Friday, March 13, 2009

Collection data on line or Seb Chan in action again

I have blogged before about Seb Chan and his pioneering work at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney in understanding how people use information on the web. I was part of a seminar in Melbourne last week on the broad story of museum communication via the web, and Seb was in full cry.

Seb as always was full of new ideas, one of his latest being an interesting one about how to screen out noise on the web. It has been a recurrent theme that I have heard from museum and gallery curators that they do not want to post information on the web as all it will do is create more work for them in responding to queries. The underlying theme is also that they are concerned that the information itself will have, god forbid, errors in it (this is particularly a gallery curator concern) and that the gallery’s scholarship will be shown up as a result. There is an associated (and reasonable, in my view) concern that the data is ‘dirty’ i.e. it has been misinterpreted during the process of digitization and is factually wrong.

In reality we are moving inexorably towards a moment when all collection data will be on line (alright, perhaps not all the donor information and financial values) with a rough date of 2020 likely in Australia. We shall therefore reach a stage where collection data is in the public domain, and being constantly reviewed and added to by the public.

Now back to Seb’s point that this will create a fair amount of noise (read idle comment) of no value to the collecting institution and which they need to screen out to get to the stuff of real value. The Powerhouse Museum is currently getting 50 email comments/queries a day as a result of web searches on their site. These are currently going to curatorial staff to try and answer. Seb showed how Flickr can help to screen some of this noise through self comment, i.e other Flickr participants answering the query.

And whilst I am on the seminar, do have a look at the Brooklyn Museum’s on-line crowd curated exhibition, entitled CLICK. Shelley Bernstein of the Brooklyn Museum took us through this extraordinary event where 389 photos were taken of the Brooklyn area by local photographers, and then evaluated on line by anyone interested. The most popular 70 were then exhibited with their print size dictated by their popularity. Fab work.

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