Thursday, 19 June 2008

Notes from 'UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008'

I'm back in London after
UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008 and the mashed museum day.

In the interests of getting my notes up quickly I'm putting them up pretty much 'as is', so they're still rough around the edges. I'll add links to the speaker slides when they are all online. Some photos from the two days are online - a general search for ukmw08 on Flickr will find some. I have some in a set online now, others are still to come, including some photos of slides so I'll update this as I check the text from the slides. These are my notes from the first session.

The keynote speech was given by Tom Loosemore of Ofcom on the Future of Public Service Content.

[For context, Ofcom is the 'independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries' and their recently second review of public service broadcasting, 'The Digital Opportunity', caused a stir in the digital cultural heritage world for its assessment of the extent to which public sector websites delivered on 'public service purposes and characteristics'. You can read the summary or download the full report.]

'How many of you are on the main board of your institution?'

Leadership doesn't have the vision in place to take advantage of the internet.

Sees the internet as platform for public service, [most importantly] enlightenment. He's here today to enlist our help.

We view the internet through lens of expectations from the past, definitely in public service broadcasting - 'let's get our programs on the internet'.

What is value for money?

Would that other sectors did the same soul searching

[On the Ofcom review:] 'You can't really review the web, it's bonkers'

Public service characteristics to create a report card. Of the public service characteristics in the online market (high quality, original, innovative, challenging, engaging, discoverable and accessible), 'challenging' is the hardest.

Museums and cultural sector have amazing potential. What are the barriers between the people here who get it and being able to take that opportunity and redefine public service broadcasting?

It's not skills. Maybe ten years ago, not today. And it's not technology. The crucial missing link is leadership and vision, the lack of recognition by people who govern direction of institutions of the huge potential.

[Which does translate into 'more resources', eventually, but perhaps the missing gap right now is curatorial/interpretative resources? Every online project we do generates more enquiries, stretching these people further, and they don't have time to proactively create content for ad hoc projects as it is, especially as their time tends to be allocated a long time in advance.]

What's behind that reluctance, what can you do to help people on your board understand the opportunities? We can ask 'what business are we in? what's the purpose of our institution?'.

Tate recognise they're not just in the business of getting people to go to the Tate venues, they're in the business of informing people about art. Compare that to the Royal Shakespeare Company which is using its online site purely to get bums on seats.

Next opportunity... how do you take opportunity to digitise your collections and reach a whole new audience? How can you make better use of cultural objects that were previously constrained by physicalty.

What opportunities are native to the internet, can only happen there? How can it help your institution to deliver its purpose?

Recognise that you are in the (public service) media business.

How do you measure enlightenment? You could be changing the way people see the world, etc. but you need to measure it to make a case, to know whether you're succeeding. Metrics really really matter in public service arena.

BBC used to look at page views, but developers gamed the system. Then the metric was 'time online', but it stopped people thinking externally. Metric as proxy for quality.

Value = reach x quality. What kind of experience did they have?

Quality is the really hard part. As defined by BBC: quality is in the eye of the beholder. Did the user have an excellent experience?

BBC measure 'net promoter' - how likely are you to recommend this to a friend or colleague, on a scale of 1 - 10?

[But for our sector, what if you don't have any friends with the same interest in x? Would people extrapolate from their specific page on a Roman buckle to recommend the site generally?]

Throw away the 'soggy British middle' - the 7, 8s (out of ten).

Group them as Promoters (9-10/10), Passive (7-8/10), Detractors (0 - 6/10). The key measure is the difference between how many Promoters and how many Detractors. This was 'fabulously useful' at the BBC. 30% is good benchmark.

They mapped whole BBC portfolio against 'net promoters' % and reach, bubbles show cost.

It's not necessarily about reaching mass audiences. But when producing for niche audiences - they must love it, and it shouldn't cost that much.

He's telling us this because it's the language of funders, of KPIs, this is hard evidence with real people. You might use a different measure of quality but you can't talk about opportunities in abstract, must have numbers behind them.

Suggested the BBC's 15 Web Principles, including 'fall forward, fast'.

A measure of personal success for him would be that in x years when he asked 'who here is on the board of your institution, at least x should put hands up'.

[I really liked this keynote speech as a kick up the arse in case we started to get too complacent about having figured out what matters to us, as museum geeks. It doesn't count unless we can get through our organisations and get that content out to audiences in ways they can use (and re-use).]

In linking the sessions, Ross Parry mused about the legacy of 18th, 19th century ideas of how to build a museum, how would they be different if museums were created today?

Lee Iverson, How does the web connect content? "Semantic Pragmatics"
'Profoundly disagreed' with some of the things Tom was talking about, wants to have a dialogue.
He asked how many know the background to semantic web stuff? Quite a few hands were raised.

Talking about how the web works now and where it's going. Museums have significant opportunity to push things forward, but must understand possibilities and limitations.

Changing classic relationship - museum websites as face of institution to users. Huge opportunity for federating and aggregating content (between museums) - an order of magnitude better.

He's working with 13 museums, with north west native American artefacts. Communities are co-developers, virtually repatriating their (land).

Possibility to connect outside the museum. Powerhouse Museum as an excellent example of why (and how) you should connect.

Becoming connected:
Expose own data from behind presentation layers
Find other data
Integrate - creating a cohesive (situation)
Engage with users

Access to data is core business, curatorial stuff.

Pragmatics of standards - get a sense of what it is you're doing [and start, don't try and create the system of everything first], it'll never work. Use existing standards if possible, grab chunks if you can. Never standardise what you minimally need to do to get the utility you need at the moment. Then extend, layers, version 2. A standard is an agreement between a minimum of two people [and doesn't have to be more complicated than that].

"Just do it" - make agreements, get it to work, then engage in the standardisation process.

Relationship between this and semantic web? Semantic web as 'data web'. Competing definitions.

Slide on Tim Berners-Lee on the semantic web in 1999.

Why hasn't it appeared? It's vapourware, you can't make effective standards for it.

Syntax - capability of being interpreted. Semantic - ability to interpret, and to connect interpretations.

Finding data - how much easier would it be if we could just grab the data we want directly from where we want it?

Key is relating what you're doing to what they're doing.

Semantic web built on RDF, it's designed for representing metadata. It's substantially different to XML. Lots of reaction against RDF has been reaction against XML encoding, syntactic resistance.

RDF is designed to be manipulated as data, XML is about annotating text. In XML, syntax is the thing, with RDF the data is the thing.

Grab entire XML doc before you can figure out how to smoosh then together. RDF works by reference, you can just build on it.

RDFa. A way of embedding RDF content directly in XHTML, relies on same strategies as microformats. Will be ignored by presentation oriented systems but readable by RDF parsers.

[RDF triples vs machine tags? RDF vs microformats? How RDF-like is OAI PMH?]

You can talk about things you don't have a representation for e.g. people.

Ignore the term 'ontology' - it's just a way of talking about a vocabulary.

Four steps for widespread adoption:
Promote practical applications
Develop applications now
[and the slide was gone and I missed the last two steps!]

There was also some stuff on limitations of lightweight approaches, and hermetically sealed museum data, user experiences. Also a bit on 'give away structured data' but with a good awareness of the need to keep some data private - object location and value, for example.

Ross - we've had the media context and technical context, now for the sector context.

Paul Marty, Engaging Audiences by connecting to collections online.
Vital connections...

What does it mean to say x% of your collection is online? For whom is it useful?

How to engage audiences around your collections? Not just presenting information.

Goes beyond providing access to data. Research shows audiences want engagement. Surveyed 1200 museum visitors about their requirements. [I would love to see the research] Virtuous circle between museum visits and website visits.

Build on interest, give experience that grabs people.

Romans in Sussex website - multiple museums offering collections for multiple audiences. Re-presenting same content in different ways on the fly.

Don't just give general public a list of stuff. Give them a way to engage.

"Engaging a community around a collection is harder than providing access to data about a collection"

Photo of the week - says "What do you know about this photo? Please share your thoughts with us" But no link or instructions on how to do it. But at least they're trying...

Discussion - Tom, Lee and Paul.

"Why do you digitise collections before had need in mind?" [Because the driver is internal, not external, needs, would be the generous answer; because they could get funding to do it would be my ungenerous answer].

Tom on RDF - how seriously engaged with it to build audiences, tell stories.

BBC licence terms - couldn't re-use data for commercial purposes/at all.

Leadership need to understand opportunities because otherwise they won't support geek stuff.

Qu: terms of engagement - how is it defined?

Paul - US has made same mistakes re digitisation of collections and websites that don't have reusable data.

Participants must be involved in process from the beginning, need input at start from intended users on how it can engage them.

Fiona: why not use existing resources, go to existing sites with established audiences?

Lee: how did YouTube succeed - people were brought by embedded content. [This issue of using 'wrappers' around your content to help it go viral by being embeddable elsewhere was raised in another session too.]

Tom: letting go is how you win, but it's a profound challenge to institutions and their desire to maintain authority.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mia

    Fabulous notes!

    The research Paul Marty was talking about is published here -