PS. The Future Technology Workshop slides

A few people asked me for the slides I used for the Future Technology Workshop during The Shape of Things to Come so I uploaded them in .pdf here (minor changes included). To view just follow the link: FTW_final


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The Shape of Things to Come: a summary

The last event in the iSay series took place on 30-31 January 2014. With the title “The Shape of Things to Come” this workshop focused on what the next generation of VGC research and practice should look like. We used the Future Technology Workshop (FTW) method to facilitate discussions around barriers, concerns and anxieties, as well as enablers, expectations and aspirations over VGC. Below is a summary of activities and discussions. If you were there, do add / correct; if you missed it do share your thoughts and experiences here.

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We started with ‘Imagineering, the first FTW session which prompted us to think space age and brainstorm ideas for activities related to creating, contributing and sharing objects, ideas, feelings, opinions, knowledge, etc., on culture and heritage. Ranging from eyes as camera lenses and brain as camera memory, to the ‘physicalisation’ (vs. digitisation) of objects, and on to the inter-galactic visitor experience, the group were not short of ideas!

The following two sessions, ‘Modelling’ and ‘Role play’ got participants to work in two groups. Each group had to select a couple of the Imagineering ideas and create a model that demonstrates how the activities might be carried out (what props, tools etc. are needed); then swap models and create and act out a more detailed scenario of use. Conveniently, the two modelling groups spontaneously varied their models, with one group delivering a model with an object-centric tint while the other delivering a model with a visitor-centric tint. The model swap during role-play meant that both ideas balanced out on the object-visitor scale.

In these first sessions of the workshop participants distilled the essence of VGC as the opportunity for people to attach their affective and sensorial experiences of authentic objects to the objects themselves, imagining a hybrid object-story as core content for the museum. This ‘attaching’ is seamless, and the attached stories are experienced seamlessly; and while not altering the object itself, the stories become an integral part of experiencing the object, at least for those visitors who wish this to happen.

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Multi-universal, simultaneous museum experience

One model presented us with a ‘multi-universal, simultaneous museum experience’. The museum occupied a physic-o-digital space. With the mantra ‘replication devalues’, in this model authentic objects are kept in the museum and, existing in parallel realities, can be accessed by anyone in different ways and different locations. Access to objects is possible through a ‘home museum’ system (sounded to me equivalent to the ‘home cinema’ concept) or through a local library (a public museum portal concept). Recognising that the journey to the object can be as important as the experience of the object itself, access to the museum can be instant or through (simulated) exploratory journey. Also recognising that not all visitors value a social experience, personal seclusion ‘bubbles’ are available for visitors.

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The love spoon

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Floating objects in the museum space

The second model – aptly named ‘the spoon’ – focused more on the visitor experience of objects and the importance of getting a feel of the emotions of the maker and/or the past users of objects. A love spoon shared by Bob and Luelen while he proposed was one example of such object: the spoon complete with the proposal story floats in the museum space for visitors to grab and experience the object (physically) and its story (telepathically). Multiple stories can be attached to each object, and visitors select which story to experience by the way they use the object. The danger for conflicting experiences and empathy fatigue is there, but visitors can always switch off the stories and enjoy the spoon for its ‘spooness’ only. The need for remote access is present in this model too, with real visitors seamlessly mixing with visitor avatars in the museum space; while the invisible visitor represents those who value a private more than a social visit. An ‘emotional experience acquisition policy’ implemented by the museum’s ‘emotion curator’ was also deemed essential.

rolePlay1  2014-01-30 16.25.53

Subsequent FTW sessions brought participants back to VGC as we know and do it now. Compared with the idea(l)s explored earlier, and drawing on their experiences, participants identified a series of problems (listed below as I noted them down during the session):

  • Logging on – losing people there?
  • Trust that institution knows best – authoritative vs. authoritarian?
  • ‘prescribed’ experience devalues VGC
  • Permissions / limits unclear
  • ‘Keeping up’ with audiences – participation now maybe different to 15 years down the line
  • Lack of strategic planning for VGC  not sustainable
  • VGC (should be) embedded rather than add on
  • Funding
  • VGC management skill set
  • Conclusive evidence for VGC value
  • Ownership of VGC component
  • Mutually beneficial vs. responsive to expectations (visitors do it anyway!)
  • Size matters? Global reach vs. meaningful community group work
  • VGC project objectives / type dictates reach, value, etc.
  • Not all content generated for integration within museum

We then explored ways to take forward the VGC agenda and agreed on two main things. First, that it is not new technology and tools that are mainly missing (though there is space for these too, particularly in exploring novel modalities for VGC). Instead, the emphasis needs to be on fitting VGC in with institutional strategy and mission and basing any VGC initiatives on deep knowledge and understanding of the visitors and their needs. Research to elicit visitor needs and requirements re VGC on one hand and to understand the potential, limits and discourses of VGC on the other, followed by implementation and evaluation need to be repeated continuously to capture ‘changing times’. Such research-implementation-evaluation iterations also need to regularly feed into (re)drafts of institutional strategies / missions.

Finally, we agreed that prescribed VGC experiences need to be replaced by organic VGC models: allowing things to happen, enabling appropriation and permitting serendipity, offering multiple pathways in and out of VGC, providing different levels of engagement as the relationship between the institution and the visitor evolves.

This is my experience of The Shape of Things to Come. Feel free to appropriate, enhance, amend, or discard it 🙂


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“It’s my content 2.0” fast approaching – few places left

The next iSay event is only a few days away:

It’s my content 2.0
Thursday 7 November 2013, University of Leicester

The day will include keynote presentations from Naomi Korn, Mike Ellis and Janet Marstine on ethics, copyright, and emerging sharing cultures. Each talk will be followed by a workshop focused on the topic of the talk and working through real and fictional scenarios of VGC. A plenary discussion will round off the day and bring together earlier discussions, while debating the feasibility of a manifesto for VGC, its publication and implementation.

There are a few partly-funded places left. For details contact

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Creating user-generated content for location-based learning: an authoring framework

Paper published in Journal of Computer-Assisted Learning in 2012. Full details here; paper can be downloaded here.

Two recent emerging trends are that of Web 2.0, where users actively create content and publish it on the Web and also location awareness, where a digital device utilises a person’s physical location as the context to provide specific services and/or information. This paper examines how these two phenomena can be brought together, so that user-generated content on mobile devices are used to provide informal learning opportunities relevant to a person’s location. However, the generative process of such media does not always have much guidance on how or what to create, so the quality of such information can be highly variable. To overcome this, a framework has been designed to guide the authoring of user-generated content so that it can be used for informal learning about one’s immediate surroundings (particularly in an outdoor setting), combining pedagogical aspects with those from human-computer interaction and environmental aesthetics. The framework consists of six dimensions that include aspects such as curriculum area (e.g. science; art); type of communication; use of language/media related to the landscape; knowledge level of content; contextual aspects and types of interaction. In order to test the framework before it could be used to scaffold new content, it was first used to analyse and evaluate over 200 items of existing user-generated content, to investigate the appropriateness of the proposed dimensions and the items contained therein or if any were missing. This paper presents the findings of this initial testing phase, together with a discussion of how the framework can be improved, in order to help scaffold the creation of new user-generated content in the future.

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Ubiquitous annotation for artwork-centred sociality in museums and galleries

By Marcus Winter

University of Brighton

The concept of object-centred sociality (Engeström, 2005) is well established on the Web and has been transferred to physical museums and galleries to explain how visitors engage with each other around social objects (Simon, 2010). While designers of Web-based museum experiences have a wide range of well-established tools at their disposal to support object centred sociality and user generated content, curators of physical exhibitions typically rely on feedback boards and visitor books to foster engagement and encourage interpretation.

Ubiquitous annotation, described by Hansen (2006) as attaching digital information to physical objects and places, offers a way to go beyond the limitations of physical feedback boards. It enables unobtrusive, in-situ annotation of specific artworks and results in digital content that can be readily re-used and re-mediated. Recent efforts to employ ubiquitous annotation in museums include a bespoke system by Hsu & Liao (2011), iPad based object labels by Gray et al. (2012) and a platform involving custom mobile devices by Seirafi & Seirafi (2012). Adoption of these systems requires substantial commitment from host organisations in the form of financial investment, custom development and change of work practices. Furthermore, visitor interaction with these systems is problematic due to usability problems with static touchpoints that cannot display state information or interaction feedback.

The scribetag project is developing a light-weight, generic ubiquitous annotation platform that makes artwork-centred commenting and rating feasible even for smaller, low-budget arts organisations. It enables visitors to browse and create comments and ratings using their mobile phone. The project is developing novel dynamic touchpoints that address many of the usability problems associated with static touchpoints. For curators, the system provides an analytics backend to maintain editorial control, re-use contributed content and analyse engagement levels with a view to enhancing the visitor experience. The project is at an early stage and seeks discussions with researchers and museums professionals to inform the design and research.


Engeström, J. (2005). Why some social network services work and others don’t – Or: the case for object-centered sociality. Blog post 13 April 2005. Available: why-some-social-network-services-work-and-others-dont-or-the-case-for-object-centered-sociality.html. Accessed 7 December 2012.

Gray, S., Ross, C., Hudson-Smith, A. & Warwick, C. (2012). Enhancing Museum Narratives with the QRator Project: a Tasmanian devil, a Platypus and a Dead Man in a Box. Proceedings of Museums and the Web.

Hansen, F. (2006). Ubiquitous annotation systems: technologies and challenges. Proceedings of the seventeenth conference on Hypertext and hypermedia HYPERTEXT’06, pp. 121–132.

Hsu, H. & Liao, H. (2011). A mobile RFID-based tour system with instant microblogging. Journal of Computer and System Sciences, 77(4), pp. 720–727.

Seirafi , A. & Seirafi, M.K. (2012). FLUXGUIDE: Mobile Computing, Social-Web & Participation @ the Museum. Institut fuer Creative, Media, Technologies. Available: /4/2/3/3/4233655/paperforummedientechnik2011_fluxguide_red.pdf. Accessed 26 March 2012.

Simon, N. (2010). The Participatory Museum. Santa Cruz, California: Museum 2.0, 2010. Available: Accessed 7 December 2012.

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Mobile digital storytelling for learning, participating and sharing cultural heritage and history

By Susanna Nordmark
Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden

Mobile digital storytelling for learning, participating and sharing cultural heritage and history 362KB pdf

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Start Making Sense: Navigating Digital Public Space

By John Fass

Royal College of Art

This doctoral research is focused on the challenges represented by proliferating digital records, both public and private. New types of digital material, such as the hundreds of millions of tweets (and associated metadata) archived by the Library of Congress every day, are changing the way archives are understood and used. As new data types make their way into formal archives and personal collections, new ways of structuring and understanding them will need to emerge. Private digital collections consist of text, videos, photographs, and music; but also the more informal daily generation of data that occurs when people click around their favourite websites and participate in social media networks. Both types of data occupy digital public space and both embody specific challenges for meaning-making, navigation, ownership and curation.

National institutions have been encouraging private citizens to contribute to public archives for decades, but traffic has been predominantly in one direction. Archival status is reflexively conferred on the personal object or text by inclusion in structured and curated collections. Drawing on the connectionist theory of mind and on user centred design methodologies, this research takes narrative production as the central cognitive process through which meaning making is manifested. The research proposes a system that captures and reveals visitor behaviour. The traces of visitor interaction are seen as a form of patina, offering clues to how records are linked and contextualised. Digital patina is represented by the trails the content itself has followed (e.g. how it has been navigated, reblogged or retweeted). The less measurable ways interest-paths have influenced and changed the archive can also be captured. If these paths can be made more permanently visible and tractable, their journey through the archive can be reflected in the collection in the same way that stories take shape and develop over generations.

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Decentered authority, egalitarian participation, and VGC in archaeology

By Dominic Walker

University of Cambridge

My research contributes to the growing body of literature on collaborative, decolonizing and decentering theory and practice in archaeology. To date, the literature addressing this new programmatic debate has neglected the application and translation of decentered archaeologies in museums, and more crucially public engagement with decentered expertise. However, the public primarily encounters archaeology in museums and persistently regards them as possessors of authority and places within which they may encounter ‘facts’ about the past. Alongside the adoption of a range of postmodern theories and practices in exhibition development and collections management, the use of participatory/social media technologies by museums has further challenged the authority of traditional disciplines like archaeology.

My thesis explores how decentered theory is translated into exhibitions, applied online (e.g. through participatory technologies), and how the museum-visiting public encounters disciplinary authority. A number of inter-related primary questions frame this research. Firstly, how/why should archaeological expertise be realigned, and whom should archaeologists strive to serve? Secondly, is authority truly decentered, and how does this impact upon the authority of archaeologists and their ability to talk about the past? Thirdly, do participatory technologies allow for egalitarian participation? And, related, how does authority play out online? I will elucidate these questions through offline and online qualitative research of visitors and museum staff.

The Shape of Things conference significantly aligns with this research, and will allow me to discuss my views on the egalitarian possibilities of visitor generated content. Specifically, with relation to the impact of VGC on authority and power in museums, and its impact on who is allowed physical and epistemological access to museums.

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Tate Visitor-Generated Content

By Rosie Cardiff


Tate has been running projects that invite visitors to the galleries and the website to contribute their own content for many years. For example, the Tate Tales blog, where children submit stories inspired by art works, started in 2004, and some of the children who submitted those early stories are now adults. We have developed a number of different platforms from large online communities, such as Tate Kids, and turbinegeneration, where people contribute their creative content on an ongoing basis, to small projects on third party platforms that run for a fixed time period. We have showcased visitor generated content in the gallery, such as the current Family Matters display. Tate has also published visitor generated content in many different formats – books, t-shirts, audiobooks and most recently, the Hello Cube where young people tweeted instructions to an interactive installation at Tate Modern.

Vistor generated content has formed part of Tate’s core strategy to be more open and diverse, to encourage debate and present a range of different voices and perspectives. But does inviting visitor generated content really help fulfil these aims? I will look at the lessons that we have learned and think about what a successful visitor-generated-content project looks like and how we define ‘success’. I will look at how visitor generated content is used in the gallery space and the curatorial concerns around seeming to endorse creative work produced by the public. Over the years, Tate has consistently underestimated the amount of time and money it takes to manage and moderate projects of this kind. The volume of user generated content we host is continually increasing and at some point we have to ask ourselves, what are we going to do with this content? Has it served its purpose? Will we end up simply deleting it?

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News: The Shape of Things program online

The program for The Shape of Things is now online (subject to minor changes). Highlights include:

  • A great mix of museum practitioners and researchers will be sharing their experiences with VGC projects in a range of heritage institutions across Europe.
  • Four invited keynote presenters will share insights and predictions for the future of VGC.
  • Also not to be missed, the concluding Crown Court Hearing of “The Visitors against the Museum”

There are still places available – to book follow the link to the online registration form on the registration and accommodation page.

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