Archives for April 2007

Web 2.0 and Museums, from Museums and the Web

Just catching up on my Museums & the Web notes. . . Please forgive the bullets. My comments are in italics.

This session was a study in vast contrasts. I completely understand each institution’s approach to Web 2.0 technologies, but I must say the Smithsonian approach, while it may produce quality content, does not strike me as really being in the spirit of true blogging, as it lacks spontaneity and a clear personality driving it, and all comments are moderated. I’m all for team blogging, but blogging by committee disconcerts me. So while the quality of Eye Level is quite high, after seeing how it’s published, I’m not entirely convinced it’s a true blog. What defines blogging, after all–the process, the form, or both?

“New World Blogging within a Traditional Museum Setting”
Jeff Gates, Smithsonian American Art Museum

  • desired accelerated production of content
  • Q: how much time would the project take from offices outside of information services?

Goal: Engage new audiences in a dialogue about the museum’s art. Wanted to connect the museum’s Web offerings with about-to-be-reopened galleries.

The blog has continuous and searchable content aimed at multiple audiences. A long tail approach. Aimed especially at young people. Desire to cultivate new audiences pre-reopening of the museum, highlight assets of the museum with high impact at a low cost. Would highlight other programs and promote community involvement.

Chief curator Eleanor Harvey involved with blog topics.

All departments very busy pre-reopening. Blog needed to be sustained with very little help from elsewhere in the museum.

They published Eye Level internally until everyone on staff was comfortable with format and concept. This helped to overcome early skepticism.


  • propose blog post
  • writeboard
  • discussion by blog team
  • rewrite if necessary
  • editing by publications
  • final approval
  • publication

Timely posts get priority.

Roles and responsibilities clearly defined for each team member. Gates is managing editor.

Initial goal: 2 posts/wk. Exceeded this goal in the first year.

Early concern: prepare for controvery

Comments are moderateed. They have developed a comments policy and are fine-tuning it.

Long term goal: Develop new story ideas.
Long term concern: Balance PR needs with good content. Eye Level is not perceived by audiences as merely a PR tool. Audiences would lose interest if that were the case.

Museum wanted to join in blogging networks, not just reach general public. 127,000 visitors to Eye Level in the first year.

Advice: Move slowly, adjust continually to monitor progress and ensure success.

Eye Level: a case study for being “both a disrupter and a diplomat” (quoting Bill Taylor, editor of Fast Company magazine)

Building an On-line Community at the Brooklyn Museum
Nicole J. Caruth and Shelley Bernstein

A very inspiring presentation!

Visitor-created content:

  • portrait photos of visitors in Sargent exhibition
  • visual/prose fragments in “brooklyn poem”
  • graffiti walls for visitors to tag in an exhibit about graffiti art—with an accompanying Flickr page and online “tagging wall” (whiteboard) for web visitors to contribute

The museum used Flickr to collect existing images of graffiti in Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Brooklyn Museum website has a community page with links to MySpace, Flickr, RSS, videos, podcasts, blogs, comment pages linked from exhibitions pages.

The Brooklyn museum doesn’t distinguish between/prioritize physical, web, or web 2.0 visitors. Wants to provide equal access for all.

Flickr pool: Brooklyn Bridge photos and art

Visitors in a web 2.0 space expect you to be there as often as they are. So:

  • respond to comments
  • post interesting content—marketing should be secondary
  • web visitors tend to moderate themselves
  • no comment moderation except for spam filter
  • invite current Flickr users to join new museum Flickr pools/groups

Flickr lets users leave testimonials. Some great (and positive!) feedback left there.

Q: Does using Flickr and MySpace cause brand confusion?
A: Most traditional visitors to website are not going to Flickr pool. It’s mostly for Flickr users who understand what the museum is doing.

Flickr is now one of the museum’s top referrers back to the museum website.

When using Flickr, be sure to provide a link back to the exhibition page.

Stop thinking, start doing: addressing barriers to web 2.0
Mike Ellis, The Science Museum, London
Brian Kelly, UKOLN, University of Bath


  • have good content and willingness to get it out there
  • are holders of lots of niche stuff: the long tail is ours!
  • have a long history of wanting users to really engage. “We’re the custodians of the long tail.”

Barriers to participation:

  • museum treacle
  • We’re quite bad at change and this is a big one.
  • We feel a need to “protect” our audiences.

Barrier #1: Why bother? Our users don’t care.
Reply: These are new audiences, new environments. Surveying current users of the museum about web 2.0 won’t work–because the point is to draw new audiences.

Barrier #2: Cultural and political stuff. Brand? Dumbing down? Reputation? “We’ve never done it like that before.”
Reply: But users understand. Effective design distinguishes “our” from “theirs.” Our repuation is at stake it we don’t participate in web 2.0.

Barrier #3: Technical. No expertise, untested. What if Yahoo! servers go down?
Reply: Identify enthusiasts and early adopters in the organization. Your servers are probably less reliable than major web portal’s. Make your tools small scale and free to minimize resource costs. The API approach to development is the future: insist on it! Manage risks, learn from mistakes (they may not happen). Build prototypes quickly, have plan for migration.

Barrier #4: Resources and cost. “We’ll need to moderate, and it’ll take an entire team working full time.” “This kit looks expensive.”
Reply: It doesn’t require as many resources as you think. We’ll-designed systems save huge amounts of time. Raising barriers to entry is extremely effective (e.g. low barrier, such as requiring an e-mail address to comment, works well). Users are (usually) pretty sensible. Plus a lot of this stuff is free—and hosted!

Barrier #5: Content, legality, context. “You just want to give it away?”
Reply: Deal early with funders and other stakeholders. People are already using your content in strange and unusual ways. If you want traffic, encourage people to “borrow” your content.

Intellectual property rights landscape is constantly changing.

Start doing: We must continue to pioneer. Funding follows “significant social movement.” If we don’t fill this space, someone else will. We need to get better at sharing our experiences.

Uses of Google Earth

I haven’t messed around with Google Earth myself, but lately I’ve become aware of a few neat projects using it. I’m posting links and the sites’ own descriptions. Check them out:

Google Lit Trips

This site is an experiment in teaching great literature in a very different way. Using Google Earth, students discover where in the world the greatest road trip stories of all time took place… and so much more!

National Memorial for the Mountains

The National Memorial for the Mountains is an online memorial that uses the popular Google Earth software to show the massive scale of destruction occurring in Appalachia. The memorial identifies more than 470 mountains destroyed by mountaintop removal and connects visitors to stories, photos, maps, videos and interviews of local residents to tell the stories of those mountains and nearby communities.

Crisis in Darfur (as seen at reciproque)

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has joined with Google in an unprecedented online mapping initiative. Crisis in Darfur enables more than 200 million Google Earth users worldwide to visualize and better understand the genocide currently unfolding in Darfur, Sudan. The Museum has assembled content—photographs, data, and eyewitness testimony—from a number of sources that are brought together for the first time in Google Earth.

Crisis in Darfur is the first project of the Museum’s Genocide Prevention Mapping Initiative that will over time include information on potential genocides allowing citizens, governments, and institutions to access information on atrocities in their nascent stages and respond.

So inspiring. . . I’ll be offering a workshop soon on using Google tools in the context of college courses, and I’ll definitely be showcasing these projects. What might you do–or what is your institution already doing–with Google Earth?

Designing a web site for young people, at Museums and the Web

Rough notes on this one. . .

“Designing a web site for young people: the challenges of appealing to a diverse and fickle audience”
Rose Cardiff, Tate Onlinefull paper online here

User-generated content

Potential issues:

  • child protection law for children under age 16 in UK
  • IPR and copyright
  • cost and effort of moderating site if it’s a success
  • server requirements for hosting a lot of new content
  • quality of content and relevance to the young programs at the Tate

Tate’s approach

  • involve young people in the design and content of the site
  • commission young people to produce content
  • showcase content produced at Young Tate events
  • provide opportunities for young people to interact w/artists


  • wide age range (13-25 years old)
  • young people from diverse backgrounds
  • youth based at different locations
  • setting youth expectations
  • expecting too much from youth
  • time req’d to involve young people fully in the process
  • need for a clear, structured process

commissioned students felt restricted by Tate’s reputation

Future plans

  • Not enough to “do” on the site
  • more interactivity and opportunities for young people to contribute – such as taking photos with mobile phones and uploading them to the site
  • Expand the site beyond the in-gallery programme to offer more to online visitors
  • Arist-led online projects that everyone can contribute to – a curated space on the site, an artwork in its own right where the artists and young people work together using mobile phone images
  • More opportunities to interact directly with artists through web 2.0 technologies such as blogs

Brewster Kahle, keynote, Museums & the Web conference

Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive opened Museums and the Web 2007 with an inspiring keynote address. He argued that providing universal access to all published human knowledge is within our grasp. Yes, you read that correctly: public access to all published texts, audio, video, etc. is possible and practical with our current infrastructure. We’re talking Sumerian tablets to the latest thing deposited in the U.S. Library of Congress.

And, Kahle reports, this project can be undertaken relatively economically. Take books, for example. Kahle estimates that maybe 100 million books have ever been published. One book, he said, can be digitized to a size of 1 MB. One million books = 100 terabytes. The computer hardware to store 100 terabytes costs about $150,000 and fits in a podium-sized cabinet.

Anyone can download these books to read them, or could order books via print on demand. Printing and binding a 100-page book costs $1. So your average book would be about $3 to print and give away to folks in regions of the world where there aren’t many books to be had. Kahle cited a Harvard study that concluded it costs $3 to lend a book to people, so why not, Kahle asked, give the books away? And Kahle’s group did this very thing, putting together bookmobiles to be sent to such remote areas as rural Uganda to print books. (Problem: They hadn’t yet digitized the right books, the ones that would be in demand in Uganda. It appears the Ugandans found the selection lacking.) One alternative to print on demand for developing countries: the $100 laptop from MIT.

Of course, there are also the costs of scanning and digitizing all these books to be taken into account. It costs about 10¢/page to do this domestically, or $10/book to send the tomes to India or China, have them scanned, and sent back. Scanning books domestically, Kahle estimates, would cost $30 million per million books.

Any giant book digitization project must contend with copyright issues and access to the physical books. Out-of-copyright works are free of legal constraints, but the printed copies themselves aren’t always readily available for scanning. They’re in private collections or being preserved in archives, for example. In-copyright books are a sticky wicket. Kahle reports that out-of-print books are, by definition, not commercially viable, and thus negotiating the right to print them noncommercially is apparently not too difficult. Books that are still in print, however, will probably have to be digitized by their publishers, who will want, in turn, to keep them under commercial lock and key.

Currently, the Internet Archive digitizes books at a rate of 12,000 per month.

Kahle is also interested in audio files. He estimates there are two to three million published audio works. However, rights issues are, in Kahle’s words, “thornier” than for texts. Still, commercial recordings aside, there are plenty of folk cultures who may want to preserve and distribute their aural culture yet lack the resources to do so. The Internet Archive promises such groups unlimited storage and bandwidth forever, for free. The Archive offers the same deal to legal “bootleg” copies of rock concerts where the bands being recorded gave fans permission to record their concerts. The Archive once again secures permission from bands–as Kahle points out, there’s a big difference between recording a concert to swap on tape and putting that concert online for the world to access. Currently, the Archive has 36,000 concerts online. The audio files also include speeches, radio, commericals, and more. Such materials cost $10/disk or $10 per hour of audio to digitize.

Moving on to moving images: There are 150,000 to 200,000 films that have been released theatrically. Over half of these, Kahle reports, are Indian. Current 800 of these movies that have fallen into the public domain are available on the Internet Archive. It costs $100 to $200 per hour of movie to digitize celluloid. The archive is also recording material from 20 television networks worldwide, but has not placed its million hours of TV content online because of copyright restrictions. The one exception? You can find TV broadcasts from the week of September 11, 2001.

By opening up the servers to anyone with a movie to upload, the Internet Archive is serving subcultures that aren’t widely known. These include speed runs–videos of people navigating entire computer games in record time–and animation of Lego bricks.

The Internet Archive is perhaps most famous for the Wayback Machine, which has been collecting web pages since 1996. The Archive collects the entire web every two months. The two-month window is a key one because the average web page life is 100 days–that is, after 100 days it’s likely to have been changed or deleted.

Kahle referenced historical burning and pillaging of libraries, and emphasized the importance of having more than one copy of the Archive. Accordingly, the Archive has given one copy to the new Library of Alexandria. The Archive is also being copied onto servers in Amsterdam. Currently, the primary Archive is in San Francisco and represents a petabyte of information. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes.

Kahle pointed out that facilitating the sharing of materials that don’t originate within an institution remains a novel idea. Still, respectful cultural institutions that don’t make a profit have a good record of getting permissions and rights for materials of all sorts. The exception is with software, which is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The Archive spent $30,000 in legal fees to eke out three years of permission to reproduce the materials.

Kahle’s passion for the subject peaked when he discussed the political and social issues surrounding the project. He was especially emphatic that the aggregate material currently owned by cultural institutions doesn’t end up behind commercial gates. He declared such a scenario would be “a nightmare.” Already, he reminded the audience, academic content in journals is inaccessible to most people, locked behind paid institutional subscriptions accessible only on corporate sites.

His motto? “Public or Perish.”

Pseudo-liveblogging Museums and the Web

The wireless access in the Grand Ballroom here at Museums and the Web leaves something to be desired, so I’m not liveblogging so much as delayed blogging.

All right. . .bring on the posts!

Museums and the Web

Although I’ve been quiet around these parts lately, I’m very much looking forward to Museums and the Web. I’ll be around on Thursday and Friday, and I’m looking forward to meeting other museum bloggers!