Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

You are hereresearch


Break-down of topics for Research Forum discussion and review of research generally public and professional vocabularies. presentation @ NKOS 2008

Usefulness of Tags: a sample set of worksDavid and i presented the first of the research results at the NKOS workshop today. the [many] slides are attached to this post. the take aways, though, can be easily summarized:

85%+ of tags are not found in museum documentation
60%+ tags don't match vocabularies [and those that do match ambiguously]
most tags can't be mined from other sources [like published catalogues or other scholarly works]

Public tagging vocabulary is different from the vocabulary in museum professional documentation. So tagging does contribute.

Contribute to what? well, we still need to look further into the details, particularly the relationships between tags and search terms to talk about that with more confidence. Watch for that from the Dublin Core (DC2008) meeting next week.

upcoming presentations on tagging and art museums

the fall travel season is starting up again, and we're in Europe this week and next presenting research results from the project. watch for the following:

Public and professional vocabularies: comparing user tagging with museum documents and documentation

The 7th European Networked Knowledge Organization Systems (NKOS) Workshop at the 12th ECDL Conference, Aarhus, Denmark
Friday September 19th 2008 [see the program on-line]

David and i will be talking about the differences between public tagging vocabularies and the language of art cataloguing and curators.

and tagging art. research and results

International Conference on Dublin Core and Metadata Applications, Berlin, Germany
Tuesday 23 September 2008 [see the program on-line]

i'm keynoting DC2008 – talking about the role of tagging in retrieval-focused museum metadata.

We're are looking forward to catching up with old friends, and – of course – i'll be posting notes and thoughts as we go.


New study on factors that improve online experiences

IDEA, the Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement, just released “Finding Information: Factors that improve online experiences,” which reports the findings of a study that the California-based nonprofit organization conducted recently.

Museums and the Web Benchmarking Survey: Time for an Update

Some time ago – in 2005 – Archives & Museum Informatics launched a survey of museum web activities. We noted then that:

Each financial cycle museum Webmasters struggle
to justify their budget requests. Whenever statistical reports are
circulated someone asks, "How do we compare?" When exploring the
benefits of a new function, Web teams ask themselves "Is it worth the
investment?" Answers to these questions are hard to come by.

[see for the full background]

This survey – the results of which are written up at  – was designed to help fill some of the voids in our knowledge. As a first stab at the problem we realise that it wasn't perfect. And things have changed since 2005!

We've been asked to update the survey for a client-group of museums, and thought we'd use the opportunity to ask for input from the community as well. If we're going to launch it again more broadly, we'd like it to be useful to you ...

So, please, take a look at the questions – available as a PDF from – and post your thoughts on revisions or additional questions here. wins honorary mention at PRIX ARS ELECTRONICA

The PRIX ARS ELECTRONICA were announced yesterday, and received an honorary mention in the Digital Communities category.

Slidecast of Seeing Tibetan Art through Social Tags

For those who are interested in social tagging, or who might have missed the Community Engagement session at MW2008, I have uploaded my slides "Seeing Tibetan Art through Social Tags" along with audio track to Slideshare: announces facebook application: tag art in your profile

steve on has released enhancements to the steve tagger. you can now:

  • share images and tags
  • invite others to participate, and
  • display your tagged works on a Facebook profile pages, invite FB friends to tag, and see the most popular tagged works of art.

What are the [core] functions of a museum web site?

david and i are completing an article for the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science .... it's got me wondering about what the 'general, intelligent reader' might want to know about museums and the web. 

i'm thinking we need to answer the following questions:

Game-Based Learning Workshop Links

Here are some links to things we mentioned in the workshop today:

NYT article on museums in social network spaces

There's an article in the Museums Section of the New York Times yesterday about museums activities in social network spaces. it was my conversation with Dan Frost (the frelance reporter who wrote the piece) that sparked my recent blog postings about the subject. Dan's piece is a good intro ... and there are a lot of Museums and the Web papers about the subject this year, and in past years [search the bibliography].

Killer Statue — Psyched About the Site! term review: lots of useful tags

steve term review tool: during th research project, each tag is looked at by museum staff, and evaluated.

At the session at MCN we devoted a significant amount of time to "Term Review" –– what we're calling the qualitative study of tags by professionals from participating museums within the context of the research project. It fed really nicely into a discussion at the project team research meeting post-MCN.

For some, the very possibility that tags contributed by taggers of works of art might be reviewed by museums is antithetical to the ethos of user tagging. But, within the context of it's essential for developing our understanding of the contribution that tagging and folksonomy might make to the accessibility of works of art on-line.

How, for example, can we respond to our colleagues' concern that tags will be inaccurate | misleading | misspelled | mis-guided, if we don't look at them and see if they are? How can we say that they might be useful, if we haven't looked?

Social Tagging and Access to Collections: podcast + some followup thoughts

can we learn from tagging?: Tagging might give us some insight into visitor interests...i was supposed to be in Brazil this morning, talking about "Social Tagging and Access to Collections". unfortunately, visa problems made that trip impossible. the presentation was made via podcast; i've put the files on-line.

it's an introduction to the issues that we're exploring in the project – how social tagging might enable access to art collections – focusing on the gap between user interests (as we know them from queries and reference questions) and museum documentation as created by and for professionals. This work is more formally presented in other steve papers (see below).

that gap exists partially because our documentation standards are theoretical; designed by and for professionals to serve museum functions. i've participated in many initiatives that explored aspects of access to collections – CHIN, FDA, AITF/CDWA, CIDOC, MESL, AMICO – winner take all in the aconymble contest – and don't dispute this as a valid first premise. it's a place we had to start from, but it may not put us in a good position to support public access.

museum data is still seldom shared beyond the bounds of local systems; and when it is, in early cases like MESL or building The AMICO Library, we discover that institutions adapt standards, rather than adopting them. merging data from disparate sources is hard. we compromise on what has to be merged and end up with thin (lowest common denominator) descriptions that may not be adequate for differentiation between similar objects, and may not support user needs.

i'm more convinced, since the discussion with seb and mike about the contribution of tags, that we need to look at the types of terms we're getting as tags and the types of terms searched, when we build on my preliminary analysis of Guggenheim search logs as part of the term analysis.

that way, we'll be able to learn a bit more about the relationship between tag, searches, and documentation structures, and do it within the context of searchers' needs.

user contributed content @ the Whitney

making your markThe New York Times has published some great photographs of artist Rudolf Stingel's installation at the Whitney Museum of American Art. to accompany a brief piece by Roberta Smith.

With the gallery walls themselves as canvas, visitors have been asked to complete the work done at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, whose work comprises the upper level of the piece.

The result is a definite contrast to the white cube.

/jt paper for ichim07

steve tagger interface: show tags: The steve tagger with the 'show tags' option, where the user sees tags already assigned to a work.

we've just released the paper that provides background to the demonstration Susan Chun will be giving at ICHIM07. it begins to present the methods for's IMLS-funded national leadership grant (research), focussing on our data collection strategy and the steve tagger.

it also includes some preliminary results about attitudes to tagging amongst museum staff, and early analyses of tags collected. Early results in prototype tests are holding up. We're seeing a greater than 75% new tag rate:

"Of the tags assigned to all works during Term Set 1 (March 27– July 11, 2007), 76.5% (7,973 of 10,418) were not found in museum documentation." (Trant 2007)

That means that, during our first phase of data collection, more than three-quarters of the tags assigned in the steve tagger were not found in the museum's own documentation for those works.



Trant (2007). Trant, J., et al., The eye of the beholder: and social tagging of museum collections

, in International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Published September 30, 2007 at