29 April 2008

Richard Tognetti on our recent 20:20 summit

I think this is a pretty decent post from Richard Tognetti the artistic leader of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. It covers the whole arts side of the 20:20 summit.
I guess one aspect not covered is that currently the focus within the arts sector in Oz is still all about the performing arts. Those on the other cultural heritage side (museums, libraries, galleries and archives) are still very much the poor cousins. There are well-funded pockets, but generally we fade into the background, especially when compared to sport!

16 April 2008

Low-Cost Multi-point Interactive Whiteboards Using the Wiimote

Wow . . . just wow! Johnny Chung Lee is really clever. He has come up with a complete electronic whiteboard system that you can make yourself really cheaply. You can find the hardware and software instructions, including a very popular YouTube video and the software downloads on his Wii Project page here. You can also view a great demo of his new projects on TEDBlog here. (I tried embedding the video here using the code they give on TEDBlog, but for some reason Blogger didn't allow the video content to load.)

The only limits to what we might be able to use this for in museums are the bounds of our imagination.

14 April 2008

More on "freenomics" & museums

This posts needs to be read in concert with a previous post titled What will people pay for online? Maybe this one should have come first, but I've only recently had the chance to see Chris Anderson's Wired magazine (March 2008) article "Why $0.00 is the future of business", so here it is now.

It is a really interesting and stimulating article. Read it for yourself as it explains simply many mysteries about "freenomics". What you get here is my take on that article and my attempt to put it all into a "what might this mean for museums or cultural institutions?" context.

Chris captures the attention of anyone with anything to do with money-making in an online venture with his statement that:

. . . the trend lines that determine the cost of doing business online all point the same way: to zero.
The economies of scale that can be achieved on the web give us the chance to spread the costs of business over increasing audiences, but the emerging business models are more complex than just bigger scale and decreasing prices. He cites three examples of completely free services now provided to users online: unlimited storage (Yahoo Mail); bandwidth (YouTube); and processing power (Google). As he says: "The Web has become the land of the free". And this has resulted in the spread of two trends that are driving free business models across the web economy:
  1. Giving away goods or services to some customers while selling other things to others; and

  2. Anything that touches digital networks is affected by falling costs.

So, if we (in cultural institutions) are to look at ways of recovering our costs or making money from e-sales or even measure the value of what we do online, we need to understand those trends and what they mean to us.

Chris also points out the stark difference, from the consumer's perspective, between the cheap and free economies. He says the psychological gap between a price or market that is free and one that is almost free is why micro payments fail. It is why Google does what Google does for free. Even a small fee charged would fail. As Chris says: "The winners made their stuff free first."

So how do they make money then? He begins by explaining the traditional "free to air" media model where the media owners are not selling their products to an audience. Instead they are selling their audiences to advertisers. He says that this model has simply been extended on the Web, but advertising isn't paying for everything and he offers six broad categories for the web's priceless economy, some of which seem more relevant to cultural institutions than others:

  1. FREEMIUM: Stuff like software, services and some content is free to users of the basic version. We already do this with some pretty decent free content on our website. If, however, you need a higher resolution image for publication or some other reason, you need to pay a premium. Or, if you want something digitised for you, you'll also pay for jumping the queue. But is there a better model or even a different one we could offer for certain services?

  2. ADVERTISING: Yahoo, Google and Amazon use advertising big time. Chris says that: "these approaches are based on the principle that free offerings build audiences with distinct interests and expressed needs that advertisers will pay to reach". The Australian War Memorial now has an advertisement on Facebook! For cultural institutions, however, there is something we probably need to do before we approach potential advertisers for our own sites and that is to build bigger audiences. So again, delivery of popular content that is easily found, searched used and re-used is kinda critical to this, but that's a whole other ball-game that I won't get into here and now.

  3. CROSS-SUBSIDIES: This relates to the provision of free or cheap products or services that entice you to pay for something else. Maybe those annoying "interest free payments until 2025" advertisements also fall into this category. The money is free (for a while) as long as you buy one of our products. I'm not sure we'll go there, but perhaps there is something for us to learn from musicians who are providing free online music as simple and cheap publicity for the more lucrative tours they run? Maybe the equivalent for us are free online content such as podcasts, images and even film that relates to our real exhibitions and serves as an enticement to come and see them in the flesh (regardless of whether they are free or paid entry). For many museums the generation of actual visitors is still more important than any form of revenue from the sale of its goods and services. I know, I know, I've really twisted Chris' category this time, but hey, cultural institutions aren't really competing with Kmart (or Wal-Mart).

  4. ZERO MARGINAL COST: I know, scary economic terms, but stay with me. (I think that the main difference between this category and #6 is that this one is more about zero cost to distribute the item.) Chris gives us a great description that the force to make the price zero : "is so powerful that laws, guilt trips, DRM and every other barrier to piracy the [music] labels can think of have failed". Many creative artists like musicians, visual artists and even short film makers give away their content online for free, sometimes as a way of marketing other things they do, but as Chris points out, many have just accepted that for them their art is not a money-making business. The altruistic provision of free content, (especially when there is no cost of distribution to consider) like the sharing of knowledge, experience and real wisdom, is growing exponentially on the web (IMHO), so perhaps cultural institutions are more part of that side of the web, than a new dot.com push?

  5. LABOUR EXCHANGE: This happens when users either improve a service or contribute something to it (like a wiki). Another example that I've used recently is Linkedin.com. I set up a quick profile, asked a question about collaborative or forum software to assist in networking for some colleagues of mine and was overwhelmed with answers provided freely by other members from all over the world, within a few hours. Some museums are now playing with user added tags or "folksonomies" that give a new perspective to our online catalogues and descriptions of our collections. I think that is only the tip of the iceberg and much deeper user-collaboration could be facilitated online to generate content. See a previous post here on "produsers".

  6. GIFT ECONOMY: Everything is free: to everyone. Here the web can be used a platform that gives individuals global impact. Altruism comes in again as a motivator, perhaps by becoming more important as a motivating factor and reason in this economy than a price, a cost or a simple monetary value. Maybe for cultural institutions we need to look for better ways of measuring online success than simple commercial revenue targets. It is a bit conceptual, but nonetheless a worthy ideal.

Later on in his article, Chris goes on to suggest that reputation (metric=PageRank) and attention (metric=traffic) are two non-monetary values or "scarcities" that can in turn realise better advertising (as I suggested in point #2 above). Cultural institutions already have an advantage here because we are seen as reliable sources of credible information and content and this is very important in an environment almost overwhelmed by the abundance same. It all gets back to how we best use that advantage and what we want from this new free web. Allowing users to collaborate with us and to generate some of our content will help, but ultimately the audience will also look to us for the qualities we can deliver from our collections such as: uniqueness, rarity, quality, credibility, authenticity and dare I say it, accessibility.

10 April 2008

Being miscellaneous or externalising meaning at our museum

I am reading about a May 2007 interview with David Weinberger's (author of Everything Is Miscellaneous, May 2007, Times Books) in which he referred to the fundamental change that is taking place (online) as being the "externalisation of meaning". I read about this on Seb Schmoller's blog Fortnightly Mailing. When he referred to there being no one right way to order the world, particularly digital stuff, I immediately thought the same thing about our vast digitised collections (both images and documents) that are now online and not always that comprehensively described.

So here is my take on Seb's summary of David's talk and what it means in the museum world:

  • it is now simpler for people to organise or search digital things (content or collections) as they decide, rather than for them to be classified for them (eg. museum taxonomies which are not always that easy to understand);

  • the links between digital things, and the tags (or folksonomies) and other attributes that people give them create a rich layer of meaning that can be drawn upon by others - and they may be better understood by others than the taxonomies we use in museums to describe our digitised stuff;

  • the difference between data and meta-data is disappearing (I've not thought this one through fully, but will add some more when I do); and

  • through Wikipedia and blogs and similar there is an increasingly public negotiation of knowledge, via a conversation, in which experts (curators, historians and the creators of digital collections) are decreasingly the arbiters of authority, solely through the addition of our own context.

So, if what this infers is a step along the path towards facilitating and building a better, open online community that is relevant to museums like the one I work in, perhaps this quote from Craigslist founder Craig Newmark (in an interview with David Weinberger) is also something we could well heed:

Somehow we've worked with people in the community to build an online community. We're not certain how it happened, except that we really do listen to people. We try to treat people like we want to be treated, and somehow we built a culture of trust.
In the same interview Craig compares the similarity between Craigslist and Wikipedia and again, I think there is relevance for us:

The big similarity is that both sites are built by the people who use them. Both have a culture of trust, and both are part of an historic trend where power is flowing from small groups of powerful people to much larger, but still small, groups of people.

The two go on from there to stress the critical importance and benefits (from unintended consequences) of doing good by paying attention to real customer service, listening to people (those engaged in the conversation) and following through (not just lip service).

The Memorial now has a Facebook page, a YouTube page and a presence on Flickr. And we now have a page on our website with links to them all: find it at http://www.awm.gov.au/aboutus/community.htm In doing this we've followed the fantastic example set by Brooklyn Museum and their Community page. We may not be as funky as Brooklyn have managed to be, but we are a war museum and our community will be different from theirs. All of this is an attempt to expose our digital content (or collections) to much larger networks. We are now also looking at the facilitation of tags (or folksonomies) and even deeper descriptions of some of our digitised content by this new community. That will probably have to wait until we've implemented our massive new Enterprise Content Management system as it will lay the foundations for many programs including digitisation, web publishing and improved federated search on our site across all collection management systemn and other databases containing digitised documents.

We also continue to use the AWM Blog to draw attention to our collections and the work we do on them as well as to engage the community on topis of particular interest. Some recent examples include posts from conservators, curators and historians on: Aircraft Conservation, our catalogue programs in the Research Centre and also the recent discovery of HMAS Sydney, which has attracted a great deal of interest and many comments from the community.

Vote now for ArtShare at mw2008 People's Choice Awards!

PLEASE!!!! Go now to http://conference.archimuse.com/best_web/innovative and vote for ArtShare (Brooklyn Museum) - because they developed an application that all museums can use to share their images on Facebook. You need to register to vote - hurry, as there isn't much time left! They deserve to win.

07 April 2008

New rules for media or online museum communications?

I read these new rules for media first on Tony Walker's fantastic blog ABC Digital Futures and then went straight to the original source - Mark Glaser at Mediashift.

Mark's rules might at first seem only relevant to journalists and such, but the mere fact that museums are now engaged in online communications using their websites means that the rules also apply to us in a general sense. So, what I'll do is take Mark's rules and offer a museum perspective on what they mean for us more specifically. (Apologies to both original sources for a tad of borrowing.)

1. The Audience Knows More Than the Journalist: Rather than being a one-to-many broadcast, museums now must understand that they are just part of a much larger conversation that is networked and constantly evolving. So, replace "Journalist" with "Curator" (or historian, etc.) and you get the message. Our audience probably also has something valuable to contribute. A great topical example is the post we put up regarding HMAS Sydney’s recent discovery and the community’s contribution to that story. It has proved very popular and offered a perspective that we simply could not provide alone.

2. People Are in Control of Their Media Experience: The people are taking control and watching, and listening to what they want when they want. Making sure that we, in museums, provide content that is suitable for multiple platforms and entry points is critical. Increasingly, we will need to provide an option for content suitable for consumption on mobile devices.

3. Anyone Can Be a Media Creator or Remixer: But it still takes skills to use those tools and stand out from the millions of others who are doing the same thing. In a way, museums already do stand out as trusted sources of high quality content, but we need to balance what we do with regard to Rule #1 to ensure our position is not compromised here. As I've said here before, the big advantage we have is the content we can generate and provide online, particularly through our digitisation programs. Just facilitating conversations using fancy new technologies probably isn't going to be enough for us to sustain an audience.

4. Traditional Media Must Evolve or Die: The evolution that traditional museums must make online is not just in adding new features; we must change our mindset, ideas and methods to new ways. Many of our old processes are now completely irrelevant or redundant in this environment and hanging onto them has seen others bypassing us and finding new ways to search our content and collections, describe it, promote it, provide access to it, etc. Many traditional research journals are now either dead or dying and in Australian we’ve seen the death of the formerly popular Bulletin magazine. Maybe we need to look at some of our more traditional publications and move them online too. We also need to think up and use different methods for commerce in the online environment if we need to charge for services provided.

5. Despite Censorship, The Story Will Get Out: This isn’t just about censoring news stories; it also applies to new technologies like peer-to-peer file-sharing. Maybe we need to see these new technologies more as potential friends, than enemies. A good example is LOCKSS which uses peer-to-peer technology (as I understand) to safely share and store digital assets.

6. Amateur and Professional Journalists Should Work Together: The reality now is that professional curators/historians and amateur collectors, enthusiasts and historians can learn from each other and the new social media platforms not only allow this to happen, they facilitate the conversations much more readily.

7. Journalists Need to Be Multi-Platform: Museum professionals need to learn how to make best use of a host of skills to reach different audiences. I think most of us need to be familiar with digital cameras, scanners, digital recording equipment, and online technologies such as wikis, blogs, social bookmarks, RSS, tagging, mashups, social networks & collaborative technologies. We can’t just expect to engage with physical visitors nor those who come directly to our web front page.

I reserve the right to add more examples and thoughts to this post as they arise.

Digitisation masterclass slides now online

I've now uploaded the slides for the recent masterclass that I gave to Slideshare. It took several uploads because in order to re-present these slides on their site Slideshare does a bit of manipulating that changes some of the features I had used in PowerPoint. So, I needed to take two presentations down, rework them and upload them again.
Keep in mind that there are 38 slides, but they were used over an entire day, so there is a lot of discussion you are missing. The slides are best read in concert with the Slideshow Transcript that appears at the bottom of the Slideshare screen - a feature often missed by new users. Also, Slideshare appears not to have been able to pick up all of the embedded hyperlinks used in some slides. Again, they are included in the Slideshow Transcript at the bottom of the screen.
Happy viewing!

04 April 2008

No post = no audience; no content = shallow conversation?

Hmmm, no posts here recently, but it is because I've been pretty busy preparing a "masterclass" on digitisation for the ARK Group as half of a two day workshop earlier this week called "Revolutionising Library Management". My half was all about digitisation from a library manager's perspective - not so much the technical side and stuff like colour management, the explanation of vector images and the mechanics of various metadata schemas.
Normally, I'd share my presentation on Slideshare (and I may still do that), but currently I think I've been a bit too heavy on the borrowing of content from the Digital Curation Centre, Cornell University, NISO and the Technical Advisory Service on Images. I found their online guidelines and tutorials to be really, really useful during the masterclass to illustrate various aspects of the content that I covered. I also find Jill Hurst-Wahl's blog Digitization 101 to be a great way to stay up-to-date, but I don't always agree with what she has to say. (The other problem is that Slideshare doesn't really handle links within slides that well and my presentation contains a lot of those.)

I began by linking my part of the event to the earlier half on Web 2.0, by saying that without digitised content, most museum or cultural institution websites are pretty shallow, so you can use as many new Web 2.0 applications as you like, but your audience will probably get bored by the lack of new and rich digitised content. So maybe the brave new world that is emerging for us online now has digital content, context (see my previous post about what curators should provide online) and the new conversations facilitated by new social media. A lot of museums are doing one or two of these three things, some are doing all three, but have any of us really got the balance right yet?

So, on now to the digitisation stuff . . .

I began by pointing out a few key messages that struck me while I was building the content for my day: dynamism; preservation, playing; management & planning; and compromise. I was glad that I threw them all up on some butcher's paper because I kept referring to them all day long, even though I had the obligatory power point slides to keep things moving in a certain direction. This is what they mean:
  • DYNAMISM: digitisation is a dynamic field and there are no set or concrete answers. While I was researching new research papers emerged on the use of JPEG 2000 and the digital curation cycle and I had to touch on both of those.

  • PRESERVATION: There are some who don't believe or understand the essential link between any digitisation program and preservation. But it is there and it is there in two forms. Firstly because we do digitise as a preservation strategy. In our institution we have preserved documents and images that could only have been saved using digital techniques. Thermal papers meant historic documents were disappearing before our eyes and acetate syndrome was destroying rare photos. There is also an often disregarded preservation benefit in giving access to digital surrogates which prevents or minimises the risk involved in allowing physical access to rare, fragile or unique collection items. Secondly, whatever you create through digitisation programs or projects needs to be preserved: through a curatorial life cycle, just like other collections do, but with different requirements as applicable to digital objects and collections.

  • Learning by PLAYING: Adults learn best by doing (at least in my experience) - sorry, but I think it is true and this is my blog. I've also been involved in digitising archival and museum materials for a long time now and I reckon we've learned more through our projects than any courses any of us have ever undertaken. So my motto would be "start now and learn by doing". The chances are the authorities will probably go for hardened criminals like mass murderers before they come after you, so you've got a bit of time up your sleeve.

  • MANAGEMENT & PLANNING: A lot of useful material of late about digitisation has been indicating the importance of abiding by sound project management principles and using appropriate planning methodologies in your initiatives. This greatly assists us when the authorities (decision makers and purse holders) come after us or don't understand what it is we are doing and why we are doing it.

  • COMPROMISE: This comes up continually in our projects and you won't see it in any of the theories emanating from academia and various standards organisations. The fact is that hardly anyone I know in this field meets all the criteria and principles that are mapped out for them or even mapped out by them. All the practitioners have made compromises somewhere, whether it be in metadata, file formats, digital preservation, QA, storage, evaluation, reports or many other critical elements of digitisation.

That's all for now, but you can check out my del.icio.us bookmarks (see the tags on the right of this post) for some new an other really useful sites on the same subject.