The National Digital Forum (NDF) 2015 Conference held at Te Papa Museum in Wellington, New Zealand, on October 13-14, 2015, was very good and, since almost everything was related to a local New Zealand context, dare I say even better than the Global Digital Humanities Conference in Sydney this past July. The keynotes were great, the presentations were great, and I met new people and came away having learned a ton and picked up ideas for future projects and teaching opportunities. The enthusiasm of the attendees and presenters and the occasional debates made it a very engaging two days. I gained insight into the wonderful digital initiatives taking place in the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) and related sectors. Plus, I met several science fiction fans and was treated to a full-on Dune reference (with accompanying slide of a fan poster) in one of the sessions. It seems no digital-related conference is complete without a good dose of science fiction!

That being said, I took a lot of notes because so much was interesting. Here are some of the highlights of the presentations I attended (I believe all were recorded and are available on YouTube for those who want to watch them).

NDF Conference Day 1

Welcome Remarks – Andy Neale

If it’s not online, it’s like it doesn’t exist. If kids can’t find a moa skeleton online, will they just choose an emu? Where are the New Zealand collections? How is GLAM helping?

People, Communities, and Platforms: Digital Cultural Heritage and the Web – Trevor Owens

Owens emphasized that LAM are sites of community memory. Viewshare is a free platform for digital collections. In looking at video games, the discussions in forums about the games are actually more interesting than the game itself. Regarding ethics: companies are now controlling our online community spaces; we need to think critically about the future of this trend. Software is ideological, enacts ideology. It has a point of view and perspective and shapes the way things work. He gave the example of a beach that can only be accessed via one road that goes under a bridge. If the bridge is built too low for buses, bus riders (i.e. low-income folks) can’t get to the beach. The decisions made in building the bridge will shape the access. Reference was made to Matthew Fuller’s Behind the Blip: Essays on the Culture of Software: “software constructs a way of seeing, knowing, and doing”.

Regarding cognitive extension, he explained that expert Tetris players actually move pieces more because it takes less mental energy to see and not think about manipulating the shapes. Reference was made to Andy Clark’s Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension and the “Extended Mind” cartoon. Owens then discussed collective intelligence and the shaming that happens when someone asks a question that could have been looked up online. They might be told, “Let me Google that for you” because Googling is considered digital literacy now. PhpBB and bulletin boards have been outshone by the turn toward social media, but the language used to talk about online communities has also changed from hosting to managing/owning. Users are seen as commodities for managers to extract value from and need to have their behavior controlled. He called for us to enable people to be a community in contrast with Silicon Valley’s vision. LAM needs a seat at the table in the digital infrastructure of community memory.

There is the prospect of One Big Library. David Lee King has asked: What’s the most visited part of your library? (often the website!) Are you staffing it adequately? The focus is still on the physical rather than enduring digital sites. There is an opportunity to curate all Creative Commons works, but also provide entry point for collections (continuous flowing of Web > LAM  > Web > LAM). Chronicling America hosts digitized newspapers from 1836-1922. Owens discussed how when he shared life on Mars pictures on Pinterest as part of a project, it generated a lot of responses from people and was even picked up by news sites. Ultimately, sharing the research process and not just giving something that’s done allows people to do their own research and contribute [this reminded me of the research on problem-based learning vs. traditional lectures]. If Pinterest closes, wouldn’t it be better if we had our own purpose-built tools and resources? For now, we can use ready-built tools like Pinterest, but we should think beyond them. If we want to avoid the bleak future of Silicon Valley’s casino-mindset where social networks try to get people while they’re hot and use them up as if they were commodities, we have to take the chance to change that by enabling community memory. He wondered why Google was able to get libraries together to digitize content but they weren’t able to do that themselves: Take ownership!

How Crowdfunding is Changing the World – Jackson Wood

Pledgeme is looking into crowdlending next. Instead of getting little in a savings account, people could invest in non-companies and get repaid either in better interest or products like burritos. It would open up opportunities for NGOs, nonprofits, etc.

Problem with Gutenberg – Baruk Jacob

Jacob described the current age as a post-literacy one (digital culture) still trying to reconcile the previous pre-literacy age (oral culture) and book age (book culture, also known as the Gutenberg parenthesis). In oral culture, storytelling and making were the norm. Rather than reading a book, you would do something or hear a story. In digital culture, communication and learning are prioritized. These two non-book ages have commonalities. In fact, he said that while you’re using a literate format during texting, you actually are operating more in an oral format where grammar/syntax don’t matter as much as getting the message out immediately. He asked, How do we use makerspaces to develop postliteracy skills and how do we measure? Today most measuring is still literacy-based or numbers-based.

The Perfect Face, Tim Sherratt

Sherratt discussed the genetic testing done by www.23andme.com/ancestry and how www.faceplusplus.com/tech-gender/ can do gender, race, age, and expression facial analysis. There are potential issues with Australia’s “The Capability” facial recognition and Facebook’s DeepFace technology which are becoming highly accurate. Faces create a feeling of connection. With www.cvdazzle.com, you can learn how to camouflage yourself from recognition software. Consider that one outcome of these programs is that we become what they can measure; with measurement comes the power to control. But identifiers are not the same as identities.

Social Media: Do You Have an Exit Plan? – Adrian Kingston and Amanda Rogers

Te Papa Museum did an audit of social media usage and accounts. They determined that there were ones where it was unclear what the purpose is or who is contributing; basically, a lack of strategy. Things like TripAdvisor need to have a policy for how to respond to reviews. A project mentality of “deliver and walk away” doesn’t work in today’s world. If you do shut down an account, make sure to archive use/followers/screenshots for historical record. Do a health check on underperforming accounts. In the U.S., the NMAH did a survey and found out useful information. Tools to check out: Hootsuite, IFTTT, FollowerWork, GoogleAlerts. Have ongoing review and set periods to review performance. Use LeanCoffee to find and prioritize issues. Above all: avoid ghost towns!

Evolution of a Facebook Page – Janine Delaney

Facebook isn’t an archival site and it’s hard to find stuff as it falls down the page or in comment threads. The West Coast New Zealand group is outgrowing this platform and crowdfunding for  a Recollect site (westcoast.recollect.co.nz). It realized that Facebook Group content can’t be archived. Eventually an IT person made a script and was able to save most of the content. Facebook is good for capturing the spontaneity of people having conversations. Potential issues with the West Coast site are a perceived threat to cultural institutions: threat to revenue, challenge to professional standing, and personality clashes. However, site is very popular: 9,882 visitors in September 2015 with over 61,000 page views.

Our Collective Connections: How We Built a Collections-Led Social Media Game (#OneThread) – Gareth De Walters, Zoe Richardson, Rebecca Loud

The goal was to engage people more with collections at the Auckland Museum. The project used its existing network for contributors, including NDF, other museums, and Emerging Museum Professionals. Staff brainstormed ideas and needed collection literacy to get a good variety of object clues. They also used Trello to look at photos and collaborate with other contributors. Twitter has a good free analytics package. They have moved from people’s passive likes to engagement with the museum.

Collaborative Community Repository – Fiona Fieldsend

Kete is an open source tool for digitizing content. It partners with DigitalNZ to have community portals for people to contribute stories.

Talking to Each Other and Making Sense – Kate Hannah

Hannah is a cultural historian in a physics department. She notes that the terms STEAM or GLAM to those outside of academia are unfamiliar, or sound like punk rockers. A “public lecture” might seem public to us used to the academic environment, but it won’t be perceived that way by others. Public engagement is about more than school visits and guest speakers. There are multiple publics beyond schoolkids and those already familiar with universities/students.

Carrots and Sticks: Legal Deposit of GLAM Digitization Projects – Amy Joseph

This session raised awareness of the ability for the National Library to legally deposit digitized resources. The draft collections policy is that digitized resources are considered public documents for legal deposit and may be collected (principle no. 5). Research depositories like the University of Canterbury Research Repository are also included. Potential issues include a skewing of usage stats and reporting if resources are available in multiple places.

Cartography and Linked Data – Chris McDowall

The newly-formed Auckland Data Poets’ Society discusses visualizations and interesting insights. Mental scaffolding is useful. Having someone show you where all the points a human would touch the metadata really demonstrates how a user would use the system. McDowall advocated for making rough graphics and explaining them to each other; this is a really useful tool for thinking through ideas.

Faces and Failures – Ben O’Steen

He said NDF is nice because it is not like the “White paper-itis” in Europe where people come to give a paper but don’t really care what other people think. British Library Labs works with researchers on their specific problems and tries not to presuppose. Lab means experimentation and it has an annual competition. He said to try not to establish someone or a project as good or bad because of their affiliation. Although we often give names to a collection based on who paid for it or who found it, this is not necessarily relevant to the collection. He elaborated on common farce-inducing words which have so many meanings, when you use them people come away with completely different ideas: Collection, Access (“my favorite bugbear”), Content, Metadata, and Crowdsourced.

Due to paltry amount (too small, too big, other reasons) of material, there is a skewed digital corpus compared to overall holdings (bias in digitization). Reference was made to Allen B. Riddell’s “Where are the novels?” There are also peaks due to inferred dates/rounded-off dates (like 1815, 1820, etc.). Black boxes of algorithms are used to draw conclusions without context of the data. For example: a Google search of paintings of flowers will look through images, not necessarily just those keywords. We need to be skeptical of sentiment analysis and tendency to believe the labels. Reference made to @VictorianHumour and PoliticalMeetingsMapper.co.uk which tracked Chartist meetings through mining digitized newspapers and maps and organized actual walks around the city for people to learn the history. Keyword search fails miserably and bulk access is an issue. Simple data structure would help. Everything should have a URL and a descriptive page, be machine-readable, and enable access to all the data (images, XML, etc.).

The British Library has science fiction sets of images. Stripping context can stimulate research with the illustrations themselves. If fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. He mentioned Cory Doctorow and the fact that ebooks are actually licensed, not bought. There was a digital maps Halloween tagathon in Octobeer 2014 at the British Library. Google’s AutoAwesome can stitch together multiple photos (and choose only happy, smiling faces). Will AIs be changing history as they decide what a photo should be? Reference made to Robert Elliott Smith. Only mimicking the physical may not be the best idea. Nowadays, wanting access to everything is the default. Things don’t have to be catalogued or perfect to be useful to people.

~Something noted at one of the sessions: charging for images can actually lose money when staff time is considered.~