Another way to find out what's being said about your organisation

If you're curious to know what's being said about your institution, collection or applications, Omgili might help you discover conversations about your organisation, websites or applications. If you don't have the resources for formal evaluation programs it can be a really useful way of finding out how and why people use your resources, and figure out how you can improve your online offerings. From their 'about' blurb:

Omgili finds consumer opinions, debates, discussions, personal experiences, answers and solutions. … [it's] a specialized search engine that focuses on "many to many" user generated content platforms, such as, Forums, Discussion groups, Mailing lists, answer boards and others. … Omgili is a crawler based, vertical search engine that scans millions of online discussions worldwide in over 100,000 boards, forums and other discussion based resources. Omgili knows to analyze and differentiate between discussion entities such as topic, title, replies and discussion date.

Online participation at the EU – vote on the new euro coin

It seems the EU is taking online participation seriously: Help us choose the design of the new euro coin

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the launch of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and the creation of the euro, all euro-area countries will issue a commemorative 2-euro coin with a common design. It will be available at the beginning of 2009.
A design competition between the mints of the euro area has resulted in the pre-selection by the Mint Directors of 5 designs, presented here. The final winning design will be selected exclusively by your votes via this web page.

The selection is open to all EU citizens and residents. Each person may only vote once. A prize of a set of high-value euro collector coins will go to a participant chosen at random from those who voted for the winning design. Voting will be closed on 22 February 2008.

You can view the designs without registering – just click on the 'VOTE NOW' button.

You have to give an physical address and list your country but while the site says "This information is used to validate and record your choice, and to contact you in the event you are selected as a prizewinner", it doesn't say how it will check that you're an EU citizen or resident, or how they'd prevent people voting with other email addresses.

Still, it's an interesting experiment, especially as it will result in a very evident real world outcome.

Resistance to the participatory web from within the cultural heritage sector?

Various conversations I've been having over the past few weeks have given me the idea that resistance to the 'participatory web' (Web 2.0/social networking sites/user-generated content) could in part be based along disciplinary lines – I'd love to follow that up and find out if art historians are more resistant than social historians, for example.

Or does it depend on the context – whether the user-generated content occurs in or outside the official website, or whether the audience is an unknown mass of the general public or a community of specialists, educators or peers? Does it depend on the age of the individual? Is it about control? Or fear that we are making unknown content appear 'trustworthy' through its association with our institutions? Is it seen as unprofessional, or as pandering to the lowest common denominator?

I'm also interested in how this resistance is demonstrated – is it active (people within the institution refuse permission) or passive (people just don't produce content)?

Is user-generated content more acceptable in some contexts than others? Does it matter whether visitors are commenting on existing content with clear lines between institutional- and user-generated content (perhaps on Flickr) or editing the curators opinion (perhaps on the National Archives' Your Archive wiki)? Are reminiscences ok when other forms of user-generated content aren't? Does the ability to relate content back to a user profile make a difference?

At this point all I have is a lot of questions. If you have any experiences of resistance to or cooperation with participator web projects of your own, or know of research in this area, I'd love to hear from you.

As an aside, I suspect it doesn't help that lots of institutions block Facebook, YouTube, etc. I've always thought people should at least be able to view whatever 'timewasting' sites they like in their own lunchbreak, and it would mean that staff are more likely to be familiar with the environments in which their content might appear.

Personal blogs in cultural heritage and museums on Flickr

I meant to mention this at the e-learning group's 'Wine, Web 2.0' event on Thursday when someone asked about official blogs written from personal (rather than marketing or institutional) viewpoint: the British Library's Breaking the Rules blog strikes me as very personal – maybe not compared to the blogosphere as a whole, but compared to other 'work' blogs within the cultural heritage sector.

Also, the East Lothian Museums have been using Flickr ( to display some of their 25,000 items. It's worth checking out if you're thinking about how you might use Web 2.0 sites or if you're curious about their content. FWIW, they're also blogging.

Notes from 'Wine, Web 2.0 and What's New'

The e-learning group held a 'Wine, Web 2.0 and What's New' event in London tonight. I was on the panel with Frankie Roberto (Science Museum), Mike Lowndes (the museum sector's loss is Which's gain) and Guy Grannum (National Archives) and I thought it might be useful for people who couldn't make it if I typed up my notes. The discussion afterwards was really interesting but I didn't make many notes so I'd be interested to hear if anyone else managed to get some good notes.

Anyway, here goes:

Web 2.0 offers many exciting opportunities and you may feel under some pressure to 'go 2.0' and become fully buzzword-compliant. But wait! We shouldn't rush to replace existing systems or spend huge sums and many months on the latest technology buzzwords.

Instead, my contention is that a little Web 2.0 goes a long way, and is particularly useful when publishing niche content. Small scale projects can help expose your content to new audiences by making your content available for 'serendipitous discovery' or by making it accessible to potential but untapped audiences.

We can take advantage of low-cost, lightweight infrastructure/implementation nature of Web 2.0 applications to try small-scale online publishing projects. (As Frankie pointed out, make sure you take the time to inhabit Web 2.0 sites yourself first so you're familiar with the subtleties of how each site works).

For example, you can use Web 2.0 technologies to publish niche or specialist data that rarely gets funding for online publication (especially if it's not 'general' or schools audience-friendly) but is of great interest to, and a useful resource for specialist audiences.

Monitoring and evaluating the use of this data also allows specialists to make the case for further projects or better resources by demonstrating that there is public and peer interest in their objects, archive, collection or subject.

I'm going to briefly present two examples: Flickr, and addthis.

You can easily upload images from community projects or collections to Flickr, add appropriate metadata (titles, descriptions, labels), organise them into collections or sets, and geo-locate them by dragging them onto a map – all of which can enable the discovery of your collections by traditional or non-traditional, local or international audiences. It also makes your metadata available to search engines and can draw people back to your branded websites.

For instance, up to 70% of referrers on individual photos from the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre on Flickr are from external search engines. Generally the figure is around 20% (with the rest of the referrers being searches or browsing within Flickr), but it depends on the titles, descriptions and tags used.

Sites like Flickr don't replace a good content management system or collections database, but it can help you publish data that would otherwise never be seen.

For example, a small museum might use Flickr to publish object images and descriptions as a 'mini exhibition' or collection it couldn't otherwise afford to commission and host; or a department might put together a collection of their favourite items that are too fragile to display and link their Flickr page to blog posts about the objects and answer questions from visitors about the objects. We've used Flickr and blog software to publish a year-long research project about the glassworkers of Roman London for a whole new audience and for another 'behind the scenes' blog that is an experimental 'sneak peak into the working life of a museum'.

Sites like Flickr also provide easy ways to have visual 'conversations' with your visitors. The Dulwich Picture Gallery is a good example of the use of Flickr to build a community of visitors around event images.

Simple Web 2.0 applications or 'recommendation' services can help your audiences use your content in their 'real world' and share it with their friends and peers. You can take advantage of existing visitor habits online and follow the users' lead rather than blundering into their sites and committing a netiquette faux pas.

For example, provides code that displays a button that you could put on your collections, events, research or venue information pages. When the visitor clicks the button, they can save the page to a shared or social bookmarking site like delicious or digg, share it on their Facebook page or blog it on their own site.

If you register for an account and put your username in the provided code, you can view reports that show which objects, events or information pages have been saved for reference or shared with others. This also provides an insight into which pages contain interesting or accessible content, which can in turn motivate internal content creators and help improve your online offerings.

The nice thing is that addthis do all the worrying about keeping up with the latest trends in social or participatory Web 2.0 sites for you as they adjust and update the button accordingly.

One important point you should always consider is your 'exit strategy' – is the data and the publication method future-proof? What if standards change? What if the company goes bust? Do you own your content? Can you get any user-generated content out? What if you invest in a site and it's suddenly no longer trendy? What if you're overrun by spam or the context around the content changes? However, you can generally mitigate these concerns if you address them at the start of the project and work through them.

In summary, Web 2.0 technologies allow you to be clever about how you give new life to existing content and offer your content the chance to be part of worldwide conversations.

Call for participants: 1st Annual Antiquist Workshop

This might be of interest if you are interested in computer applications in archaeology (and can be in the UK in late April):

1st Annual Antiquist Workshop

21-23 April 2008

Department of Archaeology

Southampton University


The 1st Annual Antiquist Workshop will be hosted at Southampton University Archaeology Department in April 2008. The purpose of the Workshop is to provide postgraduate students in Archaeological Informatics and associated disciplines with the opportunity to:

  • Broaden their skill base with a short series of practical seminars focusing on real-world applications of IT in archaeology
  • Get career guidance from professionals working in the field
  • Network with peers from other institutions
  • Become involved with the Antiquist online community for IT & Cultural Heritage

Seminars will be based on topics requested by participants but are likely to include GIS, web-based mapping, 3D visualisation & reconstruction, data structuring and scripting. Workshop attendance is free but participants will need to pay for food and accommodation where required. The organisers will be happy to reserve accommodation at a local hostel or hotel on request. Places on the workshop are limited and will be assigned on a first-come-first-served basis. Topics requested by early registrants may also be given priority. The final deadline for registration is 10 February 2008.

In order to register please send an email to stating your name, institution and course, two specific topics which would be of interest to you, and whether accommodation arrangements should be made.

Please feel free to forward this to any person or list likely to be interested.

Best wishes

The AAW team

BBC: "Aboriginal archive offers new DRM"

A new method of digital rights management (DRM) which relies on a user's profile has been pioneered by Aboriginal Australians.

The Mukurtu Wumpurrarni-kari Archive has been developed by a community based in Australia's Northern Territory.

It asks every person who logs in for their name, age, sex and standing within their community.

This information then restricts what they can search for in the archive, offering a new take on DRM

It's a fascinating example of how real world community practice can be translated into online viewing. As the article says, "[f]or example, men cannot view women's rituals, and people from one community cannot view material from another without first seeking permission. Meanwhile images of the deceased cannot be viewed by their families." This has been an issue for Australian museums in the past and it'll be interesting to see if this 'DRM' solution is adopted more widely.

BBC: Aboriginal archive offers new DRM

Time to get rid of some old accessibility habits

The always interesting webcredible newsletter listed an article on '10 common errors when implementing accessibility' – as screen readers have improved, some old accessibility tips aren't required, and can even impede performance.

There's also a piece from December on 'Designing online social networks: The theories of social groups' with some relevance to cultural heritage organisations.