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I'm thankful to my past self for leaving this list on my desk on Thursday. I compiled it after sitting in on a google analytics training course with Jess Spate from Thoughtful SEO, who gave us a great overview of what the platform can do. Some of my colleagues have already mastered it, but I thought I'd have a bit of practice - so here's this year's 5 most popular paintings from Art Online:

San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight - Monet

We hold a number of magical and dark Venetian cityscapes, including this Nocturne by Whistler, and my favourite, the Palazzo Camerlenghi by Sickert. The most popular painting on Art Online by far, however, is this technicolour sunset by Monet. To see it in the flesh, visit Gallery 16 here at National Museum Cardiff.

Rain - Auvers - Van Gogh

Known as one of Van Gogh's very last paintings, this one really benefits from being seen up close. The way the rain pierces the scene, and the paint laid thickly to suggest muddy furroughs: you can almost smell the petrichor. It'll be back on display after it returns from a tour of the US.

The Family of Henry VIII: an Allegory of the Tudor Succession - Lucas de Heere

Last week's candid photos of George and Charlotte might very informal by comparison, but this formal display of lineage and power is part of the same tradition. Hanging in gallery 10, I have always loved looking closely at this painting, to see the way the textiles are displayed and rendered: so rich and luscious. Wearing a Tudor costume used to be a part of my job, but nothing quite and exquisite as this!

La Parisienne - Renoir

One of the cornerstones of the collection, bought by the Davies Sisters, whose eye for impressionist works and passion for philanthropy formed such a key part of the museum and its collections. I've never quite been able to discern what's behind her expression - in that respect, she's our very own Mona Lisa! I also really loved seeing this last week, taken at a wedding here at the Museum, by photographers Sioned a Nia: 

Running Away with the Hairdresser - Kevin Sinnott

The only work by a Welsh artist to make it to the top 5 -  and a real favourite with visitors to our galleries, this bittersweet painting is due to go back on display on the 20th of August. I remember being so taken aback by the piece when I first saw it, and then again when I saw the title - the artist gives us just enough of the story to feed the imagination. I wonder where the hairdresser's adventure ended up?

So - there you have the top 5 from Art Online. Have a look for yourself - I love using the 'random pick' to find part of the collection I've never seen before. And if you find something you really love, don't forget that our Print On Demand service will deliver a copy straight to your door! 

Exciting times in the Digital Media department. I can finally share this with you, an updated Museum Social Media Policy for museum tweeters, facebookers, tumblrerers and so on. I've tried my best to keep it readable, common-sensical and useful - so please do give it a go and let me know if there's something amiss or awry. 

Download Social Media Policy for Museum Wales

The previous policy had been in place since 2009 - and since then, our expectations and the devices we use to access social media have come along a fair way. I hope to keep it up to date as we're faced with the endless barrage of new platforms, retroactively amended ts and cs, high-profile fails and fads.

It's a companion to the Social Media Toolkit - I'm still working on that, since I want it to look a bit more user-friendly (not to mention sexier), so I'll post that up when it's ready. I hope the toolkit will be used a working reference - something that shows the possibilities of social media for museums, where the policy defines the boundaries within which we work, and is a bit more schoolmarmish. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the document, especially our social media account holders for their feedback.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Tomorrow will see the second tweetup at National Museum Cardiff take place, in the fancy surroundings of the court room. The first one was held about a year ago, with the intention of encouraging museum tweeters to meet irl - and with the (openly stated) ulterior motive of finding out a bit more about what they had in common, both in terms of good practice and the challenges they faced.

What I came away with was enough feedback to fill a year of work for me, looking at problems that needed solving through governance; organic, tangled-up workflows in need of some pruning, and great projects which needed bellowing about a little more. So I set about updating policy, delivering basic training, as well as more ambitious pilot projects, and keeping a better eye on analytics. I've really enjoyed working with everyone who's pitched in on all the above, and returning to my first love - the internet - in a professional capacity, has changed the way I use the web in interesting ways, too.

MuseumWeek as an evaluation opportunity

Museumweek 2014 had served me well in terms of looking at the overall health of the network - it's a week when even the most timid or complacent museum tweeter is supposed to put something out there - so while it might not be a representative sample of an 'average week' at Museum Wales, it's a week where tweeters are likely to be paying extra attention to what they're putting out and what they're sharing. Museumweek gives a good snapshot of how our network looks when everyone is theoretically giving it their all. So when it rolled around again this year, it was time to check in and see where we were along the road - what had changed and stayed the same, for good or for ill.

Download the summary report

I'm taking a couple of slides with me to the tweetup tomorrow, but I also wanted to give people a chance to look at a more detailed summary, so you can download one here: download summary report (pdf).

It was written with a specific committee in mind, and I wonder what it would look like if I'd written it for you, my imagined reader(s). My background in evaluating learning projects always leaned towards the qualitative (the boxes of children's drawings under my desk attest to that), and so this has been a scary-new experience for me. 

Any feedback?

Since this is the first report of its kind I've compiled, I'd be interested to know if any sector peers have any constructive feedback to offer on how I've interpreted the data, and the conclusions I've come to. Or how I label my charts, whatever - anything that can help make the process clearer or more useful. 

The next key task for me will be to select some snacks for everyone who's coming along. Results from last year's session indicate a strong preference for gluten and chocolate: hopefully these findings will serve me well in the biscuit aisle.

A lot of people wander around exhibitions with phones in their pockets or handbags. We decided to utilise this idea and serve up a Wi-Fi audio tour for the Chalkie Davies: the NME Years exhibition (9 May - 6 September 2015) - the museum has a web-server and there is Wi-Fi broadcasting in the exhibition gallery, allowing us to give it a whirl. 

  • We wanted to give access to the maximum number of people with phones from this decade (HTML5 compatible devices). 
  • We didn’t want an ‘app' because it creates a lot of hoops for developers and the museum to jump through, plus visitors probably don't want excessive fuss when entering an exhibition especially as they might only use it for five minutes in total. 
  • We didn’t want to bring in traditional audio tour guides because of the hire price for the museum and we weren't going to ask the visitors to pay, as it's free entry to the exhibition.
  • We might want to use it again and would hope to do so with the minimum amount of technical fuss.

Free Wi-Fi but not sitting a Coffee Shop

Once the visitor has connected to the free Wi-Fi audio tour ‘Chalkie' the Wi-Fi capture software will direct them to the correct web page with the name of the exhibition and a choice of languages (see picture 1). All is going well. 

Language Choice

The english audio tour was written and recorded by Chalkie Davies and his team - it provides his personal insights into each of the photographs on display and some back stories. The welsh audio version was recorded in-house by Rhodri Viney (recording and editing) and Telor Gwyn (voice), using the Chalkie Davies translated transcript.

Choose a Number between One and Nine

The visitor is given a choice of nine numbers, each matching a number on the gallery wall which refers to a selection of photographs (see picture 2). Once the person selects one of these numbers the audio tour begins...

"Listen To What The Man Said"

For the best experience the visitor should have headphones, but it's not the end of the world if they don't, they can still listen through their devices' built-in speaker, although this can look and feel a little awkward. Alternatively they could hand over £1.50 for headphones in the museum shop downstairs.

If they don’t want to walk around with a mobile phone protruding from their head, or leave the exhibition and come back in again to buy headphones downstairs, or find that their mobile phone has a low battery percentage - there is a printed version of the audio tour available within the gallery. They are the same words.

A Perfect Circle

I used to have an analogue watch, but I left it accidentally next to the squash courts in the University - if anyone picked it up, could they hand it back please? Anyway, time can be measured within a circle. I like circles, so I built a large circle to indicate the progress of the audio track playing. The animated graphic uses SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), which meant the page avoided the usual graphical software - it's all written in code: HTML5, javascript and CSS [Well, I find it mildly exciting] (see picture 3 and 4).  

Pressing the circle will pause the audio. If the visitor listening to the audio tour wants to change to another number they can press the ‘Home’ button and the page will scroll up to the nine numbered keypad again. Another loop, of sorts…and repeat.

Before we go any further, maybe we could pause for a short film clip...  

Additional Details You Might Enjoy 

  • The gallery has a capacity of 40 people at one time.
  • There are two Wi-Fi hubs at each end of the gallery broadcasting wireless-N.
  • A web-server streaming the audio.
  • Each of the audio tracks are compressed to less than 2MB (MP3).
  • It takes less than ten seconds to download the whole MP3 on a iPhone 5S and the audio plays almost immediately.
  • We’ve tested it with various phones including one of the first Android audio HTML5 compatible phones (Gingerbread 2.3.6 ~ circa 2011) and Windows 8 phones.
  • If the device is not capable of displaying a SVG there is a fallback to similar looking GIFs.

Media Monitoring

The web-server records each time a track is requested. Therefore, we will have some data to indicate how much the audio tour is being used - thinking about it, we shoud gather additional information about the type of browser requesting the audio (it's a closed network so we can't involve Google Analytics, which is the usual goto reference for 'what kind of computer has visited the website recently'). We will monitor things during the exhibition and conduct evaluation once it has closed. 

 

I was just making coffee for the team and when I looked around at everyone beavering away at their desks - and realised just how diverse the work we do is… Take this afternoon as an example:

Kay Hanson, our Peoples Collection Wales Technical Officer is fresh from the launch of a brand new “Learn’ section of the People's Collection Wales website – over six months in the planning, such a milestone is no mean feat. The result is the combination of thousands of assets from the main heritage institutions around Wales as well as content contributed from the public and filters all this data according to what educational purpose you require. Give it a go yourself at: www.peoplescollection.wales, what will you learn?

Rhodry Viney our Web Officer (and Final Cut Pro guru) is hard at work editing, slicing and generally making good the video he filmed in the field a few weeks ago with our scientists and paleontologists. It'll be ready soon, but in the meantime I’ll give you a clue… it’s big, it’s extinct and it had lots of teeth. (Shhhhh!!)

Chris Owen our Web Manager is working hard on creating exiting new sections for our website, where all the collections content is brought together in the most user-friendly way possible. Not an easy task given we have 7 physical sites, 5 main collecting departments, hundreds of staff and millions of collections… oh yeah, and two languages to consider!

Dave Thorpe, Senior Developer is tweaking his very popular audio guides, developed as a first for Amgueddfa Cymru – for the new exhibition: Chalkie Davies: The NME Years at National Museum Cardiff. The exhibition focuses its interpretation on an audio guide you access through your own mobile device. Given the theme of the gallery is based around photographs captured in the 1970’s, bringing our new mobile era into the mix is very interesting. He’s also fine tuning some super duper interactives in the gallery. But come and visit the show for yourself to witness his handywork first hand!

Myself, I’m the Digital Programmes Manager and have been up to my eyes in fleshing out software/digital briefs for the new galleries in development at St. Fagans. Funded by a HLF grant, the largest ever awarded in Wales, the plans are ambitious and exciting. Not due to open until 2017/18, it's all about planning at this stage so I’m surrounded by spreadsheets, tables and forms - what a good time to stop for a coffee break and to knock out a quick blog post!