Looking back over the development of Culture24 over the last ten years (the video!)

The lovely people from New Zealand’s National Digital Forum has posted the video of my keynote, complete with all the slides.

If you want to hear from the horses’ mouth (so to speak) the inside story of Culture24’s journey from ‘portal to publisher’ then watch this!

Read my take homes from the conference.

Culture24 listed as one of the Guardians 100 most *essential* websites

Thanks to lovely people at the Guardian (in particular Jack Schofield) for the professional recognition on this one.

I’m really proud of the new Culture24 site and think that it really *does* offer an essential service to anyone interested in what’s going on in museums, galleries, archive, heritage site and more around the UK.

Great to be listed in this.

Take homes from the National Digital Forum (NDF2009) in New Zealand

It was long way to New Zealand from Brighton, three planes, 28 hours and a lot of movies, but it was worth it. The people are friendly, the landscape breathtaking and the coffee is fantastic. Add to this the National Digital Forum itself and you have a recipe for a really fun, thought provoking and stimulating week.

above: Penny Carnaby (National Library) and John Garraway (NDF Chair)

Thanks to the British Council, I was sponsored to come over and invited to do a keynote on the afternoon of the NDF’s first day. The conference venue was in the truly wonderful Te Papa museum and I was one of three international speakers, the others being Daniel Incandela (Director of New Media, Indianapolis Museum of Art) and Nina Simon (Museum 2.0 blog).

above: Te Papa wall outside conference “Embrace the past. Prepare now to shape the future”

Daniel opened with a very witty account of the transformation he has overseen of the IMA’s online presence and production. In particular the great use of personalities, narratives and stories told using low cost video but with high production values). He comes from a background like myself of video production and I totally related to his insistence on voice, opinion, humour trumping over the technology.

Nina (a woman after my own heart) talked about audience, mostly from the point of view of the physical exhibition but the issues translate to the online world very easily. The spoke of the importance of framing the ‘right’ question as a way to draw people in to an idea. She also got the whole conference on its feet, sharing skills and seeking advise in the one-to-one, with the reward for a a successful skill swap of banging a huge gong hanging on the stage. See the visual evidence of my successful sharing here!

above: me and my big slides!

For my slot, I told the story of Culture24 over the last ten years, what we set out to do, what we actually did, what worked, what didn’t and what next. I also looked back on the duplication, lack of strategy, leadership and sustainability in UK digital cultural online. Ending with what I see as possibly the start of some real change in 2009 thanks to the following:

MLA digital principles published
Arts Council state digital opportunity as a key priority
National Museum directors speak out to say future for museums lies with Internet
MA conference, first year they have had a strand on ‘digital change’

You can see the slides of my talk, which are in two parts here: Part One / Part Two.

It seems from the Twitter back channel and the face to face chat that the stories were appreciated, which coming from such a highly skilled and digital literate group of people was a real compliment.

Also enjoyed hearing about the excellent stuff they are doing at the DigitalNZ (part of the National Digital Library). Their work with API’s, data aggregation and date sharing is really innovative for the cultrual sector and I for one an watching their space with interest.

Same applies to the stuff that Liam Wyatt from Wikimedia Australia is talking about concerning how to engage the GLAM sector more effectivly with Wikimedia. His recent blog posts on the low hanging fruit in this area are really interesting.

above: Liam Wyatt (Wittylama) and Phillipa Tocker

Finally, this has got to be the best badge ever ….

Thanks to the British Council, Te Ara, NZlive and the NDF committee for their support and for making the trip both possible and worth it.

New Zealand: National Digital Forum and 5th Culturemondo Roundtable

Heading off the 11,000+ miles to New Zealand to give the keynote for what looks set to be a fantastic National Digital Forum. Really looking forward to meeting the other speakers and to meeting some of the people who are behind New Zealand’s great digital offer.

The conference runs for two days and then I am chairing the 5th Culturemondo roundtable at which we will publish the latest Culturemondo report “5 years on – where are we headed?”, the recent international survey and ask “What are the trends, issues and future directions suggested by the survey?”

The roundtbable will also include a workshop by Seb Chan on web metrics and evalaution asking “How do we measure the economic and social value of cultural websites? This will raise issues of metrics, evaluation etc.

Thanks to TELDAP, NZLive.com and Te Ara for their continued support.

Overview of my keynote:
From Portal to Publisher: A case study of online cultural publishing
It was May 1999 when the 24 Hour Museum went live, one of the first generation of publicly funded cultural „portals‟.
Since then, the digital world has seen many big changes. The online world is radically different, the economic and political climate has fundamentally shifted and online user behaviour is unrecognisable from ten years ago.
Renamed „Culture24‟ in 2008 to reflect a developing remit and reach, the UK-based organisation behind 24 Hour Museum now publishes a family of sites targeted at different audiences. They are also developing a range of strategic data services that reach out beyond their own web pages to other platforms and publishers.

In this session, Director Jane Finnis will tell the story of their journey – the successes, failures and ongoing challenges. She will talk about the wider digital cultural climate in the UK and her thoughts on the challenges of working across different government departments and sectors. She will explain how Culture24 seek to connect users to online culture, how they support search and browse and how they are trying to build audience trust in their brand and share a behind-the-scenes look at their technical infrastructure and data sharing work.
Jane‟s presentation will reference the newly launched Culture24 site http://www.culture24.org.uk, their award winning children‟s zone http://www.show.me.uk and Caboodle – a playground for kids to share and explore collecting http://www.caboodle.org.uk

Take homes from two Culture24 workshops – Social Media, Web Metrics, Evaluation by Seb Chan

Just finished a full-on week with Seb Chan from Powerhouse, delivering this years ever popular and inspiring workshops – the first on Social Media and the second on Web Metrics and evaluation.

Under Seb’s guidance, Powerhouse Museum has been consistency leading internationally on how museums can use digital tools to further engage and reach audiences. This fact, combined with Seb’s own passion for the subject and his ability to dissect, confront and interpret his own digital, made this years workshops better that ever.

Take homes for me from both were:

Tuesday 3rd November – Social Media

1. Start with what are you trying to achieve and who is it for. Sounds obvious but its harder than you think.
2. You have to know who your audience are to reach them (the more segmentation the better).
3. Your content is your marketing. If your messages are not your actual stuff, your stories, your views, the stuff that makes you who you are, then its just noise.
4. Your social media channels need curating just like your exhibitions (all the time).
5. You need to monitor what is happening in our social media channels – what are people saying about you – and you need to respond to them.
6. Digital strategy needs to really be the responsibility of the whole museum team.
7. One museums misuse is another person’s valid interpretation.
8. Websites are not social spaces so don’t try and make your one. Take your stuff out into the existing social spaces where your target audience already are.

The day was held at CILIP in central London, great venue for courses and good catering with real hot food (very important). The mixture of people was really interesting, some museums, heritage, photography, arts – and individuals with responsibilities for marketing, curation, publishing, technical.

Living proof of the huge range of ways that organisations are dealing with digital strategy. There was a marked different from last years workshop and people seemed to be further developed in their thinking and understanding of the key issues. You can see this clearly in the fact that this year at least third of those attending were in the process of writing a digital strategy for their organisation, whereas last year, about the same number left the workshop having realised this was something that needed to do.

Wednesday 5th November – Web Metrics

This subject is a particular hobbyhorse of mine as I am so often amazed by how many digital projects have not even considered the basic questions of what are they trying to achieve and who is it for – without this how do you know what to evaluate to tell if it worked?

The big issue here I think is the fact that some projects are clearly commissioned because people think they have to ‘do’ something about digital – have a website, have a facebook page, put their collections online – whatever it might be.

Seb has done a great blog post on what he calls the “five rules of museum content” Worth a read and definitely worth interrogating your own work to see if you can answer the questions well or not.

Next meeting up Seb at the New Zealand National Digital Forum where we will do the Web Metrics workshop again as part of the 5th Culturemondo roundtable. Looking forward to seeing how the NZ museums/galleries/archives are coping with all this.

A further set of take homes from another participant – Bilkis Mosoddik at the Museum of London – can be found on her blog here.

Two new Culture24 training events by Seb Chan

Following the sold-out success of last years event, Culture24 are pleased to welcome Seb Chan back to the UK for two dynamic sessions:

“Strategic social media for the cultural sector”

“Web analytics and measuring online success in a rapidly changing online landscape”


Strategic social media for the cultural sector
Tuesday, November 03, 2009 from 9:30 AM – 6:00 PM
At: CILIP, 7 Ridgmount Street, London
Cost: £150 (inc lunch)

How does your museum engage with its audiences? Do you use social media to reach and engage with new audiences?
Understanding social media marketing is essential for museums in the 21st century. This workshop will show you how you can listen to and engage with audiences online, and consider some of the challenges involved in running effective campaigns.

What will you get from the day?
• Practical ideas about ways to make your digital collections more accessible
• An understanding of the changing nature of online publishing
• Evidence to argue for investment in online services within your organisation
• Ideas and strategies for building sustainable online audiences

For full details and how to book click here:

Web analytics and measuring online success in a rapidly changing online landscape
Wednesday, November 04, 2009 from 1:30 PM – 6:00 PM
At: Royal Observatory, Greenwich
Cost: £75

Explore the emerging landscape of metrics and measurement in the world of the social Web. The workshop will begin with an examination of the traditional measurement tools available on the Web, explaining their pros and cons, before looking specifically at the new suite of tools needed to discover ‘actionable insights’ for your social media projects.

What will you get from the day?
· Insights into current issues around online measurement
· Practical understanding of how to use and not to use existing measurement tools
· Ideas and strategies for developing more complex and effective results

For full details and how to book click here:

About the presenter:
Sebastian Chan leads the Digital, Social and Emerging Technologies department at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. His teams include the museum’s web unit, audio visual and photography, rights & permission and the photo library, the research library and Thinkspace, the Powerhouse’s digital media teaching laboratories. He is a researcher in several Australian Research Council Linkage projects researching social media, museums, and technology; and speaks internationally about the use of cutting edge technology in the cultural sector. He is on the international programme committees of Museums and the Web (USA), Digital Strategies for Heritage (Eu), the Horizon.Au New Media Consortium, and is an International Steering Committee member of Culturemondo, an international group of representatives of cultural portal strategists. Seb is also a member of the Australian Government’s Government 2.0 Taskforce examining ways of improving citizen engagement with government and opening access to public sector information

Evaluation report published on Museums at Night 2009 national campaign

Museums at Night report

Download the full report here.

Culture24 took on the challenge of co-ordinating the Museums at Night campaign in January 2009 with a mission for museums and galleries to attract new audiences into venues simply by staying open late and putting on a special event.

Despite a timeframe of only 16 weeks, the sector responded with an enthusiasm and creativity that was remarkable. By the time the weekend arrived in May, 157 events were taking place with an audience of over 34,000 people attending across the UK. Events ranged from torchlit tours, battleship boogies, museum sleepovers and powered up steam engines to hip-hop crews, Tudor dancing, speed dating, interactive sound installations and more.

The weekend received overwhelmingly positive feedback from visitors, with over 80% rating their experience as eight or above out of ten. Over 60% were new to the venue, having heard about the event through national press, the Culture24 site, word of mouth, local press, radio or Twitter. Thanks to an effective and inventive PR campaign, regional and national coverage appeared in over 150 publications and a host of websites securing an equivalent advertising value of over £40,000. All of this should be viewed in the context of extremely tight timescales and a total expenditure of only £23,000.

Co-ordinating a national marketing campaign is a complex initiative. Budgets for such projects are often hundreds of thousands of pounds and can involve creating a new brand and identity from scratch. But Museums at Night was different.

The campaign’s success is a clear example of how the existing assets of Culture24 can be exploited and used to get added value from public sector investment. Culture24 are uniquely positioned as online publishers with the largest database of cultural venues in the UK and a publishing infrastructure that supports several established websites with excellent search engine optimisation. Crucially, they also have an established network of thousands of venues which are actively updating their information into the Culture24 database themselves and who are in regular contact with the editorial team about their activities.

Culture24 were able to bring into play from their existing infrastructure many of the tools that are needed to support an online national campaign. In particular, their editorial skills allowed the richness of the stories, curiosities and happenings across the museum and gallery sector to speak for itself.

Organisationally, the campaign took over Culture24 in the final eight weeks of the project and an exceptional amount of effort went into securing its success. Thanks are due to the Cuture24 team for this but also to the many curators, museum staff and volunteers who made the weekend itself so magical.

Next year the campaign has the potential to double or perhaps triple in size. There could be more regional and city clusters of activity, more strands specifically targeted at different audiences, better tourism tie-ins and a real level of general public awareness.

The Museums at Night story is a great example of what can be achieved by the cultural sector through an integrated approach to online marketing and PR that is both rooted in the sector itself and informed by an understanding of audience needs and online behaviour.

Culture24 gets web accolade at Nominet Best Practice Challenge

Spent a rather steamy (it was the hotest day of the year so far) and champagne filled evening at the beautifu Banqueting House in Whitehall last week as Culture24 got the runner-up prize to the British Library win at the Nominet Best Practice Challenge Awards.

A considerable achievement considering we are not out of BETA yet and the British Library are slightly better resourced! The judges said Culture24 “was a simple but much-needed idea that showed clear strategic vision and great attention to detail.”


Will try again next year..

Excellence, good practice, failure and the McMasters report (oh yea and audiences as well…) Museums Association conference Liverpool 2008

The debate at the Museums Association Conference, Liverpool 2008 about reactions and issues from Brian McMasters report started to define some of the substantial challenges the DCMS are going to have in implementing the recommendations.

On a panel were Mick Elliott (DCMS), Andrew Whyte (ACE), Mark O’Neill (Culture & Sport Glasgow) and Journalist Maev Kennedy. Unfortunately, Brian McMasters was not able to attend at the last minute but was replaced by a colleague who has worked on the report with him.

As the session went it it became clear that there was an undercurrent of fear coming from some in the Museum sector, articulated best by Mark O’Neill, of this all ending up with a return to the kind of elitism that the Arts Council have been criticised of before. Not so, was the reply from Andrew Whyte, this was about professional judgement and there was a need for the sector to trust those professionals who might be in the peer review process to be just that – professional. He also said that is was up to DCMS to balance judgements with measurements, one providing the context for the other.

As an optimist, I am inclined to give him this trust as my concerns from this debate about how DCMS is going to translate McMasters ideas into reality, lie elsewhere.

1) The focus of the debate was on the user (hopefully) being at the receiving end of some sort of excellence in terms of an experience. But for me its not just about considering the user at the end of a piece of work. You need to start with the user at the beginning. If you don’t start here, with can you know what the user might need or care about? How can you assess the potential? How can you assess impact or reach?

2) Good practice is not just something that falls out of the blue, it is learned. So, if excellence is one step up from good practice then one step down from it is failure. However in this session the debate on the value of failure was missed out and there was no talk about what we can learn from failure. This is a area where I think peer review could play a key part, not just to assess excellence or good practice but also failure (and failure as part of the journey all organisations are on towards excellence). If this kind of shift in thinking could be embraced and the understanding of failure seen as a success, it may also help to counteract the fear of elitism that some feel.

Live and online museum information in a cool dashboard

Nick Poole (The Collections Trust/MDA) and I are working on plans for a more active and strategic partnership between our two organisations. At our last meeting he showed me a very cool thing from the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Launched last year it is a live Dashboard of regularly updated data about the museum and its activities – things like visitors through the door, fans on Facebook, energy consumption etc. It basically makes public all the usual statistical information that is normally lost in an institutions annual reports.

The visual layout of the data is really nice, simple and easy to see and there is something very compelling about the (almost) live updating. You can also explore any of the top line statistics further making it a fantastic advocacy tool for the museum.

You can read more in an interview with Rob Stein the Museum’s Chief Information Officer and Seb Chan.