UKOLN's one-stop shop 'Cultural Heritage' site

I've been a bad blogger lately (though I do have some good excuses*), so make up for it here's an interesting new resource from UKOLN – their Cultural Heritage site provides a single point of access to 'a variety of resources on a range of issues of particular relevance to the cultural heritage sector'.

Topics currently include 'collection description, digital preservation, metadata, social networking services, supporting the user experience and Web 2.0'. Usefully, the site includes IntroBytes – short briefing documents aimed at supporting use of networked technologies and services in the cultural heritage sector and an Events listing. Most sections seem to have RSS feeds, so you can subscribe and get updates when new content or events are added.

* Excuses include: (offline) holidays, Virgin broadband being idiots, changing jobs (I moved from the Museum of London to an entirely front-end role at the Science Museum) and I've also just started a part-time MSc in Human-Centred Systems at City University's School of Informatics.

Open data, the BBC, and 'the virality and interconnectedness of the web'

Not surprisingly for an article titled 'The BBC can be an open source for all of UK plc', there's a particular focus on possible commercial applications or start-ups building services around BBC content or code, but it's also a good overview of current discussions and of the possibilities that opening up cultural heritage content for re-use and re-mixing might provide.

The article acknowledges the 'complex rights issues' around the digitisation of some content, and I suspect this one of the main issues that's preventing the museum sector opening up more of its data, but it's not the only one.

How do we move forward? Can we develop a UK-specific licence that allows for concerns about the viability of commercial picture library services and for objects without clear copyright and reproduction rights statements? Should we develop and lobby for the use of new metrics that make off-site visits and engagement with content count? Do we still need to convince our organisations that it's worth doing this, and worth putting resources behind?

How do we strike a balance between the need for caution that prevents the reputation or finances of an organisation being put at risk and the desire for action? Will the list of reasons why we're not doing it grow before it shrinks?

On to the article, as the BBC's work in this area may provide some answers:

The [BBC's] director general Mark Thompson has directed the corporation to think beyond proprietary rights management to a new era of interoperability that offers consumers wider choice, control and benefits from "network effects" – the virality and interconnectedness of the web.

Steve Bowbrick, recently commissioned to initiate a public debate about openness at the corporation, thinks empowerment could be as important as the traditional Reithian mantra, "Educate, inform and entertain."

"The broadcast era is finished," he says. "The BBC needs to provide web tools and a new generation of methods and resources that will boost [its] capital, but that will also use the BBC as a platform for promoting the individuals, organisations and businesses that make up UK plc."

This post is very much me 'thinking out loud' – I'd love to hear your comments, particularly on why we're not yet and how we can start to expose museum collections and information to the 'virality [vitality?] and interconnectedness of the web'.

Bathcamp report

This is my quick and dirty report from BathCamp, held in Bath last weekend. In summary – it was ace, and I went to sessions on the myth of engagement, how to run an Open Space session, social learning, CakePHP, managing complexity in software, learning Chinese online, the art of espresso, and a Delicious pecha kucha. I've included my notes on some of the sessions I've attended, and some ideas for the future in this post. My #bathcamp photos are here and there's a general pool here.

There was a dinner on Friday night for people who were already in the area, which was a good chance to meet some people who were interested but unable to make the Saturday/Sunday.

The sessions:
The myth of engagement (Jack Martin Leith)
Engagement means it's not a message from the organisation to the audience. 'Buy-in' means you're being sold something. Work with people, don't treat them as audiences or something to speak 'to'. It should be a conversation or a dance. It means letting go of brand so it can belong to users. Flickr are a good example of how to do it – look at the 'you','your x' in their menus.

Engagement should be a code word for: inviting participation, including, involving, joining in with, conversing with, playing with, creating with.

Commands: tell
Messages: sell, test, consult
Conversations: co-create

Shell are really good at engagement, and do lots of research, as do the army (which makes sense, because they'd really need people to be engaged and committed).

Open Space (Jack Martin Leith)
This session was on how to run Open Space events, and on the comparative strengths of barcamps and open spaces.

Open Spaces set the theme as a question.

How you invite people is central. Attention is given to welcomes, orientation on arrival. The space is very important. The facilitator doesn't do anything unless someone tries to spoil the vibe or close the space. Put the principles on the wall to remind everyone. The circle is critical in open space.

If you host a session, you agree to write a report (or get someone else to write it). [I think this is vital – it means the ideas, conversations, learning or connections aren't lost, and can be shared beyond the session.]

People sign up for sessions once proposed sessions have been put up on the wall. This helps with planning, space allocation and coordinating sessions.

Social Learning (Laura Dewis)
Smart profiles [?], informed network of peers.

The system adapts to learner now. There was a slide on the OU (Open University) ecosystem – lots of different applications or sites linked together.

OU story – can tell the story of where you are with your course, how you're coping, others can support you. Study buddies… connecting with others with same interests, recommendation 'other people who've done this course also did…'

Cohere – semantic web. Deep learning.

Wider ecosystem of tools. They don't talk to each others. Identify which make sense in learning/teaching context, how can they talk to each other, build on it.

Ecosystem of content – content partnerships.

Learning profiles can become CVs of a sort, showing what you've actually learnt and are interested in.

There was some discussion about online identities, overlap, professional vs private identities – I'm glad to see this acknowledged. Also discussion on the effect on brand.

Q: How much engagement from academics? A: A lot of buy-in, but also resistance to putting some content online e.g. video on youtube more than written course materials, as it's better intellectual property. Developments that OU do doesn't always get into mainstream education, they can be seen as stuff that OU would do but that traditional universities wouldn't.

According to Brian Kelly, edu-punk is over, edu-pirate is in.

CakePHP, Mike (?)
It's an MVC framework.
Nice pre-defined validation stuff.
[I wonder how cake compares to django? And if the validation fields for things like phone numbers are internationalised?]
Scaffolding – stuff already built into framework. [controllers for table input?]
How configurable is the scaffolding? [e.g. year field on date is really long but you might want to limit the range of years].
You can use basic class methods, helpers, components if not using scaffolding.
[This was one of a few useful demos of various application frameworks, including this Django one I didn't get to]

Complexity in software stuff (Alex)
Why is complexity a problem? In case it's not obvious – maintenance, debugging is harder, cost of new staff learning the software is more expensive, and less complexity makes life easier for developers (most importantly!).

There's a body of knowledge on dealing with the complexity of software. Human experience codified. Looking at different metaphors.

Learning Chinese (Chris Hall)
The potential for learning on the internet is untapped.

Examples of autodidacts – Sophie Germain – French mathematician during 18th C. A hero for his learning. [And a possible modern bluestocking?] She had theories accepted by pretending to be a man until she was famous enough to be accepted regardless. The ability to reach out to others and explore ideas with them is really important – she wrote letters, but now we have the internet to enable autodidacts. [Does this mean autodidacts become socialdidacts? Though I guess the motivation still comes from the individual, even if they can learn with others.]

For Chris, learning Chinese was a muse, a focus or lens for learning about social networking and the potential of internet too.

Some interesting bits on the differences between western and Chinese web sites – more meaningful characters (rather than letters) mean lots of information fits in just two characters, which makes layout easier – consistent length of terms in e.g. navigation items.

Chinese users don't trust search engines, and don't have a culture of using search – they look for lists of links. But this will probably change.

Useful examples of using delicious in a RESTful way with bookmarked dictionary and translation sites.

Then a great example of using Ubiquity with Google's translation API for in-page translation of someone else's web content. Ubiquity makes it easy to use web APIs.

And we learnt that EEE's implementation of the Chinese alphabet is phonetic – the keyboard goes by the sound of the word. I've always wondered how Chinese dictionaries work, and I guess they might use a similar technique.

The Art of Espresso (Sam)
Espressos have an intense flavour, they're not necessarily strong.
Mmm, crema.

You can get good results for reasonable money e.g. £100, but steer clear of anything below £50. The pressure ones (e.g. stove top) are 'really nasty' and not espresso machines (ha!). Pump machines. Semi- vs fully-auto.

Grinders – grind coffee as close to using it as possible. Don't keep coffee in the fridge. You can keep it in vacuum flasks in the dark. Espresso needs an almost powdery grind. Burr grinders are better than blade. Decent grinder c £50.

Sam covered the basic flavours from different regions – South American coffees are nutty, chocolately, quite sweet, African – darker, smokey, stronger (?) – your classic italian espresso
Asian Pacific coffees are citrussy, fruity, sharper.

I was way too excited about this session – I love proper coffee, and was having trouble staying awake so I really appreciated the espresso I had. I even got to have a moment of Australian-in-England coffee snobbery with a guy from Sydney (sorry, England!).

I went from this session into:
Delicious pecha kucha (Mark Ng)
The idea is that you provide your delicious username (e.g. and a script picks up your ten most recent bookmarks, and you have a certain number of seconds to explain each bookmark to the group. This was a bit scary after a fresh espresso on an empty stomach, but a fun challenge. The range of interests from a small bunch of geeks at one event is remarkable. I ended up having a great conversation about some of the challenges and big ideas in cultural heritage IT with some people in this session.

Later there was pizza and a tub quiz organised by Darren Beale, before we headed off to the pub and finally a burger from Schwartz's and War Games on the projector for the night owls.

On the way up I'd realised how exciting it was to see an idea that came out of discussions at Museums and the Web in Montreal in April become reality in Bath in September. Between changing jobs and being off-line quite a lot in the lead-up, I wasn't able to help out as much as I could have liked, so my thanks to those who actually made the event come together:
Dan Zambonini, Frankie Roberto, Laura Francis, Lisa Price, Mike Ellis, Stephen Pope, Tim Beadle. And my thanks to the sponsors who made sure we had food and drink and were generally very comfortable in the venue. And finally, it wouldn't have worked without the friendly and engaged participants, so thank you everyone! Frankie's put together a list of everyone's twitter accounts to help people keep in contact. Darren's also linked to a bunch of blog posts about bathcamp.

If I'd run a session, I think it would have been a really open conversation on 'what can cultural heritage IT do for you?' – a chance to explain why so many of us are excited about digital heritage, and to hear from others about what they'd like to see museums and other organisations do, what kinds of data they might use, how they might use our content, what excites them and what bores them.

I'd also like to run a session blatantly aimed at picking the brains of some of the very smart people who come to unconferences – ask everyone to pick their favourite museum, exhibition or object, check out the relevant website and coming back to tell us one thing they'd improve about that website.

During the planning process the focus of Bathcamp changed from cultural heritage to a more general event for Bath/Bristol geeks, with some digital heritage ring-ins from further afield. I'm going to a spillover session for BarCampLondon5 and I'll be interested in how that compares.

I'd still really like to see a MuseumCamp or DigitalHeritageCamp – I think it could be a good way of reaching out from the circle of cultural heritage geeks who have the same ideas about the Right Things To Do to engage with the rest of our sector (museums, galleries, libraries, archives, archaeology, even the humanities in general) – the people who would produce content, work with our audiences, sign-off on projects or push new metrics and evaluation models to sector funders. There's also some discussion of this in the comments on Frankie's round-up of bathcamp.

In the spirit of getting things done, I've created a digital heritage ning (ad hoc social network) as a central place where we can talk about organising a digital heritage barcamp – specifically in the UK to start with, but there's no reason why it couldn't be used to share ideas and organise events internationally. You can sign up directly on the ning if you want to be involved – it's open to everyone, and you don't have to be working in digital cultural heritage – an interest in how it can be done well is enough.

Freebase meetup, London, August 20

As she explains on the Freebase blog, Kirrily from Freebase will be in London for a little while this month and she'd having an informal meet up with Freebase users and those who might be interested to learn more about it:

We'll be meeting at the Yorkshire Grey Pub in Holborn from 6:30pm, having a few drinks, and talking about open data, building communities around free information, mashups, and more. If you're interested, please stop by. There'll be free wifi available, so bring your laptops if you've got them.

You can RSVP on I'm going because I think Freebase could be really useful for a personal project but also because it's another way of helping people make the most of their digital heritage.

If you don't know much about Freebase, or haven't seen it lately, this video on Parallax, their new browsing interface should give you a pretty good idea of how useful it can be for cultural heritage and natural history data. It's 8 minutes long, and it's really worth taking the time to watch particularly for the maps and timelines, but if you're pressed for time then skip the first two minutes.

You can also get more background at The Future of the Web or Freebase: Dispelling The Skepticism. There are lots of possibilities for museums, archaeology and other cultural content so come along for a chat and a pint.

[Update: if you're not in London but have some questions about Freebase and digital heritage that you think might be useful for discussion or need some context to explain, drop me a line via the form on and I'll take them along.]

Introducing modern bluestocking

[Update, May 2012: I've tweaked this entry so it makes a little more sense.  These other posts from around the same time help put it in context: Some ideas for location-linked cultural heritage projectsExposing the layers of history in cityscapes, and a more recent approach  '…and they all turn on their computers and say 'yay!" (aka, 'mapping for humanists'). I'm also including below some content rescued from the ning site, written by Joanna:

What do historian Catharine Macauley, scientist Ada Lovelace, and photographer Julia Margaret Cameron have in common? All excelled in fields where women’s contributions were thought to be irrelevant. And they did so in ways that pushed the boundaries of those disciplines and created space for other women to succeed. And, sadly, much of their intellectual contribution and artistic intervention has been forgotten.

Inspired by the achievements and exploits of the original bluestockings, Modern Bluestockings aims to celebrate and record the accomplishments not just of women like Macauley, Lovelace and Cameron, but also of women today whose actions within their intellectual or professional fields are inspiring other women. We want to build up an interactive online resource that records these women’s stories. We want to create a feminist space where we can share, discuss, commemorate, and learn.

So if there is a woman whose writing has inspired your own, whose art has challenged the way you think about the world, or whose intellectual contribution you feel has gone unacknowledged for too long, do join us at, and make sure that her story is recorded. You'll find lots of suggestions and ideas there for sharing content, and plenty of willing participants ready to join the discussion about your favourite bluestocking.

And more explanation from modernbluestocking on freebase:

Celebrating the lives of intellectual women from history…

Wikipedia lists bluestocking as 'an obsolete and disparaging term for an educated, intellectual woman'.  We'd prefer to celebrate intellectual women, often feminist in intent or action, who have pushed the boundaries in their discipline or field in a way that has created space for other women to succeed within those fields.

The original impetus was a discussion at the National Portrait Gallery in London held during the exhibition 'Brilliant Women, 18th Century Bluestockings' ( where it was embarrassingly obvious that people couldn't name young(ish) intellectual women they admired.  We need to find and celebrate the modern bluestockings.  Recording and celebrating the lives of women who've gone before us is another way of doing this.

However, at least one of the morals of this story is 'don't get excited about a project, then change jobs and start a part-time Masters degree.  On the other hand, my PhD proposal was shaped by the ideas expressed here, particularly the idea of mapping as a tool for public history by e.g using geo-located stories to place links to content in the physical location.

While my PhD has drifted away from early scientific women, I still read around the subject and occasionally adding names to  If someone's not listed in Wikipedia it's a lot harder to add them, but I've realised that if you want to make a difference to the representation of intellectual women, you need to put content where people look for information – i.e. Wikipedia.

And with the launch of Google's Knowledge Graph, getting history articles into Wikipedia then into Freebase is even more important for the visibility of women's history: "The Knowledge Graph is built using facts and schema from Freebase so everyone who has contributed to Freebase had a part in making this possible. …The Knowledge Graph is built using facts and schema from Freebase soeveryone who has contributed to Freebase had a part in making this possible. (Source: this post to the Freebase list).  I'd go so far as to say that if it's worth writing a scholarly article on an intellectual woman, it's worth re-using  your references to create or improve their Wikipedia entry.]

Anyway. On with the original post…]

I keep meaning to find the time to write a proper post explaining one of the projects I'm working on, but in the absence of time a copy and paste job and a link will have to do…

I've started a project called 'modern bluestocking' that's about celebrating and commemorating intellectual women activists from the past and present while reclaiming and redefining the term 'bluestocking'.  It was inspired by the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition, 'Brilliant Women: 18th-Century Bluestockings'.  (See also the review, Not just a pretty face).

It will be a website of some sort, with a community of contributors and it'll also incorporate links to other resources.

We've started talking about what it might contain and how it might work at (ning died, so it's at…)

Museum application (something to make for mashed museum day?): collect feminist histories, stories, artefacts, images, locations, etc; support the creation of new or synthesised content with content embedded and referenced from a variety of sources. Grab something, tag it, display them, share them; comment, integrate, annotate others. Create a collection to inspire, record, commemorate, and build on.
What, who, how should this website look? Join and help us figure it out.

Why modernbluestocking? Because knowing where you've come from helps you know where you're going.

Sources could include online exhibition materials from the NPG (tricky interface to pull records from).  How can this be a geek/socially friendly project and still get stuff done?  Run a Modernbluestocking, community and museum hack day app to get stuff built and data collated?  Have list of names, portraits, objects for query. Build a collection of links to existing content on other sites? Role models and heroes from current life or history. Where is relatedness stored? 'Significance' -thorny issue? Personal stories cf other more mainstream content?  Is it like a museum made up of loan objects with new interpretation? How much is attribution of the person who added the link required? Login v not? Vandalism? How do deal with changing location or format of resources? Local copies or links? Eg images. Local don't impact bandwidth, but don't count as visits on originating site. Remote resources might disappear – moved, permissions changed, format change, taken offline, etc, or be replaced with different content. Examine the sources, look at their format, how they could be linked to, how stable they appear to be, whether it's possible to contact the publisher…

Could also be interesting to make explicit, transparent, the processes of validation and canonisation.

Breaking out of the walls of the museum?

Wired on a location-based game at the Tower of London.

Through a thick drizzle I gaze at the ominous gray stone buildings of the Tower of London, England's most notorious prison. I wander from one to the next, trying to imagine what it was like to be held captive here hundreds of years ago. That's when I hear a ghost. "Psst, you there… I'm sentenced to die tomorrow morning. Please, I beg you, can you help me escape?" I stop walking and look down at the screen of my HP iPAQ. There's a picture of a portly Brit in 18th-century garb. His name is Lord Nithsdale, and he was involved in a plot to overthrow King George I. In my earphones, the voice tells me I've entered the year 1716 and again asks if I want to play the Lord Nithsdale adventure. I wipe the raindrops off the clear plastic pouch holding the PDA, a GPS unit, and a radio transmitter and hit Yes.

The adventure is part of a prototype location-based game designed for visitors to the tower, where inmates like Guy Fawkes and two of Henry VIII's wives were executed. The idea is that instead of reading plaques and staring solemnly at the Bloody Tower, tourists skulk around with PDAs, re-creating classic prison breaks.

These historically accurate scenarios were created by the charity group Historic Royal Palaces, working with Hewlett-Packard and using software developed by HP Labs. The free app lets anyone layer a virtual landscape — what HP calls a mediascape — over real-word terrain using maps and GPS coordinates. Audio and visual media can be triggered by a user's location or by sensors that detect proximity, light, heat, trajectory, and even heart rate.

Exposing the layers of history in cityscapes

I really liked this talk on "Time, History and the Internet" because it touches on lots of things I'm interested in.

I have a on-going fascination with the idea of exposing the layers of history present in any cityscape.

I'd like to see content linked to and through particular places, creating a sense of four dimensional space/time anchored specifically in a given location. Discovering and displaying historical content marked-up with the right context (see below) gives us a chance to 'move' through the fourth dimension while we move through the other three; the content of each layer of time changing as the landscape changes (and as information is available).

Context for content: when was it written? Was it written/created at the time we're viewing, or afterwards, or possibly even before it about the future time? Who wrote/created it, and who were they writing/drawing/creating it for? If this context is machine-readable and content is linked to a geo-reference, can we generate a representation of these layers on-the-fly?

Imagine standing at the base of Centrepoint at London's Tottenham Court Road and being able to ask, what would I have seen here ten years ago? fifty? two hundred? two thousand? Or imagine sitting at home, navigating through layers of historic mapping and tilting down from a birds eye view to a view of a street-level reconstructed scene. It's a long way off, but as more resources are born or made discoverable and interoperable, it becomes more possible.