New and emerging technology-enabled models of participation through VGC: 1 Mia Ridge and Crowdsourcing

Last Friday I spent the day in Leicester for the 2nd day of  ‘The Shape of Things: New and emerging technology-enabled models of participation through VGC’ conference at the school of Museum Studies, part of the AHRC-funded iSay project focusing on Visitor-Generated Content (VGC) in cultural heritage institutions.

It was a fabulous conference, and perfectly timed for my PhD research, the organisers, Giasemi Vavoula and Jenny Kidd, did a great job on the conference programme with a great combination of academic papers and practical case studies.

Firstly to be honest, I haven’t really used the term Visitor Generated Content (VGC) before. I don’t really like the term User Generated Content (UGC) and swapping user for visitor doesn’t solve my dislike of the term. But I can see why as terminology both work.

Mia Ridge has already blogged her notes from both days of the conference and there will be lots on the conference blog, so these are my notes of useful concepts that I found helpful for thinking about my own PhD research. I’m splitting it into several posts other wise it will go on and on! Up first is:
Mia Ridge: The gift that gives twice: crowdsourcing as productive engagement with cultural heritage

I really enjoyed Mia’s keynote, she managed to fit lots in in a relatively short space of time. Mia focused on the different ways of thinking about crowdsourcing in cultural heritage, both in terms of the process and the outcomes.

  • Cognitive circus. The spare processing power of millions of humans brains. (edit – Mia has pointed out its cognitive surplus. However I feel cognitive circus is a much better term!)
  • Difference between VGC and crowdsourcing.  When there’s no clearly defined direction, shared goal or research question? This is not crowdsourcing – blurry definition.
  • The importance of creating a space for curiosity
  • The act of  looking creates a relationship with objects
  • Participatory project models -Contributory – the public contributes data to Aerojet designed by the organisation; Collaborative – both active partners, but lead by organisation and Co-creative – But who really has agency?
  • The ethics of crowdsourcing, Leveraging public participation driven by pleasure , not profit
  • Semantic gap, language used to describe objects, is not the same as the search and collection
  • Who participates in crowdsourcing? – Super contributors and drive-bys
  • Crowdsourcing before the web- 19th century natural history collection: 1849 Smithsonian
  • The OED was crowd sourced
  • Long history of crowdsourcing, but transformed by technology

Some useful Crowdsourcing Case Studies

  • Types of Crowdsorcing content: Images multimedia, game levels, research, object identification, family records, objects, documents, the list is en
  • Productive engagement
  • Definitions of engagement are a bit naff
  • What’s ‘engagement’?
  • attending
  • participating
  • deciding
  •  producing
  • Levels of engagement in citizen science –
  • level 1 participating in simple classification tasks
  • Level 2 participating in community discussion
  • Level 3 working independently
  • Crowdsourcing as a gateway to father activity
  • familySearch ‘stepping stones’ -Indexing and then can move to arbitration. Clear progression.
  • Motivations for participation -Altruistic, intrinsic, extrinsic
  • Validating procrastination and Enhancing the visitor experience

Can a Museum collect tweets? And should it?

Last week I was invited to a workshop at the Museum of London focusing on Collecting Social Media as a Museum Object .   It was a really interesting workshop with plenty of discussion and questions raised. It’s a discussion that I think would be well worth continuing with more institutions to see what practices are already undertaken when it comes to dealing with social media and museums.

The workshop follows on from a really great project between The Museum of London and the University of Westminster; citizen curators.  MoL are really interested in how social media can be collected as an object in its own right, if at all.

Hopefully there will be more discussion about this in the future; so these are just some of my quick notes that struck me during the workshop.

The main Interesting question of the day: What do you accession into the museum collection when collecting social media?

Peter Ride, University of Westminster – Citizen Curators

  • #citizencurators – a social networking project for London2012
  • What do you accession into the collection?
  • Experimental project
  • Can communities collect and curate without museum curatorial authorship?
  • Aimed to investigate how social media can provide alternative approach that supplement contemporary collections
  • Designed to result in knowledge about how you can collection born digital media.
  • Public call for citizen curator and Several blog posts about the process. See
  • #citizencurator project found that images are an integral part of the tweet experience. But accessioning social media images is difficult.  Museum of London collected textual tweets but not images. Due mostly to copyright issues. MuseumofLondon decided it wasn’t a viable option. They followed the Library of congress precedent: aka text is ok images are not.
  • But this raises issues relating to the place of images within visual culture. Particularly as images are an integral part of the tweet experience.
  • The outcome – over 7,000 tweets were logged by the Museum using the #citizencurators hashtag
  • But by far the most important issue was about working with Twitter – what could they do with the project.  It’s a scary thing for a museum to let go of content control. By its nature being an open project in a public forum the project had no walls, there was no control in management or in terms of the content. And for curators this raises complex issues. Authority, Trust, Control, Authenticity etc.
  • The Citizen Curator In what form can this media be best collected?
  • Is it best kept for future investigation?
  • Can it be made accessible?
  • Steve raised a point during the discussion that Twitter’s T&Cs have changed meaning there are now quite strict conditions on sharing raw data.  Which will make projects like this tricky in the future.


Catherine Flood, V&A – Flickr and the Olympics

  • V_and_A‘s Collect London 2012 Flickr project …
  • Aiming to create an archive of images of the Olympics
  • Collect the graphic environment at London 2012
  • Create an archive of images that will preserve a snapshot
  • How do you approach social media as a design object?


Helen Hockx-Yo, British Library – Archiving social media

  • Two strands as part of web resources archived in the uk web archive
  • British library collects Facebook data. Can only collect public pages, only as part of a special collections,  due to technical problems – pages dynamically generated via asynchronous JavaScript calls.  How do you archive dynamically generated pages?
  • British Library collects and analyse tweets with Twittervane which can determine which sites are shared most frequently … in order to build a web archive collection
  • Prototype/Investigatory project by the British Library to use Twitter to build a web archive collection
  • Current selection process is largely manual by a small number of experts
  • Explore automatic selection
  • Exploit the wisdom of the crowd

Common issues with archiving social media:

  • Copyright: who owns the content?
  • Technical existing technologies not adequate
  • No generic, scalable solutions
  • Will be more difficult as technology advances
  • Curatorial: how do we select social media content? Focus in events, themes or as much as possible?
  • Ethics: privacy and ethical implications
  • Access and usage: how will the archived content be used?
  • What search/discovery/analytics tools should be offered
  • Twitter offering personal archiving services.  Should you archive your followers? Is it not that that provides the context?


Ruth Page, University of Leicester – Twitter datasets: a linguists perspective

  • Twitter as a source for data
  • Relatively easy to harvest (see suggestions from the AoIR on scraping tools)
  • Small and large scale corpora
  • What does that [visitor comment] tell us about how they fit into the museum environment?
  • Computer mediated discourse analysis
  • LSE museum and social media
  • Challenges for research
  • Ethics
  • Archiving and usability
  • Longevity (is it just a fad?)
  • What is it for?


Workshop discussion and some Twitter chat

  • Why are we collecting?
  • Lack of the visual social media data in collection discussions
  • Twitter and photographers and the network and context. How do you evaluate and analyse that?
  • Visual aspect of social media. Authorship, network, context. Cat meme as an example.
  • There must be a way to solve ethical issues perhaps its a case of a Reserach projects in collaboration with Twitter itself?
  • Higher Education has vast ethical conditions in order to get clearance, can they apply to museums social media projects?
  • What ethical documentation/policies/guidelines do museums adhere to with regards social media?
  •  ‏@ernestopriego tweeted a useful  database of 196 social media policies …
  • question about ethical responsibility &displaying social media. Is it the application, the museum or the visitors ethical responsibility?
  • Do any museums include a clause in their social media policies about archiving and curating their own tweets?
  • Do we discuss social media in museums in silos? Should we be looking at the wider context, it’s interdisciplinary nature?
  • Bit of a meta debate about the difference between ownership and access of social media data.


QRator and Museums and the Web

I am in recovery from conference fatigue, mixed with a head cold and jet lag from the Museums and the Web Conference in San Diego last week. It was a brilliant conference that brought together some fabulous museumaholics working on some really interesting projects.  Despite suffering from a rather bad dose of cold, turning my voice into that of a duck’s and a fever that struck me out for the middle day of the conference, there was still a lot of interesting projects to be seen, heard and discussed. I’ll be posting my notes from the conference over the next couple of days.

But first, Steve and I presented some of our work on QRator in the Next Gen Mobile Applied session our slides are below.

It was really nice to get some feedback about our work, and to see what people thought.  One point that I hammered home was the success of QRator is down to the Grant Museum staff, trusting their visitors.  I’m getting more and more passionate about this point.  Every museum related meeting I go into, I have the same conversation again and again, it has to do with museum authority, visitors lacking in that same authority, and giving visitors tools to write what they like, means that they will abuse that trust.  Just because they can doesn’t mean they will.  QRator is a fantastic project that encourages a positive relationship between museums and visitors, where visitors are actively involved in creating the museum displays.  For me the best museum experiences, are ones which not only make you think, but inspire you to want to engage in the topic, QRator does exactly that.  Yes I might be bias.  But the visitor contributions speak for themselves. Visitors are actively choosing to engage with the questions posed on the QRator iPads.  Being able to stand up in front of a conference load of museum people and talk about this, made me really happy.