Tag Archives: flickr

How useful can you make a micro-collection online?

18 Oct


Badges by Ellen Munro, on Flickr

This term I’m not at Birkbeck, I’m at UEL. The MA Museum Cultures has a module-swap arrangement with UEL’s MA in Heritage Studies, and so I’m going to Cyprus every week to study the Heritage and Visual Culture module with the artist and photographer Roshini Kempadoo.

The second coursework option has a ‘creative’ path, for which I’m going to attempt to create a very small online archive of my own, of (mostly political) badges that I wore during the 1980s and 1990s. Each badge will be accompanied by two stories/narratives: one about the campaign that the badge represents; and one about why I wore it, and what I was doing at the time I wore it. I’m planning to host the images of the badges and the campaign stories on Flickr, and then embed the images together with the personal stories on a hosted wordpress.com blog.

Now I’m not expecting a call from Europeana or the Culture Grid anytime soon. But one of the things I’d like to use this project to explore is how useful/usable to others a micro-collection like this might be. Should I be trying to make it possible for others to search and access my tiny collection alongside other collections large and small? In my professional milieu there are lots of debates about the pros and cons of aggregation — but if I were serious about making this available for others to use in the context of cultural heritage, what should I do?

In particular, I’m thinking about:

Licensing: What’s the most useful licence to apply to both images and text? I’d like to be credited for the texts I’ve written if they’re used elsewhere.

Linked data? Does this have any application here, or is that a thing for big institutions? How would I even start?

Specialist aggregators? Is this a Community Archive?

Other repositories? I’m planning to create quite nice hi-res images of the badges. Should I also put them somewhere like the Wikimedia Commons (where they’ll be divorced from the stories I’ve attached to them)?

I’d be really interested in your thoughts and comments about this, from whatever angle they come. Thanks.


Public photography in museums: a survey

14 Sep
The Coral Reef

The Coral Reef by Doilum, on Flickr

I’ve been thinking a lot about personal photography and museums recently. As a civilian photographer it’s become a habit to ask, as soon as I enter a museum, ‘what’s your photography policy?’ And while I’m frequently pleasantly surprised to find that the policy is ‘please take photographs’, I’m also often surprised to have to sign a contract or wear a special sticker to be able to take photographs in a (usually publicly-funded museum). It’s sometimes baffling, and a little frustrating.

At the same time, in my professional life I run more than a few Flickr pools, where I actively solicit photographs taken in or around my museum.This is a bog-standard activity for most museums these days, and for museum staff who prize ‘social’ (which is usually to say: online community-based) interactions with their audiences, photography can be very important.

In order to try to unpick this apparent contradiction, I recently disseminated a short survey to museum professionals in an attempt to understand the current status of public photography in museums. I particularly wanted to find out what the factors determining permission to take photographs are, and whether they were in flux. The sample wasn’t particularly large or scientific [1], but I think I got a large enough set of responses (52) to get a sense of some interesting answers. I asked four questions: results and short commentary follow; there’s a longer interpretation at the end.

As a civilian photographer, I found the results encouraging — it looks like the pendulum is swinging towards greater permission for photography. As a museum professional, I found it slightly less encouraging: I think there are some barriers to greater photographic freedom that I have less power over and will be harder to dismantle.

1. Is photography permitted in permanent exhibitions in your gallery?

Over half the museums responding indicated that photography was permitted, and that their understanding of ‘personal’ use included posting photos to social websites. Reasons for complication included loan objects in permanent collections, and official ambivalence:

“allowed for non-commercial purposes”

“officially it’s prohibited but staff are allowed to turn a blind eye”

2. Is photography permitted in temporary exhibitions in your gallery?

Temporary exhibitions present a very different picture. Prohibition and complication together form the majority of cases, with less than a quarter of museums freely permitting personal/social photography.

The reason for complication? Overwhelmingly, restrictions are external to the institution itself:

“depends on the owner(s) of the displayed objects”

“photographic restriction from the lender”;

“depends on the temporary exhibition and the policy of the lender of individual objects or whole exhibitions”

“depends on the restrictions required by borrowers”

“depends on any restrictions placed by artists, funders or lenders”

“some touring exhibitions don’t allow photography”.

The significant difference between permanent and temporary exhibitions suggests that this isn’t a conservation issue but one of intellectual property rights. Particularly where a temporary exhibition involves loans from multiple sources or commercial galleries and  contemporary artists, public photography seems tricky to broker. It probably isn’t at the top of most exhibition organisers’ priority lists either.

But is this a static state of affairs? I also asked:

3. Has your photography policy changed in the last three years?

The results suggest that the situation is in flux, and that museums and galleries are moving towards a more photographically permissive environment.

Lastly, I asked for general comments.

4. Is there anything else about photography in your gallery or museum that you’d like to add?

These fall into a number of categories.

Straightforward issues of access:

“Especially for paper objects it’s a wonderful non-damaging way for people to take copies away with them.”

Institutional complications:

“For loans from other institutions we need to change the policy”

A suggestion, opposed to the general utopian current of capturing and sharing, that photography might be a mildly antisocial activity:

“A lot of visitors do not even ask if photography is permitted, but assume that they have a right to photograph any thing that they wish. Are there any suggested formula for a notice explaining the restrictions especially if other visitors are captured in the shots”

The disproportionate use of institutional resources in policing any policy.

“It may be all well and good to have a policy but policing it, especially if restrictive, is another matter entirely! Resource intense”

An awareness of the online ‘social’ environment.

“We have several Flickr pools into which we invite images, some of which are of the venue/gallery”


“Very hard to stop now with the spread of smartphones.”

A recognition of the distinct natures of photography and museums (my personal favourite)

“photography posted online or in print is neither a substitute for the museum experience, nor threat to attendance”


What might all this mean? Photography is rapidly evolving as a digital and social artform. ‘Personal’ photographs aren’t kept in lonely handfuls in albums any more waiting for their annual viewing to relatives; they’re published, labelled, tagged and discussed, part of an ongoing flow of conversation involving text and images. Perhaps you could say that ‘interpersonal photography’ has replaced ‘personal’ photography.

Photography in museums can therefore also be a complex thing. When you’re taking a photograph, you could be doing any one of a number of things, not just ‘capturing’ but also interpreting. You might be:

  • Making a ‘copy’ of the artwork/object you’re looking at for later contemplation
  • Capturing a moment: the moment of the visit; or a temporary exhibition
  • Sharing the experience of visiting a museum with friends, communities of interest, and strangers
  • Interpreting a work or object that you’re looking at: using a photograph to understand what you’ve seen

The results of the survey seem to me to reinforce an almost cruel irony. The museum objects which you are allowed to photograph are often those least in need of personal capture and interpretation (they’re always there, many images of them already exist, they have been catalogued and interpreted) whereas the things that might benefit most from personal photography are those to which there is least access.

It’s quite easy to take pictures of objects at the V&A, for example: individual objects which are on permanent display and have already been photographed many times before.  By contrast, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s temporary exhibition at the Serpentine is large, complex, immersive and will soon disappear, but photography is strictly forbidden.[2] You just have to look at the selection of photos on Flickr taken in Mike Nelson’s Coral Reef installation to see the layers of meaning and interpretation that mass social photography can bring to a rich, allusive work of contemporary art.

The ubiquity of multipurpose mobile devices makes things more difficult. It’s going to be hard for museums to be plastering their objects and displays with QR codes at the same time as attempting to restrict the use of the only device that can make sense of a QR code (a digital camera).

Outside in the real world, street photography is booming, but pervasive digital imaging has also become cause for conflict. In some places photography is seen as an essentially suspect activity, framed by an ‘anti-terror’ agenda. The response from amateur photographers has been to organise pressure groups, and also to inform themselves of their rights, sometimes in the form of a ‘bust card’ that contains a lawyerly summary of photographers’ rights which can be used in negotiation with representatives of authority. Interestingly, this particular bust card includes a passage that could easily be taken to refer to most public exhibitions, whether permanent or temporary.

It is not an infringement of copyright to take photographs of buildings, sculptures and works of artistic craftsmanship that are permanently situated in a public place or in premises that are open to the public.

So while the results of the survey seem to demonstrate that museums understand that the issue is ‘rights’ in the intellectual property inside the museum; whether this is compatible with the ‘rights’ of the public to capture and interpret their world, including its cultural heritage, through photography is less certain.

I’d be very interested to hear of others’ experiences and viewpoints, both from photographers and museum professionals. Post in the comments below, or talk to me on twitter.

[1] I disseminated the survey through my personal networks of professional contacts on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, The Museums Computer Group JISCMail list, and the Museum 3 community. The small sample was balanced, including both big and small museums, art galleries and social history museums.

[2] I’ve been inspired by this exercise to try and make a much clearer and more welcoming statement about photography for my own institution. (Now everybody else just has to do the same thing & make them machine-readable using a universally-agreed XML standard.)

‘Medical London’, Flickr, and the photography of everyday medicine

1 Oct
Saw, by David Edwards on Flickr

Saw, by David Edwards on Flickr

This is the text of a long abstract for a presentation given at the 15th biannual conference of the European Association of Museums for the History of Medical Sciences (EAMHMS), “Contemporary Medical Science and Technology as a Challenge for Museums” in Copenhagen on 16 September 2010. The original abstract included images; I have replaced them here with links to Flickr for convenience.

The explosion of digital photography in the last ten years has had an enormous impact on the practice of taking pictures. Digital cameras have made possible the production of a vastly increased number of personal photographs while the internet has provided practically unbounded means of access and distribution through photo-sharing websites like Flickr.

In 2010 Wellcome Collection set up a Flickr pool on the theme of ‘Medical London’ as an extension of our existing off/online Medical London project. In itself, this is no innovation: as Romeo and Waterson have noted, the Flickr pool is “a well-established museum outreach genre”[1]. It is no accident that Flickr is the photo-sharing website of choice for cultural heritage institutions. Where Facebook situates photography in a social aspect and Google’s Picasa excels in desktop integration, Flickr, and Flickr users, emphasise the aesthetic content of photographs themselves.

However, outreach is usually as far as museums’ Flickr projects go. Success is frequently measured by quantitative criteria (participation, entries) rather than any critical or curatorial measure. Although Galani and Moschovi contend that “contemporary amateur photographs as generated and published through social media applications have increasingly captured the curatorial imagination”[2] this has so far mostly been limited to curators and exhibitors working in the area of photography itself. Though the “internet stew” of photo-sharing websites like Flickr may be exactly where “the museum’s curatorial function is sorely lacking” according to Fred Ritchin[3], few non-photographic museums seem to have considered in detail what they might take, examine or curate from Flickr itself.

If photography has become pervasive, medicine always has been: a constant part of our lives both personally and socially. Photography might also have a therapeutic aspect: preserving the moment of life forever, where medicine ultimately fails. The Medical London pool, offering a theme both concrete and open, offers an opportunity to see where photography and medicine intersect. It is sufficiently local to attract what might be a community; there are enough potential subjects to avoid repetition. What follows is an attempt to use this pool to draw out some of the subjects, aesthetics and perspectives that might be of use to a medical museum in understanding and re-presenting everyday medicine. Six subject areas or possible approaches to the material are explored with examples.

In preparing this paper I’ve taken into account both the legal aspects of licensing on Flickr (only photos appropriately licensed or for which specific permission was given are included here: URLs for complete galleries are given alongside the pictures). I’ve also considered intentionality by only including images whose creators placed them in the pool, which suggests that they considered (however minimally) that the picture has a medical aspect, and can be understood by others in a medical context.

1. Objects

Through the Flickr pool we have access to images of objects which the museum does not possess. Pictures of hospital badges belonging to healthcare workers, medical instruments, charity boxes and large pieces of medical equipment have all been submitted to the pool. Where online we often consider a gallery of photographic images of objects to constitute meaningful access to our own collections, we might ask now whether it is possible to curate and present others’ images of objects.

Objects gallery

2. Location

Geospatial coordinates are an increasingly common property of photographs. Whether applied using Flickr’s map tools, or added by a GPS-aware mobile device, many pictures in  the Medical London pool include information about where they were taken. On the map below, each pink dot represents one of the images in the strip, plotted onto the place where it was taken. If embedded in a form accessible to a mobile device, the potential exists to turn the city itself into a museum of its own medical history: from every location we can access nearby significant buildings, objects and events.

Interactive map

3. Documenting surgery

David Edwards documented his own bunion surgery in February 2007. As podiatric surgeons worked on his foot, a student podiatrist took pictures using Edwards’ camera. Here, the procedural becomes personal and while the foot remains the site of the operation, the subjectivity of the photography changes subtly: the pictures of the operation are authored by the patient.

Surgery gallery

4. Protest

Medicine has a social dimension, and even socialised healthcare in Europe is not simply a static service in which medics provide care to patients. A restructuring of services can spark protests by both healthcare workers and the local community. Here, the Flickr pool helps to provide a record of the dynamics of a changing health service in London.

Protest gallery

5. Other cures

Living in a multicultural city reminds us that ‘Western Medicine’ is no longer a primarily geographical category. The evidence of Chinese medicine, herbalism, homeopathy and other cures is everywhere in street photography, sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally. The ‘health food’ store is a sight as common as a pharmacy; while all cures might not be equal or even reputable, they all form a part of a medical landscape.

Other cures gallery

6. A new aesthetic: the empty hospital

The image of the hospital’s interior is familiar: wide corridors interrupted by fire doors; staff in uniform, patients in gowns and visitors in everyday dress; trolleys and other medical equipment. In the Flickr pool, through a combination of artists, healthcare workers, and ‘urban explorers’ investigating abandoned buildings, we unexpectedly discover a new aesthetic. The hospital, its spacious areas now bare, takes on an eerie feeling, like an empty diorama.

Empty hospitals gallery

Having seen its variety and considered its content, we might usefully ask in what ways the Medical London Flickr pool materially differs from a traditional photographic archive. Firstly, it is ongoing and open, offering a wide variety of subjects and modes, and few restrictions on submissions. Secondly, it is multiply authored, by both amateur and professional photographers. Thirdly, it can be collaboratively curated: galleries selected from it like the ones above can be made by anyone. Lastly, linked only by a strong but mutable idea, ‘Medical London’ photographs are open to constant reinterpretation by the photographers, the museum and others. As a nascent community it has yet to (and may never) develop any shared senses of photographic priorities. But the most important aspect of the pool is its capacity to offer us surprises: to see new subjects, aesthetics and understandings in what is offered to us.

If we wish to re-present these surprises to our audiences, how might we integrate the medical Flickr pool into the medical museum itself? In one way we already have, simply by connecting its online content to our existing presence: we are already used to museum exhibitions and projects having many limbs. If we wished to physically integrate these images into the museum, we might install a screen that dynamically highlights recent additions to the pool, as the Denver Art Museum does[4]. Or we might display the winners of a competition hosted by Flickr and integrate comments from Flickr into gallery interpretations, as the National Maritime Museum has[5].

Flickr has already proved to be highly effective at attracting audience engagement with the subject matter and collections of the museum. The curatorial question for museums now is how to engage with what audiences have produced. For a medical museum in particular, the challenge is how to find fresh perspectives from the mass of available material that we could loosely describe as ‘everyday medicine’. The ultimate result, however, will not be something that the museum has acquired, but rather something that it has fostered and shared.






I would like to thank all the individually credited Flickr users for permission to use their photos in this paper, whether granted personally or through the use of Creative Commons licences.


[1]Romeo, F. and N. Waterson, ‘Flickr as Platform: Astronomy Photographer of the Year’. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2010: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2010. Consulted July 12, 2010. http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/romeo/romeo.html

[2] Galani, Areti and Moschovi, Alexandra (2010) ‘Trans/forming Museum Narratives: The Accommodation of “Photography 2.0” in Contemporary Exhibitions’ in Transforming Culture in the Digital Age International Conference 2010: Proceedings. Consulted July 12, 2010. http://dspace.utlib.ee/dspace/handle/10062/14768

[3] Ritchin, Fred. After Photography. W. W. Norton & Co., 2008. p 115

[4] ‘Progressive photography policy’, photograph on Flickr  flickr.com/dannybirchall/4539113403

[5] Romeo, F. and N. Waterson, 2010

Museums and the Web 2010

26 Apr

Denver, April 13-17 2010
A slightly-edited version of my institutional reportback

One of the gratifying things about Museums and the Web was finding that as well as data enthusiasts, digital managers and social media experts, there were a good number of curators, librarians and other professions at the conference. It seemed like proof to me that the web is becoming ever-more intimate with the everyday practice of museums, and that the boundaries between old museum professions and new are not so much being broken down as producing new hybrids: geeks who are intimately familiar with collections, and curators for whom web 2.0 is second nature.

The conference was multi-stranded, and many topics and ideas of interest were repeated; therefore, rather than sequentially describe every session I went to, I’ve tried here to group things together, bringing out highlights and connections.


Using Flickr

Aaron Cope, a  former Flickr developer discussed the introduction last year of Flickr galleries, a feature which allows users to select and annotate others’ photos. A restriction on the number of photos was deliberate, forcing users into making small, considered selections rather than longer lists, and also moving users away from promoting their own photos and towards the intellectual understanding of others’ work. Aaron described this as the discovery of a ‘curatorial muscle’: without fetishising the word ‘curation’ or suggesting that the role of museum curators has been supplanted by the crowd, everyday web users are creating the kind of connections and interpretations that can’t be done by machines.
: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/cope/cope.html

Joe Dalton from the New York Public Library discussed their Flickr commons project: in adding a large amount of material to the Flickr commons, how to merge existing subject headings into Flickr tags seemed problematic. The answer was to break down subject headings by delimiters into tags that made sense, update the archaic language of some subject headings, and use only what made sense.
: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nypl/
: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/dalton/dalton.html

Natasha Waterson of the National Maritime Museum presented their use of Flickr as a platform for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. Though Flickr offers a ready-made place to submit photographs, making the costly build of a separate submission mechanism unnecessary, it also has its own rules, oriented more towards community than competition, which have to be respected; working directly with Flickr itself was also helpful. The quality of the content was very high, and an important lesson learned was that niche participation (a limited number of people engaging in astrophotography) can have popular appeal (many people fascinated by pictures of the stars). The reward of being on display at Greenwich itself was a pull, and the physical displays also included comments from Flickr users.
: http://www.nmm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/astronomy-photographer-of-the-year/
: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/romeo/romeo.html

Paula Bray from Powerhouse and Ryan Donohue from George Eastman House presented Common Ground, a global day of meetups at cultural heritage institutions involving Flickr Commons users who had been active in enriching the Flickr commons. Slideshows were presented and projected, curated by Flickr users rather than the institutions.
Website: http://www.flickr.com/groups/flickrcommons/discuss/72157622022156667/
Paper: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/bray/bray.html



Nate Solas from the Walker Art Centre showed how on the Arts Connect Ed site, research into what people searched for showed that they were effectively using search as a roundabout way of browsing the collection. The introduction of a browsable interface to the collections and facet browsing not only increased the specificity of what people were searching for but also made the site much more indexable by search engines; a reminder also that search starts outside the site.
: http://www.artsconnected.org/
: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/solas/solas.html



Martha de Vit and Edith Schreurs of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam presented the mobile iPhone application they built in collaboration with Antenna Audio around the publication and exhibition of Van Gogh’s letters. They found it gained a wide an international audience, with downloads peaking around the touring exhibition visiting new locations. Contrary to assumptions, multimedia applications didn’t interfere with appreciation of the actual exhibition; but it’s also important to remember that building mobile ‘gadgets’ is not a simple process.
: http://www.vangoghmuseum.com/letters
: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/peereboom/peereboom.html


Projects & evaluation

Richard Morgan from the V&A presented the V&A’s Search the Collections project. Drawing lessons from the overall project experience, he recommended making new projects like projects you’re already good at, being realistic to the point of pessimism, and planning for dependencies. Search the Collections was broken down into smaller sub projects (eg, IT building virtual servers) and built iteratively (in an almost Agile fashion), bringing working prototypes to each meeting of the project board. Richard also made the point that it’s important to distinguish between creating a thing, and creating an organisational capacity: a thing can be outsourced  more easily, while a capacity is much more important in the long term.
Website: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/
: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/morgan/morgan.html

Seb Chan from the Powerhouse Museum presented the results of research into how the Powerhouse online collections are used. The Powerhouse, a science and technology museum in Sydney, is funded directly by the local state, and its primary audiences are the local public and children. Growth in traffic for the website in general is mostly local, but the increase in access to the collections online is only 50% Australian. Microsites remain popular, but as a means of exposing the collections they are unsustainable silos. The Powerhouse’s collections online includes interpretative text as well as tombstone data, and in order to understand how this text might be being used, Powerhouse used Tynt (http://www.tynt.com/), a JavaScript-based copy-and-paste tracker to heatmap what had been selected, discovering that over 3m words of text had been copied. Seb concluded by saying that setting data free by itself is not enough. We have to understand which audiences are most important to us, and educate educators in how to use the materials if necessary.
Website: http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/database/
: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/chan/chan.html

Allegra Burnette of MOMA, Dana Mitroff Silvers of SFMOMA and Charlotte Sexton of the National Gallery made a three-way presentation on websites post-launch. The post-launch phase, they argued, is as critical as the development phase, and should be planned for. A website redesign shouldn’t be considered as a standalone web project but as an initiative of the entire organisation, because important decisions about audiences have to be made; a relaunch may even highlight the lack of a shared vision for the organisation.

The combined launch of a new site and a new CMS will not deliver an efficiency miracle: indeed, everyone on the web team could be working harder after project staff are lost. It’s tempting to make the pitch for the budget to implement a new CMS on this basis, but along with separating content from presentation, next-generation CMSes demand more data and more complex metadata like tags. A new CMS is a lot for non-technical staff to learn, and is not going to make anyone engage with the website by itself, and so iterative rollouts and simplified interfaces for infrequent users should be applied. The role of the web team in providing systematic oversight and documentation does not disappear either.

A redesign won’t necessarily provide more traffic, either: content and the programme drive traffic. Analytics can be time-consuming but important. Post-launch user-testing is essential: you should have the capacity to test and tweak the final design. There’s a lot of invisible admin in bug and feature tracking, and post-launch budgets are typically 10% of the development costs. Ultimately the launch of a new site is only a line drawn in the sand of a larger strategic process, but when the camaraderie of the launch build-up dissipates, disillusion can set in.

Paper: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/burnette/burnette.html



Liam Wyatt, Vice-President of Wikimedia Australia and a small group of volunteer wikipedians came to the conference for an invitation-only workshop to thrash out some the tensions between cultural heritage institutions and Wikipedia. The results of the workshops, with opportunity for further discussion, were disseminated through an conference session and discussed in an un conference session (an unconference involves self-organised mini-sessions and discussion on shared topics  of interest).

Rather than a homogeneous entity, Wikipedia is made up of overlapping communities. The Wikimedia foundation owns the framework, and volunteers form national chapters and project groups. One way for cultural heritage institutions to engage with Wikipedia is to consider it a community rather than a resource and look for local groups to engage with. Volunteer wikipedians aren’t that different from museum volunteers. Adding a note to the talk page of an article, finding an appropriate subject-based project, or a local editor to form a relationship with are all ways to begin improving the interface between Wikipedia and the institution.

Museums are primarily interested in objects, while Wikipedia is all about subjects; this is one of the reasons why museum content isn’t an immediately perfect fit for Wikipedia (though with the correct licensing and accompanying notice, museums’ own texts can be incorporated directly into Wikipedia articles). Liam’s desire to forge better relationships between museums and Wikipedia comes from a recognition of some content deficits in the encyclopaedia itself. As he put it ‘Wikipedia is good at Pokemon, and not so good at what museums do’. Wikipedians are primarily interested in content, and museums should look to meaningfully enhance articles, rather than garnish links to their institution. Deep links to objects and their interpretations as citations are desirable: they increase the quality and usefulness of Wikipedia itself. Adding links to the ‘notes’ section as footnotes, for instance, is preferable to adding links to the ‘external links’ section at the bottom of the page.

This special Wikipedia page, created by Liam, discussing meaningful and useful ways to work between Wikipedia and the cultural heritage sector is worth reading:



Social media & community

Wayne La Bar presented a social media site for the Liberty Science Centre built on the Ning platform (there was some discussion of Ning during the conference, as they have just announced a switch from a free to a paid-for model) for a forthcoming cooking exhibition at the liberty science centre. The aim was to involve the public in planning the content of the exhibition, and some users were successfully integrated into the exhibition planning team
Website: http://www.cookingexhibition.org/
Paper: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/labar/labar.html

Mia Ridge from the Science Museum presented their Cosmic Collections project, a data mash-up competition challenging coders to build new websites based on a collections data API. Though opening up data doesn’t always mean that people will use it, the competition was successful and produced sites that are still live. The possibility that no-one will enter always exists, said Mia: acknowledge that, plan for it, and then go ahead.
Website: http://sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/galleries/cosmos_and_culture.aspx
: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/ridge/ridge.html

Jeff Gates from the Smithsonian discussed the opportunism of social media. The Smithsonian’s long-running email enquiry service, Joan of Art, seemed to be a rights-bound silo of inaccessible material until Joan of Art herself started tweeting, and the best of her answers were re-posted in a blog.
: http://americanart.si.edu/research/tools/ask/
: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/gates/gates.html

Ailsa Barry of the Natural History Museum presented Nature Plus, a system to tie together physical and virtual offers at the new Darwin Centre. Given a barcoded ticket, visitors can pause at several interactives, manipulate and collect information, which they can then retrieve from the website and use to set up a personal page and profile. This was a project in which many others inside the NHM also saw opportunities for marketing, development and education. The system has 10.5k users, with a high level of loyalty.
: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/natureplus/index.jspa
: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/barry/barry.html

Erika Dicker from Powerhouse discussed the museum’s curators’ blogs, set up by the Powerhouse web team, but with all content controlled by curators themselves. She also surveyed museum curators and found that 60% of them were using one form or another of social media. Some curators use blogging as a means of raising their personal profile, others are uncomfortable with the medium, still others find obstacles to it. It’s also worth asking whether curators have access to the right tools to make the most of opportunities.
: http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/blog/
Paper: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/dicker/dicker.html

Gail Durbin from the V&A ran a workshop around the V&A’s intention to make a transition from contributions to their websites to a community around the museum. Many user-generated content projects involve a contribution, after which there is a dead-end. The V&A is looking to replace its 30-odd different sign-ons with a single sign on across all sites, and the ability for users to create profiles for themselves. Gail noted that Flickr, a photographers’ site, allows you to say where you’re from and your relationship status, information not immediately germane to photography, but which might begin to foster a sense of community; workshop participants were asked to come up with a comparable, unobvious question to ask V&A users to add to their profile. Then, looking at two things close to the V&A: Body Art, and drawings and sketches made in the galleries, we were asked to consider how we might best build a community around the activity or subject.
: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/durbin/durbin.html



Though the conference was mostly about news ways of doing things, rather than new ways of configuring computers, there wasn’t a lot of talk about platforms and CMSes. Open source CMS Drupal was mentioned more than once (some of the conference attendees went on to Drupalcon in San Francisco) as well as the Python framework Django, and the PHP framework Symfony. I had an interesting chat with the developers of GLAMkit (http://www.glamkit.com/) a Django-based framework developed specifically for the needs of galleries, libraries, archives and museums.



The Brits didn’t sweep the board at the Conference’s Best of the Web awards, but they did much better than an average Oscars. Royal Observatory’s Solar Stormwatch won the Innovation award; Culture24 won the Long-lived award; the V&A’s Search the Collections won the Research award; and Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Dulwich OnView won the Small award

Full awards listing: http://conference.archimuse.com/forum/congratulations_mw2010_best_web_winners