M(Apping) Media

I hope everyone is staying safe while working on those final project drafts! I felt very pressured to do these readings well for two reasons: 1. Cameron and Jack are intimidating (in a good way) 2. Mobile apps and mapping is a big part of a lot of people’s projects, except mine. So here we go! (please don’t hate me, I’m just a poor philosophy student stuck with only her thoughts to entertain and torture her).

Okay so first was Mobile for Museums by the Center for History and New Media (CHNM). IMPORTANT: PUBLISHED IN 2009 this means that a lot of the technology is pretty much optimized and the concerns about a mobile device’s ability are null and social media was JUST becoming a thing. The project surveyed a bunch of different museums about mobile content. The project aims to provide suggestions for smaller budget museums that may not have enough resources, training, or personnel trying to provide the mobile content for the widest audience. Through these surveys, the project found that most of museums that have mobile content are reliant on the visitor’s devices rather than the more cumbersome audio tour devices. The most popular format used by museums is podcasts; ones that often talk a visitor through an exhibit. Side note: at the Cleveland Museum of Art (top 3 in the country) I went through a Michelangelo exhibit with an audio tour with a provided device, and it was pretty easy to use, although I would have preferred to use my own device, but the navigation and interface was really user friendly. Also common are apps created by the museum that allow a visitor to go through the exhibit online, some museums have even made QR codes for certain objects that people can scan using their phone to learn more about. There was concern that most devices didn’t have the capacity or ability to scan QR codes, but that is not a problem anymore. Some museums used the mass text option to reach out to patrons; again, this is replaced by the prevalence of social media networks.

After laying the groundwork for what has already been taken on by museums, the project goes on to offer a few recommendations to improve efficiency and increase audience interaction. This is broken up by focusing on Infrastructure and Technology, and Content and Implementation.

First tackling Infrastructure and technology, the main suggestions relate to cross-platform development and open sourced databases. The best mobile content is that that doesn’t rely on a specific type of app or interface. So I don’t really think this is a problem any more. An offered solution is for museums to develop cites that use CSS so different devices could access the same site. The project really pushes for museum website to start “using CSS and XHTML to draw content out of standards-based databases” which would provide institutions with more control over specific mobile content. This leads to importance of open source databases for museums. The project acknowledges that a lot of museums just don’t have to resources to create their own personalized website, so they recommend Omeka more than anything because it reduces the need for high software and technology experience. This is great because we have gone over Omeka, so we at least know the basics.

The next main area of concern comes from content and implementation. Most museums mistakenly focus on in-person gallery experiences that often limits how far the site goes. Museums instead, should interact with things that go beyond the physical walls of the building to reach a greater audience. Also, the project advises against having visitors download a specific app for the museum, although I think this is not a bad idea if the app has been well developed and troubleshooted. Important in content is meaningful engagement; how a museum gets and keeps people interested and involved. This has got to be the hardest part of any project: will people even look at what I’ve spent so much time on? The project suggests that a focus on creating a space for valuable interaction is very important. Providing a space for users to comment, share, and communicate with museum staff and each other opens up new possibilities and ideas. I need to remind y’all that lot of the problems brought up by the project are solved with Twitter and Facebook, it is not difficult to create an online presence.

After the recommendations, the project offers three prototypes, or rather “proof of concept;” that shows what they suggest isn’t impossible. The first prototype is  a variety of Omeka Plugins for mobile devices that any museum can access. The second prototype takes the plugins and makes a mobile-friendly website. This is what they envision for a productive mobile interface:

I have NEVER seen a phone that old in my whole life. The last prototype was a native cross-platform app. This one really thew me with all the old tech language. I don’t know anything about “how code can be shared and licensed” but I only know of one app that iTunes didn’t have but Google Play did. They also mentioned blackberry apps, but I haven’t seen a Blackberry in about seven years so. The project has a link to an open source Google Code that doesn’t exist anymore. Overall, I thought this project was cool for the time but seriously outdated and most of the problems are solved with the advancement of smartphones.

Phew, okay next article, much shorter and easier to read. “A Place for Everything” felt like a coffeehouse chat with a concerned museum curator. The article is concerned with the development of a virtual reality app called Chicago 00 by the Chicago History Museum (also CHM) that “brings historical images of Chicago into the city’s central business district via an augmented reality.” Curator John Russick wants to geo-locate all the objects in the museum to their actual location in a contemporary Chicago. This idea is cool; bringing artifacts from the museum to their real historical ‘home’ which is overlaid on the current city. I was pleasantly surprised when Russick addressed a common theme when recording history: under-representation. Mapping the contents of a well-respected Chicago museum is going to reveal the unfortunate truth that mainstream institutions often neglect the less privileged and affluent people of history. The app would portray areas of Chicago as lacking a history, which is of course not true, but appears as such because they were not included. Russick struggles with a lot of questions and thoughts, that I’m certain we have discussed in class. He wonders if he could make a mapping project that could be edited by community members so under-represented stories could be told. While Russick doesn’t offer many real solutions, so much as tosses out ideas, I’m hopeful to know that curators are beginning to recognize the problematic nature of museums and possible collaborative digital solutions.

Do community additions bring the same level of credibility and authenticity as a museum addition? How if ever can this disparity be reconciled? Hope everyone is practicing responsible social distancing but still keeping good mental health habits! I hope I did these articles justice and made some of you think about your own projects!


What does it mean to collect and exhibit/present/interpret digital objects? This week we explore this issue across new media art, source code, and digitized materials. The two readings that illustrate this are Museumbots: An Appreciation by Steven Lubar and Collecting the Present: Digital Code and Collections By Sebastian Chan. Along with thinking through issues of presenting digital objects we also explore the potential of turning our interpretations and exhibitions over to the machines themselves.

What is available to see in a museum is rarely its whole collection. Many times a valuable piece is hidden for restoration or a collection is on loan. These eventualities are known to the museum visitor, but less often thought of are the catalogs of items in archives and storage. It is the odds and interests that are less eye-catching, less preserved, or that don’t fit neatly into the narrative or sets that a museum has chosen to display at the current time. These important but often overlooked artifacts may never have the chance to be seen if it were not for the interesting work of Museum

Bots. These lines of code trawl through the archives and collections of a museum to post out to the world based only on the pre-selected algorithm. To me, this is similar to the act of the discovery itself. Each item has it’s own chance to be unearthed and appreciated for it’s won merits and beauty whether it is a full sculpture or a fragment of a plate. For this reason, I find the idea of these bots somewhat romantic and it really makes me think about the biases of the historical representation available in accessible collections which lean toward what might draw more people and tell a more complete narrative. History Bot reminds me that History is often far from complete, it is a hidden beauty. Although a photograph can only show you so much of an item, the color of a pigment is almost impossible to pass through a camera lens, computer compression, and to the viewer without loss. Details lost and never passed on may give viewers a less than complete experience of the work shown to them, and so I don’t believe that a digital exhibition or presentation of works will ever truly be able to replace the physical experience. People will always prefer to see a masterwork painting in person than to see it in their web search results.

On a non-art aside, we must remember that all code and bots are only as the creators designed. They indeed have their own sets of biases that drive them and as Mark Sample points out the uses of these bots can be as wide and as varied as the people who make them. I know of a bot on the internet that’s sole purpose is to tweet whether the current day Is Friday the thirteenth. This is by all accounts a comical and simple bot. On the other side, a protest bot or other activist-oriented bots make a somber and clear point. Bots that remind the populace of the over-reach of government watchdog programs. Indeed there are Bots that coordinate protests on a grand scale across the country, that act for the social or the moral good. As the news is quick to remind us there are also bad actors who create bots that skew discourse, manipulate search results and bury opinions. Tweeting out misinformation and voting down unfavorable mentions. If these bots and tactics were used to suppress certain forms of history from the web I feel that would be a nightmare.

In short, I am optimistic of the ability to utilize these tools to bring light to history and other elements in a way that wouldn’t be feasible for a person to do, but I believe that it isn’t a magic bullet to be relied on and we should always look to have verified sources and physical records as we go forward into these new frontiers.

Preserving digital culture

We all know that what’s on the internet usually stays on the internet. But what about obsolete sites? Systems rendered inaccessible as technology changes? Parts of the internet that once played a huge role in the internet’s evolution, but have since fallen into obscurity? People are out there collecting it (let’s hear it for the Wayback Machine), but the question falls on preservation. How to collect, preserve, and make accessible this digital culture and history?

Sebastian Chan and Aaron Cope’s paper “Collecting the Present: Digital Code and Collections,” written for the 2014 Museums and the Web conference, addresses how museums should preserve and acquire in the day and age where born digital artifacts are quickly becoming the norm.

Chan and Cope start by covering MOMA acquiring the “@” symbol – how that works, what the logistics are behind it, the decision-making process. They move on to a few different design museums, leading up to a focus on the Cooper-Hewitt museum. There, they quote the museums’ founders expressing a wish to pass on an “artistic tradition” more than just a collection of objects.

Chan and Cope focus the rest of the paper on this interaction between “original” artifacts and the propagation of design and intent – specifically in a world where those artifacts are born digital. As they are focused on the museum approach, they discuss the issues behind acquisitions, legal rights, sources codes, and preservation.

To do this, they use the example of a program called Planetary.

Planetary was a system made by a now defunct company called Bloom in 2011. Planetary would transform users’ music libraries into solar systems and galaxies by categorizing planets and orbits along factors like artists, albums, and track lengths.

How it works
Planetary in action

In preserving Planetary, Chan and Cope state the preservation strategy was to open source the code with a Berkeley Software Distribution license, so that anyone anywhere could access and use the code without permission. Not only is the code open sourced, but the code’s history and all its bugs and tweaks are also made available – so people can not only use the code but also understand how it came to be. They host the code on Github, so they’re able to keep an “original” code while users download and modify alternate copies.

Putting the code out there as a preservation strategy allows a focus on “design and intent,” as Chan and Cope put it. Derivative works are a way to preserve Planetary. After all, if the original company were still around, it’s possible Planetary would have gone through a number of evolutions at this point. Because technology evolves, does that mean best preservation is allowing that evolution in the spirit of the project?

Chan and Cope end on the note that there is more and more an issue of “inaccessible history,” quoting Ben Fino-Radin from Rhizmo’s Artbase. As technology changes and renders some digital history inaccessible, they believe the responsibility falls to the creators to maintain projects and ensure longevity. This might not be an unfair assessment – but as the number of creators willing to assume such responsibility remains low, the role of museums in collection and preservation of digital history becomes more complex.

Speaking of Rhizmo, Dragan Espenschied’s “Big Data, Little Narration” digs further into Artbase. As an employee of Rhizmo, Espenschied has published a mix of their manuscript and transcript of their keynote/closing lecture at the 2014 Digital Preservation conference on the Rhizmo site. In this lecture, Espenschied digs deeper into Artbase.

The presentation and format of the paper might come across as obnoxious at first to those who don’t expect it, and might not seem to contribute much at first beyond showing where the laugh breaks were.

Do the emojis quantify the level of laughter? Or is this a representation of how the speaker interpreted the response?

But one thing the form does do is put the audience into the conversation. The emojis might not be entirely fulfilling, but Espenschied also includes tweets audience members who tagged the talk.

A tweet from the aforementioned Ben Fino-Radin, also a Rhizmo employee.

This means that Espenschied’s lecture followed the age-old saying, “Show, don’t tell.”

Of course, since it’s a lecture, Espenschied also tells. But it supports one of the lecture’s primary tenants: Users must be included.

Espenschied focuses his lecture on digital culture, and the question of how to historicize by focusing on Artbase, founded in 1999 as a “collection of born digital artifacts in a user generated archive.” What particularly interested him though, was how Artbase went from a base platform where people uploaded art, into a static archive – the connection between the archive, the user, and usability.

Espenschied brings up two examples when talking about the necessary link in digital culture and history between performance and activity.

First, he shows an example of how Google decided to present popular 2014 New Years Searches: a globe that lists the popular searches according to major city. He spins the globe to show the features to the audience, but concludes the globe is just bad.

The issue with the globe is: there’s no relevance.

The globe uses user activity to support the database designer, but there’s no interaction, no method to prompt more user activity. As Espenschied puts it, it’s an endpoint. Relevance, for digital history, is making it an entry point.

To that effect, Espenschied brings up a project he’d been co-leading on collecting and preserving Geocities.

He shows how they were staging contextualized screenshots of Geocities pages and posting them on Tumblr. Uploading them on a blog platform with younger users, Espenschied argues, means that digital culture and history becomes an entry point. Users can share and upload the screenshots to other platforms. It becomes a conversation starter, and leads to further user activity.

Both articles by Chan and Cope and Epenschied bring up interesting questions on how to collect and preserve born digital artifacts. Clearly, the approaches differ based on the institution and background, whether a museum or media company is making the decisions, whether the individual is inclined to follow more academic or artistic methodology.

I do think a really interesting question is about responsibility – does the creator have the responsibility to ensure their digital projects are preserved? If not, who does? Or should? And if creators aren’t willing to assume that responsibility, does that mean it’s effectively death of the creator and open sourcing codes is the next step?

“Finding Our Place in the Cosmos”

Finding Our Place in the Cosmos” is a digital collection from the Library of Congress. The collection features items from the papers of Carl Sagan, while contextualizing his work in the history of the study of the universe. The digital collection is divided into three exhibit sections, as well as a full listing of each collection item included in the interpretation.

The first section, “The Cosmos: Its Structure and Historical Models,” follows the history of astronomy from ancient Greece to modern times. “Life on Other Worlds” follows, exhibiting science fiction materials to analyze how “we” (the language in this exhibit is always about telling “our” story) have imagined life beyond Earth. Finally, “Carl Sagan and the Tradition of Science” focuses on Sagan’s life and work within a context of the history of science.

The collection presents its goals right on the front page. Not only do the creators seek to contextualize materials from Carl Sagan’s papers in a wider historical context, but they also want to demonstrate the diversity of materials within the LOC’s holdings, and to encourage their audience to directly engage with primary sources.

The description notes that the exhibit is designed so that visitors can follow their own path through the material, and this true for both the exhibit content and how they choose to interact with the digital items. From the main page, you can click to the three main exhibit sections (under “Articles and Essays”) or go straight to the archival materials (under “Collection Items”). Viewing an item through “Collection Items” takes you to a metadata page – it’s interesting that visitors can see the materials in this collection both with interpretation in the exhibit itself and without interpretation on the item page (though this does have a link to the item’s location within the exhibit). The main page also has a “Featured Content” section with links to selected sources. It’s worth noting that, as far as I can tell, all of the materials presented in this exhibit are digitized forms of the original items rather than born-digital materials.

A sidebar menu shows each section and subsection that makes up the exhibit

Visitors can also take their own path through the exhibit content, using a menu on the side that outlines each main section and subsection. One of the most interesting sections to me was “Sagan’s Thinking and Writing Process,” which features drafts of Sagan’s writings – such as a list of textbook ideas written on the back of an envelope. It’s a good opportunity to play around with the document viewer – I found it to be very intuitive, if somewhat hard on my computer!

Finally, the collection includes teaching and “expert” resources. The teaching resources include sets of primary sources and suggestions for lesson plans on both learning the exhibit’s content and how to work with primary sources. Expert resources include links to the finding aids for Sagan’s papers, research guides for archaeoastronomy and extraterrestrial life, a lecture series, and interviews.

This site takes a really interesting approach of encouraging visitors to engage both with the exhibit interpretation and directly with the primary sources on their own, within the same digital space. There is a lot of information to consume, but having visitors choose their own path through the material and encouraging them to follow a tangent to look at individual items more closely seems to encourage deeper engagement with that information. If you’re just interested in Carl Sagan’s work you can skip ahead to his section, or if you want a broader history of science fiction pop culture you can start off there. It’s overall goal however is to put these topics and the individual sources into a larger context of the history of science and astronomy.

Memory and Museums

Hi everyone, I hope you and your families are all staying safe and indoors! For this post, I will be discussing Re-collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory by Jon Ippolito and Richard Rinehart, and Sheila Brennan’s article “Getting to the Stuff: Digital Cultural Heritage Collections, Absence, and Memory.” The section of the Re-collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory I will be focusing on concerns the relationship between new media and social memory, and how the evolution of the former results in implications for how productions of culture are preserved. The article, published in 2012, explores how museums refrain from making their collections public online. While in the past week we have seen a drastic shift from that trend as museums start to make exhibits and other materials accessible online, do you think this will change once things return to normal?

In Re-collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory, Ippolito and Rinehart argue that the growing presence of digital media and its vulnerabilities threaten the existence of different cultural forms within social memory. The explore their argument by using the challenges in preserving new media art as a case study. In the chapter “New Media and Social Memory”, Ippolito and Rinehart first introduce the concept and field of “social memory.” They argue that social memory is “how and what societies remember­––the long-term memory of civilizations”(pg. 14). Social memory is also categorized as a multifaceted ideological nature that facilitates the inculcation of traditions, beliefs, and values into the subconscious of an evolving society. Ippolito and Rinehart argue that there are two types of social memory–formal and informal. Formal social memory, interpreted as being institutionalized, entails the preservation and interpretation of objects in their organic and stagnant form by museums, libraries, and archives so they maintain a sense of historical authenticity. Informal social memory serves to distinguish the evolution and functionality of an object i.e. the preservation of late-twentieth-century video games. Ippolito and Rinehart argue that the preservation challenges facing the field right now require melding techniques used in both formal and informal social memory. Ippolito and Rinehart later argue that the digitization of the vehicles of social memory and the tools used to practice it and the weaknesses of new media challenge the foundation of social memory. Some of the suggestions they pose for preserving social memory from extinction are emulation, migration, and reinterpretation.

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In her article “Getting to the Stuff: Digital Cultural Heritage Collections, Absence, and Memory,” Sheila Brennan argues that the gatekeeping measures put into place by museums prevent amateur historians and everyday people from interacting with collections not currently on display. Brennan argues that museums can benefit from increasing their digital footprint by using tools, such as an increase in visitation both virtual and physical.  In 2004, at the suggestion of Roy Rosenzweig, whose work explores the relationship everyday people have with history, Brennan published a study about the presence of museums on the web. Later in the article, Brennan compares her findings from 2004 with another survey she conducted in 2011. She analyzed 115 sites out of 1179 museums listed in the American Association of Museum’s directory and her findings showed that between 2004 and 2011 the context provided by museums about their collections decreased and that they overwhelmingly lacked online teaching and learning resources. It is interesting to read this article as different institutions start to recognize the popularity of their collections and using them to increase public awareness about historical events.

Stay safe!

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