Friday, 25 April 2008

Wikis for the museum community as a whole

Just a quick post tonight on Wikis that are meant to be used by the museum community as a whole.

Museums Wiki

Started by Jonathan Bowen, the Museums Wiki homepage states that 'It is intended for museum personnel to participate in populating this wiki with museum-related material, typically in a form that is more detailed than suitable for inclusion in Wikipedia.'

The Wiki lists as its most visited content:

The Editor's pick includes an aritcle on Open Context which appears to have attracted a large number of edits.

The Wiki has 117 articles in total at present. I turned to Jonathan's paper at MW2007 called 'A Museums Wiki' to try and find out a bit more. Here I learnt a little bit more about the thinking behind the Museums Wiki: 'The main criterion for acceptability applicable on this wiki is that the material is museum-related. Of course the site is still an open wiki like Wikipedia, so no one person has overall control of the material. Any entry could be updated by others. Thus it is mainly useful where collaboration is being actively encouraged (e.g., by on-line museum visitors).'

It's interesting that the page with the most revisions, the main page, has still only had 69 revisions. I'm starting to get a picture of a Wiki that is probably a good idea, but that doesn't seem to be getting a huge amount of uptake. It seems like there are a lot of pages about museums, or about museum websites, or aspects thereof, about conference papers, and about key museum issues like education and accessibility. I don't get the feeling, and I hope someone will correct me if I'm wrong, that many museums have used it to engage their public. It seems to be more of a tool for museum professionals, by museum professionals.

Museum Virtual Worlds
This is a similar idea in that it claims (on its About page) to be 'a place for sharing information and resources for museum and other educational web developers about online virtual worlds.' i.e. it's a place for museum professionals to communicate with each other.

At this point, maybe because it's late on a Friday night, I got confused. In his MW 2008 paper, Jonathan described this wiki as:

'The Museum Virtual Worlds Wiki ( has been established as an on-line resource by the Exploratorium in San Francisco, USA. It is designed to be a virtual space for sharing among museum and other educational Web developers information and resources about on-line virtual worlds. The resource is powered by the Wikka wiki engine. It is necessary to register with the site in order to edit pages. This is a specialist professional wiki, not designed for members of the general public.'

However, when I go to the link now, it appears to redirect you straight to I wonder if they've taken the Wiki down or something. I@ll have to keep an eye out to see whether it's just a temporary thing or if they've got rid of it completely.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

"Collections" Wikis

I'm starting to feel a bit demotivated this week so I'm trying to keep myself interested by varying the tasks I'm doing. I think one problem is that I've read a good deal of the interesting stuff now, and I'm starting to have to plug the gaps in my reading with the dull stuff - it's not very stimulating!

Instead of reading or writing tonight, I'm going to look at some other museum wikis to prepare for my section that surveys how the museum, or rather heritage, sector is using wikis.

I won't really be focussing on the technical aspects (i.e. what wiki organisations have chosen to build their wiki in etc), others have covered that and I can't claim to be an expert. I'm more interested in what topics people are choosing to create wikis about, and who and how people are contributing. Content rather than technicalities basically.

Tonight I'll consider a couple of what I'll call 'Collecions Wikis' - i.e. Wikis which use objects or documents in their collections as a starting point for Wiki content. To start close to home, let's look first at the Science Museum Object Wiki. Frankie Roberto has blogged about this new project recently.

The Object Wiki was launched in March 2008.On its main page it introduces itself as follows: 'The website contains information about objects held in the museum's collections, selected from the Dan Dare exhibition. The website is a 'wiki', which means that anyone - including you - can contribute by adding information or your memories of the objects.' It currently contains 105 objects. At present, and correct me if I'm wrong, it appears that only Frankie and one of the Science Museum curators has changed any content. I don't think the Wiki has been officially launched yet though so this possibly explains why. The Science Museum's collections are arguably broader than the BPMA's and so might attract the attention of a wider audience. In addition, a massive museum like this one obviously has a large audience that cannot really be compared to the BPMA's, particularly with our lack of physical exhibition space at present. You could argue, however, that our specialist and easier-to-define audience may be easier to attract. Given that these wikis were launched roughly around the same time but are, in many ways, very different, it will be interesting to see how each progresses.

I notice that the object wiki doesn't have talk pages linked to each article, although it does have user talk pages. Our Wiki has neither, but as I have probably already mentioned, studies of Wikipedia view these as central to the building of a regularly editing community. I am currently trying to get around this by creating a google group to try and get to know who is editing the Wiki and interact with them. It's in its early stages at the moment but I've had a few members join this week after I mentioned it in a press release about the philatelic glossary.

The Nationals Archives 'Your Archives'
A similar 'Collections Wiki' was launched in 2007 by The National Archives in Kew. Again, it's homepage says 'The National Archives' online community of records users. These pages are for you to contribute your knowledge of archival sources held by The National Archives and by other archives throughout the UK.' Your Archives requires its users to register before they can contribute. Once registered, users can perform a variety of tasks outlined in the help section called: What can I contribute? You could describe the purpose of this wiki as basically catalogue enhancement. Users can provide transcripts of documents, expand on a catlalogue entry, or help others with research guidance. This is something I had considered using our wiki for in the future i.e getting users to write their own guidance on how to use our Search Room, or about our Museum Store. It would act almost like the alternative prospectuses that universities ask students to write.

As it's a bit more established than the Science Museum one, it's easier to see what kind of activity is going on. It's interesting to see that Guy Grannum (TNA staff member)'s talk page has got some questions on it so people are obviously using the talk pages to interact. The recent changes page shows some interesting activity with Guy Grannum blocking a certain Molly8888 who had added the content: '(deleted "Molly8888": content was: 'molly rocks shes sexy hot my msn is ...' A lot of the activity is by TNA staff Guy Grannum and Simon Dixon but other users are obviously creating content as well. The recent changes page also suggests that users don't just edit one page at a time, but add content to several pages. The 'Featured articles' section on the homepage is useful because it takes you to pages of particular interest - pages that have obviously worked. It is interesting that there are only 4 at present. If we assume that these are the pages that TNA sees as being parituclarly successful then we can assume that a particularly successful function of YourArchives has been people providing transcripts or summaries of the information within particular documents. I hadn't particularly considered doing this, but it could be quite a good idea. We're often being asked if we can provide more of our collections online, this could be a way of doing so.

That's it for tonight, I think this is a useful process so I'll perhaps explore some other museum wikis tomorrow.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Public sector Wikis

This page is a bit easier to write than Private sector wikis because I've already found a fair bit of stuff on the subject.

There were a few articles a while back that hailed the rise of wiki technology in the public sector.

I've already talked about Wiki or won't he? but I don't think I cited many of the examples he/she(?) mentions:

  • DoWire's E-Democracy Best Practices Wiki - describes itself as 'A collaborative drafting environment' . Guy says of it: 'a primary source for important developments concerning the convergence of democracy and the Internet around the world'
  • Bristol wireless - Guy says 'is a co-operative set up to develop a free-to-access broadband intranet using radio to communities around Birstol, UK, that find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide.'
  • Flu Wiki - 'a national online resource created to help local communities prepare for and perhaps cope with a possible influenza pandemic.' (Guy)
Then of course there's the famous, or rather infamous DEFRA Wiki which everyone uses as an example of why you should have some protection from SPAM. (Surely a caveat to this should be 'if you're a massive government department with a lot of people that don't like you!'? Or maybe I'm being naive) The DEFRA Wiki was brought down within a day because of the SPAM and malicious editing that it suffered. It is now available 'for reference purposes - but further editing is not encouraged'.

Another article, Public sector catches wikimania, mentions the e-innovations wiki. It takes only a few seconds to realise that this site is overrun with Viagra SPAM! It was supposed to be 'a "tester"... it may soon be modified and retargeted. The aim was to involve senior staff leading local e-government innovations, but only 20 out of some 200 invited to participate have done so.'

So that's a quick survey of public sector wikis. I'm sure more will appear as I read more.

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Private sector Wikis

Certified Twiki claims to be able to 'optimize your business', so I explored their site a little to see who was using it and how. They have some useful quotes from clients which do nicely for my purposes of brief summaries of how some big companies are using Wikis. Here are some examples:

Nokia: 'At Nokia we are always looking for new and improved ways of communicating. In use since 2002, TWiki has developed inside Nokia into a valuable tool for team collaboration, sharing of ideas and promoting innovation.' Harri Lakkala, Social Software Expert at Nokia

Motorola: 'There are many people at Motorola actively using TWiki for ISO 9000 compliancy, reporting, project management and other applications.' Kenneth Lavrsen, Engineering Manager, Motorola

Yahoo: 'We use TWiki internally to manage documentation and project planning for our products. Our development team includes hundreds of people in various locations all over the world, so web collaboration is VERY important to us. TWiki has changed the way we run meetings, plan releases, document our product and generally communicate with each other. We're great fans of your work!' Eric Baldeschwieler, Director of Software Development, Yahoo!

These are prime examples of the use of private wikis within an organisation, used to boost productivity and collaboration.

In August 2005, How To Use Wikis For Business' in Information Week Although wikis have been around for a decade, they're just starting to take off in business'. He later asks the question that I hoped he would ask: 'what companies are actually using wikis?'. He answers himself with the following paragraph:

Nokia has been using Socialtext wiki software for a year and a half to facilitate information exchange within its Insight & Foresight group. Yahoo uses Twiki software to help its development team overcome the problems associated with working from a variety of separate locations. Michelin China also uses Twiki as a knowledge management tool. Jean-Noel Simonnet, from the company's IT department, writes, "Our purpose was to share ALL the information, procedures, setup documents, so that we were less dependent on a particular staff member knowledge, so that nobody in the team has any document left in a personal directory."'

Twiki also has a success stories page which looks in a bit more detail at what some of its clients are using Wiki for. I really don't think I can justify going into the topic too deeply because of my word count, so I won't bother to explore them at the moment, at least I've noted the link.

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Wikis outside the heritage sector

I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently because I took some time to start writing a very rough first draft of the first few sections of my dissertation. I wanted to see where the gaps in my reading appeared once I started to write. Sure enough they appeared quickly.

One particular gap that I noticed appeared when I tried to write a brief survey of how wikis were being used outside the heritage sector. This section needn't be long so I'm going to spend this evening researching this a bit, and logging my findings here, then I can just write the entry up more formally.

So, I need to explore the following:

Private sector wikis
Public sector wikis
Wikis in education
Wikis in libraries
Wikis for the general public

I've linked to the ones that I've managed to research tonight but now I've got bored of this kind of necessary gap filling so I'm going to go back to something more interesting and will no doubt do the other bits at a later date.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Mike Ellis and Brian Kelly on web 2.0 at last year's MW conference

This is one of those inspiring articles which makes you nod your head vigorously as you read through. It confirmed a lot of the thoughts that were starting to form in my head on a number of topics and covered a great deal on many of the topics that I want to discuss in my dissertation.

The paper was presented at the Museums and the Web Conference 2007 by Brian Kelly and Mike Ellis and was called 'Web 2.0: How to Stop Thinking and Start Doing: Addressing Organisational Barriers'.

They talk a little about the challenges to do with authority that museums, and other organisations face when considering web 2.0. As web 2.0 puts users, rather than the organisation as the central focus, 'Organisational structures, departmental ways of naming things, the perceived 'value' of our assets, in fact, what the organisation has to say about itself - all are being challenged'. They point out that these are particularly difficult for museums to deal with since they are often 'historically highly respected or [have] a long-standing way of doing things.'

I think that's a good point that museums, perhaps more than other institutions, might be prone to be 'set in their ways' at times, simply by their very nature. I think perhaps BPMA's relative youth might explain why we are quite lucky in not having to overcome too many of these attitudinal barriers.

Although I am going to be careful in my dissertation not to get distracted by discussion on whether or not museums should use Wikis (this isn't the point of the exercise), I think Ellis and Kelly make a good point when they say 'The risk is that we do these things just because we can, or because everyone else is doing them, or even more dangerously, because it attracts funding.' They do make the point, later on that 'It is not always true to say that IT innovation should be deployed in response to clearly articulated user requirements. The take-up of the Web in the early to mid 1990s was identified due to the potential which organisations identified once they had seen the Web and identified its potential to support current business requirements and also to provide new services which hadn't been considered previously.'

They also put across a strong case for web 2.0 in museums: 'Museums must continue to pioneer on the Web. We have extraordinary content: niche, long tail content aswell as high-profile 'exhibition friendly' content...The opportunities we have as a sector for touching real people with what we do are immense. To do this we need to find technologies which bridge the gap between 'us' and 'them'.

They succintly summarise some of the barriers that might stop museums from wanting to embrace web 2.0 and note that 'cultural and political barriers are often the most challenging to respond to'. Education and marketing teams have difficulties with the idea ofUGC 'from both a brand and a 'trusted organisation' perspective.' 'Curatorial staff have additional, deep seated concerns about authority once user content is brought into the mix.'

Legal issues
On the legal side - 'Data protection, privacy, liability and accessibility issues, uncertainties regarding the lack of any formal contractual agreements - are often fears which surround Web 2.0. This may also give rise to concerns regarding the sustainability of such services, and disaster recovery strategies which may be needed if an external provider of a service becomes bankrupt or changes the terms and conditions governing use of the service to the detriment of the user orgnisation.'

They point out, however, that the potential for abuse isn't always as great as you might first assume: 'User Generated Content is usually not the scary "all we'll end up doing is editing endless obscene comments 24/7" beast that it first appears.' They also point out how useful the community can become in stopping abuse: 'asking end-users themselves to moderate content have also been employed successfully on many sites.' This made me realise that we can probably make more of this to our users and point out to them that it's alright, certainly at first, if all they do is help us to moderate it and to correct typos. This is particularly true in the light of my post a few days ago about contributors to Wikipedia usually starting small. One issue I came across when trying to do this today, however, is that I don't want to admit to our users that we fear that our Wiki might be overrun with abuse, to an extent that we cannot cope with it on our own. Of course I should give them some credit as they have probably already guessed that it's a risk, but should I really be admitting that we think we might need help dealing with it? I guess it's all about how you word it.

Data capture
They even talk about data capture (this article just got better and better as I read through!). A good point for my methodology section: 'Not only are there ill-defined ways of measuring success, technically, but also agreed standardds are often non-existent.'

I was interested in what the article said about the Gartner hype curve which I'd not heard of before. It'll be interesting to see how much the BPMA Wiki follows its pattern in its own modest way (although obviously at present 'hype' might be a bit of a strong term!). According to their analysis of the curve the following can be observed:
  1. 'Early adopters are little or no challenge. These are the people who are technically savvy; those who 'get it'...'
  2. After the early adopters, comes a chasm
  3. Then the graph increases rapidly to a 'peak of inflated expectations' - 'Here, media hype has expanded and extended the original reach of the technology to realms often way beyond those which are actually possible.'
  4. 'Shortly afterwards the technology begins an inevitable descent into the trough of despair'
  5. It all ends happily on the curve though which proceeds away at a gradual incline towards that hallowed position: 'Service Plateau'!
In the conclusion, they point out that 'It is only by working with these technologies 'in the wild' that we begin to understand exactly what the benefits and risks of these approaches are.'

Overall, in one article, I managed to find some excellent quotes on many of the topics I'll be covering - bingo!

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BPMA Wiki to be mentioned at MW2008

I'm really pleased that Jonathan Bowen has agreed to mention the BPMA Wiki in his mini-workshop on Wiki Software and Facilities for Museums at the Museums and the Web Conference in Montreal this week.

I noticed that Jonathan had asked if he could mention the new Science Museum Object Wiki in the workshop on one of the pages on his Museums Wiki. Someone had very kindly linked to the BPMA Wiki in their online communities section (I'm not sure how they found out about it) and I had been trying to contact Jonathan already by email, but to no avail.

Anyway, the BPMA Wiki now has an entry on the Museums Wiki which will help Jonathan talk about it on Friday. I look forward to hearing how it goes.


Monday, 7 April 2008

Theories of participation in Wikis

I read two articles last week which put forward some useful theories about what makes people contribute to Wikipedia. They were grounded in theories of participation which were also quite interesting.

The first article is Becoming Wikipedian: Transformation of Participation in a Collaborative Online Encyclopedia by Bryant, Forte and Bruckman. It cites the theoretical description by Lave and Wenger called 'Legitimate peripheral participation (LPP).

Bryant et al. say: 'According to LPP, newcomers become members of a community initially by participating in peripheral yet productive tasks that contribute to the overall goal of the community.' In Wikipedia this means people tend to start off making really small edits, correcting typos etc.

Wenger identified three characteristics of communities of practice which Bryant et al. feel are present in Wikipedians: 'community members are mutually engaged, they actively negotiate the nature of the encyclopedia-building enterprise, and they have collected a repertoire of shared, negotiable resources including the Wikipedia software and content itself.'

LPP also suggests that 'If newcomers can directly observe the practices of experts, they understand the broader context into which their own efforts fit.'

As Wikipedians grow in confidence and experience, their participation also grows. Bryant et al.'s findings demonstrate that 'For ... "Wikipedians"[i.e. the confident, experienced users], the Wikipedia as a whole becomes more important than any single article or set of articles....their motivation seems to become rooted in a concern for the quality of the Wikipedia itself....Many Wikipedians perceive their work as contributing to a greater good, offering knowledge to the world at large. When asked why they contribute to the Wikipedia, many Wikipedians recognized the project's overarching goals, the appeal of community, and perceived contributions to society.'

'Wikipedians described feelings of personal responsibility for the quality of their contributions to the site and its contents.'

The second article is by Schroer & Hertel and is called 'Voluntary Engagement in an Open Web-based Encyclopedia: Wikipedians, and Why They Do It'. They cite Klandermans' model (1997, 2003) on social movements: 'ACcording to this model, the motivation to participate in a social movement depends on subjective expectancy and importance of several motives, which can be categorized into three classes, as well as identification processes: Elements of the first class, social motives, refer to expected reaction of relevant others, such as friends, family, or colleagues'.

THey also note that 'interest and "having fun" during an activity are important elements of intrinsic motivation.'

Another interesting bit:
'Volunteers are generally more satisfied if their engagement meets important needs (Clary et al., 1998; Houlse, Sagarin & Kaplan, 2005)'

Some of the motives cited by the people they interviewed for contributing:

  • 'I like working with text'
  • 'I enjoy writing'
  • 'power to share knowledge'
  • 'cover topics that are omitted in other encyclopedias'
  • 'create a heritage for our children'
  • 'timeless project to collect knowledge'
  • 'compensation for unrealized career aspirations'
This is only a brief overview of these articles but I think it's useful to make a note of them because it might give me a better idea of what to play on when trying to get people onto the BPMA Wiki.

I think the lessons to learn from them are the importance of community, the feeling of personal pride in what they have created, the desire to share knowledge and the fact that people are likely to start off small and gradually do bigger edits as they gain confidence.

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Friday, 4 April 2008

Data capture

According to the schedule that the department set us, this month should be spent capturing data. We were supposed to spend the first month reading, this month capturing data, the next two months analysing the data and the last two months writing. I think in practice it might not work out quite like that. A lot of my data will collect itself once I've set up the mechanisms, and I think I can probably analyse it as I go along. I'm going to carry on reading for now, and collect data over the next three months as I think it'll give a better sample. The Wiki's just getting started and to collect data just over this month would not get very good results.

I've chosen four pages on the BPMA Wiki to track the progress of. I wanted four fairly different types of page, that could be advertised in different ways and which would provide a different experience for the user. I wanted pages that would attract different types of user as well.

The pages I am using are as follows:

  1. Philatelic glossary - this is the 'factual' page. I think it's the one that will most likely draw on the lessons I've learnt from reading about Wikipedia's success. It lends itself to the collaborative improvement of a piece of writing. It is for a specialist audience, that we know exists. It is also an opportunity to launch a piece of text that is already written (albeit in need of improvement) and therefore provides less of a daunting task for new users than a completely blank canvas.
  2. Wartime letters - I wanted a page that could be used by non-specialist audiences. This page links to our Last Post exhibition, about the Post Office and the First World War, which will begin its two year tour of various museums around the country at the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms in November 2008. The exhibition, like the education packs that preceded it, touches on the enormous importance of the Post Office in maintaining communication between the troops and their loved ones. I wanted to use this to draw on people's stories, both reminiscences about past conflicts, and contemporary experiences of the importance of the post in a wartime context. I hope that we will be able to market this page to a wider audience, including reminiscence groups, veterans' associations, and the wider public.
  3. Working for the Post Office - this is a page that I had already set up and which has had some success, so far mainly through contacts that I have asked favours from. Again, it will attract contributions from a more specific audience than wartime letters but nevertheless has potential because there are a surprising number of people who have worked for the postal service at one point or another. I may choose not to push this page as widely as the others as I want to demonstrate the need to really push pages if they are going to work.
  4. Mount Pleasant Sports and Social clubs - this will attract contributions from a very specific group - namely workers in Mount Pleasant sorting office. I wanted to have one topic where I could test out how well it worked if I got a group of people together in a room and helped them make Wiki contributions. This topic is ideal because it shouldn't lend itself to too much negativity about Royal Mail as an employer (something the BPMA cannot be seen to endorse) but will allow one of our key target audiences, Royal Mail staff, to contribute. Royal Mail run Work-Time Listening and Learning sessions and have computer suites available for these purposes and so they should hopefully provide a good opportunity for a captive audience with access to computers and a certain amount of knowledge. It will hopefully also be a good opportunity for collaboration.
I have set up a spreadsheet to capture various bits of data about these pages. In terms of quantitative data I will look at the number of page views each page gets over three months. I will also log how many edits each page receives, and distinguish between edits that I am making and ones made by others. This will help demonstrate how one of the practical challenges of Wikis for museums is the amount of staff time needed to get a Wiki off the ground. I am aware that this number of edits is not a particularly reliable statistic. I am counting the number of edits by the number of emails I get saying that changes have been made to a page. I personally am quite cautious about clicking the save button and therefore I might appear to be making more edits than others doing the same amount of work on a page as me. I can't see any way round this, however, so I'll just have to account for it in the discussion of the results.

I'm also keeping track of how many hours I spend working on the Wiki, again as a measure of the staff time involved in projects like this.

In terms of qualitative data, the "/diff" pages will be useful in that they show what edits people are making. I will be able to assess whether people are changing other people's text, or simply contributing their own, how much text they're contributing, what they're contributing etc etc. I will also be able to use these to demonstrate issues like the potential for abuse, how much administrators should moderate content etc. I'm also keeping a note of all the ways in which I publicise each page. Comparing these to the quantitative figures will help to measure both which topics work best, and which methods of marketing Wikis work best.

Lastly, I hope to talk to a few sector peers who are doing similar work about the kinds of challenges that they are facing so that I can compare them with the ones that I am facing. This is particularly important because the BPMA is, in many ways, quite an unusual organisation. If Frankie Roberto doesn't mind, he may well be my first port of call since he is in charge of the new Science Museum Object Wiki.

I'd welcome any comments on this methodology. My background is in History and so my previous dissertation research hasn't really involved the same kind of data capture (although there are similarities). The above is a rough draft, I expect my methodology will get refined over the next few months, but at least it's a start!

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The mammoth power of Wikipedia

I've just had my first awe-inspiring encounter with Wikipedia this morning. I had read elsewhere that you had to be really careful when linking to your own Wiki from Wikipedia because they will clamp down on anything trying to promote things, or trying to compete with Wikipedia etc. I wasn't trying to be difficult, I just found that there was no philatelic glossary on Wikipedia, although there was a category called philatelic terms, and I thought I would experiment with linking from some of the philatelic terms pages to our new philatelic glossary on the BPMA Wiki. Sadly, within 15 minutes I'd say, I got a very polite message from a Wikipedian informing me that my link that I had added on a particular page didn't comply with their linking policy and therefore he had removed that link. Within seconds all the other links I'd just posted had been removed too.

It's a shame. I really wasn't trying to compete with them. I just wanted to harness some of the willingness of that massive community, particularly the ones who might have philatelic knowledge, and use it for our little Wiki. The notion that I might be trying to compete with them is completely ludicrous as we never could! Anyway, duly chastened, I will have to find another way to promote the Philatelic Glossary!