18 August 2008

My take on the Olympics in Beijing

Image above: Matthew Mitcham, from his Facebook page. His win was the moment of the Games for me, marginally ahead of Sally McLellan, Jared Tallent and Steve Hooker.

Image above: Italy's Giovanna Trillini (L) competes against Cuba's Misleydis Company during the Women's individual Foil elimination round of 32 match on August 11, 2008 at the Fencing Hall of National Convention center, as part of the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. Trillini won 15-7. (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images).

This post will by dynamic. I will keep adding my observations as they come to mind. Oh, this definitely has an Australian bias. I wasn't going to get too interested in the Olympics this time, in fact I really didn't four years ago, but there were so many brilliant surprises and historic moments this time. These events can only be positive for China.

Opening Ceremonies. Zzzzzzz. Who cares? I do not think that we should need armies to run or entertain us at big sporting events, wearing uniforms or not. Hopefully they will not try to do it in the same way in London. I would rather see the money devoted to sport itself.

Inane morning TV programs. Yum Cha, the lowest of the low. Why? They occupy time that could have been used to show delayed telecasts or at least highlights of events that could not be broadcast live the day before. Mostly they are full of stooopid comments from assorted B-grade idiots who do not understand any sports and seem more interested in self-promotion than anything else. Their only saving grace is that (hopefully) they provide canon-fodder for the acerbic SMH journalist and TV-reviewer Ruth Ritchie. Please Ruth, pleeeeeaaaassseee!!!!

Inspiration. Michael Phelps, Stephanie Rice, Drew Ginn & Duncan Free, the Australian hockey teams, the Australian female swimmers, Emma Snowsill, Jared Tallent, both 470 crews, Sally McLellan, Steve Hooker and perhaps above all the others Matt Mitcham . . . (more to be added I hope). They stood out to me from the sports I managed to watch. Phelps is a complete legend, almost too good to be true. Jared Tallent pushed himself so hard that he threw up twice in the finishing straight, then he backed up with 2nd in the 50 km walk. Their results are not just from four years of work. To do what they do usually requires many more years of extreme devotion and more hard work than any of us have ever done. They showcase humanity almost at its peak. We can't all be Olympians, but their efforts can at least inspire us to overcome inertia, resistance and sheer incompetence in our daily work. How many of them have said that nothing is impossible so far? Did Matt Mitcham and Steve Hooker choke under enormous pressure when the gold was on the line before their final jump? I don't think so. What fantastic mental strength and belief in their own capability. I was so impressed. Matt's win was unexpected and certainly against all odds.

Hope. I hope that those we find inspiring are "clean" and that more honest-looking and talented hard workers like all those Jamaican sprinters continue to beat the heck out of all of those big-headed, loud-mouthed, steroid-fed show-offs from you-know-where. And I hope we continue to see more inspirational efforts in the last week. I also hope we never have to see Happy Daddo and his stooopid side kicks associated with serious sport ever again. I hope Jo Griggs continues to be associated with sports broadcasting. She knows what it means and doesn't try to steal the limelight from the real stars, nor does she feel the need to remind us of her own sporting glory.

Entertainment. The Australian womens' water polo team coach; all of the gymnasts and divers; Phil Liggett (the doyen of cycling commentators, who could make paint-drying sound exciting); the laconic Mike Turtur (84 Olympic cycling gold medallist and commentator); and Steve Moneghetti whom I will always remember for his impartial, objective and highly technical call of the final moments of the 5,000m event won by Andrew Lloyd at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland: "LLOYDIE, LLOYDIE!!!!!!". And the brilliant association of fantastic sporting images and drama with Massive Attack's Teardrop during the final night's coverage on Seven. It worked for me!

The Olympics and Social Media. For me this was one huge distinction between this and previous Olympics. You didn't need to donate to Telstra to send a personal message to athletes who had the brains to set up social media profiles. As soon as Sally McLellan won her silver and spread joy to athletics fans all over Australia, I was straight onto her Facebook profile and sent her congratulations. She even mentioned receiving the messages in her post-race media interviews. With Matthew Mitcham I could go even further as someone had set up a fan page for him on Facebook. Within about 36 hours of him making the 10 m platform diving final the total number of his global fans had increased (from memory) by about 4-5,000. This indicates a few very powerful aspects of Social Networks: their viral power, world-wide reach and spread; community (in this case probably strongly GLBT or GLBT-friendly); and the need people have now to express themselves or engage when they feel strongly about something. Whilst those of us in cultural institutions might not always be able to compete with such popular figures and events such as the Olympics, there is nevertheless a lot for us to learn from this.

In conclusion, I would like to add here that I think Matthew's final gold medal was very important for Australians. His attitude, emotion and his open, honest and very articulate responses to the media left all of us in a very positive frame of mind post-Olympics. I take nothing away from the efforts of previous medal winners, but I feel and I have heard it said elsewhere, that some of the swimmers' interviews were just too well-drilled and unconvincing. Perhaps Ian Hanson does too good a job with them and now their responses just don't have half the credibility and spontaneity that Matthew and Sally did. The media just lapped them both up.

06 August 2008

Libraries and building communities

These notes come from a talk I attended earlier today at the National Library of Australia on building online communities. The speaker was Chrystie Hill, Director of Community Services at WebJunction.org, from Seattle, WA.

It was interesting to hear about her journey as she spoke using stories, and didn’t just regurgitate facts.

She spoke of the shift in services for things like reference – both physical and in the virtual world. She experienced this when being educated. She has worked in the Seattle Central Library and says that the space is now much better to work in. Then she introduced her four seminal realisations (my term, not hers):

See The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg is about connections between people: pubs build communities.

She also spoke of John Seely Brown and The Social Life of Documents (on FirstMonday): documents build communities.

And Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam and the decline of civic engagement & social capital in US: capital and networks build communities.

Is your library relevant to you (& your needs)? She said hers wasn’t (at the time) and her most important need was to know what her friends were doing: individuals build communities.

Libraries were not accepting their role as community builders (maybe they still don't understand that role at all?). But US public libraries became carriers for public Internet access in the 1990s. Eventually home and work use of the Internet also grew. People soon began to find themselves on the web – publishing, subscribing & sharing. It became a story of communities and collaboration on a scale never seen before. Now libraries (& librarians) have to be involved to stay relevant. It is about conversations. It is about people who are saying “here is what I am doing”. People sit behind all the tools and experience. It is also about what your friends are doing. So many tools are now available that it can seem overwhelming, so step back and look at what is behind it all.

So, where is the library?

People are finding their own answers easily on the web themselves. Library use is going down while use of email, online bookstores and search engines is going up!

Can libraries cope where the stuff isn’t completely organised or controlled? Probably not. Many public libraries are closing in the US because they lost their relevance and then they lost their funding. See Content, not Containers (an Information Format Trends report from OCLC, 2003).

Do libraries just = books? Do our users think of us for other information needs? Do we just stop making it feel like church?

She then went back to the new Seattle City Library (image appears above in this post) and said it is what a library should look like (if only!). Real visitation went up 300% in its first year. Public access computer use quadrupled. Its spaces are very inviting and its services are very innovative: multi-lingual programs; online assistance; teen services (via MySpace) – with 50% boys participating!. They are building communities daily and get 1,000s of teens involved.

She said we must do better jobs in all libraries. Online tools help us to see our roles as connectors, facilitators, and community builders.

Currently, Chrystie is writing a book and blogging (one of several). She spoke for a while about the work of Webjunction.org – helping to build relevant vibrant, sustainable libraries in every community. Most content comes from members and partners. All of it is wrapped around social engagement. Public access computing and personalisation services were key to this and to building real communities.

What do they do?

They connect, create and learn:

Connect: using wikis, del.icio.us (others follow this without it being promoted, they just find it – they just use one tag to share stuff for all, eg. we could use AWMWSG or AWMRC), micro-blogging (they use Twitter), phone, Flickr groups, Facebook groups and events, and alternate spaces (eg. LinkedIN, engaging widely!)

Create: blogs and wikis, blip.tv (I suspect schools might find this easier to find than our content on www.awm.gov.au or our blocked content on YouTube), and staff are encouraged to contribute elsewhere (blogs, publications, etc.)

Learn: active learning is encouraged, staff/members are surveyed - What was your greatest achievement last year? (part of bi-annual member survey on webjunction.org – results were visually presented in a tag-cloud), speaking engagements, blogging internally and externally encouraged for all staff.

So what does this mean for us at the Memorial? I think we are heading in the right direction. We are not there yet, but we've made a good start and even though we might complain about some restrictions placed on us by out IT staff, they have already facilitated much more freedom and innovation in our organisation than many, may others (judging by the tone of questions asked of Chrystie). Our management too have been both supportive and visionary. How many national cultural institutions can boast that they now have these words as their first listed corporate priority for the 2008-2011 period: "Enhance online access through use of emerging web technologies and improved web content"?