A 2 day conference with 200 librarians, museum staff, and archivists. It could have been musty, and death by droning powerpoint, but it wasn’t. I’ve just been at the National Digital Forum, and it was fantastic to see Web 2.0, folksonomies, podcasts and mashups being embraced by this community. One of the speakers had already made a del.icio.us account with bookmarks for the sites he referred to, common enough among digerati, but fairly radical for Museum people.
There were some magnificent speakers including Toby Travis from the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Susan Chun from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. These and other institutions are enabling users to tag art works and gallery objects (online) to improve discoverability, and blogs and podcasts to reach out to a wider audience. Some were using Flickr mashups to let the public contribute images to exhibitions, setting up famous dead photographers as Flickr users, creating gallery profiles in MySpace, and even a gallery in Second Life.
One of my favorite examples was a ‘Design your own Arts&Crafts Tile‘ flash application. People could create tiles, and rate each others. They had a very limited number of patterns and colours to work with, and only a title and brief description field for metadata. Given this very limited palette (in fact probably because of it) it was amazing to see what people did, and the kind of dialogue by picture and metadata that occurred as a result.
Another interesting aspect was the thought going in to the interaction between folksonomies and rigorous academic taxonomies as used by archivists and curators. Folksonomies were being used to inform enhancement to taxonomies and the more formal descriptive content around art works. Discussions were starting about faceted folksonomies, the notion of hierarchies and clusters of tags. I’m wondering whether this will get us closer to the emergence of the semantic web. Certainly having the ‘memory institutions’ involved in this process is going to add something, whether it’s needed academic rigour and inspiration, or restrictive pedanticism remains to be seen. Their increasingly excited and engaged though, and that’s a great start.