Science in the Web 2.0 world
18 August 2008

Michael Nielsen has written an indepth and provocative essay on the Future of Science: Building a Better Collective Memory. You can read it here!

Nielsen is a formidable author; considered one of the pioneers of quantum computation, he co-wrote the standard text on quantum computation. “This is the most highly cited physics publication of the last 25 years, and one of the ten most highly cited physics books of all time (Source: Google Scholar, December 2007).”

I was particulary struck by the opportunity to discuss the changes to science in cultural institutions. As our 2009 conference will be focusing on transformations in cultural and scientific communication, I’ve been trying to build my own knowledge around the role cultural institutions play in the development of general understandings of science and how scientific knowledge framed, problematised, created and disseminated in the Web 2.0 environment.

I am interested in whether, if the public knew more about scientific knowledge they contribute to controversial debates and if so, how might this change or challenge science policy in the cultural sector?

In an earlier article (Science 2.0 Is Open Access Science the Future?, Scientific American, April 2008) , M. Mitchell Waldrop questioned how search engines, social networks, Web 2.0: would affect science. We question whether these shifts will impact on sicence in knowledge institutions, questioning whether they will extend or submerge them?

As we move towards the conference I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Social media as an agent of peace
23 July 2008

I’m here at the EVA Conference in London. The conference brings together an interesting group of creatives, policy makers and cultural professionals to discuss developments in digital technology and their impacts across the sectors.

I saw a very interesting talk today by Patrick Towell, Chair of the Information Society Working Group for the UNESCO UK National Commission. Patrick’s talk centred on the values, visions, beliefs and habits which drive behaviour in the media environment. He suggested that the process of peace was one that needs to be designed and that the use of artistic and technical endevour could be utilised in this process.

Patrick talked about the UK government’s remit to promote digital literacy and the implications of this on society as a whole and not only on the intended audience. He discussed the social etiquette that developments in digital environments bring with them and the importance of self awareness, respect, knowledge and self esteem in creating a confident online identity.

Some of the questions he posed included: What are the values, beliefs, behavious of media nd how will they impact on the values of the future?; what is the culture and what are the artefacts of the online experience?; How can digital media create a culture of peace through action at a distance, collaboration and the development of shared meaning?

Patrick concluded by discussing the potential for intercultural dialogue internationally through social media, proposing platforms and mechanisms for creating peace. He introduced the UNESCO 2year pilot project “Power of Peace Network’.

It was interesting to note that the notion that connecting into people’s lives and enabling access to content on their own terms is potentially as important to a broad social agenda as it has proven to be in the cultural sector.

How do we re-define ‘interaction’ with cultural materials?
05 July 2008

Here is another installment in my constant musings on the impact of social media on the museum. It’s cold around the country this weekend so enjoy!

In the 1990s museum content began to emerge from behind the walls of institutions to appear on distributed websites, and the internet became a common medium through which to display, in a limited way, the cultural knowledge within the institution. This movement ‘beyond the walls’ brought about a rise in debate around notions of deterritorialisation (where the museum was no longer bound by a single built entity) and dematerialisation (where the relationship between audience and institution became more malleable) (Kenderdine 1996, Silverstone 1994). At the same time, critique around the experience of visiting ‘real’ physical sites vs. ‘virtual’ experiences became topical(Pearce 1995; Trant 1998). Since that time, debate has continued to range around the value of online display, the effect that it has on the aura of the object, the authenticity of experience and the power/knowledge relationships with the museum.

While the dominate discourses which surrounded the early internet were played out in opposition between the real and the virtual, the implicit critique centred around how such virtual experiences might undermine the expertise and social standing of the museum. Trant suggested how the use of the internet to deliver museum content could be viewed as a potentially powerful networked system which provided greater authority to the museum, by creating trusted cultural networks (1998). While there were some early Australian programs which encouraged cross-institutional content sharing (such as the Australian Museum’s Online project, there was little emphasis on the development of user-created content. This was partly a result of the limited interactivity afforded by early internet technologies and was philosophically underpinned by the dominant discourses of the time. The creation of a new medium in itself did little to respond to the need for audiences to ‘make meaning’ of their experiences (Hooper-Greenhill 2000); the value of community voices and their role in developing a broader understanding of cultural content (Witcomb 1999); the location of the museum within popular culture (Moore 1997) and the experiences and images which audiences bring with them when visiting museums (Wallace 1995). With the advent of social media, those technologies which provide a platform for three-way communication, there is a real possibility to respond to these agendas in a structured way. It could be said that the tools to share this new information online thus forming communities of interest, recontexualizes as Benjamin (1969) had done, the nature of new spaces presented to us in the wake of technological change.

Dawson (2002) provides some compelling arguments to suggest that innovation requires collaboration. Three-way communication which responds to the knowledge which audiences bring with them, establishes the foundation for new models of interaction and participation. Without exploring these in structured ways, there is a chance that museums will lose the potential to lead innovation. Poullson and Kale (2004) define commercial experiences as “an engaging act of co-creation between a provider and a consumer wherein the consumer perceives value in the encounter and in the subsequent memory of that encounter.” While their thesis is directed toward the creation of commercial experiences, is it so far from the types of interaction and participation which we would hope to achieve in the cultural sector? The creation of cultural interactive experiences will need to extend to not just interacting with audiences but engaging them in this act of co-creation. In my next post I will be exploring this in more detail.

Musings on collective memory in museums: when the ‘real’ becomes virtual
21 June 21 2008

As part of the series on ‘sites’ of display in the museum, I give you this gem – where the ‘real’ becomes virtual!

Museum exhibitions have the potential to weave memories of self, to reconfigure adult as re-collector/ child as collector relationships. The museum becomes the mnemonic site for both the factual and remembered world of a collective museum. Reality is mixed with fantasy to produce experiences which are disorienting, explorative and ultimately individual.

An example of this is The Museum of Jurassic Technology which was established in Los Angeles by David Wilson in 1982. The museum sits between the unassuming façade of a laundry and Korean takeaway in a suburban street of Los Angeles. The façade displays both the name of the museum above the entrance and an elongated cloth sign which reads “No-one may ever have the same knowledge again, Letters to Mt Wilson Observatory, 1915-1935.”

The art critic, Ralph Rugoff, describes the museum as cluttered with traditional glass showcases, displays of preserved insects, skeletons, minerals, dioramas of science and technology. He has studied the meticulously researched and exhaustively written captions, has considered the dim lighting and factual displays. But somewhere within this meticulous display of Jurassic Technology, Rugoff describes a ‘faint scratching at the back of the mind”(Rugoff, 1995: 69-81).

The museum publishes an explanatory pamphlet where it describes itself as an educational institution “dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic.” It provides the academic community with a specialised knowledge space where research and display come together, combining relics and artefacts with an emphasis on unusual or curious qualities. The pamphlet describes the term museum as a spot dedicated to the muses, a “place where man’s mind could attain a mood of aloofness above everyday affairs“. The pamphlet introduces the scholars whose works are collected and displayed, their personal histories and the function of their research within the greater scientific environment.

Rather than conveying ready to digest information, the exhibits unsettle with information about information. The artifacts start to dematerialize into a field of questions about display and the nature of knowledge. Instead of asking viewers to suspend disbelief, it leads us beyond belief. The museum does not discredit rational scholarship, rather it embraces its rhetoric as a peculiar and distinctive voice which it uses to consciously fuse real events with imaginary ones, true research with specious discourse. Rugoff proposes that this model of museum presents a technology for altering habitual ways of seeing and thinking, thus freeing us from the museum’s traditional objectivity and opening the way to our individual recovery of authority in the subjective museum-going experience. While the museum disorients and confuses, it leaves us with the feeling that questions are worth holding onto and that uncertainty plays a part in the pleasure of the social act of museum-going.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology remains one of the few long-standing examples of how our collective memory of the museum can be reconceptualised to create a virtual physical space. If you get a chance, you should visit it!

New USA/ Queensland Fellowship announced!
19 June 2008
Some of you may have had the chance to see Caroline Payson from the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum (CHNDM) in New York when she was here in Australia in February. Caroline gave talks and workshops as part of the Social Media and Cultural Communication Conference in Sydney. Arts Queensland very kindly sponsored Caroline to speak in Brisbane! Following that series of talks and workshops, Queensland Premiere Anna Bligh has just announced a new Educational Fellowship with the Cooper Hewitt! You can read about it here!

We’re very excited about this Fellowship! Obviously we’re excited for the educators who will be working with CHNDM but we’re also very excited that the research and dissemination that we’ve been leading through these two projects (New Literacy, New Audiences and Engaging with Social Media in Museums) has inspired such a prestigious ‘real-world’ outcome!

The Fellowship will enable an educator to spend several months in New York, working with CHNDM to develop design resources which will then be shared by students and teachers in Queensland. The State Library of Queensland, one of our major partners, will hold the resources to ensure they are accessible to teachers across the state.

For those of you who are interested in the CHNDM educational initiatives which are at the heart of this Fellowship, follow this link!

Well done to the Queensland Premier, Arts Queensland and State Development for developing this initiative! We look forward to inspiring similarly exciting ventures with other state agencies across Australia!

Why is there so much debate around the virtual and the real?
02 June 2008
It’s 2008 and in every symposium, every conference and every post-event email I’ve participated in, someone will mention the need to ensure that we don’t do away with the ‘real’ museum experience. I have to say that after studying museum communication for almost ten years, I do find this fascinating. Why do so many museum professionals consider the ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ to be in opposition, suggesting that one supersedes the other?

Mal’s recent response to the Dawson blog post has propelled me to do a series of posts on the ‘sites’ within which museum communication occurs. I will describe these ‘sites’ as frameworks for museum communication and audience participation. The sites stem from a need to communicate and are the result of strategic planning regarding the way in which audiences relate to content.

Over the past years, I’ve played with the idea of a ‘memory site’ and while I haven’t spoken about it explicitly within workshops and presentations, it underpins the way in which I’ve thought, written and developed workshops (in collaboration with Seb and Jerry) around social media.

I’d like to present a bit of that thinking here so, as Seb says, grab a hot drink and pull up a chair! Halbwachs (1992: 78-84) suggested memories were recalled by time periods; by recollecting places visited and by situating ideas or images in patterns of thought belonging to specific social groups. Memory was essentially social; it could orient experience by linking an individual to family traditions, customs of class, religious beliefs or specific spaces.

For Halbwachs, memory was based on lived experience, something that could be plucked from the past and seized by the individual in the manner of naïve and immediate knowledge. Memory had to be linked to lived experience, otherwise it was reduced to history becoming abstract or intellectualized reconstruction, debased or faked recollections. Memory made the visitor aware of time and offered a perspective on the past. Memory always unfolded in spaces, as when they could not be located in the social space of a group, then remembrance would fail. Consequently Halbwachs deduced that the activity of recollection must be based on spatial reconstruction.

In 1996 Boyer (135) proposed that museums present a fundamental distinction between history and memory. If, as Halbwach’s asserted, where tradition ends, history begins, then as long as memory stays alive within a group’s collective experience, there is no necessity to write it down or to fix it as the official story of events. But when distance appears, opening a gap between the enactment of the past and the recall of the present, then history begins to be artificially recreated. He suggested that the study of history could divide time into static periods and didactic stages, when in reality, time had no such boundaries. History presents fragments and details as a unitary whole, relocating these within newly erected frameworks.

The framework in turn enables the historian to establish comparisons and contrasts, recomposing the variety of times and places into a uniform pattern. This newly formed structure becomes the basis of the vision of the past and can be identified in the museum where visions of the past were often erected and maintained credence as idyllic, universal truths. The contemporary museum develops a collective memory which suits the complex content of our times. Globalisation, nomadic work practices, migration and a cult of individualism have severed the ties between physical and collective memory. If collective memory is linked to social and physical spaces and related to the transmission of those values and traditions through the spaces it creates, then it is possible that as Deleuze (1989) suggests, we are in the grip of a memory crisis.

Deleuze (251) proposes that our memory crisis is based on our need to establish counter-memories, resisting the dominant coding of images and representations which are embedded in our way of being and by recovering the differences in site, space, action, intention and experience which have been erased. If this is the case, then the ‘next wave’ of museum practice will be compelled to create new sites for exploration, to present new connections between spaces, places and people, presenting new social and cultural imaginaries. The new sites will need to allow for individual experiences to develop, drawing together ‘remembered’ associations with new communities, thus creating contemporary forms of collective memory.

Social media provide us with the tools to share this new information online thus forming communities of interest, recontexualizing, as Benjamin (1969) had done, the nature of new spaces presented to us in the wake of technological change. I posit then that the ‘memory site’ is one which encourages audiences to develop their own experiences through engagement with collections and participation in social networks.

Our research has demonstrated the types of sites where strategic engagement can be effectively developed. This blog and the museum30.ning site continue to draw new audiences and increasingly, greater participation, than we could have achieved through conventional publication (though we continue to do that too)!

I think that the continuing discourse which sees virtual and real in opposition to each other, is perhaps more a product of what Baudrillard (1992: 92) describes as a paradox of our contemporary memory crisis. He suggests that our objections may be based less on the production of synthetic memory than the migration of history into advertising and the nostalgia industry. We are creators and participants in the nostalgia industry in many ways and ironically, when we continue to pit ‘real’ against ‘virtual’ we are actually creating our own synthetic memory of what a museum should be. In doing so, we undermine the value of cultural participation, suggesting that one is more ‘real’ than the other.

Futures Forum – Day 1
20 May 2008
Here at the Future Forum in Canberra, the morning papers are structured around provoking discussion around ‘pithy’ issues in the sector
Jason Brown
Who are the agents for cultural change?
Utopian world – order and stability
Dystopian world – chance of change limited by social structures
Can you use chaos and volatility to your own ends?
Develop future scenarios – what are the things in your environment which are telling you that these futures are coming through?
Discover where you are now –
What are the five things you would save?
What are the risks of change?

Ian McShane: The Other Infrastructure Crisis
Legacy = cultural heritage and our connection to it
Rapid strategic responses = IT changes
Collections – long term social/ political interest
Co-contribution in infrastructure provision an old idea – long term local commitment
Voluntary effort which sustains community organisations
Cultural planning emerged to connect different agencies in the development of future strategies
Some parting thoughts:
Reposition community facilities within the creative economy
Redefine assets to explore connections between physical and social networks

Lynda Kelly – Learning for Life
You can view Lynda’s slides here!

Cameron Slayter, ABRS
Engage bureaucrats
Map digitisation agendas to government policy agenda

Mal Booth: charting digital futures
Increase curatorial involvement in digitisation process
National centre for digital cultural preservation

Brad Haseman: Creativity in the museum
Collection and interpretation
Cross discipline
Distinctive character to creative innovation in the sector
Building creative ecosystem
Create partnerships across sector
Rip, mix, burn

Frank Howarth
Creativity is broader than the arts but the arts are central to creativity
Where do creative communities sit in relation to museum collections?
Knowledge from within cultural collection as stimulus for creativity
Avoid dignified slide into irrelevance

Futures Forum – Day 2
20 May 2008
In this morning’s session, workshop chairs reported on the sessions they had facilitated. The key issues discussed, and those which will form the basis of the Charting Museum Futures proposal included:

Equity and Amenity
Represent and engage with diversity and encourage community participation
Encourage whole of museum commitment and integrated approach across museum sector
Increase participation in and audience for museum offerings
Resource museums through funding, training, skills development
Ensure diversity of collections, museums, voices and stories
Gap between museum and government policy
Relevance through involving communities in decision making
Promote the value of museums to government and community
Utilise new technologies to communicate and increase
Support volunteer participation
Facilitate networks and linkages

Life-long Learning
Linking learning and museums
Sustainable networks between fed state and local to provide user-centred experiences
Training in regional areas
Agreement that museums are visitor-focused
Linking like-minded collections and places for research

Closing the gap
Move from rhetoric about indigenous culture to solutions to problems inherent in indigenous cultural practice
Experiencing major slippages
Indigenous narratives in museums are still not controlled by indigenous people. Who does control the narratives?
Meaningful and respectful partnerships
Repatriation of sensitive and other material from international collections including associated archival material
Changing the paradigm of employment and developing new models for training, employment and retention of indigenous staff

Museums in a Changing Climate
While natural scientists appreciate the value of collections they are poor at describing the significance in broader community
Taxonomy underpins all work but difficult to relay to a wider audience
Understand the relevance of their research but are not able to communicate relevance to government
Museums in unique position to communicate value of climate change
Have the infrastructure to be advocates for climate change
Museums themselves need to change practices to practice what they preach
Science needs to describe significance
Develop big narratives: biodiversity, species loss, biodiversity, modelling impact of climate change
Forge new networks, survey research outputs
Provide advocacy to museum sector and government

Charting Digital Futures
Digitisation of collections
Define what we mean by digitisation
Align with the 2020 digitising collections initiative
Ensure that governments recognise the importance of digitisation
Organisational change/ priority/ web at the core
Develop strategies to deal with born digital material

Strategies included:
Align with CCA principles and advocacy; Increase production of cultural sector online content; Broker relationships across and cross-sector; Engagement with natural science and art collections; Establish a national digitisation working group (CAMD); Education sector – pilot project; Mashups/APIs/ sharing/mapping GIS; Central distributed national collections database
Challenges included:
Lack of coordination across sector; Training and digital awareness; Strategic alignment of organisation and web; Integration and multi-purposing of output; Organisation not open to new technology and new uses; Engagement with natural science collections and projects; Need to make the case (ROI) within organisations; Identify commercial opportunities

Boosting creativity, promoting innovation
Embrace new technologies for innovative program delivery
Support the national endowment fund of 2020
Relevant, provocative and innovative – are we?
Development and involvement of next generation through training and mentorship
Recognise collection and initiatives
Support research to increase holistic understanding of sector future audience base to provide focus for further innovation and strategic investment.

Museums and the Web 08, Montreal
11 April 2008
This year’s program is the best yet! With a wide range of speakers covering a multitude of topics, Museums and the Web continues to be the leading conference for those interested in digital developments in the sector. Seb Chan and I delivered the next iteration of ‘Planning for Social Media’ yesterday. Once again we had a great audience who were extremely generous in their participation. I’ve uploaded the 080408mw08v2print-compatibility-mode”>planning slides for those of you who might be interested in developing social media in your organisations. I’m always happy to discuss so please contact me here or via email at I’ve also set up a Ning Group on the Museum30 Ning site. You can find this group, ‘Engaging with Social Media in Museums’ at It would be great if you joined the discussion!

Recent news from State Library of Queensland
01 April 2008

The following update was prepared by Lea Giles Peters, State Librarian, the State Library of Queensland. We thank her for her thoughts and contribution to the recent visit by Caroline Payson from the Smithsonian Institution.

State Library of Queensland
At Caroline’s talk: Stuart Cunningham (CCI); Hon. MP Rod Welford, Minister for Arts, Education and Training; Caroline Payson (Smithsonian); Lea Giles-Peters (SLQ); Angelina Russo (CCI)

The State Library of Queensland, along with Arts Queensland and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, was very pleased to host Caroline Payson from the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, New York in Brisbane in February. This event occurred through our partnership project NEW LITERACIES, NEW AUDIENCES which is probing the use and potential of social media in outreach and public programs of cultural institutions. Like Cooper Hewitt we want to develop the capacity and contribution of libraries in cultivating good design in Queensland. We think of design as both process and outcomes. We currently have Christina Waterson as designer in residence at the State Library of Queensland, creating a magnificent pendant light for the Knowledge Walk. In the last year we have also enjoyed collaborating with tertiary design schools on various projects. Sustainability is a key driver and focus of our public programming and we promise an exciting year ahead with talks and exhibitions that will generate valuable insights and debate about good design. Of course our library collections provide reference material and communicate design issues to a broad audience – and the collection is not just books. We’re building 21st Century tools and platforms and skills to collect rich digital collections and enable Queenslanders to realise their own creative potential and create content in the digital world. We welcomed the opportunity to hear from Caroline about the design, education and the use of social media in Cooper Hewitt design museum’s outreach and public programs. I’m sure it will help us in developing new ways to enrich the lives of people in Queensland and beyond.

Caroline Payson in Brisbane
23 February 2008

It’s been a busy few days here in Brisbane! Caroline Payson, Director of Education at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, New York arrived on Thursday morning and was propelled into a tight schedule of talks and masterclasses as part of the Social Media and Cultural Communication Conference agenda!

Caroline has led the development of the Educator Resource Center, a strategic, end-to-end educational facility (both online and physical) which has seen the number of online visitors grow enormously over the past 2 years. Caroline’s talks revolved around a number of main points:

  • defining salient experiences for specific museum communities
  • recognising the expertise of specific museum communities of practice
  • strategically drawing communities into the creation of content
  • providing a robust platform for co-created content
  • maintaining a network of content creators for the online experience

On Friday, State Library of Queensland hosted a public talk which was opened by the Minister for Arts, Education and Training, Hon MP Rod Welford who described the growing recognition of the value of design in Queensland. This represents a growing trend in translating traditional design education and practices into the broader educational curriculum and a movement away from design as product to design as process. Caroline Payson, Mei Mah, Tim Marshall and I wrote a paper reflecting this shift in 2007. The paper: The Effect of Social Media on Design Education: from product to Process highlighted the structured approach to formal and informal learning and the ways in which co-created content was both created and distributed as part of a larger museum initiative.

Caroline ran two masterclasses, one for State Library of Queensland and one for Queensland Museum. We’d like to thank Anna Raunik, Vicki McDonald and Jill Eddington (SLQ) Kerry Cody (QM) John Stafford and Meta Finnamore (Arts Queensland) for making this series so successful. Thanks also to Arts Queensland for funding Caroline’s visit to Brisbane, to the Deputy Director General of Arts Queensland, Leigh Tabrett for hosting the government agency strategic meeting and to Lea Giles Peters for hosting the public talk at State Library of Queensland.

Engagement, Experience, Environment and Evaluation
12 February 2008

In the lead up to the Social Media and Cultural Communication Conference 2008, I will be posting some of the issues which have driven the development of the conference. These posts are intended to provide a backdrop to the excellent speakers who will be with us in Sydney.

Over the past year, our research has indicated that there are simple ways in which we can categorise the use of social media in the cultural sector. From simply beginning a conversation with our audiences, through to engaging in a co-creative relationship where organisations and audiences come together to produce new forms of cultural content, the breadth of social media provides the basis for structured many-to-many communication.

By far, the issue we are most often asked about revolves around the ‘why’ of social media. Why use it in our organizations? How will it benefit our audiences? How will we maintain it? What value is there in this type of engagement? I think these questions are often asked because social media is sometimes being seen as a series of tools and less as a strategic form of communication. The small table above suggests that if we want to start a conversation with our audiences, then a blog is a simple and efficient tool to use. Yet, why would we want to commence a conversation? The planning module which Jerry Watkins, Sebastian Chan and I developed places these strategies and tools in a broader communication module to suggest that the sustainability of social media comes from an understanding of the purpose of communication, fit of purpose to audience and the appropriate tool. For instance, if we are considering a web presence which supports an exhibition and we are targeting this presence at K-12, then content sharing using online audio/video/pictures could provide the type of cultural engagement which we are attempting to achieve.

How can we even think about social media when our collections aren’t digitised? There is a great deal of discussion around the digitisation of collections. A number of government agencies have produced reports which assess the need for structured funding to support the ongoing process. To add to this, I would like to suggest that we consider our ‘digital artifacts’ – those texts, pictures, videos, sound files and activities where our audiences can or have participated in an exchange with the organisation. How can we make better use of these artifacts and what environments or presence can we create to enable our audiences to collect this content and exchange it in meaningful ways? Our speakers from the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum – a Smithsonian Institution will be describing the way in which they extended their online audience by relying on their digital artifacts to create new communities of practice.

In 1996/96 the internet was beginning to be used in some of the larger and more technically-able cultural institutions around the world. Back then, we talked about the ‘Information Super Highway’ – the space where content and interaction could come together to usher in a new type of cultural engagement. As the internet took off and cultural organisations perfected their presence, the need to evaluate user-experience became critical. Across the sector, audience research took on a new measure, one where the challenge of identifying and categorising online visitors became a major task. With social media, this is now a more complex question, that is: how do we evaluate the experience of online visitation using social media? What measures do we use and how are they in keeping with other modes of evaluation within the organisation? How is funding attributed to these initiatives and how do we describe both the long and short term benefits? These are some of the questions which will be addressed throughout the Conference.

Responses to this post
Lynda Kelly, February 14, 2008 at 8:29 pm
I forgot to mention to you today the research I did about what Australians were doing online. Compared with US data, Australians are blogging, commenting, tagging and discussing at greater levels. However, those who visit museums and galleries participated in these activities in significantly greater numbers than non-visitors. These findings have broad implications for museums and their relationships with both their on-line and physical audiences. The data suggests that, not only do those who visit museums participate in more on-line activities, they are engaging in activities that are participatory and two-way. what does rthis mean for museum physical and online experiences?

Information in the Digital Age
By Angelina, February 5, 2008

I gave a talk at the State Library of Victoria this morning on the Engaging with Social Media in Museums project. It was great to see so many interested professionals from the sector at the presentation. A couple of the questions raised revolved around the use of participatory design as a suitable methodology for designing social media initiatives. This methodology underpins the project and will be developed alongside the workshops over the coming months. Jerry Watkins published the paper Social Media, Participatory Design and Cultural Engagement at OZCHI in 2007. You can view this paper here!

Another question dealt with the need to be strategic in the planning of social media, in particular, recognising the link between a program’s intentions and the potential outcomes. Throughout the project we will be exploring mechanisms by which to evaluate the cultural experience of social media in relation to cultural institutions.

For those of you in Victoria, the ‘Information in the Digital Age’ presentations are held on the first Tuesday of the month and are presented in association with the Australian Library and Information Association. You can email download the brochure at, email the Learning Programs at or ring 0386647113 for more information!

2 Responses to “Information in the Digital Age”

1 Scott Rippon
February 6, 2008 at 11:30 am
Thanks again for giving a very interesting presentation. And thanks again for answering my question.

Sorry I didn’t get a chance to properly introduce myself. I am a User Experience practitioner working in the Web Services unit here at the State Library. I prescribe to a User-Centred Design (UCD) philosophy in which user research, prototyping, usability testing and design iterations are all central. I’m very keen to learn more about participatory design and some of the shortcomings traditional design (and UCD) may have with designing social media based experiences. It sounds like there are quite a few similarities between participatory design and UCD.
Are there any seminal resources on participatory design you’d recommend people check out?
Looking forward to reading future papers
Kind regards, Scott.

Angelina, February 11, 2008 at 12:39 pm
Hi Scott
Thanks for your question! You may find Jerry Watkin’s paper on Social Media, Participatory Design and Cultural Engagement valuable reading. The url is in the body of the blog post.
Additionally, the paper will have reference to other excellent resources including Gerhard Fischer’s Social Creativity: Turning Barriers into Opportunities for Collaborative Design
Hope this helps, Angelina

Digitisation roundtable in Sydney
07 November 2007
Louise Mayhew from M&GNSW is coordinating a roundtable meeting to discuss digitisation and the general impact of IT on the museum sector. Having just spent a day listening to the issues which surround digitisation here in the UK, I’d like to propose a two-pronged approach to the issue. At a global (national policy/institutional level):
– digitisation framework
– incentives for participation
– thematic partnerships between institutions
– national program of interoperability standards
– cross-institituional project specific funding
– cross-institutional tracking and evaluation of outputs

And at a local implementation level:
– digitisation framework to result in agreed standards, protocols
– increased training to embed digitisation into existing curatorial practice
– development of digital literacy training program and toolkit
– development of strategic planning models for identifying appropriate collections for digitisation
– internal evaluation of outcomes.

These are some thoughts which I’ve been considering for some time now and I offer them as a think-piece in preparation for the roundtable. I would be very interested in your thoughts!

Responses to this post

Iain Stuart, July 19, 2007 at 9:45 am
I wonder whether we need to consider people outside the walls of the museum ie people like me!
How do we interact with the digital product that is served up to us. I know there has been some on-line discussion about how to correct obvious inacurcies in captions of photos found in Picture Australia. Authorative corrections have been sent in but are seemingly ignored.
There is a larger issue of how all this relates to the Web 2.0 movement or will all this digital data sit around within the Museum and Library system?

Angelina, July 22, 2007 at 10:07 pm
Hi Iain
This sounds very interesting. Would you mind posting something in relation to your expertise so that I can have a chat with the organisers?

Lynda Kelly, August 4, 2007 at 9:50 am
Attended this roundtable yesterday and spent a very stimulating three hours in discussion.
There were four major outcomes in terms of the role that mgNSW could play as I understood it:
1. Advocacy role and bringing funding bodies together with a range of institutions.
2. Awareness raising and training across the NSW sector with a focus on small institutions and CEOs.
3. Facilitating the development of pilot programs.
4. Facilitating blue-sky sessions to challenge the sector, generate ideas and projects, and bring people together across a range of sectors.
Again, the issue of what is Web 2.0 was raised, with a pretty low level of understanding of the concepts even in that room! To assist with this I have posted a basic “what is” guide to Museums and Web 2.0 on this blog. I also reminded them about our conference in February next year!

Michael Parry, August 5, 2007 at 1:08 pm
Lynda – With regard to the digitisation angles – was the current Collections Council digital plan discussed? Is mgNSW responding to the current draft?

Lynda Kelly, August 6, 2007 at 7:03 am
Hi Michael, it wasn’t discussed as far as I recall, but Joy Suliman from the CCA attended the session. She did raise issues around the challenges of digitisation in regional areas, given the levels of technical skills and access to computers and the net. I assume it’s this report you’re referring to. I haven’t looked at it myself but looks like it’s worth checking out. I’ll ask the folks at mgNSW about your latter question.
I did find out about a DCITTA-funded study of technology issues for museums and galleries across Australia, seems to have been some kind of needs analysis. That report won’t be released until November when the next CMC meeting occurs.
We did discuss the CBN and how NSW is lagging behind, and what strategies we need to get something moving for NSW in that direction.

seb, August 7, 2007 at 9:54 am
Just a correction – Joy Sulliman is from CAN – not CCA.

Lynda Kelly, August 8, 2007 at 12:53 pm
Taa, get confused with all the acronyms in our sector!

Angelina, August 12, 2007 at 9:49 am
Thanks for that Lynda. The needs analysis report will add an interesting dimension to the debate. There is also a new DEMOS report which I’ll post a review of, it goes some way to positioning this case within the broader creative industries agenda!

Social Media Workshop at Queensland Museum
October 10, 2007 by Angelina

On Wednesday 10th October I ran the Planning for social media workshop at the Queensland Museum. Approximately 30 participants from Queensland Museum and State Library of Queensland attended. Dr Paul Flemons, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Manager Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Research (CBCR) at the Australian Museum presented two micro-documentaries and discussed the impact of these on his practice. Paul participated in a co-creation workshop as part of the New Literacy New Audiences project and then went on to develop a second short film describing the TAPIR project. I’d be interested in feedback from the participants!

Convergence and social media
July 07, 2007 by Angelina

At our recent New Literacy, New Audiences symposium, Lynda Kelly discussed some of the future possibilities for tagging at the Australian Museum. Among them was the potential to enable user-created video to reside alongside the official museum taxonomies and collection records. I was interested to read Seb’s post on Steam Locomotive 1243/1882 where he announced the first museum-created video addition to OPAC 2.0. I’ll be interested to see how the video is received by the community and whether it encourages other community members to contact the museum!

We’ve spoken at length about the way that cultural institutions can use existing social media tools such as Flickr and YouTube, we’ve also refined our strategic approach to planning for social media. This PhM example hints at the convergence which is possible when user-generated content resides within the collection record, yet it uses a professional team to produce the video rather than community members or content experts. The resulting video is not then an example of co-creation and the fact that you can’t review it means that it doesn’t fall into the ‘social media’ basket, so does the video becomes an official element of the record or are we looking at the convergence of exhibition and collection in a newly created portal?

8 Responses:

seb Says:
July 7, 2007 at 1:36 pm e
I doubt the locomotive video will encourage people to contact the museum any more than they do already – predominantly via email or telephone. The purpose of including the video, and others that are coming, is simply to enhance the collection records through multimedia content. Museums collect a lot of oral histories around the collections and this is an example of making one of these publicly available.

I wouldn’t say that this was the same as a ‘professional’ production – the loco video was a quick turnaround semi-pro production. Filmed on a single chip camcorder with no extra lighting simply because the driver was available only at very short notice, likewise the curator.

We may invite wider public participation in an amateur way but we would be highly unlikely to do it with a broad generic collection. Rather we would work, as we do with the Migration Heritage Centre, target very specific communities and stories.

seb Says:
July 7, 2007 at 1:45 pm e
Oh . . . . why not Youtube? Because unless we were trying to leverage the Youtube audience (as we do with the Sydney Observatory videos for example) then we prefer to keep these videos archived as part of our formal, and permananent collection management system record for the object (yes, the train driver oral history is now stored in our collection management system).

seb Says:
July 7, 2007 at 1:46 pm e
Sydney Observatory Youtube video example –
(and also some of the recent work experience groups have been making some more generic ones too)

Angelina Says:
July 7, 2007 at 2:11 pm e
Thanks Seb
How is this example of accessible multimedia record viewed by the curators? I recognise the curator with the driver which suggests that he approved of the approach. I suppose I’m wondering about the response more generally throughout the museum. Also, will this approach (multimedia record?) be targeted at trying to encourage specific target communities of interest and if so, are there any plans to support their future engagement, particularly through the collection of their stories?

seb Says:
July 8, 2007 at 9:04 am e
The curators have been filming oral history interviews with the community for several years now. The main reason they haven’t been put into the collection management system is the problem of digitisation and resourcing.

We have lots of video tapes in research folders. One of the next big digitisation hurdles is the conversion of these research folders containing hand written material, other primary sources for which we may or may not hold copyright (eg newspaper clippings etc) as well as video and audio interviews to be at the very least catalogued, if not included, in our collection management system records.

For primary source materials we would need significant changes to the Copyright law to allow us to present these third party materials online. However, imagine if ALL the research resources collected by a curator relevant to an object were available online . . . . (obviously this is decades away)

lyndak Says:
July 9, 2007 at 9:02 am e
There is a summary of user-tagging at this blog:

Angelina Says:
July 9, 2007 at 12:47 pm e
I’m still surprised that we accept the notion that collected research material relevant to an object is NOT catalogued as part of the researchers’ practice – but that is another issue!
In regards to tagging, it may be useful to revisit Jane Hunter’s works on indigenous mixed media tagging at

seb Says:
July 9, 2007 at 5:02 pm e
It IS catalogued.
The problem is that it is not DIGITISED and remains in a physical research folder.
A collection management system can only hold the research records and materials that have been digitised. This is why museums are only at the very tip of a very large digitisation iceberg.

Facts and Friction: Wikipedia’s Quest for Credibility
By Lynda 10 May 2007

Interesting article about Wikipedia. I’d be keen for a discussion on the pros and cons of this (probably more around the ideas, rather the Wikipedia itself). The other site mentioned is Citizendium

Social Media at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
by Angelina 07 May 2007

CHNDM workshop
The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum (CHNDM) a Smithsonian Institution in New York doesn’t do anything by halves! When they launched their Educator Resource Center in July 2006 they took an existing educational program along with a strong community of practice and developed a social media initiative which is unparalleled in the museum sector. By providing educational frameworks and networking opportunities, CHNDM has developed a comprehensive design resource which provides, among other things, community-created lesson plans to the educator community.

So when Sebastian Chan, Jerry Watkins and I were asked to deliver our Planning for Social Media workshop at CHNDM on 19 April 2007 we were speaking with some of the most progressive social media users in the museum education sector. Caroline Payson, Director of Education and Mei Mah, Deputy Director of Education kindly organized the half day workshop at their New York premises. The workshop was attended by approximately 20 staff with varying experience in the use of social media. The workshop highlighted the value of social media in the museum and we benefited from hearing about the uptake of the educational resources at CHNDM.

Caroline, Mei and I, along with Tim Marshall from Parsons School of Design will be presenting a paper on the use of social media in design education at ConnectED, International Conference on Design Education to be held in Sydney this coming July.
CHNDM workshop

Our work with CHNDM stems from the research I undertook with them in 2005 as a result of the Queensland Premier’s Smithsonian Fellowship program. Since then we’ve continued to collaborate on disseminating research regarding the use of social media technologies in museums. Caroline, Mei and I, along with Adam Blackshaw from the National Museum of Australia and Peter B Kaufman from Intelligent TV will be presenting a panel at the American Association of Museums Annual Meeting in May 2007. Digital Cultural Communication: How Social Media can create active museum audiences will provide another opportunity for our partners to share knowledge and to present the findings of our research.
We’d like to thank Caroline and Mei for giving us the opportunity to run the workshop. Thanks also to everyone who attended! We look forward to their visit!

Educational Resources » Educational Resources May 7, 2007 3:00 am Says:
May 7th, 2007 at 5:04 pm
[…] Social Media at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum When they launched their Educator Resource Center in July 2006 they took an existing educational program along with a strong community of practice and developed a social media initiative which is unparalleled in the museum sector. … […]

New report: Teens, Privacy and Online Social Networks: How teens manage their online identities and personal information in the age of MySpace
by Lynda 19 April 2007
“The majority of teens actively manage their online profiles to keep the information they believe is most sensitive away from the unwanted gaze of strangers, parents and other adults. While many teens post their first name and photos on their profiles, they rarely post information on public profiles they believe would help strangers actually locate them such as their full name, home phone number or cell phone number.

At the same time, nearly two-thirds of teens with profiles (63%) believe that a motivated person could eventually identify them from the information they publicly provide on their profiles.

A new report, based on a survey and a series of focus groups conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project examine how teens, particularly those with profiles online, make decisions about disclosing or shielding personal information.”

Go here for more

Museums and the Web Conference 2007
by Angelina 12 April 2007

Jerry, Seb and I have just finished the ‘Planning for Social Media Workshop’ here at Museums and the Web in San Francisco.

Our workshop participants were very open about sharing their experiences of social media and the resulting discussions were great.
We’ll be continuing to develop the workshop based on their feedback. The workshop explored:

– The use of social media
– Separating media from tools
– Content sharing and incentives for participation
– Planning and sustaining social media initiatives

We’ve uploaded the workshop powerpoint here (planning-social-media-for-museumsv6.pdf) and would be very interested in your feedback!

UK Museums and the Semantic Web
by Angelina 08 December 2006

I was recently invited to attend the UK Museums and the Semantic Web symposium held in the offices of the 24hr Museum in Brighton, UK. The meeting brought together leading members from the cultural sector in the UK to discuss the future of the semantic web. The group will deliver a “road-map” for the development of the semantic web in UK museums, creating meaningful access to collections and connecting these to user-centred experiences. Folksonomies were discussed in relation to the ecology of the web. Audience-focus was discussed as a balance between human effort and machine processes. Some of the questions which came out of the session included:

– What types of social software do museums currently use?
– How are social media audiences differentiated?
– How do social media affect audience ability to create meaningful cultural experiences?
– How can semantic web add greater fidelity to the collection record?

A particularly valuable discussion occured around attempting to define the use and value of social software, folksonomies and the semantic web. A very early definition looked like this…

– “Social softwares are about communication and creativity and – in the museum – are driven used by community networking”
– “Folksonomies are about social meaning and – in the museum – are driven by informal knowledge exchange”
– “Semantic web is about discovery and intercontextuality and – in the museum – is driven by policy/ sector needs”

This group will meet again in early 2007 to continue the discussion. I’d be interested in your thoughts on the preliminary descriptions!

An Experimental Wiki for Museums
by Lynda 22 November 2006

Just received this email – may be worth checking out:

Announcement: An Experimental Wiki for Museums

Wikipedia is suitable, indeed recommended, for encyclopaedic entries on all museums. However, further more extended use by museums for their own purposes is not encouraged or appropriate in general. If this is required, it is possible for a museum to set up its own wiki with suitable technical support. Alternatively, if support is not available, it is possible to use other external wiki facilities. A museums wiki has been set up expressly for this purpose and other experiments concerning museum-related information. Museums and people interested in museums are encouraged to add to this wiki and promote community use of it. This wiki is intended to be available for continuing use by museums for the foreseeable future. For information on documenting museums on Wikipedia, see the paper “Museums and Wikipedia” from the 2006 Museums and the Web conference.

It is recommended that you read this paper first before attempting to edit the Museums Wiki. You are welcome to interlink Wikipedia museums pages and pages on this wiki if you wish, as appropriate. The Museums Wiki is best for more detailed multi-page information, whereas Wikipedia is appropriate for a one-page entry on most museums. Do contact me if you have a particular project in mind and need any advice. However wiki technology encourages experimentation and it is reasonably easy to correct mistakes in any case. It is likely that I will keep an eye on activities on the Museums Wiki, but may make changes as appropriate, especially with respect to categorization of pages.

Prof. Jonathan P. Bowen, Chairman, Museophile Limited, Visiting Professor, London South Bank University
URL: /

Social media and museums
by Angelina 11 August 2006

Seb Chan from the Powerhouse Museum has just posted a revealing article on the new on-line collection database OPAC 2.0 which was launched in June 2006. In six weeks, OPAC 2.0 has been responsible for increasing visitation to the Museum’s website by over 100%! This post looks at some of the trends over this time. OPAC 2.0 provides an excellent best-practice example of how digital collections can be augmented and explored using social media technologies. The system enables audiences to self-classify using folksonomies. This function is a tangible example of how audiences can personalize their visit to the museum website and builds on the early “virtual curator” discourses which were prevalent in the early days of the web.

I’m particularly interested in OPAC 2.0 because it demonstrates how social media technologies can bring together similar assets (collections, activists/protagonists, audiences, content creators) to engage in conversations around specific issues. Both museums and users of social media are beginning to recognize the value of partnering to share their assets and create conversations which add meaning to museum visitation. These new partnerships are possible because of the joint interests which the two communities share, that is, information exchange.

Whereas the museum has traditionally focused on knowledge transmission and institutional scholarship, social media supports conversations between individuals and communities of interest in the pursuit of knowledge, entertainment, shared interests and social networks. The social framework of the 21st century museum supports these two discourses as it is distinguished by its ability to create interactive spaces in which audiences can interact with and engage with content, the institution and others.

Examples such as OPAC 2.0 demonstrate how museums can actively redefine their relationship with audiences by providing infrastructure and access to content which shifts visitor experience from passive consumption to interactive engagement. It also provides the metrics to support the notion that social media can be used to encourage visitors to engage in scholarly debate and the interpretation of collections.

These are initial thoughts on how the ‘long tail’ of collections might continue to evolve. I’d be really interested in thoughts on this! In the meantime, congratulations to Seb and his team for providing such an excellent example of the future museum!!

Read about OPAC 2.0 at Fresh + New

Museums and Web 2.0
by Lynda Kelly, Australian Museum, Sydney
04 August 2007

This post details some basic Web 2.0 concepts with links to cultural institutions/other sites where relevant. These definitions come from a mixture of sources, primarily the social media wiki specifically Short A-Z definitions, and the Audience Research wiki.
Warning: this is a long post!

What is Web 2.0?
“Web 2.0 is a term coined by O’Reilly Media in 2004 to describe blogs, wikis, social networking sites and other Internet-based services that emphasise collaboration and sharing, rather than less interactive publishing (Web 1.0). It is associated with the idea of the Internet as platform” (Short A-Z definitions). See The Machine is Using/Us for a clear explanation of Web 2.0.

What are social media?
“Social media describe the tools and platforms people use to publish, converse and share content online. The tools include blogs, wikis, podcasts, and sites to share photos and bookmarks” (Short A-Z definitions).

What do Web 2.0/social media mean for museums?
“Web 2.0 puts users and not the organisation at the centre of the equation. This is threatening, but also exciting in that it has the potential to lead to richer content, a more personal experience.” (from Museums, organisational barriers and Web 2.0, Ellis and Kelly 2007).
More on what this means:
Museums and Web 2.0 blog post – has useful links to papers from MA 2007 on social media and museums.

What is a blog?
“Blogs are websites with dated items of content in reverse chronological order, self-published by bloggers. Items – sometimes called posts – may have keyword tags associated with them, are usually available as feeds, and often allow commenting.” (Short A-Z definitions). Although often seen as “personal” online diaries, blogs can be so much more than that. For example, Mel Broe kept a blog called museum journal as a record of her internship at the Australian Museum, Sydney, allowing her to make posts and her university supervisor and her work supervisor to add comments and suggestions.
Brooklyn Museum blogs
Smithsonian Office of Exhibits Central
Walker Art Center

What is a forum?
“Forums are discussion areas on websites, where people can post messages or comment on existing messages asynchronously – that is, independently of time or place time. Chat is the synchronous equivalent” (Short A-Z definitions).
The Great Climate Change Swindle Discussion Forum: ABC.

What is a podcast?
“A podcast is audio or video content that can be downloaded automatically through a subscription to a website so you can view or listen offline.” (Short A-Z definitions). Video content is now often referred to as a vodcast.
Brooklyn Museum podcasts
Museum podcasts lists
The Museum Detective

What is a wiki?
“A wiki is a web page – or set of pages – that can be edited collaboratively. The best known example is Wikipedia, an encyclopaedia created by thousands of contributors across the world. Once people have appropriate permissions – set by the wiki owner – they can create pages and/or add to and alter existing pages.” (Short A-Z definitions). It is worth noting that “36% of online Americans consult Wikipedia … [it] is far more popular among the well-educated than among those with lower levels of education … 50% of those with at least a college degree consult the site, compared to 22% of those with high school diploma” (Pew Internet Report Wikipedia Users, April 2007).
Video: wikis in plain English
Museums wiki
New York Hall of Science Education wiki

What is a feed?
“Feeds are the means by which you can read, view or listen to items from blogs and other RSS-enabled sites without visiting the site, by subscribing and using an aggregator or newsreader. Feeds contain the content of an item and any associated tags without the design or structure of a web page.” (Short A-Z definitions).

What is RSS?
“RSS is short for Really Simple Syndication. This allows you to subscribe to content on blogs and other social media and have it delivered to you through a feed.” (Short A-Z definitions).
Video: RSS in plain English

What are tags?
“Tags are keywords attached to a blog post, bookmark, photo or other item of content so you and others can find them easily through searches and aggregation.” (Short A-Z definitions)).
Powerhouse Museum Open Collections (OPAC 2.0) the art museum social tagging project

What is social bookmarking?
Social bookmarking is a process of sharing links with others. Instead of having your favourite websites listed just on your own computer, using a site such as allows you to have all your bookmarks in one place and also to share them.
Audience Research shared links
culture online: shared links for web managers in Sydney cultural institutions.

40 Responses to “Engaging with Social Media”

  1. 1 nlablog May 5, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    3 Responses to “People flock to museum websites across Australia/NZ”

    Lynda Kelly said:
    February 8th, 2007 at 8:06 am e

    This is a very interesting article. If this year the AM is “looking at about 21 million online visitors” this means we get about 2/3rds of all on-line visits to Museums in this part of the world. Our web team and content providers are to be congratulated!

    Angelina said:
    February 8th, 2007 at 4:19 pm e
    It will be truly to see whether these and future results impact on Museum exhibition practices and/or policies. We could do a study of it ourselves! » Blog Archive » Opening new doors and crossing bridges said:
    March 9th, 2007 at 11:12 am e
    […] This is all the more relevant in light of figures showing that virtual museum attendance has tipped with more people preferring museum websites to walking in the door. (via the New Literacies, New Audiences blog). […]

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About us

This blog examines social media, cultural institutions and digital participation. It's based on the research projects Engaging with Social Media in Museums and New Literacy, New Audiences. Regular contributors are Angelina Russo, Lynda Kelly and Seb Chan


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