27 July 2007

museums + blogging, tag clouds & folksonomies

On 18 July 2007, I attended an interesting seminar at the Australian Museum, on museums + blogging, tags, tag clouds & folksonomies.

Here are some of my notes:

1. Museum Blogs
Mel Broe, Master of Design Science, Digital Media, University of Sydney

Museum 2.0 blog
(By the way, check out the YouTube video: a 3D -- or 4D, really -- recreation of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" - also here.)

Museum Journal, Mel's own Blog, contains some helpful definitions.

Fresh+new (Powerhouse Museum's blog):
"Discussion of issues in digital media and museums"
Check out their disclaimer: "This site is for discussion purposes only and does not represent the official views of the Powerhouse Museum. Any views expressed on this website are those of the individual post author only. The Powerhouse Museum accepts no liability for the content of this site." I raised the issue of whether or not this would actually have legal validity. No-one there was a lawyer, as far as I know :-). Probably the answer to this question would only be determined if the issue were tested in court.

Mel made the point that blogs are more effective, in that they encourage more involvement from others, the more "straightforward" they are (i.e. in their interface). This is one place where "plain", text-based interaction is better than attractive and "clever" design.

2. Tag Clouds
Roger Hudson, Web Usability

18th C: Carl (or Carolus) Linnaeus: often called the Father of Taxonomy = hierarchical classification systems
(e.g., for living things:
- Domain
- - Kingdom
- - - Branch
- - - - Phylum
- - - - - Order
- - - - - - Family
- - - - - - - Genus
- - - - - - - - Species)

1876: Melvil Dewey: created Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) System (also hierarchical)
Very conservative, Protestant, white, American (So, e.g. 200-299 = Religion & mythology, but 200-289: Christianity; 290-299: All other religions!)

1930s: S. R. Ranganathan: developed his faceted classification scheme to overcome limitations of DDC. A faceted system recognises that any given subject has many aspects, and tries to synthesise these aspects in a way that best describes the subject. (See the Mystic Seaport website for an article on "Ranganathan and Facet Analysis")
>> Precursor to tags (& metatags)
Individual recipes can be discovered by "cuisine", "course", "occasion", "preparation method" or "main ingredients"
Individual items can be discovered by colour, type, location of seller, or "connection" with other items
(By the way, check out the amazing find-by-colour page.)

"Folksonomy" (portmanteau word: folk+taxonomy): See vanderwal.net for a discussion of folksonomy.
Assumption: If enough people tag an object, interesting and useful patterns will appear.
On the other hand, there may be a danger of "tag swamp"
May be necessary sometimes to cull tags?

Tag clouds (e.g. del.icio.us/tag): a list of linked tags where text-size reflects popularity
However, this is still not commonly understood: approx. 1/2 of people assume that relative sizes reflect the site owner's priorities.

Australian Museum Seminar Series (audio + transcripts)


  1. This is a useful summary, thanks Jonathan. I will have the audio files and transcripts from that seminar uploaded soon and will post a link to them for you when that happens. There is also a posting here about user-tagging and museums.

  2. Hi Jonathan. There is another post here about museums and Web 2.0 that may be of interest to you and your readers ;)