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Digital Media Blog

discussing all things digital @ Amgueddfa Cymru.

Brought to you by the digital media team: Dafydd, Chris, Dave, Kay, Sara, Rhodri and Graham.

April 2008

Mobile Computing

Posted by Dafydd James on 11 April 2008
The first session in Mobile Computing was about the Heritage 2.0 project based in Belgium by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Flemish Institute for Cultural Heritage, Belgium. The two main aims of the projects was to build a 'communication layer' on top of existing heritage databases and to distribute this content on mobile devices in Flanders. 

They decided to bring in some international experts in to find out about the issues of mobile heritage presentation - and the outcome was that Flanders was not ready for handheld devices. The project could open up heritage to a larger audience, though the experts concluded that they should focus on content and not just use PDAs for the sake of it.

In the following presentation our fellow countryman Tom Pert from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) showed some of the GPS-based handhelds projects he has been working on for the last couple of years. 

In 2005 he built an e-trail for Ruthin using some customised GIS software and had some input from local Welsh Baccalaureate students for content design (which was mainly text and images). 

Due to the success of the project he has won funding for another project in Blaenafon, which launches on the 18th April. I'm looking forward to testing these devices, which have predefined zones that trigger (or stop) media files depending on your location. He also mentioned the possibilities of using KML with Google Maps on your mobile.

Engaging Museum Audiences

Posted by Dafydd James on 10 April 2008
Today's sessions at Museums and the Web kicked off with an interesting opening plenary by Michael Geist, from the University of Ottawa. He looked at where we were 10 years ago in relation to internet policies, as well as current trends on the web, and looking towards the future for current policy approaches.

The session I attended this morning was about engaging museum audiences, with the Brooklyn Museum impressing again as they showed why they are one of the best at utilising familiar social networking technologies. They've had some interesting developments since last year including a Facebook application (Artshare) and a YouTube-based video competition. They also approached 10 photographers that posted on Flickr to photograph their collections in a different way. These images were much more dramatic than their current library, as the photographers seemed to give the objects much more character (presumably due to a free rein).

Also in the same session the Australian Museum showed some of the work they had been doing to classify their users, which was much different from the normal demographic data. They created characters to try and understand why people engage in certain behaviours, which allowed them to see how certain types used the internet.

Keeping the Focus on Learning in e-Learning

Posted by Dafydd James on 9 April 2008


Today I went to a workshop that drew on the National Museums Online Learning Project (NMOLP), which was presented by staff from the Tate Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A).

The project is the development of an e-learning resource for students, teachers, and lifelong learners. There are nine museums collaborating on this project, which will use all of the partners' online collections. It is a three year project that will launch in March 2009, funded by the UK Government.

The exercises for schools are called 'WebQuests', which are task-based lessons that draw content distributed across the partner museums' websites. For lifelong learners there is more of a social media portal, which uses an open source technology and although it is hosted by each partner museum it is continually updated via RSS feeds.

The workshop was interesting from a project management perspective, stating the importance of knowing your target audience and what you want to achieve. It's also important to establish who is leading the project, who needs to be involved and what the implications are after the funding ends.

They showed how they used wireframe sketches of the interface to shape the final product - testing their ideas with children and other stakeholders before starting web development. The project coordinators also gave templates to content producers to standardise the information supplied for WebQuests. I look forward to seeing the final result!

Chris and I will be blogging throughout the week about the sessions held at this year's Museums and the Web conference.

May 2007

Soliciting User Comments

Posted by Chris Owen on 14 May 2007

It's been a while since I posted to the New Media blog, but plenty of work has been going into the blog system itself to fix bugs and add features. Building a blog server is less work than you may think if you have enough control over your CMS. For instance, pinging a blog site with your new content is easy using a XML-RPC call - PHP even has a helpful xmlrpc_encode_request function -  and a site like Pingomatic will pass the message on to everyone for you

The remaining big feature for us is user comments - I'm not sure we're even a real blog till we enable this. Although the museums I've spoken to haven't experienced problems with comments, most still retain safe-guards. This might be through a registration/email verification system or pre-approving comments to appear on the site. One method favours the regular contributor, the other casual commenters. I haven't seen a system that lets the user decide which they group they belong to, but this might be a good way forward.

Of course, this work could be avoided by installing a blog server like WordPress but by integrating with our in-house content management system (the snappily named Amgueddfa CMS) this work will eventually find its way throughout our site. One of the projects we're working on will introduce lots of interesting articles and other content about our collections. We'd like people to discuss those themes too.

The Morgan Library and The Whitney Museum of American Art

Posted by Chris Owen on 3 May 2007

Today I visited the Morgan Library, which has been recently refurbished. It's worth a visit to see the building not just their collections, which include manuscripts, early printed books, and old master drawings and prints.

Apart from their impressive galleries, they also have facilities to allow you to pour through their website. The website includes CORSAIR, the online website catalogue, as well as collection highlights and online exhibitions.

I also had the chance to visit Dina at the Whitney Museum of American Art. They have designed a superb resource for teachers in Learning@Whitney ( Teachers can either use the pre-prepared lessons (which are theme based) or print images and create their own lessons. There are even sections for kids and teens to develop their own online galleries.

Ellis Island Immigration Museum

Posted by Chris Owen on 2 May 2007

Today I went to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, and decided for the first time this trip to get the audio guide. This proved to be well worth it - I seemed to be more immersed in the tour, and be more interested in the collections and exhibition.

There were some touchscreens that had access to all the census information. In fact, I looked to see how many Welsh there are currently living in the US (942,377), you can even check the population density. There were also some terminals that allowed you to check names that entered the USA through Ellis Island

Following my trip to Ellis Island I visited the Skyscraper Museum, which was very small, detailing some facts about the world's (and New York's) tallest buildings. It also contained some documentary videos running off DVD boxes.

Museum of Television and Radio & Digital Knowledge Ventures

Posted by Chris Owen on 1 May 2007

My visit to the Museum of Television and Radio was an alien experience to me. They explained as I entered how it worked - you could view screenings which are at certain times of the day, then visit their library of television shows and films. They also had a choice of 5 radio programs running on loop all day

This was very strange as there were no artifacts - at least none I'd seen. Unfortunately I missed the museum tour which started in the gallery downstairs. I ventured upstairs just in time for a show's screening. There are several rooms so you can pick and choose throughout the afternoon (it's only open from 12pm).

Later on I visited the library, which (as they explained) allows you to choose 2 shows or films to watch in a private booth. These booths were great - and they would be fantastic for any large film archive

I also visited Vivian at Digital Knowledge Ventures, which is part of Columbia University. They have done some great work for museums, including many websites and interactive touchscreens (using Director). I've got a lot to look at when I get back, especially one of their current projects for the Library of Congress.

April 2007

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Jewish Museum

Posted by Chris Owen on 30 April 2007

I visited 2 museums today up on New York's Museum Mile (5th Ave). Not all museums are open on a Monday so it's worth planning beforehand. I visited the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Jewish Museum.

The Guggenheim is a stunning piece of architecture, but unfortunately I couldn't enjoy it's exterior much as the building is undergoing some renovations. Still there was plenty of art to enjoy, with some very famous paintings on display. The interpretive technology in the galleries is very minimal - a digital signage system in the foyer is about all I could find. There are some very striking audio-visual installations though, with all the technology carefully hidden. Unfortunately there was no opportunity to visit the Sackler Center, which is described as a 'learning laboratory'.

The Jewish Museum is currently holding an exhibition on new photography and video art. In one part there was an interesting use of large LCD displays on stands arranged into a circle, where you could sit in the middle and watch multiple streams of videos at the same time. Each system seemed to be running from separate machines, though still in sync! I like their Goodkind Media Center, which houses PCs with web-based access to new media and video archives.

Brooklyn Museum

Posted by Chris Owen on 28 April 2007

Yesterday's visit to the Brooklyn Museum gave us much food for thought. We met with Nicole, who works within the exhibition department. They are finding effective ways of interpreting the collections without affecting the integrity of the exhibition. Projects like 'Graffiti' have been very popular within the community, as they have been incorporating social networking tools like Flickr.

Policing the comments must be quite hard work, but ultimately worth it. The online community they have built up is an important contact point for the Museum, and they are careful not to abuse this trust with too much marketing.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Posted by Chris Owen on 27 April 2007

Today we met with Matt from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who is the General Manager of the website. It was a very insightful meeting, and I think Chris and I gained much from speaking with him. Apart from discussing databases and user tagging, we also talked about the difficulties of developing web projects in a museum. It was quite refreshing to see that even one of the largest museums in the USA has some similar issues to us!

After the meeting we went for a wander round the vast museum and looked at one of the few interactives they have (a labelling system). The museum has a huge collection, with some very famous works of art on display (that even I recognised!).

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