Open Heritage Scholarship 2

Last week I was at London’s Digital Catapult centre, building on the discussion we started with the thinkathon in Winchester. This time round, we wanted to bring in some other voices from outside the academic sector, so I invited Lindsey Green from Frankly Green and Webb, and Kevin Bacon from who I met when he organised a fun workshop for the heritage sector. We also had Jake Berger from the BBC, David Tarrant from the Open Data Institute and Nigel Smith from FutureLearn. Graeme, Adam and Elenora were also there of course, as where Bryan and John from we are open.

Graeme started the day while we awaited all the delegates, by explaining at little bit about the Portus archaeology project, and how virtual access to a (until recently at least) mostly closed site had been enabled though through things like the MOOC, a relativity new on-line tour, a BBC/Discovery Channel TV documentary and open publishing of some academic papers. The opportunity, he said, was linking these and more resources, so an interest sparked by one could be satisfied by others.

Then everyone had the opportunity to introduce themselves and explain a little bit about what they hoped to get out of the day. One of the most exciting things I learned here was RES, Jake Berger’s project which the BBC has been surprisingly quiet about. This little video explains it better than I can.

We attempted to run the session a bit like the earlier thinkthon, but its interesting to note that with more people, it didn’t work quite as well. In Winchester, with a smaller group, the We Are Open guys nudged our discussion to explore interesting avenues more deeply. But with this larger group Bryan ended up drawing and drawing trying (and sometimes failing) to keep up, and not contributing as much as he was able to do in Winchester. Graeme compensated by taking more of a “chair” role than he had needed to do during the Thinkathon, but I think in the end the discussion was shallower. But new concepts reached more minds in the larger group, so I hope we may have scattered some seeds that will bare fruit in future.

We started talking about MOOCs and the Portus FutureLearn. Though an open course, some hoops have to jumped through to make the content open, and in fact not all the content is open, student’s own comments are considered their copyright by default, for example, so they can only be seen by other students. One of the advantages of massively open courses is the broad range of students they attract, with different backgrounds and levels of expertise. They may well being to the course, though a comment a unique insight which no-one had considered before of real value, not just to fellow students, but to the academics behind the course. But that insight can’t be shared from within the course. Permission must the sought from the student.

Some contributions are made using other platforms. For example, in the Portus MOOC students were asked to submit diagrams and photos on Flikr. On upload Flikr allows the user to set the level of open access to the file, but the user can’t change that after the original decision, and the default, is copyright, all rights reserved. So despite the various levels of Creative Commons protection offered by other options, most of the material uploaded in this manner is also closed, not open. We talked a little about incentive’s for users to consider Creative Commons when they share their work.

I don’t think the open badges idea that we talked about quite a lot at Winchester was specifically mentioned here, but on reflection I think its bubbling under. For example, we returned to the idea of Experience Playlists.


The idea of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs across digital and possibly even realworld platforms is attractive. Not just for the trailblazer to look back on, but for other users to follow. But should it be more explicit than, say, Amazon telling us “people who bought this also bought these” or Google ranking popular links? Could an open badge system residing in the background on people’s phone discreetly create a visit timeline, like the one I left at SF MOMA?

Then we tackled Heritage Organisations’ different understanding (fear?) of what Open means. Different laws pertain in different states for a start, so organisations ability to make stuff open could be limited by the state in which they operate. Then there is the issue of willingness, not just of heritage organisations – for example, a museum might own the physical artifact of a contemporary painting, but not its Intellectual Property, of which the artist (or their estate) might retain control. Then when the museum is the outright owner of a work, they may fear that opening up access to its reproduction limits the ability to generate much needed funds. Though, as Lindsey pointed out, in the Netherlands, the Rijksmuseum may have shown other institutions the way in that regard. Personally I came out of the discussion no less convinced that a Creative Commons, share alike, non-commercial proposition is something that heritage organisations should proactively embrace.

We had a go at working out what we might learn from Citizen Science projects, but by this time, I think we were all getting tired, and I’m not sure we came out with any useful conclusions. My own notes get scrappy here, but I do remember pointing out the critical-mass challenge for public participation in heritage, which has dogged crowdsourcing heritage projects like History Pin.

And that might be indicate a good place to finish this blog. We discussed what we were trying to achieve with all this. And no-one was expecting miracles. We know there will always be a steep curve on the axes of number of participants and depth of involvement: while hundreds of thousands or millions might passively watch a TV documentary about Rome, fewer and fewer will participate at deeper levels of interest and active participation. all we want (expect) to do is tweek that curve just a little bit. No even as much as this sketch suggests (though that would be nice):

Sketches from Bryan Mathers,
Sketches from Bryan Mathers,


#openheritagescholarship Thinkathon


Last week, went to Winchester School of Art to meet with some university colleagues to join a couple of facilitators from We Are Open, for a Thinkathon. “What,” I hear you ask “is a Thinkathon?”

I guess in less enlightened times, we might have called it a brainstorm, but it was a tight, friendly discussion/workshop to help us think through some challenges we’d set ourselves about open heritage scholarship, to wit (quoting from Graeme’s brief):

  • The nature and extent of user transitions from one open scholarship mechanism to one or more others e.g. one of the 40 million users who have already seen one of our documentaries following through to ePrints or our Massive Open Online Course, visiting Italy to see the archaeological site via a bespoke tour or paying to visit an exhibition.
  • The impact of our improved system on user engagements with each mechanism e.g. reading and commenting on Arkivum or ePrints datasets; public sharing of related content via social media. This will identify the opportunities for monetising activities in open scholarship
  • The impact of the design of the open scholarship ecosystem on these user journeys, building on previous work including video annotation, navigation via 3d content, interactive mapping, and timelines and multimedia navigation.

One thing that set it apart from your more traditional brainstorming session was the presence of Bryan from We Are Open, who constantly drew as we (and he) talked, projecting his doodlings up onto a screen so we could watch our ideas take shape as we came up them. Some of his sketches illustrate this piece.

So what did we conclude? Well the second half of the day went down a credentials rabbit hole, which was fun (and interesting) but I think, probably not yet where we are in the project. The Portus MOOC which in the new year will have its fifth intake, has been a great experiment in open education, and more Heritage Organisations are taking their first steps into those waters. But the challenge (I think) is to test the willingness of heritage organisations to think “open” (at least in the digital world) rather than strictly controlled and moderated. I’d like to get these guys from We Are Open into a room with my professional colleagues, and with others from Historic Royal Palaces, English Heritage etc. I learned that week that John from We Are Open actually started is working life with the National Trust, before moving on to organisations like Mozilla, so it would be fun to join the circle and get him involved again.

Can the PORTUS project afford it though?

P.O.R.T.U.S is go!

A week or two back, I had an interesting conversation with my supervisor, which I didn’t think I should mention on-line until, today, he invoked the “inverse fight club rule”. So I can now reveal that P.O.R.T.U.S stands for Portus Open Research Technologies User Study – yes, I know, as Graeme said “recursive-acronym-me-up baby.” This isn’t the Portus Project, but but it does ride on the back of that work, and (we hope) it will also work to the Portus Project’s benefit.

P.O.R.T.U.S is a small pilot project to explore better signposting to open research, so (for example) people interested in the BBC Documentary Rome’s Lost Empire, (which coincidentally is repeated TONIGHT folks, hence my urgency in getting this post out) might find their way to the Portus Project website, the FutureLearn MOOC,  the plethora of academics papers available free through ePrints (this one for example) or even raw data.

Though the pilot project will use the Portus Project itself as a test bed, we’re keen to apply the learning to Cultural Heritage of all types. To which end I’m looking to organise a workshop bringing together cultural heritage organisations, the commercial companies that build interpretation and learning for them, and open source data providers like universities.

The research questions include:

  • What are the creative digital business (particularly but not exclusively in cultural heritage context) opportunities provided by aligning diverse open scholarship information?
  • What are the challenges?
  • Does the pilot implementation of this for the Portus Project offer anything to creative digital businesses?

The budget for this pilot project is small, and that means the workshop will have limited places, but if you are working with digital engagement, at or for cultural heritage sites and museums,. and would like to attend, drop me a note in the comments.

@HeritageJam 2015 diary 3 – Progress

Its been 14 days since Heritage Jam 2015 was launched, half-way, and we’ve seen definite progress on one of the projects I’m involved with. That progress is more about the scope of the project rather than actual technical achievement (though there has been some of that too). We have now set a modest (but still stretching, especially for my limited coding skills) goal for our on-line participation, of having a basic proof of concept prototype ready to try out at the in-person Jam at the end of the month.

Our ultimate ambition is to create an open source, relatively cheap, off-line system to track visitors’ around cultural heritage sites, as mentioned (with a brief discussion of the ethics) in my last post on the subject.

But our goal for the on-line element of the Jam is to get a Rasberry Pi set up, with a wi-fi dongle capable of being put into monitor mode, a Real Time Clock and with DumpCap installed, working as a sniffer – detecting mobile devices, and using Relative Signal Strength Indicator as a proxy for proximity. Then, after testing it in my house, creating some R code to analyse the data, pulling out the useful bits, and maybe using GGobi  to visualize them in some way.

Assuming we can achieve that I’ll take the kit to the in-person Jam at York and see if I can find a place to set it up in a real world experiment, maybe with an activity that will involve encouraging users to go in and out of the monitored space, to see if we can log the same MAC addresses approaching and withdrawing from the RPi.

What’s not in scope, but the obvious next stage, would be to have two RPis doing the same thing in the same space with synchronised clocks, and then trying to match the records for each MAC address, but lets not overstretch ourselves.

Anybody else jamming on something similar?

Right now, I’m off to University, to take a couple of library books back and (hopefully) meet up with a team-mate from my other on-line Jamming team, to discuss that project, which has not made similar progress… or even started really.

Heritage Jam 2015 – sign up soon!

Heritage Jam at York University – registration opens on 20th August

I had a great Skype chat today with Neil and Paul from Info-Point. I’d first met them a couple of years back, and wrote about their product here. In fact, I’d put them in touch with one of my client properties at the time, Saddlescombe Farm, that had a problem which I thought Info-point might be the perfect solution for. It was – and Info-point have now supplied solutions to a number of out-of-the-way (and out of signal) National Trust sites across the country.

Their challenge is that they are technologists, not storytellers, but sometimes places come to them hoping they can supply the content, not just the platform. To this end, they are working hard at building a network of interpretation designers and content providers, who they hope will use their technology when heritage sites come calling.

We were chatting idly about setting up a two-day “hacking” event, to bring together heritage custodians, storytellers and technologists. While we were talking I thought “we could call it something like Heritage Jam!”

Afterwards I thought – “Heritage Jam… that too good an idea to be mine. Where have I heard it before?” and a quick Google later, I knew where. York University will be hosting Heritage Jam towards the end of September. I missed it last year, and made a mental not not to miss it this year. OK, so that mental note came back a bit garbled, but it came back in time for me to get myself on the mailing list. Registration opens and closes on the 20th August. So if you want to go, set a reminder in your diary! If you can’t get to York, there’s and on-line participation month kicking on the 20th of August too, so check that out.

Creative Commons and Cultural Heritage

Creative Commons is something I’ve had in the back of my mind since joining the NT. This is a useful article…

Archaeology, Museums & Outreach

Java PrintingI am very pleased to present a post and resource links on Creative Commons by my colleague Jason Baird Jackson.  More and more cultural heritage professionals and students are faced with questions about how to best present original documents for public access and the proper citation and use of internet files.  Jason provides a solid introduction and valuable links to Creative Commons licenses that are relevant today and will be increasingly important in the immediate future.

Creative Commons and Cultural Heritage

by Jason Baird Jackson

Do public archaeologists, heritage professionals, museum practitioners, and graduate students need to know about the Creative Commons? I think so. Robert Connolly does so as well, which is why he thought to ask me to contribute a short note to his blog. After you have learned a bit about it, I hope that you too will see the relevance of the tools provided by the…

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Henry V, the Southampton Plot, geolocation and open source (oh, and punk)

Last Tuesday I’d booked a day’s leave from work so that I could attend the SXSC3 digifest. But 15 minutes in, after the introductions, I had to duck out to hot-foot it back to the university to meet with the Dean and others,to discuss a possible project for the 2015 anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Now, I know my St Crispin’s day but what I wasn’t aware of is that Shakespeare mentions a plot against Henry V’s life that actually took place around Southampton. We discussed a geolocative game, targeted at 15-25 year olds that might explore the historic plot and tie in with planned performances of the play. It’s very early days yet, but everybody there seemed enthused, and we’ve agreed to meet up again to hammer out a proposal.

So I missed the “Dragon’s Den” presentations that were the centrepiece of the SXSC3 Digifest, but I got back in time to see Ben Mawson win the first prize. Well done to him. Its exciting because the prize money might be just what he needs to get get his 3dBARE technology onto mobile devices. And once its on mobile devices, I’m sure we can find a use for it at a few of the historic sites I work with.

He and I also caught up on the noTours technology that he’s used for outdoor geolocative music. He told me that the people behind it have now made it open source. Which is good news. As I’ve been researching, I’ve become more and more convinced that Open Source is the way to go for heritage applications. Lots of companies try to sell you their own proprietary technology for tours and apps, and you can understand why they put a value on it. after all they’ve paid programmers etc a lot of money to create the software, and  solved some problems that other engineers hadn’t managed to solve.

But the market for this apps is actually pretty tiny, and the institutions that can afford to pay enough for programmers to live on are few and far between. Most sites can’t afford it. So companies selling proprietary solutions a scrabbling over a tiny pie and no-one ever going to get rich in the way that Antenna Audio did with solid state audioguide technology. But if they open sourced their software, they could create a framework for mobile heritage applications that even the poorest heritage sites could use, then then there would be a potentially massive market for content production.

Hmmm I wonder if I can persuade our technology partners on this nascent Agincourt/HenryV/2015 app to opensource their work?

Open source offers the same opportunity for creativity that cheap photocopying did in the 70’s. But the punk fanzine hasn’t been superseded by the digital world. At SXSC3 The Ladies of The Press were on hand to create an instant fanzine: the events of the day recorded, written up, photographed and drawn, printed and distributed to attendees by three in the after noon. Kudos to them. It was especially good for me, who’d missed the events of morning to have this fun record of the day.