Phillipa and I attended the National Digital Forum (NDF) conference last week. Phillipa is on the NDF Board, which is great for Museums Aotearoa, because it keeps us in the loop with one of the few organisations spanning the entire NZ ‘GLAM sector’ (Galleries, Libraries, Archives & Museums). New Zealand is pretty small, and it seems we’re all sitting in our respective cultural/memory/identity institutions thinking about similar challenges. We should be talking to each other as much as possible. So that’s what we did last week, and here are a few thoughts I had…
It was my second NDF conference, and I’m happy to report it was every bit as interesting as my first. Last year I was initially bemused at the concept of attending a ‘cross sector digital conference’. How frightening. I’ve only just mastered the microwave. Needless to say, I donned my best imposter stance and got on with it. I was pleasantly surprised then, as I was last week, with the relevant content discussed.
NDF is not a conference of tech people talking in inaccessible languages about the latest widgety wizardry thing they have created. Well, I suppose there’s a little bit of that, but it’s also very much a forum of thought provoking questions, challenges, calls to action, and actual constructive discussions about the future of our work. In a rapidly changing ‘digital environment’. Otherwise known as the modern world.
There was a lot of information thrown around over two days, and different people will be taking away different ideas to apply to their work. From my perspective, a week later, I have a few comments stuck in my mind that I’d like to share.
The first is from Michael Lascarides, of New York Public Library fame. He kicked off the conference talking about some projects they’re currently working on. Including What’s on the menu?, a crowdsourced menu transcription project, and their very fun Map Warper tool, which locates historical maps onto their current location/current maps, and also works on the principle of public participation. They’re fantastic projects, well worth checking out.
Within this presentation, Michael made the comment that “digital is the new horseless”. In other words, to define anything as digital is becoming increasingly redundant, because all we’re doing is making a statement about what it is not. (Incidentally this is a thought which occurs to me when I select the ever mysterious ‘vegetarian option’ at weddings. I don’t know what it is, but I do know what it’s not). So in this case, we’re making an arbitrary distinction between the physical and the non-physical. I think this is an important point, and one that we need to be constantly reminding ourselves about. Quit thinking about fancy digital experiences/content. Just focus on authentic experiences/content. Understand that people expect the technology of the day to be part of everything that they do, and the technology that enables our work always has been, and always will be changing.
The second related (throwaway) comment that I liked was made by Michael Parry from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, in Melbourne. They’ve been doing some cool things, such as their 15 Second Place project. The idea is that people capture ‘the mood of the place they’re in’, in a 15 second video, and upload it to an ACMI site via iPhone app. Apparently the app also works on iPod touch and iPad, and you can view the site (but not upload content) on other mobile devices. It’s an experience made for iPhone users. People are using it, having fun, telling their stories.
Someone asked Michael about ACMI’s decision to design for iPhone, and Michael made a quip along the lines of ‘Have you ever seen someone taking a video on an iPad? Yeah, they look like a dick’. Which I thought was wonderful. That’s a joke, obviously (although I did see someone taking a photo outside Te Papa with an iPad yesterday, and would have to agree…) but what I liked was the attitude of not over-thinking the creation of a thing/experience/interaction. Do what is logical. Focus on your audience. Don’t try and do everything, just do something well. Make things. If they’re wrong, change them.
The third fond moment worth sharing was actually from a slide in Lucinda Blaser’s presentation. Lucinda is from the National Maritime Museum in London. Her presentation was all about getting data out there. The attitudinal shift from making sure all information presented to the public is curated, complete and accurate, to simply making all data available. Knowing that in some cases it will be wrong, and allowing the public to play a part in the collection/modification of the information we hold.
What tickled me during Lucinda’s presentation was a selection of quotes that I believe had been transcribed from a ship’s log. One of these gems was simply “course diverted to investigate whales”. I liked this, firstly because it made a nice interlude to imagine a ship full of ye olde English sailors gallivanting around the oceans ‘investigating’ whales, and secondly because I thought it nicely illustrated the human connection to the content that we talk about. We can not know how people (now or in the future) will use the content that we have, what they will take from it, what it will mean to them, and it doesn’t matter. What we do know is that people probably won’t find any of it unless we make it accessible, put it out there, share our things/stories/connections. Do this well, and we can sit back and let people make their own emotional connections.
That’s my two cents worth.
As a vaguely related endnote, I want to let you know that the Wellington City Council last month ‘launched’ the 1892 Thomas Ward maps of central Wellington as an additional layer you can select to view in their public GIS system (which shows other useful information like drainage layers, and property boundaries etc). Here’s a press release from the Mayor getting excited about said ‘Geospatial Goldmine’. It’s a small step, but it’s in the right direction. There’s a lot more gold just waiting to be exploited in that mine. And there’s a big role for us (and by us I mean GLAMs) all to play in that ‘mining expedition’, so to speak.
We need to be thinking about getting out of our bunkers and talking to each other, working together even. Illustrating the potential of our information! How it can enrich lives! Taking it to the people!
Incidentally, our next conference is in April – in Wellington. The theme is collaboration.
Talk to your colleagues.
Sophie de Lautour Kelly – MA Membership Services Manager