10 October 2007

Participation through Collaboration: Making Visitors Feel Needed

On the Museum 2.0 blog, there is a post which makes the case for real, as opposed to "fake" online collaborations.

Here's an excerpt:
I think we have to couch participatory museum experiences in terms of collaborating with visitors. Collaboration is only meaningful when the parties involved actually have some stake in and influence over the outcome. Have you ever been part of a fake collaboration, one in which a project leader purported to want everyone’s input but really just wanted everyone to say yes to theirs? Those situations are exasperating at best, and at worst, can make you lose faith in the leader’s (and the institution’s) commitment to the team approach.
Someone (Alan M) then left a comment, which said in part:
Imagine something called Public Lecture 1.0: My wife & I pay $10 each for a ticket to hear a speaker talk for an hour about, oh, Biblical archaeology, followed by 10 minutes of Q&A. Then, audience applause... a wave from the podium... and the speaker exits, stage left. On our way home, I talk with my wife about what we'd just heard & seen....

Here's Public Lecture 2.0: We pay $10 each for a ticket to hear a speaker talk for 10 minutes, and then engage in an hour-long Q&A, a good portion of which is sucked up by people "participating" and "collaborating" with their own windy wind-ups & commentary. Their contributions may or may not be interesting, but it's not what we paid twenty bucks to hear.

Both formats have their merit, of course, but they serve entirely different purposes. In 1.0, the presenter has something to say, to transmit, to share; I attend 1.0 to enjoy what someone else has to offer -- expertise, advice, insight, a story, perhaps. Whereas 2.0 is a group exercise, a collective creation. 1.0 is a traditional dinner party that requires me to prepare an entire meal; 2.0 is a pot-luck that requires less cooking, more coordination.
Here's an edited version of my reply:
Alan gave an illustration in the form of two scenarios:
1. attending a one-hour lecture by a renowned expert in a field (e.g. Biblical archaeology), followed by a ten-minute Q&A, and...
2. attending a ten-minute lecture by the same expert, followed by an hour of questions and comments by people in the audience.

The assertion seems to be that, just as scenario 1 would be better value for the participants, visitors to museum websites are often better served by content prepared by experts than by large collections of (mediocre) community contributions.

I think there are at least three significant characteristics or assumptions in this illustration:
  • The speaker is a skilled presenter, as well as a renowned expert
  • The audience must experience the content (i.e. the lecture) sequentially and in real time; skipping or random access are not possible
  • One must choose between the two scenarios.
However, on the web:
  • Different scenarios can be offered simultaneously - from scholarly essays to collections of public commentaries and reflections.
  • Different scenarios can even be gathered together or linked.
  • Visitors can choose - in their own time - which scenario(s) they prefer.
  • Expertise can also be exercised in the selection and/or sorting of public contributions. E.g. myVirtualGallery (which I manage), in the approval process and the "Featured Exhibitions" section.
Read my full comment, in context.

04 October 2007

HyperCard in 1990

One of the precursors of hypertext and the Web was HyperCard, introduced by Apple in 1987. This video, from The Computer Chronicles in 1990, looks at the status of HyperCard applications including HyperComposer, Take One, Culture 1.0, Mission: The Moon and CAMEO. It also looks at the HyperCard clone, SuperCard. Guests include the creator of HyperCard, Bill Atkinson.

Click to watch video

Related videos:

02 October 2007

The Memory Book: Museum gathers content online

The Smithsonian Institution's museum dedicated to black history and culture, National Museum of African American History and Culture launched last month with an interactive website, "The Memory Book" - long before its building opens.

Blogging technology allow visitors to help produce content for future exhibits at the museum, with long essays, short vignettes of memories or recorded oral histories.

According to Lonnie Bunch, the museum's founding director, museum staff monitor the site for historical accuracy, and technical filters apparently block racist or inappropriate comments. Bunch regards the site as a "virtual museum" and a new source of research for curators and scholars.

Apart from the interesting use of social-networking technologies, I was intrigued by the navigation system: the first time I have ever seen an interactive 'link-web' diagram used as a navigation device throughout a website:

Link-web diagram from NMAAHC website

It's one of those applications of web technology that I classify as "Cool, but not very practical".

More information:
Memory Book Overview
Sydney Morning Herald article

Web Content Management for Government Conference

On 17 & 18 September (2007), I attended a conference in Canberra, the "4th Annual Web Content Management for Government Conference" and presented a paper on the second day. Here, for what they're worth, are some of my notes, observations and thoughts arising:


James Robertson, Step Two Designs

According to James, the CMS Industry is still in a period of growth and is immature. There are at least 140 products available and 120 of these are locally produced. The technology is still diverging, rather than converging.
James made an interesting claim that workflow doesn't work, because it is usually too complex and ambitious.

Improving online citizen and community services by effective web content management

Jim Higgins, Chief Executive, New Zealand Local Government Online

Jim claimed that using online chat for public enquiries can service 6 times more people than the telephone, because the one staff member can theoretically communicate with a number of people in parallel.
An interesting idea was the 'warm website', where someone browsing may get a live message appear on their screen: "Can I help you?" from someone monitoring the site. Many people felt that this would be seen by many web visitors as intrusive, even creepy. Maybe a compromise would be to offer a button for visitors to click for help when someone was available.

The FaCSIA Guides IIS Project

Brendan Dalton, Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA)

"Australia's largest web publishing project of 2007 [was] The FaCSIA Guides IIS Project. With over 400,000 pages, this website provides... information on Social Policy and Entitlements and is used by legislators, lawyers, politicians and citizens."
Brendan showed a system that converts huge batches of structured Word documents into a series of linked web pages, with an index. The process was iterative, meaning that on the first pass, most documents would be processed successfully but some errors would be reported. The identified problem documents would be fixed and another pass would be made. The errors would get less and less each time, until eventually all documents would be converted.

Making websites accessible and functional for a diverse community

Dr. Andrew Arch, Manager Online Accessibility Consulting, Vision Australia

"Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web, more specifically it means they can:
• perceive, understand and navigate the Web
• interact with the Web
• contribute to the Web"

Andrew explained that there are a number of other beneficiaries when a website id made accessible. Eg:
• People using PDAs, web phones etc
• People with old equipment
• People working in restricted access environments
• People with temporary impairments
• People coping with environmental distractions
• People with poor literacy
• Older people
• New users

Andrew pointed out that it was important for web pages to declare themselves to be in English, for the sake of screen readers.
Screen readers may also have a problem with AJAX because the updates are sometimes not noticed by the software.
The proper treatment of links and forms (interactive elements) is important:
• Don't rely on colour
• If the link is to a large file (e.g. PDF), explain this within the link text, not outside it. Otherwise those who tab through from link to link will miss that bit of information.
• Make sure the size of the text entry box changes as well as the label.

Andrew also said that drag and drop is possible in Flash using just a keyboard. (Adobe has a section of its website devoted to accessibility but I have been unable to find anything specifically on keyboard-controlled drag and drop yet.)

Managing public sectors’ websites interface language and elements – do users and the public understand you?

Kerry Webb, InTACT, ACT Government

Kerry talked about the unique position of a government website: For many there is no effective competition. But on the other hand, a government website cannot choose its audience. This flies in the face of the usual marketing obsession with target audiences and demographics.

How to avoid getting ripped off when implementing a CMS

Tom Voirol, Reading Room Australia

Tom divided the CMS market using three dimensions:
• page-based versus component-based
• tactical [limited life] versus strategic [ongoing life]
• coupled [live server reaches back to the CMD database] versus decoupled [live server runs independently of the CMS db]
Two methods were presented to help decide on a CMS (or anything): Preference matrix + value benefit analysis.

Designing usable Web 2.0 applications to improve the citizen-centric approach

John-Paul Syriatowicz, Squiz.net

J-P introduced Web 2.0 as a semantic cloud of related technologies (including blogging, RSS, podcasts, personalisation, AJAX, folksonomies and mashups) and concepts. One of these concepts was the evolution of the Web into an 'application'. From a 'return-on-investment' point of view, employing Web 2.0 and social networking can be worthwhile, because of its "viral" nature, in which connections, and content, can theoretically increase exponentially (1 => 2 => 4 => 8 => 16 => ...).
J-P pointed out that blogging is more than just a technology. (After all, it would be possible to 'simulate' most aspects of a blog using static HTML.) The key feature of a blog – which can be both a strength and a weakness – is the set of expectations that come with it. People expect blogs to be frequently updated and to have a kind of 'personality'. Some organisations create a blog when a forum would be more appropriate. J-P also made the point that blogs have a surprising real-world impact, a "strange authority".
The essence of RSS is the distributing of content in a format-neutral way. It is anonymous (unlike an e-newsletter) because anyone can subscribe without the content-creator knowing.
Podcasting (including vodcasting) is an extension of RSS. It is usually thought of as 'cool' – a nice add-on – but J-P pointed out that it can actually be part of an accessibility solution.
J-P made two interesting warnings about personalisation. If the appearance and content of a page changes according to visitors' preferences: what should the organisation store as part of its record-keeping, and how can the page be reliably proofed (since meaning often relies on context)?

Discussion: Centralised versus decentralised content publishing

As an exercise, the room was initially divided into two, with one side instructed to argue the case that all web content should be managed by one central web unit and the other side instructed to argue that all web content should be managed in a decentralised way. Not surprisingly, when we were allowed to discuss freely, the consensus was that both make sense in different contexts. Basically, it depends on how often content is updated: if infrequently, centralised management is more effective; if frequently, decentralised management is probably more effective. Many organisations could benefit from some sort of hybrid arrangement.

Making the most of your digital assets and virtual tour online - a museum case study

(my presentation)

With the rise of Web 2.0 many websites are moving beyond simple information presentation and evolving into spaces for online collaboration. I asked what special implications this has for a government agency, particularly a cultural, scientific or educational organisation, such as a museum. Would allowing the public to contribute website content erode its reputation of authority? I used the Art Gallery's myVirtualGallery project as a case study, to examine these issues.
My full paper is available online.