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Dulwich OnView

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Dulwich Picture Gallery
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 Dulwich OnView: a Friends blog that attracts new audiences to Dulwich Picture Gallery Description of the project

 Dulwich OnView (DOV) is a unique example of a museum blog magazine run by volunteers from the  Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery (DPG) and the local community in Dulwich, with articles concerning both the museum and the local community. This combination increases exposure and interest in DPG, located in southeast London, helping to attract new audiences at effectively no cost to DPG. It is sometimes seen as an ‘unofficial’ museum website and this deliberate informality has allowed the site to be a thriving and dynamic facility for the local community in Dulwich, with a strong connection to DPG.

Overall objective of the project

DOV magazine celebrates the people and culture of Dulwich and the surrounding areas of south London, together with DPG itself. The underlying object of DOV is to support DPG with a dynamic online magazine that encourages local community involvement. In doing that, it also acts as a focus for the local community itself, whether or not they are interested in DPG. Often this leads to involvement in DPG subsequently that may not have taken place otherwise. The dynamic nature of the DOV website (, with new articles, often informal in nature, appearing twice-weekly, and associated events such as competitions (e.g., see Figure 1) is in contrast to the more formal and slow moving official DPG website (

An objective of DOV is to fill this gap in the service provision of DPG in a way that could not easily be done by DPG itself, since DOV is able to act independently from DPG, but in a trusted role due to its links through the Friends of DPG.

Strategy for implementation

DOV has been implemented by a core group of volunteer editors with a varied skill set. The expertise needed, and that has been gathered, includes editorial, management, networking, and technical skills. The magazine has been implemented using the standard WordPress blog publishing technology that is freely available online ( The aim is to minimise costs but maximise the free use of local people as volunteers. This has been very successfully achieved during over two years of operation since January 2008.

The ever-growing number of articles on the DOV website is an increasingly important resource and many of them are still relevant. A web interface redesign is planned to allow easier access to the articles by dividing the magazine into sections. It is planned that one of these should be specifically dedicated to DPG to allow a more effective interlinking of the DOV and DPG websites.

Method deployed

DOV has many volunteers involved with its running to a greater or lesser extent. There are a core of editors and writers who administer and contribute to the magazine. Informal meetings are held to organize the management of DOV, and the possibility of real-world social networking as well as online community building is a significant incentive for the volunteers involved.

There are two interns working for DOV, one of whom continues to edit even though she has moved to Brussels. The other is a third year student in Arts Management at London South Bank University and her work with DOV is part of her coursework. One school student has written some articles before returning to school. Other contributors have included school leavers about to start university and young people wishing to work in illustration, who provide material for articles. DOV acts as a platform for three authors and two professional photographers, giving them online exposure and the prestige of being associated with DPG, even if indirectly.

Articles are submitted for publication via email on an entirely voluntary basis with no payment involved. There are a number of regular writers, but anyone may submit an article. These are checked by an editor and then scheduled for publication on a Tuesday or Friday each week. Articles are normally only lightly copy-edited if needed and a chatty informal style is encouraged.

Outcome, including formal evaluation

The DOV website went live in January 2008 and was demonstrated at the Museums and the Web conference in Montreal, Canada, in April 2008. Since then, DOV has seen steadily increasing visitor numbers to over 10,000 views per month. It can be noted that December and January are slightly quieter months each year. There is anecdotal evidence that when there are blog posts about future events, ticket sales suddenly increase.

28% of visitors arrive at DOV through reciprocal links from organizations about who DOV has written articles. 25% come from local information websites and discussion forums. 14% arrive from the main DPG website via many different links to DOV articles on the site. 12% are from other blogs and 9% from Facebook, 4% from Flickr, and 2% from the Twitter micro-blog ( A dedicated DOV entry ( on Wikipedia was created in August 2009, again by a volunteer, and 3% of visitors have come from this source, even though it is a relatively recent addition.

There are many outgoing links on DOV. 33% of outgoing visitors follow a link to the DPG main website or Flickr site. 20% go to the DPG home page, the “what’s on” page or an exhibition page; the other 13% go to Flickr. The figure of 33% travelling from DOV to DPG compares to 14% in the opposite direction.

With regard to search terms, “Dulwich OnView” and variants are not the most popular keywords in practice. In fact, “flamenco” is top with 22%. There are articles on flamenco and it is likely that this page has been linked from another popular website or published in some effective way. There are also flamenco-related web pages on the DPG website. Variants of “Dulwich On View” are only the third most popular search term at 11%. Explicit searches for DOV have increased with time. The term “Dulwich Picture Gallery” is substantially down the list of popular keywords at 2%. Even though 98% of visitors arriving at the DOV website through a search have not selected “Dulwich Picture Gallery”, 33% of onward clicks go to DPG, which is a free benefit for the Gallery.

The site is the subject for a study in the context of an ongoing postdoctoral study of online museum-related community websites in the context of the social science Community of Practice framework, along with four other internationally renowned museums and art galleries. A redesign of the web interface is planned and this has been subjected to a formal usability review study, through voluntary but professional effort. DOV will be demonstrated again at the Museums and the Web conference in Denver, USA, in April 2010, and more detailed information on the two studies will be available in an associated paper on the MW2010 website (

Creativity and originality

DOV is different from other museum-based blogs in a number of ways. Importantly, it is independent from the museum. DOV is run by the community for the community, with DPG at its heart. This gives it a sense of belonging within the local area and makes it part of people's everyday lives. The DOV website is discovered and used by people not looking for (and perhaps not knowing about) DPG. However, they become introduced to DPG through the associated articles and numerous links on the website. DOV is not dominated or controlled by official authority, although it still benefits from formal recognition and support from DPG. This makes the content, created by independent volunteers, more interesting and believable, giving it the ability to gain public trust and further involvement from the local community. DOV uses no DPG resources and DPG staff are under no pressure to submit articles on a regular basis, although they do so when time permits. DOV encourages anyone to contribute content. Although a limited number of people have editorial access, hundreds have written articles and produced photographs and even films for this hybrid blog/magazine.  Contributors come from a far wider demographic than the physical visitors to DPG. These contributors often tell their peers about their article, who then in turn discover DPG, using the viral effect that networked social media enables.

Cost-effectiveness and budgets

Dulwich OnView is run with minimal budget by volunteers, in association with the Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery. There are no financial costs to DPG itself. The costs for the web technology are minimal, and can easily be covered by sponsorship from local businesses directly by the editors. All contributors are volunteers, so this promotional tool comes at no cost at all to DPG. Hence it is an extremely cost-effective way of publicising DPG, with an effectively infinite ROI for the Gallery in financial terms.

Category specific information

The DOV online blog magazine is an example of innovative use of social media in a museum-related setting. It is an obvious successful example under the new “Social Media” category. However, due the nature of social media technology, it is also an extremely thriving exemplar under the ”Small Museum” category. With a financial budget of zero from DPG, and minimal costs for the technology involved, all the effort is through volunteers who are willing give up their time freely and in the process encourage more community involvement with DPG.

 Dulwich OnView Paul Nash art competition, 2010 

Figure 1: Dulwich OnView art competition

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Barb_G's picture

This site is simple, clean, inviting and vibrant. Built on a blog platform and maintained by volunteers, it still has a very professional, sophisticated look.  One of the things I like best is that it's clearly a collaborative site, bringing people together within the community -- the very essence of what social media is about.  Well done!

Barb Gibson
On Twitter: @barb_g