For me, enjoying a museum visit has always required a leap of imagination. After all, a glass case or a room barrier inherently separates you from objects. Interpretive animations as short-form video are one way to get a visitor into a state where they can better understand the context is which a space, object or event “lived” its historical purpose due to its interaction with humans.
I experimented with this concept as part of a partnership with University of the Arts in Philadelphia and my colleague, Michal Meyer. Abstracting the object or story with animation really helped focus on imaginative storytelling and more effective interpretation.
Here is a playlist of animations produced as part of this partnership.
Some are definitely better than others, but they increased in quality as we refined the process. One challenge related to this experience (where we were working with a class) is that there is much work in getting the students up to speed on the meaning of the content and desired outcomes for audiences. These were also semester-long projects for an animation class, so they are several months in production. Some animations were never quite finished.
Overall, I think they turned out wonderfully. My personal favorite is an animation of an old alchemical painting the organization had, which explained what was going on through the eyes of a creature featured in it. Here’s a preview to the high-resolution source image for that from Wikimedia Commons (click for original):
I saw that painting almost every workday for three years. It captured my imagination all on its own, and was a no-brainer for this project. To give these project some extra attention, we “premiered” these as part of a live webcast that featured a graphic novelist and a comic book historian.
I looked for examples of interpretive animations produced by other cultural institutions, and they are hard to find. If you know of something out there, please link to it in the comments. Of course, there are many examples of object-inspired animated GIFs being used throughout social media, but that’s another post.
When you’re identifying what digital interpretive tactics work for your organization, eventually you will find one (or a combination of a few) that achieves a number of needs. This is called a strategic linchpin.
Linchpins are the result of beginning the strategic process, engaging experimentally, and giving your plans some time to percolate. The ability to focus more effort on fewer linchpin technologies is a sign that your tactical planning has truly become strategic.
The following are three examples of strategic linchpins specific to points-in-time and cultural organizations from my work in digital initiatives.
Strategic Linchpin 1: NCPTT Podcast
In 2007, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training faced the difficulty of being a National Park Service agency with a mandate to serve a national audience, despite a decade of flat budgets and a relatively remote location in northwest Louisiana. The organization needed a way to show its impact, including the influence of innovative grant projects it funded to support the use of technology for historic preservation purposes. At the time, many of its audiences were cautiously curious about social and online media technologies. Part of this was that there were not really any topically relevant media to compel their participation.
I started the Preservation Technology Podcast as a way to empower staff to showcase their successes, and for audiences to connect to a wider world of like-minded preservation geeks. For all, it was a first step into modern online media, short of the engagement platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which were still viewed as invasive at the time. The podcast’s objectives included the following:
Give the staff a voice
Showcase grant products
Promote peer research
Connect with a national audience on no budget
Encourage adoption of digital media among audiences
Show digital media leadership within NPS
Almost ten years later, the podcast is the longest-running historic preservation podcast being produced. Moreover, NCPTT is noted for its role in championing digital outreach technologies, especially within the National Park Service.
Strategic Linchpin 2: Chemical Heritage Foundation GLAM-Wiki Program
In 2013, the Chemical Heritage Foundation was looking for ways to publicly share its comprehensive collections and research related to the history of chemistry. It used a lower-end collections management system and did not have a public search function enabled. It had narrative histories on its website, but they were difficult to find. At the same time, many staff members expressed frustration about the lack of quality information related to these topics on Wikipedia.
CHF chose to participate in the GLAM-Wiki initiative that helps cultural institutions share their resources with the world through collaborative projects with experienced Wikipedia editors. A Philadelphia-area Wikipedia editor was hired as a Wikipedian-in-Residence. This resulted in staff training on Wikipedia, and a systematic upload of high-quality collections images to WikiMedia Commons, and the creation of a monthly onsite cybercafe that included Wikipedia edit-a-thons.
The Wikipedian-in-Residence position was subsequently funded for a four-year term through a grant with the Beckman Foundation, and the Wikipedia content continues to be a major driver of web traffic to CHF web properties.
Strategic Linchpin 3: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens 3D Documentation
In March 2016, I had recently been contracted by Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, Fl., to give strategic shape to their digital initiatives. I reached out to David Morgan, a former colleague to brainstorm the evolution of a concept with which we had some common experience: 3D documentation. We both worked together several years at the National Park Service National Center for Preservation Technology and Training–an organization at the forefront of innovating technologies for heritage preservation. David has since moved on to become director of the NPS Southeast Archaeological Center in Tallahassee, Fl., and made several introductions to people who performed 3D documentation in Florida.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is a historic house museum and formal gardens located on Biscayne Bay in Miami. Its heritage resources are continually threatened from the climate (including sea-level rise) and inclement weather. It is also an extremely popular tourist attraction. Dual-purposing preservation documentation technology with visitor-facing interpretive technologies was an attractive idea for the institution.
Only a few people at the organization were aware of preservation documentation technologies. I wrote an explanatory document in summer 2016 that describes how the tech worked, what the advantages were and what partners could help achieve success (here’s a more general explainer based on that research). Among the benefits outlined were:
Preserve endangered heritage resources
Make resources accessible & tell their stories to visitors
Bridge preservation and interpretive technologies
Nurture academic/tech partnerships
Vizcaya formed a partnership with the University of Florida to prioritize laser scanning and photogrammetry documentation on resources that were of intense interest, but not accessible to the public. In January of 2017, UF completed scanning of the resources for preservation purposes.
In May 2017, the Knight Foundation awarded Vizcaya a grant for $100,000 to fulfill its vision to create visitor-facing virtual experiences based on 3D documentation of these resources. 3D documentation technology has come a long way in the past five years, and really, only now would we be attempting to make this visitor-facing element happen. This was made evident when I attended NCPTT’s 3D Documentation Summit in April. Many of the speakers there mentioned virtual experiences as the “next phase” of this technology. We’d already submitted our grant idea by then, but it was gratifying to know the leaders in this field were thinking the same way.
It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience seeing the idea take root at Vizcaya, knowing that the resources are being cared for, and the visitor experience as well. The values of Vizcaya’s leadership and staff, and the nature of Vizcaya itself, are what made 3D documentation its first strategic linchpin technology.
I’ve worked the past 13 years as an advocate for strategic digital initiatives at cultural institutions. Much of that time has been spent building buy-in, seeking resources, and working to keep the tech functioning. Oh yes … and building in time to see “what’s next,” then repeating the process. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to take a moment in gratitude when an idea takes root. Thanks to Knight Foundation, this is one of those moments.
The project combines many of the interests I and many of my Vizcaya colleagues share–historic preservation/conservation, technology, and helping audiences internalize the interpretation of heritage resources. That extends to Vizcaya’s leadership team, which has been incredibly supportive of this holistic approach to 3D documentation.
We’ve got a very talented partner team on the project as well. The University of Florida Historic Preservation Program captures our 3D documentation, including both photogrammetry and laser scanning. Our technology partner will unlock ways to adapt UF’s point clouds into kiosk-based and virtual reality products. Additionally, Florida International University’s Miami Beach Urban Studios will be strategizing the development of 3D prints based UF’s laser scanning/photogrammetry.
It’s an exciting time to work in this field. Five years ago, the tech was not mature enough to attempt this concept. Now, we’re confident that we’ll create a model that can other cultural sites can replicate. We’ll be documenting our progress in a GitHub site. While this concept was always an intention, the Knight Foundation’s entry into the museums and technology space advances our efforts by years.
If you’re interested in learning more about 3D documentation, here is a primer to get you started.
Cathy Byrd of Fresh Art International recently interviewed my colleagues about digital initiatives at Vizcaya. Hear what they had to say at the SoundCloud embed below:
It was 2006 when the digital heritage bug first bit me. I was working as public information officer at a remote National Park Service office serving a national constituency comprised of several very specialized technical fields. Oh, and there was no budget for outreach.
How to reach audiences, put the organization on the map, and perhaps feel a little less isolated?
The answer came at a Ragan public relations conference that October, when it was mentioned as an afterthought in one of the sessions: “watch the social media stuff. It’s going to change everything.”
I went back home to rural Louisiana and began investigating right away. To say things have changed a lot since then is an understatement. Scarcely two years later, the world had indeed changed. The place I was working got some notoriety for its social media involvement and our audiences grew.
Today, social media has become a big part of how we establish our identities. It’s the lens through which we view one another’s stories today, and will play a starring role in how history sees us in the future. So what has evolved in the attitudes and approaches in the “culture” of cultural heritage between 2006 and 2016?
We’re more open and transparent. Whether it’s our data or our inner workings, we’re documenting heritage preservation and putting it on platforms ranging from Github to Tumblr to Wikipedia and The Commons.
We’re valuing communication that goes beyond the broadcast model. My first podcast interview was with Nina Simon. Nina rocked my thinking regarding how museums facilitate visitor interactions with “me to we design.” Nina’s participatory ideas have gone on to influence the way hundreds of museums do business. That Skype interview led to many other podcast interviews I have had with people from around the world. A definite cure for the cultural isolation I had been feeling in those early days!
The process heritage preservation is as valued as the product. We can go into institutions and see conservators and archivists at work, and even see them talk about their work online.
Personal and professional interests are more blended. We’re becoming advocates for heritage preservation. Even when the tweets are presented as “views are my own,” we’re putting out content that reflects our values and beliefs, and heritage preservation is part of that no matter the context.
Technology doesn’t scare us (as much). People don’t traditionally go into cultural heritage fields because they are early adopters. But we’re learning to embrace it with digital preservation and innovative outreach methods.
We’re more focused on storytelling. That was always there to a great extent, I believe. But stories about cultural heritage are certainly more accessible now and people harness the power of online video, timelines and maps to support their narrative.
History is shared like never before. Because of its presence online, the emergence of mobile devices, and tools like tour apps, people can share these newly accessible stories at the touch of a button.
Increasing lack of self-determination. I worry about Facebook taking over the internet and feeding us its version of events when the emphasis used to be providing sets of tools among providers to create our own experiences. Remember the emergence of RSS and Mashups and curating your own experience? I was on the verge of tears when Facebook bought (and suffocated) Friendfeed, which I still mourn. It’s hard for cultural heritage to compete with pop culture in our increasingly algorithmic world.
When tech overshadows heritage. When I see my younger friends repeatedly switch between social media apps during any given conversation, I wonder if they will ever know the joy of being quiet and present (an even bigger worry for my 11-year-old daughter, whose device time I limit). A great part of respect and preservation of history lies in being present with it–with an object or at a site and letting your imagination roll with historical implications. Will we lose that?
Lack of knowing why we use these tools. Though my first product in this space was a strategic plan with audiences and outcomes, those are still relatively rare. As the adage goes–fail to plan; plan to fail (or spin your wheels in irrelevancy at least). Fortunately, some folks are putting their plans out there so no one has to reinvent the wheel.
Digital preservation is a ballooning issue. There are certainly innovators out there, but many organizations are still either putting a bandage on the situation or ignoring it entirely.
In the final analysis, I believe heritage preservation has been served well by the transformation of digital and social tools. We’ve evolved from a recalcitrant attitude toward social media interaction to one of acceptance. Along the way, we’ve found new audiences and allies to make the field stronger. Though the digital landscape is a bit more complex, these tools are still accessible to everyone–from history enthusiasts to small house museums to large-scale archaeological projects like Pompeii. We all have an opportunity to make our voices heard. The more we come together online to advocate for the cause, the stronger cultural heritage as whole will become.
This post was inspired by the WordPress blogging topic: Contrast
Finally, an explanation of APIs I can get my head around. This item from the Library of Congress blog uses examples from The World Digital Library, HathiTrust and OpenSearch to illustrate how APIs work in digital collections.
The Big Idea: “Offering an API allows other people to reuse your content in ways that you didn’t anticipate or couldn’t afford to do yourself … That’s what I would like for the library world, those things that let other people re-use your data in ways you didn’t even think about.”
The Revelation: a demo of the International Image Interoperability Framework in action as a research tool. See for yourself how to compare and annotate side-by-side digital objects from Harvard, Yale, the National Library of Wales and other participating partners.
The Strategy: Besides the API explanation, what I appreciate about this post is how LOC is using journalism practices by interviewing people who work their about their areas of expertise. A great tactic for deepening and sustaining content on an institutional blog!
For all the years I’ve worked in cultural heritage, there seems to always be one more tour app provider I never heard of. ActionShow is the latest. And though their blog looks a little spammy at first (and indeed, does sell a product), it hosts some good, clear-eyed analysis of the issues.
The post that drew me to the site was Who Wins? Mobile Apps vs. Mobile-Friendly Websites. The topics are a virtual FAQ for cultural heritage sites considering such a tool (i.e. all of them): how much does it cost, which is easier to use, what if you have inconsistent wi-fi, etc. Use them as a guide on the issues; just keep in mind they have an app service to sell.
If you haven’t been to visit the Digital Preservation Coalition’s Technology Watch Report page, now’s the time to discover it. DPC has published a 42-page “Preserving Social Media” report that should have a lot of cultural institutions thinking about why they aren’t preserving this growing part of their legacy. One reason is that it’s very hard, with rapidly shifting targets of technology, platforms and service agreements.
The Big Idea from this report (for now): “…the preservation of social media may best be undertaken by a large, centralized provider, or a few large centralized providers, rather than linking smaller datasets or collections from many different institutions.”
The Revelation: The North Carolina State University, Social Media Archives Toolkit is “a freely available web-based documentary toolkit that publicly documents our own effort to develop a sophisticated social media archival program in a way that may help guide cultural heritage organizations that are interested in collecting and curating social media content.”
Due to the complexity of these issues, it looks like we’re heading down a road where the archives profession will be start turning out specialists to deal with this ever-shifting landscape.
That’s it for today’s #digitalheritage stories. Feel free contribute your thoughts for a future edition through the comments, Twitter or email.
It is forecast that mobile web access will overtake web access by traditional computers within the next three years. That is – users of the Internet will be more likely to want to view your website on a handheld mobile device than from a desktop or laptop computer. But how many of us are confident that our website even displays properly across mobile devices?
If your website was designed even three or four years ago, it’s likely that it wasn’t designed with mobile phones in mind, and that could become a real problem for your organization in the years ahead. Various emulators for different mobile Operating Systems can be downloaded, but these can be tricky and time consuming to set up, so you may find it easier to go down to your local technology store and view your website on the various display models there.
The proliferation of mobile operating systems now widely used–alongside the need to support competing modern browsers as well as previous versions of the most popular browsers–means that there are more considerations that ever when developing your website. There are decisions to be made regarding the presentation of your information for different types of device, as well as decisions relating to the accessibility of the technologies used within your website.
One thing is for certain … If your website uses Flash technology to display animated graphics, video or even to embed audio content, this content will not be accessible on many mobile devices – and it will not be accessible on mobile devices made by Apple (iPods, iPhones, iPads).
Recently Adobe, the authors of Flash, announced that they would cease Flash development for mobile devices, essentially marking the end of support for Flash technology on the web. This decision was partly due to Apple’s decision not to support Flash on its devices. However, it is also due to the development of a new technology – HTML5.
HTML5 is the emerging standard for the web, and can be used to provide a lot of the functionality demanded by the modern web that was not available in earlier versions of HTML – such as animation, the presentation of audio and video and finding the geographic location of the website user.
HTML5’s companion technology, CSS3, allows much more flexibility in the design and graphical presentation of your website across a range of devices. This will allow you, for instance, to present a very different looking version of your website depending on whether the user is viewing it on a computer screen or small handheld device.
The good news is that HTML5 and CSS3 are supported across pretty much all modern mobile devices, and implemented across most recent versions of the main desktop web browsers. If you are looking to redevelop your website, you should check that your web developer is future-proofing your website to work with these emerging technologies.
HTML5 also has majors implication for Apps – those handy or entertaining little programmes or games you can download for your mobile device from App Stores.
The mobile marketplace has become incredibly fragmented, with a variety of different platforms to cater for – Apple’s iOS, Android, Blackberry OS and Windows Mobile. To develop an App that is accessible to the majority of your audience members would now require you to code that App for at least three mobile Operating Systems, and promote that App through a range of different App Stores. Unless you have money to burn, this isn’t within the reach of most cultural organisations. Neither does it represent money well spent in most cases.
However, HTML5 could be an ‘App killer’. HTML5 will allow you to leverage most of the functionality contained within Apps, including geo-location, and it is accessible across platforms. That is, you only need to develop one version of your HTML5 App, and it will work across all mobile devices, as well as desktop computers – and potentially all through your own website, without the need to submit or promote your App within a range of App Stores.
So, does this mark the death of the App? Well, not necessarily. App Stores are still a useful way of promoting and selling your premium App to a global audience that is not perhaps going to find your website of their own accord. It’s also in the interests of hardware providers like Apple and Blackberry to ensure that they retain the rights to distribute unique content for their hardware to help them retain a clear competitive edge in a marketplace that is growing ever more competitive.
However, in most cases HTML5 Apps delivered via the web will provide a more affordable and practical alternative to App development for cultural organisations with a good idea of the audience for their productions and services.
The first mobile web apps to emerge have been largely of the gaming variety. However, it is likely that we will see the first HTML5 web apps developed by and for cultural organisations in 2012.
Today we’re talking to Carla Schroer of Cultural Heritage Imaging. CHI is a small company based in San Francisco–the social media capital of the world–that’s doing some interesting things through photography and photosharing through Flickr. They focus on rock art and technologies related to photography in heritage research. In this podcast, we’ll explore how CHI is implementing its social media policy based on its strengths, priorities and available time.
Schroer: Cultural Heritage Imaging has a mission to drive both the development and adoption of practical digital imaging and preservation solutions for the cultural heritage community. (Audio timestamp #00:02:02.6#)
Guin: What are some of the heritage resources you’ve worked on that our audience may be familiar with? #00:02:04.3#
Schroer: We’ve done quite a bit of work on rock art, including a workshop focused on rock art. We’re also working with a number of museums, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the New York MOMA and the Pheobe Hearst Anthropology Museum in Berkley. In all those cases, our primary focus is with the conservation departments in those museums. #00:02:32.4#
Guin: So this is pretty technical. You do a lot of work with laser imaging and scanning of cultural heritage objects. #00:02:43.2#
Schroer: Everything we do is based on digital photography, so one of our core philosophies as an organizations is that we want to develop technology and get it in people’s hands that they can do themselves. We really don’t like the service provider model where you have to hire someone to come do things for you. We’re looking for technologies that people can do on their own. A couple of the primary ones that we’re working with right now are reflectance imaging, where you take a sequence of images with light in different positions around the object. Once you put that together in the computer, you can dynamically relight the object and bring out very very fine surface details of the object. This is one of the reasons we’re working with museum conservation, because getting very fine surface information is of great interest to that community. We also do work with photogrammetry and some other photographic-based imaging techniques. #00:03:37.4#
Guin: With audiences so defined, you wouldn’t ordinarily think of an organization like this needing to adopt social media as part of its communications strategy, but you’ve taken a proactive approach. #00:03:51.8#
Schroer: I sit here in San Francisco, surrounded by all these technology people. We’re not really innovators compared to them. But we always had a web presence and later an electronic newsletter. From there, it became clear that blogging and using Flickr to create sets and have photos people could find online made a lot of sense. We are just starting to foray into video and posting things on YouTube as well. The focus was to make it easier for people to find us through keywords and search. We know from watching our traffic that people are finding us that way. #00:04:46.9#
Guin: You’ve really emphasized photography, and tell stories very powerfully with it. What made you decide to go the “still image” route to connect with your audience? #00:05:08.9#
Schroer: Our work is based on digital photography, which means that we already have good cameras with us when we’re working. So still photography makes a lot of sense. Marlin Lum (http://www.c-h-i.org/about_us/marlin_lum.html), who is our imaging director, also does wedding and event photography, so a lot of the photography on the website is his work. He has a great photo-journalistic style. The rest of us are more studipophotographers–very focused on special needs for getting a reflectance image and photogrammetry sequence, where Marlin is more of a photo-journalist. #00:05:56.7#
Guin: You’re a little different than most folks that I’ve interviewed for Voices of the Past in that you’re not a solo blogger or someone doing this for the fun of it. You’re doing this because it’s rooted in the values of your company. And, though you’re a non-profit, you still have to make payroll. So, how does your social media work? Is it the responsibility of one person, or is you as a group working together? #00:06:23.0#
Schroer: It’s definitely us as a group and we even have volunteers that help. It’s a group blog and we have guest bloggers as well. We are currently updating our website to WordPress to make it easier for all of us to share web management duties as well. We’ve started using CulturalHeritageImaging.org, rather than C-H-I.org, which will allow us to transfer content to the new site while keeping the old site. We’ve had some incredible volunteer help, including a design group that offered to help us pick a theme at get it customized. We’ve also had a writer who’s been doing a lot of work editing existing materials. We made decisions on how to regroup the material, but were missing some “glue” on how to make it flow. #00:08:13.7#
Guin: What kind of topics do you blog and what is your audience for your posts? #00:08:20.6#
Schroer: It’s a group blog, so we’ll have equipment tips on there, we’ll talk about conferences we’ve been to or projects that we’re working on. We also invite people who are adopting technology, particularly reflectance imaging, to talk about their experience doing that. We have guest posts from the Smithsonian and the New York MOMA. We also post FAQs when we get questions. #00:09:14.5#
Guin: Beside your blog, what other social tools do you use? #00:09:14.5#
Schroer: Flickr has been big for us. We have started YouTube as well, including a video on our NCPTT grant project, and we have some additional videos on projects sponsored by the Kress Foundation with a museum conservation focus. Hopefully, the YouTube work will be similar to what happens with Flickr in that it will help people from a broader audience find us and be interested in the stuff we’re doing. #00:10:00.8#
Guin: Now that you’re branching out into these other forms of media, if someone wanted to visit your content there, what do you recommend they take a look at? #00:10:15.8#
Schroer: On our Flickr site, we make use of collections, so it’s easy to identify our work both by topic and project. #00:10:45.5#
Guin: You mentioned optimizing your content for search, so that you make connections. How do you optimize your content for the web through titles, tags and descriptions? #00:11:04.1#
Schroer: That’s what we’re working on right now as part of our website redesign. We’re doing some search analytics for what people are searching for. It’s a little tough, because some of the things we’re known for, like reflectance transformation imaging, are not something most people will go type into Google. So we’re working to figure out what people are searching for when they find us. And terms like “photography” and “cultural heritage” are so broad that it’s hard to optimize for those concepts. As we become more known in fields like museum conservation, that’s an area we’ll work to optimize. #00:11:59.6#
Guin: Since you’re transitioning to a new content management system, is there something that’s changing in your social media approach since you first began? #00:12:15.4#
Schroer: We are trying to tie some things together. For example, we have an e-mail list that we started about five years ago. So we use our social media blog posts, photo galleries and videos, as content to drive traffic that way. We also pick themes. So each month, we’ll focus on something like training and education, or rock art, etc., and use all of our platforms to emphasize that theme. It’s a more powerful way to help people learn about an aspect of our business. The biggest thing is that it always takes more time than you want it to. Because we’re small, we’re always thinking about how much time and effort should we put into these platforms and what kind of payback are we getting from them. We’ve stayed away from Facebook and Twitter at this point, not that we wouldn’t go there, but just because of the amount of time that it takes to really use them correctly.
Guin: What advice would you give to another small cultural heritage organization that’s just now getting into social media? #00:13:49.6#
Schroer: Blogging is an obvious first choice, because it’s easy to throw in pictures to help tell your story. To take that on, you have to have a person or two on your staff that are into it and feel that it’s fun. For us, Flickr made sense because we already had piles of photographs. We’re learning to use YouTube to tell our story in a more dynamic way. We had a couple of projects that specifically called for producing video. We’re also exploring the use of Screenflow [screencasting] technology to help explain concepts without people having to download data sets or a special view. They can quickly get a sense of what we’re doing. That will hopefully whet some appetite so that people want to download a data set and seeing what’s possible. #00:15:07.3#
Guin: What are your social media goals for Cultural Heritage Imaging? #00:14:42:00
Schroer: For us, it’s an expansion of why we started our website. We want people to learn about us, our work and the people who are partnering with us. It’s also a way for people to find out if they would like to partner with us, undertake a new technology or take one of our classes. As a non-profit, we also hope it will inspire people to volunteer or become donors. We have multiple audiences for our website, so we have multiple audiences for our social media as well.