysts for creativity [my emphasis, this was the meme that ran through the whole session, for me]
A critical mass of creativity asserts its own kind of aesthetic
There is value in integrating user-generated content that is actual as well as virtual
Museum and the public can function as producers and consumers of culture to create a shared sense of ownership
The public will be invested if programming is authentic and they feel respected.

Museums and Clayton’s audience participation

A comment Seb left on Nate’s blog post about “master” metadata got me thinking about cognitive dissonance and whether museums who say they’re open to public participation and content really act as if they are. Are we providing a Clayton’s call for audience participation?

If what you do – raise the barrier to participation so high that hardly anyone is going to bother commenting or tagging – speaks louder than what you say – ‘sure, we’d love to hear what you have to say’ – which one do you think wins?

To pick an example I’ve seen recently (and this is not meant to be a criticism of them or their team because I have no idea what the reasons were) the London Transport Museum have put ‘all Museum objects and stories on display in the new Museum’ on their collections website, which is fantastic. If you look at a collection item, the page says, “Share a story with us – comment on this image”, which sounds really open and inviting.

But, if you want to comment, they ask for a lot of information about you first – check this random example.

So, ok. There are lots of possible reasons for this. UK museums have to deal with the Data Protection Act, which might complicate things, and their interpretation of the DPA might mean they ask for more information rather than less and add that scary tick box.

Or maybe they think the requirement to give this information won’t deter their audience. I’d imagine that London Transport Museum’s specialist audiences won’t be put off by a registration form – some of their users are literally trainspotters and at risk of believing a stereotype, if they can bear the kind of weather that requires anoraks, they’re probably not put off by a form.

Or maybe they’re trying to control spam (though email addresses are no barrier to spam, and it’s easy to use Akismet or moderation to trap spam); or maybe it’s a halfway house between letting go and keeping control; or maybe they’re tweaking the form in response to usage and will lower the barriers if they’re not getting many comments.

Or maybe it’s because the user-generated content captured this way goes directly into their collection management system and they want to record some idea of the provenance of the data. From a post to the UK Museums Computer Group list:

We have just launched the London Transport Online Museum. Users can view
every object, gallery and label text on display in our new museum in Covent Garden.

Following on from the current discussion thread we have incorporated into this new site, the facility for users to leave us memories / stories on all objects on display. Rather than a Wiki submission these stories are made directly on the website and will be fed back into our collection management system. These submissions can be viewed by all users as soon as they have passed through moderation process.

We will closely monitor how many responses we get and feedback to the group.

Please have a look, and maybe even leave us a memory?

[My emphasis in bold]

Moving on from the example of the London Transport Museum…

Whether the gap between their stated intentions and the apparent barriers to accepting user-generated content is the result of internal ambivalence about or resistance to user-generated content, concern about spam or ‘bad data’, or a belief that their specialist audiences will persist despite the barriers doesn’t really make a difference; ultimately the intentionality matters less than the effect.

By raising the barrier to participation, aren’t they ensuring that the casual audience remains exactly that – interested, but not fully engaged?

And as Seb pointed out, “Remembering that even tagging on the PHM collection – 15million views in 2007, 5 thousand tags . . . – and that is without requiring ANY form of login.”

It also reminds me of what Peter Samis said at Museums and the Web in Montreal about engaging with museum visitors digitally: “We opened the door to let visitors in… then we left the room”.

(If you’re curious, the title is a reference to an Australian saying: Clayton’s was “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”, as as Wikipedia has it ‘a compromise which satisfies no-one’. ‘Ersatz’ might be another word for it.)

Move your FAQ to Wikipedia?

Mal Booth from the Australian War Memorial (AWM) makes the fascinating suggestion: they should move their entire Encyclopaedia to Wikipedia. Their encyclopaedia seems to function as a fully researched and referenced FAQ with content creation driven by public enquiries, and would probably sit well in Wikipedia.

In Wikipedia and “produsers”, Mal says:

“Putting the content up on Wikipedia.org gives it MUCH wider exposure than our website ever can and it therefore has the potential to bring new users to our website that may not even know we exist (via links in to our own web content). With a wikipedia.org user account, we can maintain an appropriate amount of control over the content (more than we have at present over wikipedia content that started as ours, already put up there by others).

Another point is that putting it up on Wikipedia allows us to engage the assistance of various volunteers who’d like to help us, but don’t live locally.”

He also presents some good suggestions from their web developer, Adam: they should understand and participate in the Wikipedia community, and identify themselves as AWM professionals before importing content. I think they’ve taken the first step by assessing the suitability of their content for Wikipedia.

It’s also an interesting example of an organisation that is willing to ‘let go’ of their content and allow it to be used and edited outside their institution. Mal’s blog is a real find (and I’m not just saying that because it has ‘Melbin’ (Melbourne) in the title), and I’ll be following the progress of their project with interest.

I wonder how issues of trust and authority will play out on their entries: by linking to the relevant Wikipedia entries, the AWM is giving those entries a level of authority they might not otherwise have. They’re also placing a great deal of trust in Wikipedia authors.

Mal links to a post by Alex Bruns, Beyond Public Service Broadcasting: Produsage at the ABC and summarises the four preconditions for good user-generated content:

  • the replacement of a hierarchy with a more open participatory structure;
  • recognising the power of the COMMUNITY to distinguish between constructive and destructive contributions;
  • allowing for random (granular, simple) acts of participation (like ratings); and
  • the development of shared rather than owned content that is able to be re-used, re-mixed or mashed up.

Adam’s post lists key principles that anyone “looking to develop successful and sustainable participatory media environments” should take into account. These points are defined and expanded on in the original post, which is well worth reading:

  1. Open Participation, Communal Evaluation
  2. Fluid Heterarchy, Ad Hoc Meritocracy
  3. Unfinished Artefacts, Continuing Process
  4. Common Property, Individual Rewards