Nice summary of web 2.0 for the digital humanities

It's an old post (2006, gasp!) but the points Web 2.0 and the Digital Humanities raises are still just as relevant in the digital cultural heritage sector today:

In summary:

  • Give users tools to visualise and network their own data. And make it easy.
  • Harness the self-interest of your users – "help the user with their own research interests as a first priority".
  • Have an API -"You don’t know what you’ve got until you give it away", "Sharing data in a machine readable and retrievable format, is the most important feature. It lets other people build features for you"
  • Embrace the chaos of knowledge – "a bottom-up method of knowledge representation can be more powerful and more accurate than traditional top-down methods".

Play with your customer profiles

It's a bit early for a random Friday fun link, but this Forrester 'Build Your Customers' Social Technographics Profile' interactive counts as work too.

Companies often approach Social Computing as a list of technologies to be deployed as needed — a blog here, a podcast there — to achieve a marketing goal. But a more coherent approach is to start with your target audience and determine what kind of relationship you want to build with them, based on what they are ready for. You can use the tool on this page to get started.

You can pull down menus to change the age group, country and gender of your target audience, and the graph below updates to show you how many are in each 'Social Technographics' group.

The definitions of the 'Social Technographics' groups are given in a slideshow.

Hat tip to Nina Simon. [Update to get Nina's name right, I'm very sorry!]

Where does Web 2.0 live in your organisation?

Last night Lynda Kelly left a comment that pointed me to her audience research blog and to an interesting discussion on fresh + new back in June last year; which in turn lead me to Organizational Barriers to Using Web 2.0 Tools. This post quoted a 'nonprofit user' who:

…pointed out to me that while she sees that social media tools make it easier for non-technical types to integrate technology into their workflow, at the same time there's an ongoing organizational message that says "Leave the technology stuff to the IT department."

Interestingly, (and this is in part based on my experience in different organisations over the years) sometimes the IT department are given the message "leave the web to the marketing department" or the education department, or to the curators…

Given that social technologies are not, by definition, traditional publications like official 'brand' and venue messages or rigorous academic research, and may not yet have a place in the organisational publication program, what is the practical effect of the ownership of web projects in a cultural heritage organisation?

And what happens if the 'participatory web' falls in an organisational limbo, with no-one able to commission or approve applications or content? More importantly, how can we work around it?

I think this is where some of the frustrations Frankie Roberto expressed come in – different departments have different priorities and working practices and are more or less risk-averse (and have different definitions of 'risk).

(However, I don't think you can underestimate the urge to archive and curate that many museum people feel. That archival urge possibly just goes along with the kinds of personalities that are drawn to work in museums. I have it myself so maybe I'm too sympathetic to it.)

More on cultural heritage and resistance to the participatory web

I've realised that in my post on 'Resistance to the participatory web from within the cultural heritage sector?', I should have made it clear that I wasn't thinking specifically of people within my current organisation. I've been lucky enough to meet a range of people from different institutions at various events or conferences, and when I get a chance I keep up with various cultural heritage email discussion lists and blogs. One way or another I've been quietly observing discussions about the participatory web from a wide range of perspectives within the cultural heritage and IT sectors for some time.

Ok, that said, the responses have been interesting.

Thomas at Medical Museion said:

This are interesting observations, and I wonder: Can this resistance perhaps be understood in terms of an opposition among curators against a perceived profanation of the sacred character of the museum? In the same way as Wikipedia and other user-generated content websites have been viewed with skepticism from the side of many academics — not just because they may contain errors (which encyclopedia doesn’t?), but also because it is a preceived profanation of Academia. (For earlier posts about profanation of the museum as a sacred institution, see here and here.). Any ideas?

I'm still thinking about this. I guess I don't regard museums as sacred institutions, but then as I don't produce interpretative or collection-based content that could be challenged from outside the institution, I haven't had a vested interest in retaining or reinforcing authority.

Tom Goskar at Past Thinking provided an interesting example of the visibility and usefulness of user-generated content compared to official content and concluded:

People like to talk about ancient sites, they like to share their photos and experiences. These websites are all great examples of the vibrancy of feeling about our ancient past.

For me that's one of the great joys of working in the cultural heritage sector – nearly everyone I meet (which may be a biased sample) has some sense of connection to museums and the history they represent.

The growth of internet forums on every topic conceivable shows that people enjoy and/or find value in sharing their observations, opinions or information on a range of subjects, including cultural heritage objects or sites. Does cultural heritage elicit a particular response that is motivated by a sense of ownership, not necessarily of the objects themselves, but rather of the experience of, or access to, the objects?

It seems clear that we should try and hook into established spaces and existing conversations about our objects or collections, and perhaps create appropriate spaces to host those conversations if they aren't already happening. We could also consider participating in those conversations, whether as interested individuals or as representatives of our institutions.

However institutional involvement with and exposure to user-generated content could have quite different implications. It not only changes the context in which the content is assessed but it also lends a greater air of authority to the dialogues. This seems to be where some of the anxiety or resistance to the participatory web resides. Institutions or disciplines that have adapted to the idea of using new technologies like blogs or podcasts to disseminate information may baulk at the idea that they should actually read, let alone engage with any user-generated content created in response to their content or collections.

Alun wrote at Vidi:

Interesting thoughts on how Web 2.0 is or isn’t used. I think one issue is a question of marking authorship, which is why Flickr may be more acceptable than a Wiki.

I think that's a good observation. Sites like Amazon also effectively differentiate between official content from publishers/authors and user reviews (in addition to 'recommendation'-type content based on the viewing habits of other users).

Another difference between Flickr and a wiki is that the external user cannot edit the original content of the institutional author. User-generated content sites like the National Archives wiki can capture the valuable knowledge generated when external people access collections and archives, but when this user-generated content is intermingled with, and might edit or correct, 'official' content it may prove a difficult challenge for institutions.

The issue of whether (and how) museums respond to user-generated content, and how user-generated content could be evaluated and integrated with museum-generated content is still unresolved across the cultural heritage sector and may ultimately vary by institution or discipline.

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.

Brooklyn Museum announce ArtShare on Facebook

From the post announcing it, ArtShare on Facebook!:

What can you do with ArtShare? Well, you can select works from the Brooklyn Museum collection to display on your profile. But then, because social networking is about connecting and seeing what others contribute to the social fabric, anyone can also use ArtShare to upload their own work and share it with others. You can use ArtShare to select a wide variety of work, then each time your profile is loaded a different work will be displayed at random from your selections.

They contacted contemporary artists who still held copyright over their works and asked if they would give their permission for this use. They've even offered their application functionality to other museums:

If you work at another institution and want to share your museum’s collection this way, we can set you up with your own tab in ArtShare. When we set this up for you, your institution’s logo will be displayed alongside the works that you upload, so they are easily identifiable as being a part of your collection.

So congratulations to Mike Dillon and Shelley Bernstein at the Brooklyn Museum, and thank you for letting us know so that we all get to learn from your experience.

(Actually I've just noticed one problem – given the recent fuss about Facebook, advertising, applications and privacy, I wanted to read the application Terms of Service, but you have to add the application to read them, so you have to agree to them before you've read them. It's not a criticism of their application as I'm sure this isn't specific to ArtShare but I guess it does show that concerns over Facebook's privacy model are going to affect how cultural institutions engage with it.)

Lessons from the online music industry

The 20 things you MUST know about music online

I think it's of interest partly because the companies with big budgets are educating our visitors and training them in certain habits and expectations, and this will affect how they understand our sites and content; and partly because it'd be nice if the music industry finally caught up to its consumers.

I've linked to the summary post, but you can also download an ebook or read the original full-length posts.