Web 2.0 Sites
This week the Beta site for the Informal Science website (beta.informalscience.org) was launched. Ideum, in collaboration with CAISE (The Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education) and the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley, designed the site and compiled the resources of three previous educational sites into a single, comprehensive online destination for informal science education (ISE) professionals. The site was developed with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Along with a new and improved design, the Informal Science website features an active member community, interactive guides, a robust project and research search engine, discussion forum, in-depth wiki and much more.
Learn more about the Informal Science web project in our portfolio.
Back in 2006, when we started blogging, we weren’t really sure where it would lead. At the time, we were interested in Web 2.0 technology and how it might be best used by the museum field. Five years, 259 posts, and 3,561 comments later, the changes we’ve seen to both the web and the museum fields have been dramatic.
In March of 2006, we conducted a survey of museum blogs and community sites and found 26 sites, most of them begun within a few months of the survey. Blogging in the museum world was so new that the LA Times did a story on museum blogs that summer. In 2007, we conducted a follow up survey and I co-authored a paper for Museums and the Web with Seb Chan from the Powerhouse Museum. We found 111 museum blogs. In 2008, we stopped counting.
Blogging and the next wave of social media are now commonplace and today most museums use these technologies in one way or another. Back in 2006, it required “Radical Trust” for museums to get involved with social media.
Since 2006, Ideum has undergone some major changes too. When I wrote that first blog post, we had just moved to New Mexico, we had four employees and most of the work we did was focused around Web development. We still do Web development today, but we are also involved in a number of other pursuits.
We develop many more exhibits for the floor than we did back in 2006. We’ve created mobile applications for the iPhone and we are working on one for Android right now. We’ve released GestureWorks, a commercial multitouch software package, and we have a line of hardware products too. We are involved in a number of government-sponsored educational projects; we’re currently working with both NASA and NOAA and running the Open Exhibits project, which started just last September and is supported by NSF. From radical trust to radical change.
Thanks for reading.
The ExhibitFiles Website is a community site for exhibit designers and developers. Almost three years ago now, Ideum worked with the Association of Science -Technology Centers and Independent Exhibitions to help design and develop the site. Created with funding from the National Science Foundation, the purpose of the site is share design practices and provide access to resources that can improve exhibit design. Last week, we launched a new feature called “Bits,” which best described on the ExhibitFiles site itself:
A Bit is an individual media element that you share with your peers. It might be a photo you take of an inspiring exhibit element or design approach, or it could be a prototype you’d like people to comment on — anything you can illustrate with a photo, video, or audio file. You can also just post a question if you’re looking for help from others.
Along with support for uploaded files, you can embed flickr photos or YouTube videos. We will be adding support for PDF documents and audio files in coming weeks. The custom-developed Bits feature and the site itself was developed using Ruby on Rails.
You can try it out at: www.exhibitfiles.org/bits.
There’s more on the Bits launch on the ExhibitFiles blog and Paul Orselli’s ExhibiTrick blog. You can learn more about the ExhibitFiles site development in the Ideum portfolio (A custom-built community site for exhibit developers).
We’ve just launched a redesign of our portfolio site and blog. The site aggregates content from our Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube sites, embedding it in our new website. For now, we’ve added simple links to our Facebook and Linked In pages. We may expand our integration with these sites in the future. Along with extending our reach into these social networking platforms, the site is easier to maintain and update.
The site is powered by WordPress. While this is hardly revolutionary, having WordPress work as our de facto content management system gives us a flexible platform for our Web presence. Our portfolio and products are custom “pages” in WordPress. The WordPress plug-ins Tweet Blender and Flickr Feed Gallery display tweets and photo thumbnails on the front page.
The portfolio itself contains descriptions for 14 projects. We’ve gone with a new editorial style for presenting project descriptions along with an improved layout. Each project description contains links to either YouTube videos or Flickr photos (or screen shots). We use Adobe Flash to integrate these media items into each portfolio piece. “Custom fields” in WordPress are used as hooks to connect to remote content and control the layout.
Five of the descriptions in the portfolio are for new projects we’ve worked on this fall and winter. These projects all involve either multitouch and/or multiuser technology. The new projects are:
- Visitors explore the electromagnetic spectrum on a custom 100″ multitouch table
- Teams of museum visitors guide their ships to an extra-solar planet
- “Magic Planet” exhibit shows visitors global images on a spherical display
- A multitouch “Collection Viewer” presents surprising connections to museum visitors
- Visitors explore “Arctic Choices” with a multitouch, multiuser mapping exhibit
The redesign of the portfolio site is our 4th since the company was founded in late 1999. Here ‘s a look back on some of the earlier designs.
We just learned that the KQED Quest website won the Best Use of Web 2.0 / New Media Award at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. We worked closely with the KQED Quest team to develop this site, which makes extensive use of Google Maps and Flickr photos “mashed” into visually rich map applications.
Digital New Zealand is an initiative to “test new ways to create digital content, collect and share existing digital content and build smart, freely available search and discovery tools.” While Digital NZ is just getting started, today they’ve launched the Memory Maker to mark the 90th Anniversary of the signing of the Armistice ending World War One.
This interactive online video mashup uses EditorOne to let visitors create their own short videos using historic video images, still photographs, artifacts, music and audio clips. The content for the mashup video editor comes from the National Digital Forum which includes museums, historical societies, archives, and libraries from across the country. This marks the first time EditorOne has been used as way to connect together and highlight multiple collections. The full Digital New Zealand project launches in December. You can learn more and sign up for updates on the Digital NZ site.
In designing Websites that have a social dimension we’ve learned the importance of developing a social networking plan. While the standard methods of Web design -such as wireframes and mockups- are still part of the process, we’ve been concurrently working on plans for social interaction.
Back in 2006, when we developed the American Image site, which uses Flickr, we learned the hard way that failing to properly plan for social interaction can have negative ramifications. The American Image: The Photographs of John Collier Jr. was one of the first examples of a museum using Flickr to house a primary collection. We created a mashup that pulled the images from Flickr into the American Image site.
At the time, we were new to Flickr and failed to fully appreciate all of its workings. The critical mistake we made was a simple one: we put most images into Flickr all in the same week. (See: John Collier Jr. Photostream.) While this served the mashup well -we had a well-populated online collection and a lot of images in the shooting script educational activity- we missed out making a bigger splash in Flickr itself.
Anyone who is familiar with Flickr understands that it takes time to connect with contacts. By contributing photographs over time you’re more likely to make more friends and you have a better chance of having some of your photographs make it into some of the more visited areas of the site. For example, Leonard Gagnon’s Daughter’s knitting was a top photograph on Flickr on October 26, 2006.
If we put out 15 photographs a week for 18 months, it is likely would have had even more success in expanding our audience in Flickr. While this is just one example of a lost opportunity, it does point out some of the issues involved in creating mashup sites. We’ve used this experience to help us think more broadly about planning for sites that rely on social interaction. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Understand the Platform
Understanding the workings of any social site you might be connecting with is the key to creating a successful plan. The details are important. How do you make friends and contacts? How do groups work? How do you get “featured” on the site? Getting featured can mean huge traffic. A perfect example is the Ontario Science Centre’s Space Toilet Video, which was featured on YouTube.
How you interact on these sites can make a great deal of difference in how successful the project may become. Each type of social networking site is different; understanding a particular site’s culture and workings can make a difference to the effectiveness of your approach. For the American Image project, we connected with a number of influential Flickr groups, including: Black and White, The Maine Pool, Professional Photographers, New Mexico Photos by New Mexico Photographers, and many others. This outreach helped us find Flickr members that had shared interests.
For another Flickr-based project that we’re currently designing, we’ve already identified the groups in Flickr we intend to join and to which we intend to contribute. We’ve also looked at how we will “tag” our images to make sure that they are more easily found. In general, we are examining all aspects of our presence in Flickr. Everything from our profile, to how we’ll manage our contributions, to how we might interact with others has been outlined. We continue to honing networking plans as we work through the design mockups.
Make Time Estimates
It is easier to estimate how long it will take to build a site. than it is to estimate how long it might take to maintain it. The social aspects of these types of projects are unpredictable; we never know how many people may come by, or how they will interact. Still, we can try to estimate how long certain tasks may take. Beth Kanter, on her blog, wrote a post and created a chart on “How Much Time Does It Take To Do Social Media?” However, once you’ve decided on a platform you’ll still need to break down individual tasks to try get an accurate estimate of time.
One important consideration is: even repetitive tasks can take up a great deal of time if they are multiplied. For example, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MoCA) has a MySpace page with 11,500 friends and counting. Just the act of approving friends can take some time (think 11,500 clicks). Of course, this doesn’t even include answering email inquiries or other types of interaction with “friends.”
Having 11,500 friends in MySpace is a good problem, but it does bring up the unpredictable nature of interaction in these types of spaces. In our new Flickr project, we’ve estimated the time it will take to respond to requests and have tried to estimate how many we might expect. The difficulty here is the number of requests not the time it takes to respond. There are other wholly predictable parts of the plan, including how many photographs we intend to post, and how many groups we intend to join. Separating the predictable from the more dynamic aspects of social media is important in planning.
Planning for Problems?
It is easy to envision how visitors might abuse the system or cause problems with your presence in a networking site (after all, this may be the single most common excuse keeping museums out of social spaces). Inappropriate comments-either inaccurate ones or worse-happen, and we need to be ready for such occurrences. Still, planning for these potential negative interactions shouldn’t be allowed to dominate the process.
Also, it is important to remember that sites like YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, and others have mechanisms that help moderate their respective environments. For example, we’ve yet to see an inappropriate comment associated with photographs for the American Image project, nearly two years later. For the most part, good things happen when people interact online and planning for positive interactions and success is important as well. (How does one respond if one gets 10,000 requests for friends? MoCA got volunteers involved.)
Authenticity and Critical Mass
Pre-planning for social interaction not only prepares you (and your client) for how much time and effort might be required to maintain a presence, it can also lead to a more effective approach. In creating our new plan for engagement on Flickr, we’ve found popular and relevant groups and have identified influential online community members, who we think will have a strong interest in connecting with our project. In addition, we’re looking outside of Flickr and developing a strategy to get museum supporters to join, hopefully strengthening ties with current members of the museum.
Long term, we’re looking at creating a blog, some associated widgets, and perhaps a Facebook group focusing on the photographs in the collection. How you extend a presence from one social site or format into another might be a good topic for another post.
Making a more conscious effort to manage your presence in social networking sites means you’ll be more thorough, more thoughtful and hopefully be able to maximize opportunities to connect with others. Still, planning can only go so far. In practice, unpredictable encounters will arise, as will challenges and new opportunities. The presence has to be authentic, it can’t all be worked out ahead of time; after all we are talking about social interaction here.
Our new Flickr-based mashup, will be an interesting experiment. Unlike the American Image, this project will rely primarily on user-contributions (to a Flickr group). Obviously, our connections with others in Flickr and their photographs and stories will go a long way toward determining the success of the project.
Taking advantage of the opportunities presented is a critical issue for museums, who generally have small audiences. There is a need to try to reach a critical mass of visitors, which can lead to more meaningful interaction online. We’ll post more about this project and role planning played later next month.
Along with looking at Google analytics, Google crawl stats, and other server-based statistics we’ve been tracking RSS Mixer’s Alexa Ranking. The figures we see on Alexa are certainly encouraging, even at this early date. (RSS Mixer has been out there for less than a month.) Yesterday, RSS Mixer was ranked the top 23,527 site in the world on Alexa. With literally hundreds of millions of Websites out there we’re very pleased to see this.
Alexa Rankings are determined by data sent from users who have the Alexa Toolbar and “other diverse traffic data sources.” It is a somewhat imperfect from a statistical point of view–it is not as accurate as server-side statistics. Still, Alexa does provide the ability to roughly compare the popularity of various sites. There’s more about Alexa Rankings on their site.
The other statistical information we have indicates the same strong growth for RSS Mixer. Over the next few months, we’ll see if can be sustained.
The public alpha for RSS Mixer has now been up for a week. The site started out with around 18,000 feeds in the directory. These were added over the last year, since the launch of the initial prototype last summer. The count now stands at 24,000–a relatively large increase for our first week. This total number of feeds translates into nearly 3 million posts in the RSS Mixer directory.
A mention in Mashable! (RSS Mixer Makes Mashup Easier), along with a number of mentions in China (most notably Web Share 2.0) and a post in a Spanish language blog (Geeks Room) among others–helped add nearly 3,000 feeds in just 24 hours. Things have slowed down a bit since, but we are still serving up a lot of pages and supporting an ever-increasing number of widgets and feeds.
When the prototype site went live last year, we were swamped and the site was crushed by spikes in traffic. This time around the structure of the application and the database is much improved. Not only can we handle the load, the time it takes to deliver pages is vastly improved. Take a look at the chart below from Google Crawl stats. This shows how Googlebot (which indexes pages) has spidered the RSS Mixer site over the last 90 days. You’ll notice as the Alpha site replaced the prototype there is a huge spike in activity, as new pages are added to Google. Check out the bottom graph and you’ll see the download time fall off the chart!
This drop-off shows the performance improvement in RSS Mixer. Of course, if we continue to add 6,000 feeds and approximately 750,000 post every week–we’ll have to revisit our site structure in the coming months.
Mashable! (the #13 ranked blog in the world, according to Technorati) has just written a very positive article about RSS Mixer. Our launch last week competed with Google’s Chrome release, so it has taken a while for the story to get out there. (The lesson here is never release anything when Google has got something new to share.)
In the article, the writer, Doriano “Paisano” Carta, goes through many of RSS Mixer’s features including; widget output, OPML support, and the Firefox Add-on. After all the work, Ideum has put into the site over the last year, it was nice to see positive comments like this one…
“It is extremely easy to mix and mashup many RSS Feeds in no time at all. The interface is well-designed and helps make the process very simple.”
There’s more at Mashable! see RSSMixer Makes Mashups Easier,
Update: You can listen to the story at Pimp My News!