Posts Tagged ‘Flickr Commons’

Finding Common Ground between the web and the museum: Powerhouse Museum

Finding common ground between the visceral and the virtual is the next challenge for cultural institutions as they work hard to engage new audiences and meet the needs of existing ones. As curators, public program developers and web teams collaborate on innovative projects, institutions are finding themselves participating with communities in a way they never have before.


Common Ground at the Powerhouse Museum, digitally altered, courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum

In one of the most exciting applications of social media to date, cultural institutions across three continents are joining forces to project the Flickr Commons community’s favourite images in one worldwide outdoor event. The Powerhouse Museum and the State Library of New South Wales will work together to invite their online communities to the front steps of the Powerhouse. The State Library of Queensland and the Australian War Memorial will be hosting their own Common Ground. In the United States, George Eastman House, State Library and Archives of Florida, the Oregon State University Archives and the Brooklyn Museum are taking part. The Swedish National Heritage Board, is representing Europe. The festival of photography will happen simultaneously across the US, Australia and Scandinavia (according to the timezone, October 3 @ 6.30pm).


Election night crowd, Wellington, 1931, William Hall Raine, Alexander Turnbull Library, Flickr Commons / National Library NZ

Dubbed as a community-curated event, photography-lovers will congregate on the Harris St forecourt to watch their favourite images projected onto the Powerhouse Museum’s façade. There will be talks by curators and the Museum’s Flickr community. Principal Curator Matthew Connell will tell the stories behind some of his favourite images while Assistant Curator Geoff Barker will explain how to look after an historic photography collection. Bob Meade will talk about how his involvement in Flickr has turned him into a detective or citizen journalist. National Library of Australia web developer Paul Hagon will discuss his project that enables the community to geo-tag contemporary images alongside historic images on Google Streetview.

Participatory experience researcher Nina Simon wrote in her blog Museum 2.0 that there is ‘a problem of making the visceral as relevant, dynamic, and interesting as the virtual. If you do fabulous things online and not onsite, your online audiences will show up and be disappointed. They will feel deceived’. She used the Powerhouse and Brooklyn museums as examples. ‘You join the Brooklyn Museum’s posse. You tag your brains out on the Powerhouse online collection database. And then you show up in person and feel jilted.’ Institutions worldwide are uniting tomorrow night to find Common Ground.

Take a look at the images from the Common Ground event on the Flickr Commons discussion board or the Indicommons Blog next week.

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Can money be made by giving content away for free?

Can money be made by giving content away for free or are these two ideologically opposed ideas? Should galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) be less dependant on government funding?

Seb Chan held a forum to discuss these questions at last week’s GLAM Wikimedia conference in Canberra. The answers were varied but surprisingly came back to the idea that the cultural sector should unite to successfully lobby for more government funding. People articulated Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson’s theory that giving content away for free allows for its true non-monetary cultural value to become evident. But does this mean the cultural sector will be increasingly reliant on government support?



Seb has written a blog post today titled Some clarifications on our experience with free content. He discusses how the Powerhouse Museum plans to leverage revenue from giving its images away on Flickr Commons.

At the same time, we can now build other relationships with those clients – rather than seeing them only in the context of image sales. This might be through physical visitation, corporate venue hire, membership, or donations.

Likewise, we know that the exposure of our public domain images is leading to significant offers of other photographic collections to the Museum alongside other commercial opportunities around digitisation and preservation services. Notably we have also been trying to collapse and flatten the organisation so that business units and silos aren’t in negative competition internally – so we can actually see a 360 degree view of a visitor/patron/consumer/citizen.

Seb’s argument works on a similar premise as Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson’s book Free: The Future of a Radical Price released last month. Income can be generated by using a vertically integrated business model. But Chris also believes cultural value is just as important as monetary value.

Malcom Gladwell’s review of Free in the New York Times argues that this business model does not support the owners or producers of content. ‘It would be nice to know, as well, just how a business goes about reorganising itself around getting people to work for “non-monetary rewards. .. Why are the self-interested motives of powerful companies being elevated to a philosophical principle?’ He has a point because the GLAM sector is looking to government to increasingly subsidise their existence.

Cory Doctorow argues in the Guardian, UK that Free and capitalism are ideologically opposed concepts.


Push Ball Scrimmage, Columbia, Bain News Service, 1910-1915, George Grantham Bain Collection, Flickr Commons / Library of Congress.

So can money be made by giving something away for Free?

Chris says, “In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.”

And he is probably right. The ball has started rolling and it shows no sign of losing momentum. The GLAM sector needs to start thinking creatively about how to make this work for them. Collections are comprised of material with moral and commercial rights so even if the GLAM sector decides to go down this path, rights and licences need to be individually negotiated.

Interesting links
Wiki on how to make money from free content
Chris Anderson on YouTube

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Guest writer: Liz Holcombe, Australian War Memorial

We have started to invite writers to regularly contribute to the CAN Outreach blog as we want the discussion forum to be the voice of the community. Our first guest is Australian War Memorial web manager Liz Holcombe who we interviewed last week about the AWM’s social media strategy. Liz uses the analogy of gardening to explain how she builds and maintains the Memorial’s online community.

Liz Holcombe

I like gardening, and really enjoy my vegie patch at home. I get to garden at work too. Here at the Australian War Memorial, we have been using social media in various forms for the last two and half years. Our first major foray was with blogs in late 2006. By early 2008 we had a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, and a presence on Flickr. In November 2008 we joined the Commons on Flickr, and in March 2009, joined Twitter.

One of the key things we have learned from this work is that you need to become a constant gardener, and gardening takes time. Gardening is the term I use to describe the constant activity that needs to happen on social media sites to keep them going. This means paying attention to comments, notes, fans, subscribers, and statistics (because someone will ask sooner or later what sort of result the site is yielding).



I like the word gardening because it is positive, organic and ultimately nourishing. Gardeners are constantly tidying, trimming, planting, weeding, dreaming and designing. Things never stay the same in a garden, and they don’t on the web either. And like in gardens, sometimes the changes are small and numerous and if you aren’t paying attention, you suddenly have a tangled jungle.

We have a few automatic ways of doing some of the gardening. When someone puts a new post on our blog, our Twitter page and our Facebook page automatically publish a link to the post. Comments are automatically emailed to blog authors, so the expert on the topic decides if the comment can be published, and if it needs a response. There is always someone in the web team keeping an eye on activity too, just in case the person who should be dealing with the comments is away.

Each day we spend time gardening on our various sites, looking at what is happening, reading what people say, responding to comments when it is appropriate, recording statistics and telling our colleagues what we learn. The demographic data that comes from Facebook and YouTube is invaluable, and the things that people share with us here have been surprising and sometimes touching. The photos that people take of the Memorial building and grounds and upload to our Flickr group create a unique visitor survey: some were taken in the 1960s. The reaction to the collection images on Flickr Commons has been incredible. One of the images, a striking portrait of an unidentified soldier from the First World War, has attracted particular interest, but no one has yet been able to help us work out who he was.

Unidentified soldier
An unidentified soldier. Do you know who he is?

Of course, there is some gardening that you don’t have to do on external sites that you have to do on your own website. You don’t have to make and manage the user interface. You don’t have to manage users’ emails and passwords or to provide help for people using the site: that is all done for you. On the downside, you have to accept what you find and live with it: if you don’t like the layout, or it does not work exactly the way you would like, you are not able to do much more than complain to the site owners, who are not obliged to do anything about it. It is a little like renting a house with a garden: you can’t really do a great deal to it, aside from maintaining it. If you own the garden though, you can pretty well do what you want. There are risks in using the external sites: is the site viable in the long term? What happens to your data if the site disappears? How do you do your record keeping if the activity if on some else’s server? How much do you need to record anyway?

Social media relies on participation, on two-way conversations: it is not enough to put something up and expect people to come. You have to work at it, keep on gardening, all the time. This is important, as once it was enough to just have the content on the website. Now we need to do more and allow more to happen with our content, largely because people are expecting more because of what they can do on other sites.

The major implication is that you have to work out how much activity you can support. The more care you can put into a site, the greater the return is likely to be, just like in a garden. You have to pick the best approach for the result you want, be prepared to work at varying speeds depending on the time or season, and remember that big things can grow from very small seeds. The trick is picking the seed that will flourish and ultimately bring a change to the garden. Social media is changing the way people use the web and that will inevitably change how museums operate on the web, and how the web is used by museums.

Guest writer Liz Holcombe, web manager, Australian War Memorial

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Telling stories using maps

The first thing Joy Suliman focuses on in the morning is the Alessi kettle sitting on her stove top. The funky Italian design prepares her for a great day. Just looking at the slick lines and quirky details makes her feel good as she pours water into it for her cup of tea. In gratitude to how this beautiful design makes her feel, the former CAN project manager decided her kettle’s story deserved to be told.

Alessi / Michael Graves Kettle with bird whistle 1986

Joy geo-tagged in Google Earth a video of the Michael Graves Blue Kettle with Bird Whistle in her apartment and then created a tag for the Powerhouse Museum’s Inspired! exhibition in Google Earth and included information about the kettle from the Powerhouse Museum’s online collection records. From there we travel to Portland in the United States where architect Michael Graves designed what claims to be the “first postmodern building” and finally to the Italian city which boasts to be the home of the Alessi design studio. Now when Joy watches her birdy sing on the stove she thinks about the global story behind her treasured object.

She presented this story at the Museums Australia conference in Newcastle last month with the aim of motivating her colleagues to start telling stories about their collection through mapping. We have uploaded the video of Joy’s presentation on our collectionsaustralia YouTube channel and the Powerpoint presentation on our collectionsaustralia Slideshare account. A guide to how to geomap your collection will be available in Sector Resources.

Joy says she chose Google Earth rather than Google Maps because it is an application offering animation and a sense of drama. In her new role at the Powerhouse Museum’s Soundhouse Vector Lab, she teaches high school students how to build themed-journeys using Google Earth. Joy has not embedded this kettle project into a website. Instead she has saved it as a KMZ file (which is a zipped keyhole market language file), so she can email it as an attachment to other Google Earth users. If Joy decides to embed it into a website so that other people can geotag their own Alessi kettles, we would be able to see where the little birdy sings around the world.

Geotagging objects in your collection is a good way to give information about them. Whether you embed a map into your own website or use Flickr, you just drag the image to a location on the map. The best example of where geomapping works well is in the Flickr Commons. Institutions and the public are geotagging historic photographs so when you zoom into a place in Google maps you can see 150 years of images comparing then and now.

If you would like to use or embed Google Maps / Earth in your projects, click here for the terms and conditions.

Sarah Rhodes

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