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.)

Questions from 'Beyond Single Repositories' at MW2008

I'm still working on getting my notes from Museums and the Web in Montreal online.

These are notes from the questions at the 'Beyond Single Repositories' session. This session was led by Ross Parry, and included the papers Learning from the People: Traditional Knowledge and Educational Standards by Daniel Elias and James Forrest and The Commons on Flickr: A Primer by George Oates.

This clashed with the User-Generated Content session that I felt I should see for work, but I managed to sneak in at the end of Ross's session. I expected this room to be packed, but it wasn't. I guess the ripples of user-generated content and Web 2.0-ish stuff are still spreading beyond the geeks, and the pebbles of single repositories and the semantic web have barely dropped into the pond for most people. As usual, all mistakes are mine – if you asked a question and I haven't named you or got your question wrong, drop me a line.

Quite a lot of the questions related to 'The Commons'.

There was a question about the difference between users who download and retain context of images, versus those who just download the image and lose all context, attribution, etc. George: Flickr considered putting the metadata into EXIF but it was problematic and wasn't robust enough to be useful.

Another question: how to link back to institution from Flickr? George: 'there's this great invention called the hyperlink'. And links can also go to picture libraries to buy prints.

[I need to check this but it could really help make the case for Commons in museums if that's the case. We might also be able to target different audiences with different requirements – e.g. commercial publications vs school assignments. I also need to check if Flickr URLs are permanent and stable.]

Seb Chan asked: how does business model of having images on Flickr co-exist with existing practices?

Flickr are cool with museums putting in content at different resolutions – it's up to institution to decide.

"It's so easy to do things the correct way" so please teach everyone to use CC licence stuff appropriately.

Issues are starting to be raised about revenue sharing models.

[I wonder if we could put in FOI requests to find out exactly how much revenue UK museums make from selling images compared to the overhead in servicing commercial picture libraries, and whether it varies by type of image or use. It'd be great if we could put some Museum of London/MoLAS images on Commons, particularly if we could use tagging to generate multilingual labels and re-assess images in terms of diversity – such an important issue for our London audiences; or to get more images/objects geo-located. I also wonder if there are any resourcing issues for moderation requirements, or do we just cope with whatever tags are added?]

Update: following the conference, Frankie Roberto started a discussion on the Museums Computer Group list under the subject 'copyright licensing and museums'. You have to be a member to post but a range of perspectives and expertise would really help move this discussion on.

Feeds for beginners

From A Consuming Experience, Feeds basics 101: introduction to newsfeeds:

Feeds, RSS feeds, Atom feeds, XML feeds, newsfeeds, web feeds, they're increasingly common on the internet these days – but what are they, how do you subscribe, and how do you publish and publicise your own news feed? This post is a 3-part introductory tutorial guide to web feeds, aimed at intelligent non-geeks

Some random links…

Two very handy resources when choosing forum software: lets you try out various installations – you can create test forums and play with the settings and helps you compares applications on a variety of facets, and there's a wizard to help you narrow the choices.

Andy Powell makes the excellent point that social software-style tags function as virtual venues:

if you are holding an event, or thinking about holding an event… decide what tag you are going to use as soon as possible. … In fact, in a sense, the tag becomes the virtual venue for the event's digital legacy.

In other news, Intel get into Mashups for the Masses – "an extension to your existing web browser that allows you to easily augment the page that you are currently browsing with information from other websites. As you browse the web, the Mash Maker toolbar suggests Mashups that it can apply to the current page in order to make it more useful for you" and the BBC reports on Metaplace, a "free tool that allows anyone to create a [3D] virtual world" and incorporates lots of social web tools.

According to Merlin on the Web: the British Museum Collection Database Goes Public on the CHArt conference site, the British Museum are putting their entire catalogue online. The evaluation will make fascinating reading and I hope can be made public – I'd like to know who uses it and why, does the variation in detail and 'quality' of records matter to them, how much of the collection is accessed, how many corrections or requests for more information are made, and how public comments work in practice.

Who's talking about you?

This article explains how you can use RSS feeds to track mentions of your company (or museum) in various blog search sites: Ego Searches and RSS.

It's a good place to start if you're not sure what people are saying about your institution, exhibitions or venues or whether they might already be creating content about you. Don't forget to search Flickr and YouTube too.

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.

Tagging goes mainstream?

"A December 2006 survey has found that 28% of internet users have tagged or categorized content online such as photos, news stories or blog posts. On a typical day online, 7% of internet users say they tag or categorize online content.

Tagging is gaining prominence as an activity some classify as a Web 2.0 hallmark in part because it advances and personalizes online searching. Traditionally, search on the web (or within websites) is done by using keywords. Tagging is a kind of next-stage search phenomenon – a way to mark, store, and then retrieve the web content that users already found valuable and of which they want to keep track. It is, of course, more tailored to individual needs and not designed to be the all-inclusive system"
Pew Internet and American Life project: Tagging

The report also goes into the definition of tagging as well as who tags and there's an interview with David Weinberger on 'Why Tagging Matters'.