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Posts Tagged ‘Web 2.0’

  • Digital Impacts: How to Measure and Understand the Usage and Impact of Digital Content, Oxford Internet Institute/JISC, Oxford, 20th May 2011 (#oiiimpacts)
  • Beyond Collections: Crowdsourcing for public engagement, RunCoCo Conference, Oxford, 26th May 2011 (#beyond2011)
  • Professor Sherry Turkle, Alone Together RSA Lecture, RSA, London, 1st June 2011 (#rsaonline)

I’m getting a bit behind with blog postings (again), so here, in the interests of ticking another thing off my to-do list, are a few highlights from various events I’ve attended recently…

It was good to see a couple of fellow archivists at the showcase conference for JISC’s Impact and Embedding of Digitised Resources programme. As searchroom visitor figures continue to fall, it is more important than ever that archivists understand how to measure and demonstrate the usage and impact of their online resources. The number of unique visitor’s to the archive service’s website (currently the only metric available in the CIPFA questionnaire for Archive Services, for instance) is no longer (if it ever was) adequate as a measure of online usage.  As Dr Eric Meyer pointed out in his introduction, one of the central lessons arising from the development of the Toolkit for the Impact of Digitised Scholarly Resources has been that no single metric will ever tell the whole story – a range of qualitative and quantitative methods are necessary to provide a full picture.  The word ‘scholarly’ in the toolkit’s name may be rather off-putting to some archivists working in local government repositories. That would be a shame, because this free online resource is full of very practical and useful advice and guidance. Like the historians caracatured by Sharon Howard of the Old Bailey Online project, archivists are not good at “studying people who can answer back” – the professional archival literature is full of laments about how poor we are at user studies. The synthesis report from the Impact programme, Splashes and Ripples: Synthesizing the Evidence on the Impacts of Digital Resources, is recommended reading; detailed evaluation reports from each of the projects which took part in the programme are also available (at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/digitisation/impactembedding.aspx).  Many of the recommendations made by the report would be relatively straightforward to implement, yet could potentially transform archive services’ online presence – and the TIDSR toolkit contains the resources to help evaluate the change.  Simple suggestions like picking non-word acronymns to improve project visibility online (like TIDSR – at last I have understood the Internet’s curious aversion to vowels, flickr, lanyrd, tumblr and so on!) and providing simple, automatic citations that are easy to copy or download (although I rather fear that archives are missing the boat on this one). Jane Winters was also excellent on the subject of sustaining digital impact, an important subject for archives whose online resources are perhaps more likely than most to have a long shelf-life. Twitter coverage of the event is available on Summarizr (another one!).

One gap in the existing digital measurement landscape which occurred to me during the Impacts event was the need for metrics which take account, not just of the passive audience of digital resources, but of those who contribute to them and participate in a more active way.  The problem is easily illustrated by the difficulties encountered when using standard quantitative measurement tools with Web2.0 type sites.  Attempting to collate statistics on sites such as Your Archives or Transcribe Bentham through the likes of Google Scholar or Yahoo’s Site Explorer is handicapped by the very flexibility of a wiki site structure, compounded again, I suspect, by the want of a uniquely traceable identity.  Google Scholar, in particular, seems averse to searches on URLs (although curiously, I discovered that although a search for yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk produces 0 hits, yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.* comes back with 26), whilst sites which invite user contributions are perhaps particularly susceptible to false-positive site inlink hits where they are highlighted as a general resource in blogrolls and the like.

This need to be clearer about what we mean by user engagement and how to measure when we’ve successfully achieved it was also my main take-away from the following week’s RunCoCo Conference – Beyond Collections: Crowdsourcing for Public Engagement.  Like Arfon Smith of the Zooniverse team, I am not very comfortable with the term ‘crowdsourcing’, and indeed many of the projects showcased at the Beyond conference seemed to me to be more technologically-enhanced outreach events or volunteer projects than true attempts to engage the ‘crowd’ (not that there is anything wrong with traditional approaches, but I just don’t think they’re crowdsourcing).  Even where large numbers of people are involved, are they truly ‘engaged’ by receiving a rubber stamp (in the case of the Erster Weltkrieg in Alltagsdokumenten project) to mark their attendance at an open day type event?  Understanding the social dynamics behind even large scale online collaborations is important – the Zooniverse ethical contract bears repeating:

  1. Contributors are collaborators, not users
  2. Contributors are motivated and engaged by real research
  3. Don’t waste people’s time

Podcasts of all the Beyond presentations and a series of short, reflective blog posts on the day’s proceedings are available.

Finally, Professor Sherry Turkle‘s RSA lecture to celebrate the launch of her new book, Alone Together, about the social impact of the Internet, was rather too brief to give more than a glimpse of her current thinking on our technology saturated society, but nevertheless there were some intriguing ideas which have potentially wide-ranging implications for the future of archives. One was the sense that the Internet is not currently serving our human needs.  She also spoke about the tensions between being willing to share and privacy.  Turkle asked what is democracy and what is intimacy without privacy? In response to questions from the audience, Turkle also claimed that people don’t like to say negative things online because it leaves a trace of things that went wrong. If that is true, it might have important implications for what we can expect people to contribute in archival contexts, and the nature of the debate which might take place in contested spaces of memory. Audio of the event is available from the RSA website.

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Today I have a guest post about my research on UKOLN‘s Cultural Heritage Blog.

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I am extremely lucky to have been offered a student place helping out at ECDL 2010, the European Conference on Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries. The following are the highlights from day 1 of the conference for this archivist let loose in the virtual stacks:

Susan Dumais‘ keynote presented recent Microsoft research into the temporal dynamics of the web, analysing both changes to content and how people revisit web pages, checking for new content or looking for previously found information. She argued that the current generation of web browsers offer only a static, snapshot view, and went on to illustrate a browser plugin called DiffIE which highlights what has changed on a web page since the user’s last visit. She also presented some initial evaluation of this tool, which indicated that although perceptions of revisitation frequency remained constant, in practice users of the plugin increased their revisitation rate. There are lots of potential applications for this kind of tool for archives – from the presentation of web archives to the user interactions/annotations/ratings examples that Dumais herself gave. She also spoke about the implications of her research to the ranking and presentation of search results, illustrating how the pertinency and hence relevancy of certain terms can decline over time – for example, a user searching for ‘US Open’ this week is more likely to looking for information on the tennis grand slam than the golf tournament. Again, there are some interesting implications here for archival catalogue and document search systems.

Christos Papatheodorou from the Ionian University on Corfu spoke about the mapping of disparate cultural heritage (archives, museums, libraries) XML-based metadata schema to the CIDOC CRM ontology, and went on to describe the transformation of XPath queries submitted to a local (XML) data source into equivalent queries suitable to be submitted to other data sources, via the CIDOC CRM ontology. Having travelled up to Glasgow on the sleeper, arriving at 7 in the morning, I confess I got a bit lost in the technicalities from this point onwards, but the basic idea is to use CIDOC CRM as a mediator between disparate cultural heritage sources marked up in different XML schema. There was an extended worked example using EAD, which was nice to hear. In general, it has been interesting to observe a large number of papers at this conference which report experiments based upon data from cultural heritage rather than scientific domains. All of which tends to reinforce my thoughts after the Society of Archivists’ Conference about attracting technology experts to work in the archives sector: cultural heritage data is complex and thus, it seems, fascinating and intrinsically motivating to work with. We should be more proactive about promoting archival data to this kind of digital research community.

I’d been particularly looking forward to the paper on User-Contributed Metadata for Libraries and Cultural Institutions, although this turned out to be a Drexel University re-working of the Library of Congress flickr Commons experience, albeit concentrating more on user comments and less upon tagging. I was not quite comfortable anyway with the a priori categorization of comments described in the paper (into 1. personal and historical 2. link out (eg to wikipedia) 3. corrections and translations 4. link in (eg adding images to flickr groups) – seems to me that category 1. includes a particularly wide range of possible comment types), plus all the things I wanted to ask about seemed to be listed as ‘future research’. These include a fuller categorization, exploring motivations for adding comments, the presentation of comments in the user interface, and librarians’ (or archivists’) role in moderating user interaction.

I also enjoyed a couple of papers which presented ideas to do with improving information visualisation and user judgement using colours, layout and social navigation, all of which have some potential relevancy to the question of how best to present user-generated content.

Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries, Proceedings of the 14th European Conference, ECDL 2010, Glasgow, UK, September 2010 is published as Lecture Notes in Computer Science 6273, available via SpringerLink, for those of you who have access.

And I have travelled twice on Glasgow’s baby underground train 🙂

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Reading about the Foreign Office and the Treasury’s use of YouTube (see http://www.youtube.com/hmtreasuryuk and http://www.youtube.com/user/ukforeignoffice), government department bloggers, use of RSS and Flickr (for example, http://www.flickr.com/photos/foreignoffice/) in the 30 Year Rule Review got me wondering about the use of Web 2.0 services in West Yorkshire’s local authorities.

So I decided to find out!  The results of my search are, I think, quite interesting. 

All of the five Metropolitan Councils in West Yorkshire make use of RSS on their websites, except, apparently, Bradford.  The Council Press departments are getting into Twitter too, to keep local people up to date with current events in Wakefield, Kirklees and Leeds

Blogs were harder to track down – I’m sure there must be plenty of bloggers working in local government, but it seems they don’t want to identify themselves!  http://www.newgarforthlibrary.blogspot.com/ is an example of a blog being used to generate support and give updates on a council building project.  http://www.avhlblog.com/, is written by four members of staff at Aire Valley Homes, one of the arms-length management organisations (ALMOs) in Leeds, managing housing on behalf of the Council.  Blogging doesn’t appear yet to have had the take-up amongst local councillors as it has amongst MPs, although Councillor Clive Hudson’s Cleaner Greener blog is an interesting example, hosted by blogspot under the wakefield.gov.uk domain.  Local councillors’ websites (for instance, the Kirkstall Councillors in Leeds) are usually viewed as political activity, and separated from the ‘official’ council website, so this is an unusual development, which potentially raises all sorts of questions about responsibilties for the comments posted and for the longer-term maintenance of the content.

YouTube doesn’t seem too popular at present, although I did track down a Leeds Initiative channel.  What I did find were plenty of YouTube videos posted by members of the public which were highly critical of the local councils.  Perhaps the councils themselves should consider raising their YouTube presence?

There were a few examples of council Flickr sites, although not as many as I was expecting to find.  One of the most extensive is Kirklees Council’s Economic Development Service’s photostream, although Leeds cultural services departments are also experimenting – but not much content yet – see http://www.flickr.com/groups/leedsmuseumsandgalleries/, http://www.flickr.com/photos/30193899@N04/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/leedslibraries/.  Aire Valley Homes again showed up their Web 2.0 credentials with http://www.flickr.com/photos/avhl

There are also a few dabblings with facebook groups – though you could hardly say that the official facebook groups have taken off in a big way.  Kirklees Council apparently has an overwhelming 24 fans (though, to be fair, I did find also find a posting which intimated it had not been properly advertised as yet), Calderdale Council just 9 fans!  As with YouTube, there were plenty of external groups in evidence with some kind of grudge to bear against the various councils.  There were a few examples of council staff facebook groups – Kirklees Council staff with 91 fans, or Pugneys Country Park in Wakefield, for ‘staff new and old’.  Most of these staff groups seem to be unofficial.  Occasionally the messages they give out leave something to be desired, as with one (closed) council staff group profile which reads “you don’t need to be paranoid and leave the group if you think all facebookers can see it and what we are talking about.  The group can ONLY be viewed by us members.”  Hmm…

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Melbourne

Melbourne

As a gentle introduction to the serious business of my Fellowship, and whilst it still feels like I have left my brain behind somewhere, I’ve spent this afternoon at the Melbourne Museum. The visit was the result of a chance last-minute connection, but fitted into a theme I shall also be looking into at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney and the Computer History Museum near San Francisco.

One of the challenges for local archives in the UK will be to encourage digital deposits. Few digital preservation projects have addressed this issue (Paradigm is a notable exception), mostly because it isn’t really a problem where there is strong archival legislation or other sticks in place to encourage deposit (such as deposit being a requirement of research funding).

Another problem is that potential depositors don’t seem to see computer-generated records as archives. For them, archives = old stuff, and computers = new stuff. At WYAS, I’ve been doing some research on the first computer purchased by the West Riding County Council in 1957 (see the photo in the blog header) as one possible way of addressing this problem, hoping that people will be interested and surprised to learn that computers have been around (even in local government!) for fifty years.

Could we as archivists learn anything from the way in which the museums profession markets technology for a non-specialist audience? Is there anything we could take from this to hook in potential depositors of digital archives?

Well, it turns out that the Museum Victoria (of which Melbourne Museum is a part) don’t display much of their historical technology collection! However, the CSIRAC, Australia’s first computer and the only complete first-generation computer still intact anywhere in the world, is on display. A (modern) computer program simulates the look and sound of the computer in action, and there is a short video showing reminiscences from those who worked with the computer, some fascinating contemporary footage, and even some music programmed on the CSIRAC.

Melbourne’s Biggest Family Album is an example of what we in the UK would call ‘community archives’ and makes extensive use of Web 2.0 technologies. More relevant perhaps to the digital preservation topic, the Visitor’s Photo Album part of the online exhibition links to the Melbourne Museum group on Flickr and allows visitors to share their photographic experiences of the exhibition. I also had a tour of the museum looking at the way ICT is used in presenting the exhibits, and discussed how Web 2.0 tools can be used to promote usage of the collections, and even bring additional visitors into the museum. Melbourne Museum are experimenting with podcasts by the curators and staff blogs. We also discussed how social tagging can be used in conjunction with traditional collections management databases to encourage visitor engagement – see STEVE – The Museum Social Tagging Project for a wealth of research into the topic. I was also introduced to the Museum’s Archivist and Records Manager, and looked at how the Museum structures and manages its own administrative records, both paper and digital.

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