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!


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