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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