Tweets, Geospatial analysis, giraffes and a little bit of museums for good measure: What I got from the Casa Seminar: Harvesting the Crowd

Yesterday I went to my first CASA seminar, and it was great!  Well the second half was, the first half involved a lot of equations about Thermodynamics and I didn’t have a clue what was going on, and I chose an unfortunate seat near the front, I was slightly terrified that he might ask the group to solve said equations. I have trouble adding up numbers let alone Greek letters.  I’m sure it was brilliant, but unless you have a firm basis in maths or thermodynamics I don’t think you would have stood a chance.  Then came the good stuff, the stuff I understand, and the stuff that makes me happy: Social Media, visualisations, maps (I am a closet geospatial nerd who has no geospatial abilities- I’m like superman on kryptonite) animal logos and to my happy surprise a bit about museums.

Steve Gray and Fabian Neuhaus provided an overview of the tools in CASA’s crowd sourcing toolkit; SurveyMapper, Tweet-o-Meter and the Twitter Collection tools.  There has been a massive explosion of handheld mobile devices with GPS as well as a move to crowdsourcing info this has produced a heck of a lot of online geospatial data.  Add newly released public sector data and you get yourself an exciting situation where people can take that data and turn it into something more interesting.  CASA work on integrating tools for unlocking, exploiting, understanding and sharing new data sets and to also enable users have a go at mapping and spatial analysis.

Firstly Steve talked about Survey Mapper –  a real time geographic survey tool.  What I like about survey mapper is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  It knows it’s doing clever stuff behind the scenes, but presents a friendly giraffe – you can’t not love a giraffe – with an easy to use interface.  One of the survey’s Steve discussed was the BBC’s Look East Broadband speed survey which produced a lot of responses over 6500 in a day I think (I might be wrong on that one).

Tweet-o-meter – This is genius and really beautiful too.

Tweet-o-Meter is powered by CASA, as part of the NeISS project. Created by Steven Gray

Tweet-o-meter harvests geospatial data from Twitter with the aim of creating a series of new city maps based on Twitter data.  Data is collected from tweets sent via a mobile device that includes the location at the time of sending the tweet. Via a radius of 30km around different cities, for example the number of Tweets have been collated to create New City Landscape Maps of London, New York and Paris.

Created by Urban Tick

I think this is a beautiful analogy for twitter activity where contours correspond to the density of tweets, mountains rise in active twitter locations and cliffs drop down in to valleys of tweet deserts.

UrbanTick has the full set of the different new city landscapes, all available in  Google Maps viewer (I think)- head over to take a look at the gorgeousness.

Steve and Fabian discussed that there are now 60 cities around the world that have their tweets monitored over the period of one week.  Amsterdam is a top tweeter with over 50% geolocated tweets. Whereas London which is still a really active city send on average send about 10%  geolocated tweets. Visualisations clearly showed that different cities seem to be more active in the morning and others in the evening, producing some lovely looking kidney shapes.  The data also shows that different days of the week are more conducive to tweeting, for example  Monday and Tuesday are generally less active than the rest of the week.

Data was also collected during the early days of the Egyptian revolution in Cairo.  It was really interesting to see how the protests and internet blackout affected twitter activity.  For example when the big internet switch was flicked back on the data shows an immediate rise in geolocated tweets.

And then came something that I got really excited about and something that I could really use in my PhD… Andy, Steve, Fabian … if you’re reading this, can you show me how to do it? Pretty please!? I will buy you cake. Lots of it.

Tweeting art –  Most museums are now using Twitter and CASA have taken that information and turned it into really awesome spider like explosions of communication network visualisations.  Showing how different museums (the examples given included Tate and MoMA) link in to the wider twitter network and also how they link to each other  so in essence how the institutions interact with other users and how this connects them into an entangled social network.  For example Tate and MoMa tweet to roughly the same followers but don’t really tweet to each other.   I think this is fascinating, particularly if it can show if museums are only using Twitter as a broadcast medium – pushing marketing out, or whether they are creating a engaging discussions and digital experiences with their followers.

It was fascinating to be part of the seminar not only where people were talking about Twitter in a active exciting research context and sensible manner, and where questions from the audience were serious, and probing and engaged in the topic.  Rather than asking ridiculous questions from anti social Media people where Twitter is a waste of time, full of pointless babble which makes yooths mediocre there was brilliant questions about how do you model for uncertainty, what proportion of users geotweet? Does this skew the data?what about frequency and text mining to find out more about context.  It was brilliant.  I was engaged. And it reminded me that I am not out of my depth in this whole digital humanities thang, I do know what I am talking about, and this is a growing research field doing so much cool stuff, I am an alt academic and proud.

The Elmer PhuD.

Today I officially start my Digital Humanities PhD. Scary. For reasons I can’t quite recall (twitter was involved I’m sure) it has been renamed the Fudd. The Elmer Fudd. So Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits.

I was lucky enough to be awarded the UCL Digital Humanities Scholarship after a scary interview process earlier in 2010 (I think knowing the interviewers makes the whole process worse, the fear of letting them down as well as myself is horrific).  Thankfully my interview went well, quoting Field of Dreams ‘build it and they will come’ was a personal highlight.  Not a lot about my working environment will change, I will still be a part of UCLDH, and working on a few projects, however most of my time will now be working towards a Doctorate rather than a monthly pay check.  I am incredibly nervous, and excited in equal measure about getting started.

The aim of my research is to explore the value, usefulness and importance of online museum content from a users perspective, by developing an awareness of the perceptions that users have of the museum information environment both on main museum website as well as on external social media applications, and assess how this will influence metrics and evaluation.  And most importantly what on earth people do with that content once they have found it.

“The thing people are amazed about with the web is that, when you put something online, you don’t know who is going to use it—but it does get used.” Berners-Lee 2010

I want to know why, what for and how.   In order to create improved access to museum resources it is important to improve our own understanding of how users seek, interact with and use museum content. So my research aims to enhance our understanding of the value and impact of digital cultural content by exploring user information seeking and interaction behaviour.  The research also aims to provide evidence of museum impact upon users within a more distributed web 2.0 environment.  Quite a lot of research has been done on specific user groups’ information-seeking behaviour within libraries, archival and legal services (have a look at Warwick et al 2008, Rimmer et al 2006, 2008, Makri 2008). However much less is known about the information seeking behaviour of user groups using Museum online content.  So I want to draw upon usability, participatory and information seeking behaviour research to add to the understanding of how and why museum visitors access and use online museum content.

So yes the official start. 10th Jan 2011. I guess this is a bit of an artificial construct really, in the sense that I have three years to complete my research and the first day could just as well be today or last week or in three weeks time. But I feel ready to start the project, in fact itching to start.  It’s werid to think that my academic &  museum profesional career, my hobbies and my passions to date have combined to this big juicy scary research project.  Terrifying.  I’m trying my very best not to panic and write my thesis in my first week.

Wish me luck. Let’s see how it goes!

‘I Don’t Know Much About Art But I Know What’s Online’: a quick and angry rant

This article on Read Write Web made me mad.
It starts wit the obvious:

“No one can have a “museum experience” without stepping foot in a museum. Let’s just get that out of the way. It doesn’t matter how digitally precise your online version of “The Forge of Vulcan” is, tilting your head to draw the light across the raised ridges of paint is not an electronically duplicable experience. That doesn’t mean digital art collections don’t have great value. After all, art books do.”

And ends with:

“No Stand Outs The collections of museums are making their way online, if for no other reason than they serve as a kind of advertisement. I have yet, however, to come across an outfit, small or large, whose goal was to make their entire collection, or even a substantial majority of it, available online. The few that tried did not hit the trifecta of navigational ease, resolution and information that would make it the most useful.”

This makes me angry. So many people access interesting tit bits of information every day form Read Write Web. Yet you would have thought they would do their homework. Undoubtedly you cannot fully replicate a real object in a digital space Walter Benjamin told us that in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. And the idea of trifecta is kinda cool. But My work revolves around understanding what users think of online museum collections, why museums use them, their purpose their usability and god damn it, not one person I have interviewed, observed, surveyed and stalked ever suggested that an museum online collection was an ‘advertisment’ and there are several museums whose goal is to make their entire collection available online. The British Museum is one of them, and I quote:

When complete the database will contain a record of every object in the Museum collection, with associated conservation and scientific reports where available…. The information in the records is made available in its entirety. … The database is the result of 30 years work but is still in its early stages. We are continuing every day to improve the information recorded in it and changes are being fed through on a regular basis. In many cases it does not yet represent the best available knowledge about the objects. This is being added as fast as possible, but will take many years.

If that is not a goal to make the entire collection available then I don’t know what is.

The article doesn’t point out how time consuming and not to mention expensive digitising museum collections is, and in this day and age of ongoing government cuts, its not going to get any easier to digitise. Also seriously museum collections are VAST, digitising every object can take years. Museum online collections are utilised every single day for digital resources which cannot be accessed anywhere else. It is discouraging that the article didn’t mention, all the ongoing research into information seeking and usability of museum websites, that it did not quote that much is being done by researchers and conferences like Museums and the Web to dispel the generalised myth that museum websites are a bit crap. They are not. End of. Maybe I am bias, but I don’t care. I love museum websites for what they have to offer, not just as digital museum researcher but also as a museum lover. The wealth and depth of what is available is outstanding, they are extensive, informative and most importantly enjoyable. Rant off.

Searching and Sharing collections

We know social tagging works in online museum spaces to some extent, we’ve got the Steve museum to thank for that. Bam proof of concept! Object tagging is one thing,  its pretty cool being able to connect with an object by personally labelling it, making connections between objects and making sense of the museum collection on a personal level.  But searching the museum collection and then sharing findings seems to be something different entirely.

I’ve been doing a lot of work recently on how researchers use online museum, library and archive collections and whether or not hey would use social media to enhance their experience with these online collections and what exactly they would use the big wide world of social media for.

Take for example an Art historian researching the painting ‘An Experiment on a Bird in the Air pump (1736) by Joseph Wright Derby. This painting is a personal favourite of mine; a beautiful depiction of scientific experimentation in the home, mixing science and art. Awesome. So off the art historian goes to the National Gallery website, enters a search query and finds information on the painting. How likely is it that that researcher is then going to share that find with his/her colleagues on facebook or Twitter or start a conversation about it on a discussion forum?

Or going even further to Europeana, the giant cultural cross repository search… a manuscript  researcher searching for a particular extract about St Aiden and Lindisfarne.  In that eureka moment when a research has found what they are looking for how likely are they to click the share button? (I would love to get hold of the log analysis of that share button…) One would hope they would want to tell the world! But so far all my research points to… meh. Although there is an interest in social media and collection searches, the majority just don’t really seem sure about it.

If anybody has done any work on this, or has an references or comments, I’d love to speak to you about it.

The aftermath.

The past 48hours have been quite something.

You may or may not have noticed the large amount of press coverage about a certain Mr Murdoch, involving opinions on creativity, culture, humanities, digital content and in particular the British Library; that were flying around online today. I don’t think a bunch of overly tired, yet still buzzing digital humanists have been so excited in a confined space with flower pot muffins before. (some coverage can be found here, here, here, here, and here and many many more places)

Why? Well…  We officially launched the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities yesterday evening! Hooray!  James Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, the guest speaker gave a really interesting speech with some strong opinions (you can read the full text of the speech here).

It’s going to be really interesting to hear the alternate view of what James Murdoch spoke about.  There are a lot of strong opinions flying around, particularly with regards to cultural heritage institutions and electronic publishers and digital humanists.  I have yet to get my brain in gear about my thoughts on what James was suggesting.  It will be very interesting to hear the responses from others, particularly those championing freely available digital content .  ucldh are seeing what we can do to facilitate that response. watch this space. If you want to respond do let us know.

For me though, it wasn’t the speech that was the highlight of the launch, for one, I didn’t actually get to see James speak. I was running (well walking quickly whilst trying to maintain an air of decorum –most likely failing) with a clip board and an iphone trying to make sure everything went smoothly. Yes, I can now add, major event planning to my repertoire. No, this isn’t my job. For the past month as well as working on three research projects I have been juggling quite possibly the biggest (I don’t think I have ever seen as much bottles of champagne in my life) event I have ever been a part of. Crazy. Myself and my colleague Simon took up the organisation  of the launch after another colleague had to take leave unexpectantly. I don’t think we really knew what we were letting ourselves in for. I’ve organised conferences before, but nothing like this! We have been so busy, I think I have forgotten what hot tea tastes like as I never had time to drink it. But it all came to a head this week. Its been stressful, but brilliant. Yesterday involved so much running around, phone calls, emails, sticky wotsits, logos and name badges.  During the day, what could go wrong did go wrong. Thank goodness for  iphones – they were our life saver yesterday, also my ability to memorise securities multiple phone numbers (my number memory response is now at all time high). But the event itself was a triumph! (i hope)  we may have been paddling furiously under the water, but on top we had the elegance of a swan! It was the people who came to the event, the people who helped, the people who gave us their time and energy, and most importantly the people who gave their smiles yesterday, that was the highlight for me.  I cannot thank enough all the people who helped on the night, and on the run up. We couldn’t have done it without you!

I have also seen so much more of UCL than I ever thought possible, a special lift in the library and the roof! Oh my the roof is amazing! ( I took some pictures from the roof with a very cool app called Hipstamatic, I will post them as soon as I find the usb cable).  I must also add that none of this would of been possible without the genius of Claire Warwick and Melissa Terras, they are quite simply amazing.

But that was only the first event. Oh yes. Two events, makes Claire a very dazed girl. Today saw the Time Trust and Authority: is web 2.0 the tool for you? event, which I have been working on with Anne and John. I fear I let the side down on this, I was a incoherent mess after all the running around at the launch yesterday. But nevertheless a brilliant day! I learnt some really cool stuff, UCL is really flying the flag for social media content and distribution, with some interesting research projects and technologies already in place.  Utilising social media in an education institution is always frought with difficultly with questions about trust and authority not to mention copyright and ownership of content. Despite this, UCL is doing some brilliant work; creating digital content, encouraging discussions and collaborations and broadening audiences for our research and teaching (possibly a controversial thing after the launch speech).

There is likely to be many more posts about the past 48hours to come. But right now I am going to have a sleep. Drained is not appropriate for this. Drained but happy.

Personality Infographics

I discovered this via and its pretty cool.  The personality infographic generator creates a simplified map of your personality  by asking  questions to analyze your unique characteristics , ranging from topics such as male/female, what do you like to eat, whats your favourite social network, how long you are online per day and even what animal you are most like (oddly there are options for anteater and giraffe – clearly im a giraffe)

The results are then compared to those of other people who have taken part. You can even personalise your map infographic by changing its main colors and layout, here my personalised version!

i like it!

how cool would it be if you could create a personalise infographic about your favourite museums or objects within a museum and compare it against other visitors? oooh.a good idea! its all about the personalised visualization of the museum experience!