Keep Austin Weird

I’m in Austin, Texas this week for the Museum Computer Network conference to talk about the British Museum project and generally fly the flag for free-culture.


I’ve never been to this part of the world and I’ve discovered that the local slogan for the “live music capital of the world” is KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD.


….or equally, “make Austin weirder”. This was a poster on the ceiling of a bar we visited last night. The (very) local band playing was called “Hug, Fuck Work” with such wonderful songs as Take off your pants, Car crash and Canadian bathroom. The lead singer was wearing a Kimono and the bass player an electrified sombrero. Yep… weird. But cool! The fact that it’s also Halloween weekend makes it even weirder.

Tomorrow I will be making a variation on the presentation that I gave at Wikimania this year. Here are those slides.

Presenting in the same session will be Richard McCoy and Lori Philips from the Indianapolis Museum of Art, talking about their public artwork outreach project on Wikipedia. They’ve got a lot of interesting stuff coming up and both Adrianne Wadewitz and I be visiting them next week in Indianapolis as part of their “Wikipedia and the Cultural Sector: Lecture and Workshop” and also the Wikipedia Backstage Pass event at the Children’s Museum.

One of the surprising things I’ve seen so far at this conference is the number of museum representatives who’ve come up to me and said “I read about how Wikipedia is collaborating with museums in that New York Times article [Noam Cohen’s, Venerable British Museum enlists in Wikipedia revolution] – our museum is interested in Working with Wikipedia too.” It seems that that article alone has gone a long way to increase the visibility and acceptability of GLAM-Wiki collaboration.

As the number and variety of potential collaboration project is increasing I am increasingly convinced that:

  • Since the Wikimedia Foundation does not (and should not) be directly involved in content projects, there really really needs to be a Wikimedia USA chapter. This might be as a ramping-up of Wikimedia NYC, some sort of collaboration of several US state-based Chapters, or a new National chapter altogether, but it needs to happen!
  • Once they’ve become stable (with fundraising infrastructure etc. in place) Wikimedia Chapters everywhere general should investigate hiring an “outreach coordinator” to professionally manage the relationship with the many GLAM organisation (also including educational organisations, media organisations etc. etc.) that are contacting Wikimedia wanting to run projects. Kind of like a more meta version of what I did at the British Museum.
 Austin skyline, by Visualist Images - CC by nc sa

Austin skyline, by Visualist Images: CC-by-nc-sa

Posted in museums | 2 Comments

Open Culture 2010

Open Culture 2010” conference has finished, long live the Open Culture conference.


Last week at the Westergasfabriek park in Amsterdam – a brilliantly converted industrial estate-come-cultural precinct – Europeana hosted their annual event to show what they are planning to do with the aggregated collections of the European GLAM sector. As it grows, Europeana will become possibly the most important force in Europe for advocating for a free-culture future, not merely because they have a great collection of partners and they grok the Public Domain but because they have the political backing of the European Commission to promote digital access.

As mentioned last week, I was invited to work with Europeana for two weeks for two reasons: to be the opening keynote for the Open Culture conference and to produce a report of things that the Wikimedia community and Europeana could potentially do together.

List of collaboration projects
Despite the fact that Europeana does not itself own any of the content or metadata there are indeed a lot of things we can do together. I’m pleased to announce that this is the shortlist. These are not promises per se from Europeana but are things that we think are achievable – technically, financially, politically.

Short term:
– Embed Wikipedia text into Europeana search results to improve contextualisation (example)
– Investigate translating the Europeana website via the system (description)
– Europeana to invite Wikimedians to their public events across Europe to make GLAM contacts
– Europeana presence at forthcoming GLAM-WIKI conferences (London, Paris)

Longer term:
– Mass upload Europeana provider’s content to Wikimedia Commons (licensing permitting)
– Creating a Europeana-ID + URL redirect service so people (not only Wikimedians) can easily use to reference collection items all across Europe. Add a Wikipedia citation template and you’ve got a powerful and easy to use system for Wikipedia to reference to European cultural objects
– Use Wikipedia’s inter-language links links to improve Europeana’s search language resolver
– Investigate if any of Europeana’s open source code could be useful for MediaWiki

The reason for my having been invited was on the basis of the British Museum residency project, and so that was what I first described. However, as a representative of the Wikimedia community, I was also asked to explain our strict stance against non-commercial and non-derivative licensing. Europeana is pushing its partners to go the same direction so they wanted to see some of the interesting re-use cases that Wikipedia has demonstrated. Here are the slides (takes a while to load).

What seemed to be the most retweeted sentences from that presentation were:

1) “Unexpected risks are accounted for, unexpected rewards are discounted.”

This is why new ideas are always hard to get accepted in any organisation. It’s much easier to identify things that currently work that will break when things change but not easy to foresee the new things that might arise to replace them. The Wikiverse is no exception to this as anyone who’s watched the debate about flagged/pending revisions will know.

2) “If digital content is not [legally and technically] interoperable, it’s not findable. If it’s not findable, it’s….”

Insert your preferred adjective for hidden and unusable cultural heritage here.

tweet1 By “legally and technically” I mean both a free-culture approved license to be permitted to use the content and also a format based on linked data so it can be re-used in practice. Without both you have a “haute couture business model” where the value is derived not necessarily from the quality of the content but from its scarcity. Enforcing scarcity of access to cultural content is an easy decision to make for a GLAM sector organisation (see previous paragraph about unexpected risks) but that way leads to decreased relevance and ultimately decreased funding.

p.s. Mia Ridge, from the London Science Museum has already posted a good summary of my, and other, sessions at the conference here. Hay Kranen from WM-NL made notes from the presentation on GitHub here.

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Posted in copyright, museums | 2 Comments

Public Domain Mark

I knew that Europeana groks the Public Domain, but not this much…

As part of their “Open Culture 2010” conference that I’m keynoting tomorrow (sneak peek), Creative Commons have launched the PDM (Public Domain Mark) upon the world – and Europeana will be the first to use it.


Unlike the other Creative Commons “products”, which are all copyright licenses that permit you to give permission-in-advance for how you want your creative work to be used, the PDM is merely a notification that the item in question has no copyright whatsoever. This is why it is called the PD “Mark” and not PD License – which would be a contradiction in terms. Europeana has also published a handy list of “usage guidelines for PD works” that enumerate the good practices that should still be followed even though there is no longer any copyright. These include “give credit when it’s due” and “show respect for the original work”.

Wikimedia and other sites have been using the C-with-a-line-through-it for a while to represent the concept of the Public Domain. What makes the Creative Commons PDM different then is that it is machine-readable rather than merely a logo, which makes it consistent and discoverable. This will enable you to find PD content on the internet using “search by license” techniques that are commonly available in places like Google and Flickr. As such, it allows GLAMs and other organisations to depreciate the use of the “know known copyright” tag and, when known, make a clear statement of Public Domain. Europeana is encouraging this with its partners so that end users (notably Wikimedians) can quickly find good quality, relevant and unencumbered cultural content to reuse.

You can read the full Creative Commons press release here, FAQ here. I sincerely hope that Wikimedia Commons will take up use of this PDM as a matter of principle so that our PD content can be made even more findable.

Posted in copyright | 1 Comment

Europeana: the Meta-GLAM

For the next two weeks I’m here at Europeana in Den Haag/The Hague working out of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB) – the National Library of the Netherlands – and I need your advice. I want to know any ideas you have for how Wikimedia and Europeana can work together.

I arrived here yesterday (meeting up with GerardM on the way) having been invited for two reasons:

  1. To keynote their conference next week in Amsterdam. Specifically this will be about my British Museum project but more broadly it will be about why letting go of control of cultural heritage is A Good Thing™. I’m very honoured to have this role, especially since the other keynote speaker is head of technical-shinanigans at Google Books.
  2. Coming up with ways that Wikimedia and Europeana can collaborate. I’m spending the next two weeks focusing on this. Delivering a range of proposals to Europeana and also bringing greater awareness of what they can offer to the Wiki-verse.

Europeana is an EU funded project to be, in effect, a Meta-GLAM. Whilst they do not themselves own a collection of objects their task is to help coordinate Europe’s GLAM sector to make that cultural material more accessible. They do this by aggregating the metadata of digitised objects from their uber-impressive list of partners. Currently, they are most well known for their search portal but this is only the beginning. As you can see on their “about us” page:

[The project’s task is to]…report on the further research and implementation needed to make Europe’s cultural heritage fully interoperable and accessible through a truly multilingual service.

Anyone familiar with the Wikimedia mission statement will notice how much the two have in common. Not only that, but Europeana GETS the kind of principles that Wikimedians are always going on about. For example take a look at their Public Domain Charter. They also don’t suffer from what I call “Portal envy” whereby an organisations refuses to work on projects that are not wholly confined within their own portal for branding purposes.

One of the other ways they’re testing of getting cultural information out is to curate digital exhibitions. Check out the current exhibition on Art Neauveau!

So – here’s the question: What, in your opinion, are some things that Europeana and Wikipedia can do together?

The main point of difference with any other GLAM-WIKI relationship in this case is that Europeana doesn’t itself control any of the original objects, on the other hand, they have a unique pan-European access and data consistency. Please contact me with any ideas, leave them as comments or tweet me. Direct any carrier pigeons c/o the KB.

Some potential ideas that come to mind immediately are:

  • Using the API to add snippets of Wikipedia to Europeana search results (like the way the National Library of Australia does it)
  • Using a Wikimedia Commons bot to import consistent metadata from Europeana to attach things like creator templates or other template boxes
  • Using Europeana’s simple and persistent links + a citation template to provide a URL-redirecting service. This makes would make it easy for Wikipedians writing articles about about cultural objects to discover and link to the object reference in the online catalogue of the GLAM that owns the object.
  • Work with the relevant Wikiproject when curating a new digital exhibition to write and share texts, footnotes, translations and multimedia.
  • Provide a relationship brokering service between the European Wikimedia Chapters and their local GLAMs to help fulfill the mutual mission of sharing cultural heritage.

Anything else?

Posted in museums | 11 Comments


Apologies to those subscribed to the wikimedia blog planet and have seen this announcement before on the Wikimedia UK blog.

Building on the good relationship with the British Museum from my residency there, Wikimedia UK have asked me to convene a UK edition of the GLAM-WIKI conference that we ran last year in Australia. So, I’m pleased to say, on November 26 & 27 at the British Museum will be GLAM-WIKI:UK! Moreover, the very next weekend the French Chapter will be hosting their edition of the same conference in Paris which will build even more momentum for sustainable and mutually-benificial relationships between the cultural sector and the Wikimedia community.

All of the details of the UK conference can be found at:


I’m very pleased to see that over the course of the last couple of years, since we started to work proactively with GLAM institutions, Wikipedians’ initial reaction to museums is “what projects can we run with them?” and museums’ initial reaction to Wikipedia is “how can we get our collection on there?” Obviously there is still a large gap in terms of actually getting projects running but the most important part is the good will in the first place.

Keynoting this conference will be:

  • Author, blogger and “you can share things online and it will be a good thing” activist Cory Doctorow
  • Broadcaster, Canadian (that’s OK, we won’t hold it against her) and executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation Sue Gardner
  • Historian, librarian and director of the Columbia University copyright advisory office Dr. Kenneth Crews

You can see some of the other confirmed speakers at the conference website. If you have a good project or idea that you want to discuss at GLAM-WIKI:UK please write to me and we could add you to the schedule too 🙂

The first day of the conference will focus on Principles of collaboration (including legal and business models) whilst the second day will focus on Practice (including content and data partnerships). For GLAM representatives there will be opportunities to undertake crash courses in Wikipedia (both the technological and policy aspects) and to sit down with some expert Wikipedians to nut-out some practical ways that your institution can get involved that are cheap, low-risk and not time-consuming. For Wikimedians it will be a chance for you to see how your work is making an impact on real-world organisations and learn how you can help make it even more effective.

The cost for registration for professionals is £40 and for Wikimedians £20. This includes entry into the special evening event on Friday the 26th being run in collaboration with the Museum Computer Group (MCG). This will be a lecture by Kenneth Crews followed by a panel debate on the subject of “The free-conomy and the culture sector”. Panelists include Gilane Tawadros (director of the Design Artists Copyright Society), Paula Le Dieu (head of digital at the British Film Institute) and Bill Thompson (from the BBC’s “Digital Planet”).


See you there!

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In the next couple of months I’m on a bit of a conference-a-thon, presenting the idea of the cultural sector having a proactive relationship with Wikipedia and more generally learning things about the intersection between culture and technology.

1) Right now I’m sitting in the University of Canberra attending the first ever THATcamp in Australia.

The opening discussion was a fascinating investigation of whether it is possible to do for Privacy what CreativeCommons did for copyright. That is, create a easy to understand, mix-n-match schema to explain privacy issues especially in context of archives and libraries. These could include: the period of time data is to be kept; what happens to the data when that period expires; 3rd party use/access; what kind of people have access to the data; what jurisdiction is it in; etc….

I’m looking for the rest of the rest of this unconference!

2) Museums Australia “Interesting Times: New Roles for Collections” 28 September – 2 October. Melbourne.
This is the annual big event in the Australian museum world and they’re very keen to hear about new ways that existing collections in museums can be used to reach their audience(s). No prizes for guessing what my presentation will focus on 🙂

3) Europeana “Open Culture Conference” 14-15 October. Amsterdam.
Amazingly, I’ve been invited to not only speak at this conference, but to Keynote it! Europeana is a project co-funded by the European Commission to make European culture more accessible digitally. Interestingly, Europeana doesn’t itself own any of the data being used in its services so by definition it’s a project that lives in a world of reuse culture. I’ll also be working with them to see how their project can collaborate with Wikipedia.

4) Museum Computer Network “I/O: The Museum Inside-Out/Outside-In” October 27-30. Austin.
This is a major part of the US museum calendar as the headline event of the MCN. I love the range of interlinked themes for this year’s event:

  • Behind the scenes and transparency in the museum
  • Commons and digital collections
  • Igniting the Imagination: building communities locally and globally, on-site and online
  • Open Source, Open Content, Open Learning
  • Democratizing Access
  • User-generated and museum content: quality, trust, reputation and relevance
  • Integrated communication strategies in print and online
  • Bridging the Digital Divide

My presentation will be talking about my time at the British Museum and how other museums (large and small) might be able to produce their own version of the “Wikpedian in Residence”. This is highly relevant to many of the above conference themes and I would hope that many more museums will start to look at Wikipedia as a way of achieving those outcomes.

[Between MCN and GLAM-WIKI:UK I’ll be undertaking a couple of other interesting projects in the US which I’ll talk more about another day]

5) GLAM-WIKI:UK 26-27 November, London & GLAM-WIKI:France 3-4 December, Paris.
I’m incredibly pleased to say that the conference that I ran in Canberra one year ago has now become a series. Both the French and UK Wikimedia chapters will be running their own editions where the GLAM sector (art Galleries, Libraries, Archives & Museums) can come together to talk with the Wikimedia community to see how we can best collaborate productively.

Moreover, I’m very happy to say that I have been contracted by Wikimedia-UK to convene the London edition which will be hosted at, you guessed it, the British Museum. There will be more information about these conferences in the near future but if you can be in London or Paris then – save the date because you won’t want to miss it 🙂

Posted in academia, museums | 1 Comment

End of my residency

[This is part of a series of posts from my time as
“Wikipedian in Residence” at the British Museum.]

Today is my last day at the British Museum as the “Wikipedian in Residence” project draws to the end of its five-week pilot. On Monday I head off to Gdańsk Danzig Gdańsig for Wikimania 2010 to present about what I’ve learned here.

This post will highlight some interesting outcomes from my time here and also lay some ideas for how this kind of project could be run elsewhere.

Interesting outcomes from this project that you might not know about:

  • Looking at the quantitative reporting, June represented the single biggest month both in terms of organically generated pageviews to British Museum articles in Wikipedia and also in terms of clickthroughs to the BM catalogue.[1] (See more about these stats at my previous blogpost.)
  • Not only did many Wikipedians write in asking for the assistance of curators at the “one on one collaboration” page, but a couple of BM departments “pitched” notable objects and asked if any Wikipedian would like to come on-site to write an article. The first result of that has been today’s creation of the article Isabella Brant (drawing). A piece by Reubens with his first wife on the front and his second wife on the back!

[The “empress” pepper pot – most famous object from the Hoxne Hoard.
The article about the object itself is also a byproduct of the “Challenge” event. Photo by BabelStone, CC-zero]

  • During the Hoxne Challenge we took what I believe to be the first video of Wikipedians editing in the wild. It is a timelapse of the editing process and can be viewed in .ogg format here. It is also the first use of a Creative Commons license by the British Museum.
  • OpenMoko, the people behind the Wikireader (effectivley the closest thing you’ll get to a Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galazy) generously gave us five Wikireaders for this project. Not only were they used extensively during the Backstage Pass day but they are now being used as part of the schools programe at the British Museum’s Samsung Digital Discovery Centre.

[One of the Wikireaders in action during the “backstage pass” tour. By Mike Peel, CC-by-SA]

  • There are many other things that have resulted from this month-long collaboration some of which are tangible (or at least digital) whilst many are more difficult to quantify. A lot of people, from both communities, now feel that the other is not quite so scary, not quite so exclusivist, not quite so antithetical to their way of doing things. Of course, I have no proof of this other than comments that people have made but I do hope that this month marks a turning point in the way Museums and Wikipedia (and by extension, the free-web and the GLAM sector) see each other – as potential allies rather than as potential threats.

Running this project elsewhere

The key thing that I would recommend you look at if you are interested in running a similar project in your own museum (or if you’re a Wikipedian wanting to work at your local museum) is to know the rules of engagement. You need to both be aware of what you want to achieve, what are potential conflicts-of-interest, what areas of policy overlap and what diverge.

The way I defined the scope of my time here was:

“The project is to identify ways of building a sustainable relationship between the museum and the Wikimedia community that is both mutually beneficial and in accordance with both communities’ principles.”

There are a lot of keywords in that but they’re all relevant. What they mean in practice is:

  • Sustainable = it’s not “all about me” but also about what happens afterwards. It’s important that resident not attempt to “own” or control subjects just because they are related “their” museum. The project should not burn-out either community from being interested in each other into the future.
  • Relationship = Building a relationship is more than just asking for a donation of multimedia content. It’s not a fire-and-forget thing, but a meeting of two communities of practice.
  • Mutually beneficial = there must be direct benefit to the Museum and not just to Wikimedia otherwise the project is just a charity-case rather than something that can be pointed to by management as fulfilling part of their strategy. The trick is identifying things that are beneficial to both rather than just one or the other.
  • Both communities’ principles = that is, as an officially affiliated volunteer you’re responsible to both organisations to give advice that you know will not undermine either. You might be able to convince a museum to release images (for example) but if you do this by making false promises then you’ve undermined the relationship/trust. This section is also important when dealing with Conflict of Interest issues as it means you cannot be obliged to willingly undermine one community or the other.

Addressing these points are crucial to making sure you remain in good standing with both communities which is itself crucial to making the project a success.

Nevertheless, be prepared for hostility. From both directions. There are some (though not many) in the museum sector who believe that working with Wikipedia or free-culture community will undermine the role of the professional cultural institution. Equally, there are some in the Wikipedia community who believe that working with museums will undermine the encyclopedia’s independence.

I’ve heard the phrase “but we must preserve the integrity of our collection” used in reference to museums arguing for control but equally I have heard the same phrase used by Wikipedians arguing why they should not interact with outside organisations. I’ve also been accused of having a conflict of interest, of being a paid-editor, of breaking UK tax law and taking the place of someone else more qualified to take the role. cf. Haters gonna hate.


Now that this month has passed (too quickly) I can safely say that I’ve never felt more engaged and able to contribute to both sectors than whilst working here. I hope other people take up the challenge and become in-house Wikipedians around the world as this spreads mutual trust and understanding. There are several other things in the works that are not ready for announcing yet but stay tuned for further British Museum – Wikipedia goodness in the future 🙂

–Liam Wyatt,
Volunteer Wikipedian in Residence, British Museum.
(not any more).

[1]The largest month ever coincided with the release of the Indiana Jones Film “temple of the crystal skull” in 2008 with several million people arriving at the Wikipedia article Crystal skull which is actually about the British Museum object – not the film. However! A considerable number of those people subsequently visited the British Museum website which was no accident.

Posted in British Museum, museums | 8 Comments