Creative Spaces – just…why?

There’s been a fair bit of buzz around the launch of the NMOLP (National Museums Online Learning Project) – now apparently renamed as “Creative Spaces” for launch.

I’ve known about this project for a long while – when I was at the Science Museum, very initial discussions were taking place at the V&A about how to search and display collections results from more than one institution. The Science Museum were invited to take part in the project, but in the end didn’t because of resourcing and budgetary issues.

My second touch on the project was from the agency end – the ITT briefly crossed my desk at my current employer, Eduserv. We considered bidding, but in the end decided that it wasn’t a project we could deliver satisfactorily given the particulars of the scope and budget.

Back then – and I think now, although someone from NMOLP will have to confirm – the project was divided into two main sections: a series of “webquests” (online learning experiences, essentially) and a cross-museum collections search. The webquests can be seen here, but I’m not going to consider these in this post because I haven’t had time to spend enough time playing to have an opinion yet.

The Creative Spaces site is at – at first glance, it’s clean and nicely designed, with a bit of a web2.0 bevel thing going on. It’s certainly visually more pleasing than many museum web projects I’ve seen. The search is quick, and there’s at least a surface appearance of “real people” on the site. I hesitate to use the word “community” for reasons that I’ll highlight in a minute.

Design aside, I have some fairly big issues with the approach that is being taken here:

Firstly, this site, much like Europeana (which I’ll get my teeth into in a future post…) seemingly fails to grasp what it is about the web that makes people want to engage. I’m very surprised that we’re this many years into the social web and haven’t learnt about the basic building blocks for online communities, and are apparently unable to take a step back from our institutional viewpoint and think like a REAL user, not a museum one. Try looking at this site with a “normal person” hat on. Now ask yourself: “what do I want to DO here?” or “how can this benefit me?” or “how can I have fun”? Sure, you can create a “notebook” or a “group” (once you’ve logged in, obviously..). The “why” is unclear.

I’m also interested at how underwhelming the technology is. Take a look at – a NOF digitise project which I worked on maybe 5-6 years ago. Now, I’m not over-proud of this site – it took ages, nearly killed a few people from stress, and the end result could be better, but hey – it has cross collections search, you can send an e-card, you can save things to your lightbox, you can create a web gallery. And this was more than five years ago. Even then, I was underwhelmed by what we managed to do. NMOLP doesn’t seem to have pushed the boundary beyond this at all, and as museums I think we should always be looking to drive innovation forward.

Secondly, I’m not sure that there is a reason why. Why would I possibly want to create a profile? Where is my incentive? Here’s Wikipedia talking about the Network Effect:

“A more natural strategy is to build a system that has enough value without network effects, at least to early adopters. Then, as the number of users increases, the system becomes even more valuable and is able to attract a wider user base. Joshua Schachter has explained that he built along these lines – he built an online system where he could keep bookmarks for himself, such that even if no other user joined, it would still be valuable to him

The other day, I had a Twitter conversation with Giv Parvaneh, the Technical Manager at NMOLP regarding this post, which talks about “monetizing” media. He blogged his response here. Now, we had a minor crossed-wires moment (it’s hard to discuss in 140 chrs) – but my point was not that museums should “monetize” everything (although, I DO think that museums should learn about real business practices, but that’s another post altogether). My point was that users need to feel special to take part. They need to be part of a tribe, a trusted group who can do and say things that they find personally useful. They need experiences with integrity. If you’re not sure what I mean, just spend some time on the Brooklyn Museum collections pages. These guys get it – the “posse“, the “tag game“, the openness. Compare this back to what feels like a shallow experience you get on NMOLP. Now ask yourself – “where would I spend MY time?”.

The second major reason is that, once again, we’re failing to take our content to our users. This is a huge shortfalling of Europeana. People want experiences on their own terms, not on ours. Let’s not have another collections portal. Spend your social media money adding and updating entries on Wikipedia, or create an object sharing Facebook application. Or just put everything on Flickr. And, please, please create an API or at the very least an OpenSearch feed. If the issue is something around copyright – go back to your funders and content providers and sit them down in front of Google images for an hour so they can begin to understand how the internet works, before renegotiating terms with them!

The final reason hangs off the search facility. My vested interest here is of course – and if you want to hear our rantings about the money spent on big, bad technology projects, then keep an eye out for our Museums and the Web Paper. We aren’t necessarily suggesting that the approach should be the technology behind cross-collections searching. But we are suggesting that the approch that NMOLP have taken is expensive, old, clunky and ultimately flawed. Although it is a trifle over-simplistic as a response, why not just spend £20-30k on a Google Search Appliance and simply spider the sites. Why re-develop the wheel and build search from scratch?

If I was less of a grumpy old man, I’d feel bad about being this negative – I like the people involved, I like the institutions, and I understand the reasons why (museum) projects spiral into directions you probably wouldn’t ever choose. But then I remember that this site cost taxpayers just short of £2 million pounds, and that Europeana will cost €120 million. And then I realise that we have an obligation to keep badgering, nagging and criticising until we start to get these things right.

At the end of the day, Frankie sums it all up much more succinctly in his email to the MCG list than I do in this post. He simply asks: why?

49 thoughts on “Creative Spaces – just…why?”

  1. I have obvious conflicts of interest, but in the end, the value of the project will be decided by its success: how many regular users they get (not at launch, but in the medium term), how long they spend on the site(s), how much they create, etc.

    I have no idea what the ‘user need’ was that this project was created for, but I suggest that if it is proven a great success, that us nay-sayers give an apology and a fair chance to projects we’re not involved with in the future.

    On the other hand, if it isn’t a success, I think we should have an inquiry into how/why projects like this are funded, and how we can get smaller budgets into more innovative ‘just enough’ projects that aren’t backed by national institutions.

  2. @Dan – I 100% agree, and will be very happy to give an apology if the usage seems to back up the approach they’ve taken. Having said that, I’ll need more than “number of users” or “number of logins” to convince me. I think this is about measuring and understanding what community looks and feels like, and that’s not necessarily a metric that we’re particularly good at reporting.

  3. Mike Mike Mike… it’s very disheartening and offensive to hear someone be so needlessly nasty and critical of a project that we’ve worked so very hard on.

    There is of course a better way of expressing your feelings about this. A more mature and human way. See project

    Reading your rant makes it very obvious you know very little about this project and it’s obvious your entire argument revolves around advertising the not-so-impressive app.

    As I’ve mentioned before any mediocre developer can build a scraper and API but what you’re failing to realise is that there’s so much more that goes into building a museum product. For one thing does not address copyright issues and in reality that app wouldn’t stand a chance of ever becoming a real life application in the museum world. It’s all very easy to hack a few lines of code together and say “see? that wasn’t so hard”.

    I suggest you speak to the NMOLP team first, learn about the project and find out how the money was spent before comparing it to Europeana and claiming £2mil of taxpayers money was wasted on it. You want an API? No problem, try and get copyright clearance from every single artists and owner of the collections first, then we can build it.

    Posting one-liners like “why?” on the MCG mailing list doesn’t exactly help us put your tax money to use, does it? The site is still in Beta mode and there’s plenty of room for improvement and we’re more than happy to hear your feedback so play nice and help us make this a good product.


  4. @Giv – As I hope I make clear, this isn’t a punt for There’s not a lot of reason for me to promote this particular side project other than (as I say in the paper) as a demonstrator about how the lightweight needs to teach us something about running projects that otherwise sink under a horrific load of institutional treacle. So in that sense, I’m not going to try and defend what you rightly say is an application that was quick to build and doesn’t necessarily answer many of the pithier questions that we need to answer.

    I’m also not about to try and defend myself when it comes to running museum projects. I’ve done a few in my seven or so years in the sector – some went ok, some didn’t. This isn’t the place to talk about my competencies (or not) in the cultural heritage space.

    I’m aware that I’m not necessarily providing “nice” feedback. But I’m also not about to say I love something that I think is – at best – mediocre. I’d rather be realistic, honest and passionate. That’s what the social web is all about, right? Not moderated, “clean”, “all in a line” type commentary.

    As it happens, the “why” didn’t come from me – it just prompted me to take part in the discussion. As it happens, I think it’s an extremely good question to be asking. But again, that’s my opinion, and I don’t ask anyone to share it.

  5. @Jeremy – I got the figure from ZDNet although looking now it is unclear whether the 120m is spend just for Europeana or for online cultural projects in general. I’m sure either which way that it’s considerable, right?

    “what would be right?” – I don’t think I can answer that in a comment. But we need to re-assess the entire landscape of user engagement and start thinking in a much more focused way about how people *really* use the web, and why.

  6. I think I’m just a bit dismayed to see a lack of originality. The whole notion of online ‘lightboxes’ or user-generated collections of images of objects from different museums has been done to death, and never seems to get a great take-up.

    The reason for this, I think, is that it fails to address any actual need. If I want to collect images of objects from museums (which itself is a niche need), I can just download them to my computer.

    I’m not saying that pictures of objects aren’t interesting, it’s just that this isn’t a very engaging interaction. Comments and tags are a start (ala Flickr, Facebook and a few institutional websites themselves), but they’re pretty generic and low-level. Why not go further, and encourage people to map ‘this artist was inspired by this artist’, or ‘i’ve got this object/a similar object at home’, or ‘here’s a link which connects to this object’ or a million other options…?

    And DON’T limit any tool to just a random collection of museums. Build open platforms/tools, or better still, build upon existing platforms.


  7. @Frankie: With Creative Spaces you could map ‘this artist was inspired by this artist’, ‘I’ve got this object/a similar object at home’, or ‘here’s a link which connects to this object’. You could do plenty of other things besides – maybe not a million, but it’s not as limiting as you make it sound.

    If you’ve experimented with creating your own notebook(s) and haven’t been able to do the things you wanted, which ones were they?

  8. @Giv Wow, that was a really offensive comment. I mean, seriously. I have a few questions:

    1) Why do you need copyright clearance from *everyone* involved to *begin* to examine and develop APIs for your metadata or data?

    2) Why does copyright issues affect the way the external interfaces are coded? Surely, this level of ACL should be middleware?

    3) Why is a post containing the simple question “Why?” not feedback? It should be possible to answer this satisfactorily in a short paragraph from pointing to a short section on the website. If someone feels the need to post such a short question, maybe the advocacy of this project has fallen somewhat short?

    4) Success of a project has nothing to do with code-quality, especially for education. Community involvement and interaction is noted as being crucial in all the learning modelling schemes I am aware of. For example, see the learning events model – half of the modes absolutely require peer-interaction and the others are only enhanced by it.

    To design educational systems and make choices that ignore community and external re-use is not something I can see the reasoning for.

  9. I think you’re being unfair and that the comparison to Europeana (in particular) is unjustified tbh. As a beta it seems to me that the site has possibilities – there’s a lot to be improved on, but then that’s the point of a beta isn’t it? – and has scope to improve the level of engagement over time. It’s not an unreasonable starting point is it?

    That said, the site describes itself as follows:

    Creative Spaces connects you with nine UK national museums and galleries allowing you to explore their collections, find like-minded people and create your own content.

    I don’t see where the “create your own content” bit comes from (except in the form of notebooks and groups (of which the latter don’t seem to facilitate much))? Perhaps that’s in the future?


  10. @Ben – thank you, great comments – and would be interested in hearing the answers from someone inside the project..

  11. @Andy. I don’t know – the comparison with Europeana (IMO) is about the scale of the problem, and the running theme that I have on this blog about investing in lightweight, rapid scenarios rather than heavy, expensive ones.

    I take on board the “beta” label, but I also think it is frequently used as an excuse for poor implementation.

    And yes, I agree with the content creation bit..

  12. @Giv – profanities are one thing (and I responded to the issue in what I hope is a responsible way) – questioning someone’s professionalism or integrity is something entirely different.

    That aside, would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the points raised by Ben?

  13. @Mike, since you asked nicely, my pleasure 🙂

    @Ben, regarding the API. You have to understand this is a partnership between 9 major museums. Each with very complicated copyright policies. Similarly, technical capabilities of each partner varies so allowing some objects and not others filter through is not an option at this stage. We just don’t have that kind of control over the collections. So any policy that is developed needs to apply to all 9 partners and this is why there are so many limitations with the project. That is not to say it’s impossible to achieve one day but given everything that was involved in getting this project up and running, the API has been de-prioritised.

    This the same reason why you can’t see large images on the site and why you have to go to the partner’s own site to see the images since copyright rules state images can only be viewed under the partner’s own site/url. Is it silly? yes but at least we’re trying to make it work and hopefully these restrictions can be removed one day.

    There are loads of other complexities that create limitations and these are the things that critics don’t realise and quickly start attacking the project without bothering to look into it first.

    There is nothing wrong with asking “why” but when you don’t other elaborating on what your question is, you are clearly having a go in a very passive-aggressive way. A more reasonable question would be like the ones you have asked, Ben.

    You all know how to reach me so please don’t hesitate to contact me with any other questions.


  14. Hi Mike. You’re on the mailing list for Europeana so you should be able to find better figures for both phase 1 (now ended) and phase 2 (about to start). You’ve probably got access to the SharePoint site too, there’s plenty there. Just a pointer so you have the ammo when you do post your thoughts on the project 🙂 Probably quicker than an FOI request, too!

    You know I’m all for lightweight as well, just as you know that I did something akin to myself (both lighter and heavier at the same time, toying as it did with metadata and microformats). I’m simultaneously keen on the heavyweight, which I guess is where we tend to part ways. Big stuff is inherently harder to get flying, but maybe it flies better once it’s up there. Not always, I’m sure, and the risk is greater if the investment is bigger. But some of the things we want to see and have waited a long, long time for still haven’t happened by the lightweight route. I’d include the stuff Frankie sees as done to death – collecting stuff you like – because to my mind gathering objects is more than gathering images – which is why I built Gathery and you built NMOLP isn’t the answer to this one, to my mind – it’s too damn small – and even Europeana will be limited to a few thousand institutions, most likely. Too damn small, I said! But better than we have now. I got involved with Europeana because I wanted to see it be more than just a website, even a cool website – it has to be about plumbing, opening access to machines, democratisation, and cooperation between countries and institutions. These are the hidden benefits beyond the web apps you can see, I would argue, and whatever price you slap on you have to recognise that the payoffs may be more than the obvious. In the case of NMOLP, I’ve still not road-tested any part of it properly but I can see that these side-effects may actually be core to the value it produces, if the result is a partnership and plumbing to build other end-user stuff on top of.

    Blah blah blah, I’ll shut up now. Lunch is over.

  15. @Giv – thanks for the answers.

    The copyright thing comes as no surprise – after all, I did this stuff for seven years and had exactly the same hurdles to try and climb over. And I do – really – understand the issues.

    But…exactly when *are* we going to start questioning these big issues? When will people start standing up and asking why it is that image X which can be viewed in large size on site Y (and also, let’s not forget, on Google Images, too..) can’t be viewed on site Z “because of copyright issues”? At the end of the day, if the image is on the web, it’s on the web – end.

    I’m fully aware that these are big issues, but I also think that if heavyweight national museums can’t start challenging the (widely regarded as broken) status quo, then surely all is lost? How do we stand to improve if all we do is defend these things in public but sit around shaking our heads behind closed doors?

    My approach – as you’ll have noticed – is to pile straight in and ask these big questions. Because, frankly, no one else seems to be willing to do it (Frankie aside..). I see little point in skirting around them and hoping someone else will fix stuff.

    Thanks for your answer, though. Appreciated.

  16. @JO – yes, I think many good point, and I’m (always!) full of a huge amount of admiration for your enthusiasm and optimism about Europeana and heritage projects in general. I think you’re a much more constructive voice than I am – and that’s why (partly), I’ve stayed out of the Europeana debate, and why I’m probably going to remain out of the debate into the future.

    To be honest, I don’t think I’m going to post about it either now – I am in danger of Electronic Museum becoming a place for the insane rantings of a bitter, frustrated ex-heritage old man, and I’d like to think that it has more value than that. Needless to say, you (and many others) already know my opinion of what has been produced by Europeana to date (don’t mention the logo!) and I suspect I’ll just let it lie.

  17. @Mike I completely agree. These questions must be asked and rightly so. But these are bigger institutional issues and I’m not really sure what the correct approach is but I do know it’s unfair to take it out on hard-working people on the dev team who fully agree with you. Not saying you are attacking individuals but the project is very much a part of me and the rest of the team now.

    You should also appreciate that changes ARE happening – if very slowly. NMOLP is unique in that it’s the first time 9 national UK museums have collaborated on a massive project. This is a huge deal and would not have been possible a few years ago so things are clearly moving along.

    Anyway, I think I’ve contributed enough to this blog for one day 🙂


  18. Mike,

    to say no-one else is asking the big questions could be seen as needlessly provocative. many of us have been asking them for years, and working on helping museums answer them. it may be more a case of when and how the issues are raised.

    i’ve been at the center of a number of large multi-institutional projects (over the last 20 years), and know what it feels like when someone says ‘is that all’ when the thing you’d worked on for what felt like ages finally limped out the door. i can entirely sympathise with the frustration felt by the Creative Spaces team here.

    as Giv has blogged, so much of getting a project to this point is building understanding and agreement in the institutions. from a policy perspective, finding a way forward requires negotiation and a level of creativity that’s usually never seen on the surface of the finished app.

    developing that kind of trust and collaboration is essential: it lays the groundwork for the next level of functionality — the one you’re demanding — that requires an even broader willingness to take risks.

    yes, it’s possible to address the copyright question; and museums have moved HUGELY on this: from not wanting to put anything online, to collectively addressing ways to provide access to full collections. and from negotiating single rights to the kinds of standard agreements with rights holders, licensees and rights societies pioneered in the AMICO context. but it’s not a simple binary – not access / no access – and handling the nuances of rights is often one of the first things to go in a spec… yes we still have to write them 😉

    you’ve chosen the role of the outside critic, others have chosen to work on the inside to change complex institutions. it’s likely it takes both kinds of pressure to move us all ahead. big institutions don’t change overnight, and the voices for access aren’t the only voices that they are hearing.

    what i’d ask you to be sympathetic too – in your grumpy not-so-old age – is that most of the challenges aren’t technical. a lot of people have worked really hard to get things this far, just as you’ve worked hard to develop a position as a leader; please use our attention wisely.


  19. @JT – As I’m sure you know, I’m absolutely no stranger to the challenges that institutions put in the way of big projects like this. I blog about it all the time, I spent seven years inside a museum, and yes, as you say – I’m now on the outside, looking in. I’m also under zero illusion that the technology actually has anything to do with it.

    Remember also that I’ve been the one launching stuff to MCG, seeing blog posts and newspaper articles having a go at our efforts, and I fully – fully – understand the passion and frustration that accompanies these projects. I also know only too well that the copyright issues are moving on (albeit VERY slowly..). And please, please don’t think that I’m questioning the passion of people like you and many others who are approaching these big questions from many different angles. If my comment implied that, that wasn’t the intention. I know these questions are being asked.

    But. But. But…I’m passionate, too – and the way I express this is the way I am. I’m simply not the one to write a moderate and considered evaluation of a particular approach if I feel that the approach is deeply flawed. That’s not what Electronic Museum is about, and never has been. Much as I don’t want to suck up too much of anyone’s attention, these things have a momentum all of their own, and that momentum is entirely out of my – or anyone’s – control.

    At the end of the day, I don’t think the post is offensive (bar the profanities, which I rapidly edited out, and have apologised for). It’s how I feel, and I think it’s important.

  20. Ultimately, no matter how much effort and progress has been made with internal politics, overheads, negotiations, copyright issues, etc, doesn’t it all boil down to one thing though: Is the site any good? In the same way that we shouldn’t look at the technology, we also shouldn’t say that the project was successful because particular negotiations were, or because a lot of effort was put in (I can imagine how much was!).

    Let’s hope it succeeds, as it is certainly a step in the right direction.

  21. I should clarify: Is the ‘site’ any good is a bit limited; it should be; ‘are the end results’ any good, as ideally we’d see an API and other useful re-usable systems/content come out of this.

    Personally, I think that ‘API usage’ is an amazingly simple way of measuring the success of a project: if it’s useful, people will use the API (look at Twitter, eBay, etc.).

  22. Mike, you’re too kind (to me, anyway ;-)) My optimism, at least, is probably attributable to my inexperience of stuff like this – those that have been through the wringer a couple of times are probably sceptical for good reason. What worries me is Frankie: he’s just out of juvie, shouldn’t he be more wide-eyed and naive than I? Maybe I’m just a very slow learner (then again, so’s Thomas Pynchon).
    I hope you do write about Europeana in due course. We all know what to expect here, and whether we agree or not, when it kicks off a really good discussion, as this has turned out to be, it’s to everyone’s benefit.

  23. Okay, so to be naive for a minute (Jeremy will be pleased), how does ‘the copyright problem’ relate to Creative Spaces not having a clear purpose or user need?

    Are these not two separate conversations?

  24. Unless the purpose of the site is to advance the copyright/reuse/collaboration agenda, and the UI stuff I’d just a secondary deliverable?

    Just speculating.


  25. Well there’s exactly the sort of side-effect I meant, just as for me what’s interesting about Europeana is not the website but the pooled data and the solving of other problems along the way…to an awesome API. I dearly hope. And if NMOLP has broken down barriers between the digital departments of these (mainly) large institutions and perhaps laid the foundations for others to join in, that’s hidden value. Likewise the individual APIs each museum needed to provide for the federated search to work (even if a single API would be preferable)

  26. I agree with Jeremy. Some of the talk has been user value of the end product. One thing which every one must agree on, is that by creating a unified effort between musuems this results in economies of scale become prevalent. I.e. creating functionality on a single site, which is shared between partners is a good lead into greating a create value proposition for the end user. Certainly there are many things which could be done to enhance the experience, IMHO, with insitutions working together there’s more oppertunity to build ontop of what is already a capable platform.

  27. Gosh, Mike… You’re a cranky old bastard, aren’t you?

    I’ve had a quick poke around Creative Spaces. Wow! I think the best thing about it is that I can see things from 9 institutions all in one spot. That’s a huge achievement, and I thoroughly agree that to put this project together has meant a delightful change in internal, cultural perspective within each of the participating institutions. I wonder now how others could come on board…

    What’s missing for me from the current implementation is a sense of its identity. There’s no information available to me about who is responsible (I can’t click on the NMOLP logo to go anywhere, there’s no About page etc). One thing I think you need if you’re going to go down the social media route is a sense of who’s behind it, and what they’re up to. It feels a bit voiceless/nameless at the moment, so there’s no real impetus for me to *help*.

    Everyone should bear in mind that Creative Spaces is *very new,* so probably doesn’t appear terribly “rich” just yet. 🙂

    Perhaps another useful thing might be to work to Adrian Holovaty’s idea of building pages around lists of data. Think about how many pivots you can add to the browsing experience.

    Personally, I’m not convinced that the current desire to “let the people in” to institutional presences online is quite the right approach. It’s *really* hard work to build a community online, and takes time to see results.

    Perhaps the better approach is to release as much as you can to the web. It’s perhaps a semantic notion, but the difference between access (which implies something closed, needing protection) and release (which implies generosity and willingness to share freely) is useful. Creative Spaces is a good step towards this idea. FWIW, I agree that it would be awesome to provide feeds/API etc so other people could play with this new resource on systems other than Creative Spaces.

    There’s a big difference between a social network and social media too. Social networks (Facebook etc) are great for conversations, but there’s nothing particularly bound to those conversations except a social relationship. A social media system (like Flickr) gives conversation a focal point. Giving an *object* a social life is profoundly more interesting to me. Dialogue around an object becomes an artifact in itself, and the way people imagine connections between objects often results in profound, original insight about relationships between things over time.

  28. Mike, I´m writing this so you´ll get a heads up who the swedish blogger is who´s linking to this post. In Sweden there´s now, after years of angsting about copyright issues and overcoming institutional inertia (sound familiar?), a common museum collections index with an open API: .

    The API and data are just recently released into the wild and of course there´s some discussion on what kind of services could and and should be built on top of it an by whom. Just a month after its relases a private company has built a location aware service allowing users to find info on archaeological sites and monuments via their mobiles. There are community sites under construction some which are similar in concept to Creative Spaces which is why I linked to this blog. Another related discussion is of course whether museums and other heritage instituitions should build communities themeselves or release parts of their data to already existiing communites e.g. Flickr The Commons and engage with users there.

    It´s interesting to see how the discussion in the English speaking is mirrored in Sweden – and I guess elsewhere but my French, German, Italian, Castellan etc. isn´t all that.

  29. @George: “cranky” – moi? 🙂

    “Perhaps the better approach is to release as much as you can to the web” – yes. Absolutely right.

  30. @David – thanks for that. I did try using Google Translate on the incoming link but it was only partially successful at translating your post 🙂

    I’ll check out the link you put in your comment. We are only now starting to hear about open museum API’s, and it’s extremely refreshing when they do appear.

    My take on the “do it here or do it there” community issue is – it depends, but IMO it is usually far more likely that you’ll get users engaging in environments that they already spend their time in rather than trying to pull them to a “destination” site.

    Only time will tell, I guess.

  31. So much information – so little time… I have been led here by the mcn list discussion about Creative Spaces and then bounced back and forth between various blogs, tweets and websites. Never mind the occasional intemperance – it just shows what riches a bit of passion can bring forth.

    In my view we should now focus on how we move forward – maximising the value of the resources that we have created. The key phrases for the non-techie like myself are “improve metadata”, “understand search technology”, “resolve copyright issues” and please let’s have some common standards of research into “what users actually want and do”. Clearly, in our sector, funder requirements are key. Comparable projects in the commercial world have to be user-driven or they die – surely funders now need to follow this line and be far more specific about the management reports that they require from projects so that everyone’s desire to research the real value of these resources can be more efficiently monitored and evaluated. Commercial projects aren’t likely to share this kind of research – it would threaten their business models. The cultural heritage community should have every reason in the world to share their user research and findings. “Creative Spaces” and the myriad of other projects are a terrific beginning. We now need not only the ‘About’ pages that George has requested but also some beautifully-presented pages that will help the funders, and the collection managers and directors, clearly see how users are interacting with the information. Instead of this, I see acres of speculation…… We now have a fantastic fund of people who are clearly able to produce this information and present it beautifully, given the right direction. And this information can then drive the policies.

    This has been a fascinating discussion with some really golden nuggets of information and many inspirational ideas. Anyone who wants to get a glimpse of how difficult it must have been to create “Creative Spaces” should check out Giv’s heartfelt blog at and if you haven’t seen it already check out their YouTube contribution at . This at least gives you their version of ‘Why?’ – and reflects the views of all the museum community online websites that I have come into contact with (many….).

    As a consultant, I have spent a great deal of my own time this last few years just keeping up with the fast pace of developments in the areas of metadata improvement, search technology, and copyright issues. I don’t see the same thing happening with user analysis (although surely this cannot be true of the education sector). So, if its out there, let’s hear about it.

    In this respect, a major disadvantage of cultural as opposed to commercial projects is the short term goals that funded projects have. Digitise the content, create a website (or portal), and that’s it. Too many funded projects create workflows and processes that actually inhibit sharing and integration of these resources. Projects like “Creative Spaces” and, yes, the European Digital Library (Europeana) are opportunities for research that can allow us to look back into the content and resolve most of the issues raised in these discussions. Let’s focus on harvesting the hidden values and insist on short term projects conforming to long term goals that are measured by common standards. Facts not opinions. Measurement not uninformed judgment.

    I’m assuming you all agree….. (not that opinions and uninformed judgments aren’t a lot of fun of course…). Without some more attractive, user-friendly, hard information we’re never going to be able to persuade the ‘powers-that-be’ of the value.

    [Apologies. I know that comments really shouldn’t be this long]

  32. Mike, I agree with you that in general museum staff and collections going where the users are rather than trying to get users to come to them will get more bang for the buck.

    I wonder how the Swedish Heritage Data API looks after going through Google Translate. Probably more like the Swedish Chef API! 🙂

  33. Just thought it pertinent to note the following: (via code4lib mailing list)

    “For the developers among us and those interested in collection sharing —

    The Technology staff at the Brooklyn Museum have just released our
    collection API so that outside programmers can query our data and
    create their own applications using it. For more information and
    links, see

    Let’s see what develops!

    Deb Wythe
    Brooklyn Museum
    Digital Collections and Services

  34. I was at the V&A during some of this work and got a glimpse of the herculean effort required to build the infrastructure (policy, digitisation etc), so it’s great to see it in action but I also get that ‘what is this for?’ feeling, and I think it comes down to the ‘build it and they will come’ mentality that attaches itself to this kind of project. Creative spaces is a tool without a community at present – the gamble is whether or not the tool is enough in and of itself to generate the community virtually or whether greater investment is needed to develop the site as a core strand of offline engagement activities (during and post-event etc). I agree with Angela’s comment above – short-termism is a key issue – these platforms stand to fail spectacularly without investment in advocacy post-release, so I’m interested to see how the partners will develop the space themselves.

    Incidentally – I love the webquests. The cross-collection focus is fantastic and the results are interesting and engaging. The interface is a bit clunky – pulling in full sites to displaying object data is a bit jarring, but the purpose is clear and the content is robust.

    As a tabula rasa Creative spaces is less immediate, but it provides a good foundation for building activity. Will the project extend into harnessing the resources needed to develop it fully? With adequate attention to community building, and some fine-tuning, both the platform itself, and the partnership created to develop it, have enormous potential.

  35. @Angela – thanks for your long and well thought-out comment. Lots of great points – I think for me the point about thinking a bit “more commercially” is particularly pertinent. Let me be a bit clearer: not commercial as in cash, but commercial in terms of thinking about competition, about markets, about audiences, about how people will use what we do. I don’t *ever* think that museums should become commercial entities, by the way (everyone!), but I do think that being more savvy and less fluffy is going to help all cultural institutions.

    I can’t say I share your enthusiasm for metadata, however 🙂

  36. @Ben – thanks again / re. Brooklyn (who, IMO, rock in many, many ways, not just their API). I’ve already got an interview lined up with Shelley who I’m going to ask about implementation, issues, copyright and all o’that stuff, so watch this space!

  37. @Celena – great to hear from someone “on the inside”, and yes, I agree with many of your points. As I say, I’m yet to spend any time on the WebQuests, but at first glance they do look very content rich.

    I’m not (as you might have gathered!) convinced about Creative Spaces as a foundation, but we’ll no doubt see as time goes on…

  38. This is a great thread of comments. I blogged about NMOLP a couple of weeks ago,
    This draws attention to the educational focus of the project, and points out that Webquests were a key part of the scope which hasn’t been acknowledged in the promotion & debate.
    Since then, I’ve been playing quite a bit with Creative Spaces. In a nutshell I’m waiting to see more users join who aren’t ‘us lot’, to see how it will really work.

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