Sunday, 21 September 2008

Museums and the Web 2009: call for participation

MW2009 will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA from April 15-18, 2009. I've only been to one Museums and the Web conference but I would recommend it - the sessions were really useful, and I met some fantastic people and overall it gave me access to a wider community of digital museum professionals. It's a great chance to share your ideas or showcase your project for a proactive and engaged audience and there's a variety of session formats which means you can find a format to suit you and your content.

You've got until the end of this month for proposals for papers, and until the end of December for demonstration proposals. Proposals are welcome on any topic related to museums creating, facilitating or delivering culture, science and heritage on-line - a full list of themes and much more information is at MW2009 Call for Participation.

[Full disclosure: I'm on the Program Committee.]

Bathcamp report

This is my quick and dirty report from BathCamp, held in Bath last weekend. In summary - it was ace, and I went to sessions on the myth of engagement, how to run an Open Space session, social learning, CakePHP, managing complexity in software, learning Chinese online, the art of espresso, and a Delicious pecha kucha. I've included my notes on some of the sessions I've attended, and some ideas for the future in this post. My #bathcamp photos are here and there's a general pool here.

There was a dinner on Friday night for people who were already in the area, which was a good chance to meet some people who were interested but unable to make the Saturday/Sunday.

The sessions:
The myth of engagement (Jack Martin Leith)
Engagement means it's not a message from the organisation to the audience. 'Buy-in' means you're being sold something. Work with people, don't treat them as audiences or something to speak 'to'. It should be a conversation or a dance. It means letting go of brand so it can belong to users. Flickr are a good example of how to do it - look at the 'you','your x' in their menus.

Engagement should be a code word for: inviting participation, including, involving, joining in with, conversing with, playing with, creating with.

Commands: tell
Messages: sell, test, consult
Conversations: co-create

Shell are really good at engagement, and do lots of research, as do the army (which makes sense, because they'd really need people to be engaged and committed).

Open Space (Jack Martin Leith)
This session was on how to run Open Space events, and on the comparative strengths of barcamps and open spaces.

Open Spaces set the theme as a question.

How you invite people is central. Attention is given to welcomes, orientation on arrival. The space is very important. The facilitator doesn't do anything unless someone tries to spoil the vibe or close the space. Put the principles on the wall to remind everyone. The circle is critical in open space.

If you host a session, you agree to write a report (or get someone else to write it). [I think this is vital - it means the ideas, conversations, learning or connections aren't lost, and can be shared beyond the session.]

People sign up for sessions once proposed sessions have been put up on the wall. This helps with planning, space allocation and coordinating sessions.

Social Learning (Laura Dewis)
Smart profiles [?], informed network of peers.

The system adapts to learner now. There was a slide on the OU (Open University) ecosystem - lots of different applications or sites linked together.

OU story - can tell the story of where you are with your course, how you're coping, others can support you. Study buddies... connecting with others with same interests, recommendation 'other people who've done this course also did...'

Cohere - semantic web. Deep learning.

Wider ecosystem of tools. They don't talk to each others. Identify which make sense in learning/teaching context, how can they talk to each other, build on it.

Ecosystem of content - content partnerships.

Learning profiles can become CVs of a sort, showing what you've actually learnt and are interested in.

There was some discussion about online identities, overlap, professional vs private identities - I'm glad to see this acknowledged. Also discussion on the effect on brand.

Q: How much engagement from academics? A: A lot of buy-in, but also resistance to putting some content online e.g. video on youtube more than written course materials, as it's better intellectual property. Developments that OU do doesn't always get into mainstream education, they can be seen as stuff that OU would do but that traditional universities wouldn't.

According to Brian Kelly, edu-punk is over, edu-pirate is in.

CakePHP, Mike (?)
It's an MVC framework.
Nice pre-defined validation stuff.
[I wonder how cake compares to django? And if the validation fields for things like phone numbers are internationalised?]
Scaffolding - stuff already built into framework. [controllers for table input?]
How configurable is the scaffolding? [e.g. year field on date is really long but you might want to limit the range of years].
You can use basic class methods, helpers, components if not using scaffolding.
[This was one of a few useful demos of various application frameworks, including this Django one I didn't get to]

Complexity in software stuff (Alex)
Why is complexity a problem? In case it's not obvious - maintenance, debugging is harder, cost of new staff learning the software is more expensive, and less complexity makes life easier for developers (most importantly!).

There's a body of knowledge on dealing with the complexity of software. Human experience codified. Looking at different metaphors.

Learning Chinese (Chris Hall)
The potential for learning on the internet is untapped.

Examples of autodidacts - Sophie Germain - French mathematician during 18th C. A hero for his learning. [And a possible modern bluestocking?] She had theories accepted by pretending to be a man until she was famous enough to be accepted regardless. The ability to reach out to others and explore ideas with them is really important - she wrote letters, but now we have the internet to enable autodidacts. [Does this mean autodidacts become socialdidacts? Though I guess the motivation still comes from the individual, even if they can learn with others.]

For Chris, learning Chinese was a muse, a focus or lens for learning about social networking and the potential of internet too.

Some interesting bits on the differences between western and Chinese web sites - more meaningful characters (rather than letters) mean lots of information fits in just two characters, which makes layout easier - consistent length of terms in e.g. navigation items.

Chinese users don't trust search engines, and don't have a culture of using search - they look for lists of links. But this will probably change.

Useful examples of using delicious in a RESTful way with bookmarked dictionary and translation sites.

Then a great example of using Ubiquity with Google's translation API for in-page translation of someone else's web content. Ubiquity makes it easy to use web APIs.

And we learnt that EEE's implementation of the Chinese alphabet is phonetic - the keyboard goes by the sound of the word. I've always wondered how Chinese dictionaries work, and I guess they might use a similar technique.

The Art of Espresso (Sam)
Espressos have an intense flavour, they're not necessarily strong.
Mmm, crema.

You can get good results for reasonable money e.g. £100, but steer clear of anything below £50. The pressure ones (e.g. stove top) are 'really nasty' and not espresso machines (ha!). Pump machines. Semi- vs fully-auto.

Grinders - grind coffee as close to using it as possible. Don't keep coffee in the fridge. You can keep it in vacuum flasks in the dark. Espresso needs an almost powdery grind. Burr grinders are better than blade. Decent grinder c £50.

Sam covered the basic flavours from different regions - South American coffees are nutty, chocolately, quite sweet, African - darker, smokey, stronger (?) - your classic italian espresso
Asian Pacific coffees are citrussy, fruity, sharper.

I was way too excited about this session - I love proper coffee, and was having trouble staying awake so I really appreciated the espresso I had. I even got to have a moment of Australian-in-England coffee snobbery with a guy from Sydney (sorry, England!).

I went from this session into:
Delicious pecha kucha (Mark Ng)
The idea is that you provide your delicious username (e.g. and a script picks up your ten most recent bookmarks, and you have a certain number of seconds to explain each bookmark to the group. This was a bit scary after a fresh espresso on an empty stomach, but a fun challenge. The range of interests from a small bunch of geeks at one event is remarkable. I ended up having a great conversation about some of the challenges and big ideas in cultural heritage IT with some people in this session.

Later there was pizza and a tub quiz organised by Darren Beale, before we headed off to the pub and finally a burger from Schwartz's and War Games on the projector for the night owls.

On the way up I'd realised how exciting it was to see an idea that came out of discussions at Museums and the Web in Montreal in April become reality in Bath in September. Between changing jobs and being off-line quite a lot in the lead-up, I wasn't able to help out as much as I could have liked, so my thanks to those who actually made the event come together:
Dan Zambonini, Frankie Roberto, Laura Francis, Lisa Price, Mike Ellis, Stephen Pope, Tim Beadle. And my thanks to the sponsors who made sure we had food and drink and were generally very comfortable in the venue. And finally, it wouldn't have worked without the friendly and engaged participants, so thank you everyone! Frankie's put together a list of everyone's twitter accounts to help people keep in contact. Darren's also linked to a bunch of blog posts about bathcamp.

If I'd run a session, I think it would have been a really open conversation on 'what can cultural heritage IT do for you?' - a chance to explain why so many of us are excited about digital heritage, and to hear from others about what they'd like to see museums and other organisations do, what kinds of data they might use, how they might use our content, what excites them and what bores them.

I'd also like to run a session blatantly aimed at picking the brains of some of the very smart people who come to unconferences - ask everyone to pick their favourite museum, exhibition or object, check out the relevant website and coming back to tell us one thing they'd improve about that website.

During the planning process the focus of Bathcamp changed from cultural heritage to a more general event for Bath/Bristol geeks, with some digital heritage ring-ins from further afield. I'm going to a spillover session for BarCampLondon5 and I'll be interested in how that compares.

I'd still really like to see a MuseumCamp or DigitalHeritageCamp - I think it could be a good way of reaching out from the circle of cultural heritage geeks who have the same ideas about the Right Things To Do to engage with the rest of our sector (museums, galleries, libraries, archives, archaeology, even the humanities in general) - the people who would produce content, work with our audiences, sign-off on projects or push new metrics and evaluation models to sector funders. There's also some discussion of this in the comments on Frankie's round-up of bathcamp.

In the spirit of getting things done, I've created a digital heritage ning (ad hoc social network) as a central place where we can talk about organising a digital heritage barcamp - specifically in the UK to start with, but there's no reason why it couldn't be used to share ideas and organise events internationally. You can sign up directly on the ning if you want to be involved - it's open to everyone, and you don't have to be working in digital cultural heritage - an interest in how it can be done well is enough.