A provocation: Are you COPEing* with digital?

*Create Once and Publish Everywhere

If digital cultural assets were food, we would all be eating a very restricted diet full of ingredients that were difficult to know how to cook, were often not ripe and were hard to digest.  If only we could be the spice, the substance, the flavour necessary for anything delicious. The fundamental ingredient that could be reused in different recipes, with a host of different results, in a million kitchens.

Why is our digital stuff so often lost in the vast ocean that is the google search results?  It is out there somewhere, tumbling in the raging SEO surf, only visible every now and then as the shifting tides of user behaviour wash on the shores of our ever increasing time online.   How can we hope to COPE as cultural institutions with this digital landscape that is so changeable and where the taste of our own creativity is drowned by the dominant flavours of the big brands?  To COPE better (Create Once and Publish Everywhere), what would that actually be like?

COPE2

COPEing is a simple idea where you separate the process of creating digital content from the specifics of how it might be delivered.  This means that those inside an organisation create digital content that is capable of being repurposed in different ways by others and is created to be fit for that purpose both editorially and technically. You might say that this is a bit like being able to offer up your home-grown, handpicked organic strawberries to the best pâtissier in every city to conjure a dessert heaven…

But, enough of the metaphors, I want to ask you a direct question:  Is your institution’s content fit for purpose? What I mean by this is, can you define a specific clarity of purpose and a desired audience response and look yourself in the eye and say “yes, I have what is needed for this.”  Are your digital assets ready to be shared, searched and found? Are you curating and publishing in ways that directly address a genuine audience demand, not just your own supply need? Is your content responsive to mobile and are your staff ready to respond to your audience?

If you are not sure about any of this, then either join me for an open session in Bristol at the No Boundaries conference next Tuesday 25th of February 2014, or message me here/on twitter to share your story and cry together over our spilt milk!

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Building digital capacity for the arts

I attended and spoke at the Arts Council and BBC event to promote their building digital capacity for the arts programme to “support the development of the arts sector’s media production skills by bringing together the BBC Academy’s media and digital experience with the Arts Council’s extensive knowledge of the arts sector.”

It is unequivocally a good thing and it was genuinely encouraging to see both organisations in listening mode.

The programme is still in development and will initially focus on five specific ‘tactics’ sessions on:

· creating system-ready content for IPTV, mobile platforms and applications
· commissioning A/V content
· rights
· digital approaches to raising revenue
· archive material

These will then be followed by further sessions, the focus of which is yet to be agreed.

I was part of the panel looking at “What are the challenges and opportunities in using digital technologies” and talked about this from the perspective of Culture24’s work in doing just that.

The panel was chaired by Will Gompertz with his usual (slightly acerbic) charm and he did it very well. I loved his question to me: ‘What is Culture24, as it seems to keep changing?’ – of course!

Ten years is a long time to have lived online and you have to evolve in order to grow and thrive. This has meant for us a radical journey from being a ‘portal’ (one website), to a publisher (many sites) to a platform for content aggregation and distribution. Where next, I wonder ….

Anyway, the end result I think was a good overview of the issues and questions and you can see it all on the videos here.

I came away with a few key thoughts:

– Everyone is talking about how to use different platforms to reach audiences. Everyone wants to get better at connecting with audiences via online channels. But to do this we must work together more and we need central data sets (in the model of Culture24) to do it properly. It’s not about who gets the credit here for a service, it’s about getting the data to the audiences that want it, in the platforms that they are already using.

– There is now hard evidence of how some institutions have used online tactics to revolutionize their audience attendance, participation and engagement. BUT, there are a lot more venues who are seriously challenged by how to engage with this stuff. They may lack the knowledge to understand how to integrate it strategically, and as a result are lost when deciding which tactical solutions to pursue.

– How we evaluate success and how we define the different forms it takes is a big challenge that needs serious work. Check out the Culture24 led action research project in this area and contact me to if you want to be kept up to date as it progresses.

– One size does not fit all. To actually build capacity in the arts you need to consider the needs of artists, performing arts venues, collection-based organisations, festivals and campaigns separately. The strategy and tactics will be different for each.

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Below are my speaker’s notes, most of which I ‘actually’ said:

I was at an event yesterday called “mobile for the cultural sector” (see previous post) and I was struck by the clarity with which the commercial organisations there were able to articulate clearly what they are doing, who (specifically) it is designed for, and what their measure of success is.

I don’t see this kind of clarity when it comes to the core digital offerings of most cultural organisations. There is not the same degree of focus, perhaps because the nature of ‘public funding’ is inherently ‘public’ and for everyone. But this is nonsense! If you try and make one thing for everyone, it usually ends up not really meeting the needs of anyone.

I don’t see the current digital output from the cultural sector as being strategic as it really needs to be in its approach to audience segmentation. The lessons they know so well from the physical spaces (galleries, exhibitions, museums etc), the skills of curation, outreach, education, engagement, don’t seem to be carried over to the online world.

Since October 2010 Culture24 has been leading an action research project called ‘How to evaluate online success’ with a group of 17 big cultural organisations to begin to consider these kind of issues. To look in details at what we are all currently doing on our websites and social media channels and to try and define success and failures. To get real about what is not working – which in honesty is only ever a problem if you are ignoring the things that are not working well and not doing anything about them!

An example of being more specific could be if one of your organisation’s strategic aims is to increase your visitor numbers from the surrounding local community, you could analyse your web output by segmenting your audience in Google Analytics by location.

The project has raised a lot of questions about the differences between making decisions that are based on strategy as opposed to tactics. This means that the questions are not about how to build something mobile, but who are my users and what do they want to do on the move? Quite a different starting point.

So, the big challenge for all institutions (and you could say the Arts Council as well) is “what is their strategy behind digital?” . Specifically who are they trying to reach, what is it they are trying to achieve, what would success look like (so they can tell if it’s working) and then finally, how will it best be delivered (platform, technology, channel, brand, partner etc).

So where I work at Culture24 we have been publishing a mix of editorial, venue info, events and resources into our various channels for nearly ten years. We have a network of over 4,500 venues around the UK who contribute content into our system about their venue, events, exhibitions and resources.

This has created a big database of stuff that can be sliced, packed and shared in a multitude of ways either:
– into our own channels, or
– packaged and shared with others for reuse.

The epiphany came several years ago when we realized the potential for many different reuses and the economy of scale of the kind of centralised infrastructure we have built.

The most significant example of this packaging comes by way of a three year agreement with the BBC to be their ‘official cultural data provider’ of cultural activities in order to support their new ‘Things To Do’ project which will go live in April 2011. We are very excited about this and believe that it will slowly have a big impact on developing reach to audiences for cultural activities once it is live.

You could say we are becoming a platform and in that role face new challenges that come from curating data for sharing. This is difficult stuff and comes with a seemingly invisible set of skills and requirements that you don’t even know you haven’t thought about until you are in it.

We have found that our partners want the bigger picture so being a central system for certain kinds of data (content) is really valuable.

In fact, Culture24 have built what I believe is a necessary piece of the national central cultural digital infrastructure that the sector needs. There are others too: Culturelabel (buying), Culturegrid (collections), not to mention those outside the public sector such as FlickrCommons and GoogleArt.

My last point is about a project we coordinate called Museums at Night, which is a weekend of late night openings that are about doing something different to appeal to audiences who may think museums and galleries are not for them. The thing is that Museums at Night is not a digital project, but it would not be possible to deliver it without the central digital infrastructure that we have.

This means that:
– We use our network of venues to share ideas and resources to help them plan better events
– They use our database to tell us what they are planning
– We use the database to interrogate their plans and package events by audience or theme and pull them out to relevant press and audiences.

The end result in 2010 was more than 85,000 people doing something different with their evening by attending a Museums at Night event, of which 47% had never been to the venue before. The opportunity here is to consider how the infrastructure supports more than the obvious online outputs.

Read the speech by Mark Thompson from the BBC

Read the speech by Alan Davey from ACE

Mobile for the Culture Sector

Interesting two days hearing from a mix of commercial and cultural players working on mobile services/products.

The event took place in the fab Ravensbourne college next to the O2 and was organized by Culturelabel and Camerjam who managed, I thought, to get just the right feel for the event – not too formal, slightly playful and (mostly) well structured.

There were some good presentations, in particular in the two keynotes from Jonathan MacDonald and Alan Moore.

Alan had the two best takeaway phrases:

1. “No more online or offline, just blended reality”
Indeed and there are big challenges for us as individuals and I personally have mixed emotions about it all. Whilst I love my new ipad-iphone-fourquare-facebook-sms-layer-iplayer-gaming-life, I am often unable to disconnect from the network that is my life to the detriment of my stress levels.

2. “This is a social revolution, not technical”
So obvious, but so true. Thinking about this also helps you to put people first. To consider how technologies genuinely allow us to do things differently – learn, play, communicate, work. You see this everywhere in people’s lives but in particular kids who just accept all the technology without question, expecting it all to link up, be online, be free, be open, all the time.

He talked about the vital relationship between the systems/platforms/data and the communities of interest/personalization/engagement. Plus the need to design for: ecosystems, platforms, participation, value creation, mass customisation, communities of interest, commerce. His slides on these issues were very good and available on his blog.

Jonathan’s talk left me with two profound observations:

1. The need to differentiate between tactics and strategy – between the how and the why.
So if you are not clear what you are doing (specifically) and who it is for (specifically), then how do you know the best way to ‘do’ it. I would like to take this idea and tattoo it on my face and inject in into the brains of everyone who things they have strategy creation as part of their job.

2. Courage
Courage to fail. Courage to admit you are failing, courage to embrace a culture where failing is okay. Yes, yes, yes.

I would also like to add:
– Courage to lead a collaboration
– Courage to agree to collaborate
– Courage to say no (I don’t want to collaborate with you)
– Courage to share your failures
– Courage to get real about your successes and what is really working well and its real impact
– Courage to admit that there is a lack of strategy
– Courage to admit that you don’t know what you are really trying to do with your website/social media channel/app

He also said that “how we suffer depends on how we are structured” which is worth reflecting on as the Director of a small, slightly maverick organisation with its own set of problems, that at least we don’t have the bureaucracies of a large institution

Ed Vaizey also made an appearance with a pre-recorded video. Nice.

BUT …… my personal highlight was the Biggar Augmented Reality art work by artist Sander Weenhof.
This is the biggest AR sculpture in the world and involved wrapping the earth in 7,463,185,678 cubes. Once you have downloaded the layer you can see the cubes everywhere you go. They are always there and always on and if you want to play god, you can even change their colour. A brilliantly beautiful idea, simple and thought-provoking with endless fun. I recommend downloading it and looking at the cubes whenever you are bored in a meeting or event. They will be there to take your mind to another place.

Here are some shots of Sander making his presentaion with the blogs in the room …

… and again, in my office today.

Last but not least, watch out for Culture24 going mobile soon.
: )

Culture24 become official cultural data provider to the BBC

ITs really exciting to be able to announce that Culture24 have become the “official cultural data provider to the BBC”. This is a really exciting three-year data-sharing partnership that will open up a channel from the Culture24 database of activities from over 4,500 cultural venues to the BBC’s vast online audience, putting arts and heritage activities data at the heart of the BBC website. Audiences, inspired by BBC broadcasts, will benefit by being able to find related ‘real world’ activities quickly and easily.

This is a key milestone in our plans to provide a central aggregation service for the cultural sector – something that is long overdue. I am convincec that the availability of quality cultural data will play a key part in the sectors ability to engage audiences online in ways that are low cost and high impact. Crucially, at a time of much austerity this collaboration increases cultural venues’ reach and profile without increasing workloads or costs.

As well as sharing our data with the BBC, Culture24 is also supporting a range of national, local, commercial and educational services including: NCT, Art Fund, Tourism South East, Engaging Places, Technology Strategy Board, Museums in Cornwall and Hewlett Packard. Of course our data also supports and reaches over 3.5 million individual visitors a year via our own websites and services!

Moving forward, more than 3,500 libraries are also being invited to join the Culture24 network and will benefit from this new initiative. Full details can be found at http://www.culture24.org.uk/bbcpartnership.

It’s taken us nearly two years to negotiate this deal and we are very excited about its potential, particularly as we try and move towards greater cross sector working and digital collaboration.

Portal pain and Wikipedia love

This post was orginally published on the mcg blog http://museumscomputergroup.org.uk/blog/

Why is the European Commission still convinced that people want their online culture served up via a hideously named “one-stop-shop” portal?

Last Wednesday, instead of watching the new episode of Mad Men, I sat down to read the latest EU report (120 pages) and the first of its nine recommendations goes like this: “Develop, implement and promote an online access point and guide to ‘European culture’ for all cultural disciplines using a ‘one-stop-shop’ approach linking to the multitude of already existing offers, improving these where appropriate, enhanced by Web 2.0 and other functionalities …. “

Save us please! Isn’t it even an oxymoron to have one-stop-shop and web 2.0 in the same sentence?

Surely as user attention online gets ever more competitive, it is the services and sites which have a clear personality, voice, specialism, community of enthusiasts etc that will be the doorways people choose to explore their love of animation, design, archaeology, Folk Art or whatever?

It is a shame, as the report itself is actually pretty interesting and the wealth of stuff happening across almost all the European countries is staggering and most of it didn’t exist 5 years ago.

Let’s hope that others feel the same and through the application of some of the other more sensible recommendations like physical meetings and provision of training, we can get the message across that the web has moved on and so should the EU.

You can download the summary and recommendations here, or download the full report here (warning: it’s long!)

I also wanted to pick up on something on the MuseumNext ning recently that caught my eye “would funders ever accept that you’re spending their money on staff time editing Wikipedia rather than putting together a shiny new web presence which they can point at and be proud of? ”

For some time I’ve been playing with an idea to try and fundraise to do exactly this. Maybe it might be a great way to deal with the current Renaissance underspend?

I’m going to take the idea to the Wikimedia workshop at this years Museums and Web conference and am interested in talking to anyone else who would like to help me make it happen.

Thought for the week: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Harry S. Truman

Cloudcomputing and the future

Looks like I missed a good event at the ICA yesterday with Charles Leadbeater talking with others about his new book/pamphlet for the British Council “Cloud Culture – the future of global cultural relations” (you can download it here and its well worth the effort).

Catch up with a short but succinct interview with Charlie here.
Read a blog posts about the day from
Joanna Jacobs and an ‘Open Cloud Declaration’ from Charlie on the British Council thinktank ‘Counterpoint’.

Join in the debate at the BC here.

Reaching Teachers: Culture24 at the Learning and Technology World Forum 2010

Our Chairman and Becta board member John Newbigin opened the session yesterday on “educational learning from the media Industries” as part of the Learning and Technology World Forum 2010.

The Forum is part of the run up to the BETT conference that is on from Wed 13th Jan to Saturday 16th Jan. Read more here.

Culture24’s Head of Programmes Anra Kennedy did a great presentation challenging the education sector to make use of the fabulous rich online content from museums that it already out there. I watched it all on the Webcast provided by bTween (who were involved in curating the session).

She cited some of the good examples where teachers can already find/explore really useful stuff;
Flickr Commons
Pre-Raphaelites
National Archives
and of course the new Culture24 Teachers section.

You can read an excellent roundup of the session on Joanne Jacobs blog here.