A Wikipedian-in-Residence at the British Museum


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Presentation by Matthew Cock, Head of Web at the British Museum, at GLAM WIKI conference, British Museum, 26-27 November 2010

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  • Anubis, the jackal-headed guide through the Ancient Egyptian netherworld………………
    Book of the Dead of Hunefer, in our exhibition upstairs….
  • Actually, Mike and Liam came to present a whole range of ideas to the web team.
    We thought about them , and in truth the Residence one was the one that really stuck with me – we often have residencies from curators from international museums, and this seemed the best way.
    As we were walking to the canteen for lunch, along the colonnade, Liam made it really clear he would give his eye teeth to do it himself….
  • “The Talking Objects project asks young people to investigate British Museum objects by talking to curators, handling real objects, debating relevant issues and using drama, music, dance and visual arts to expand ideas about the significance of these objects for us today.

    Between 2008 and 2012, the communities team has been working with groups to look at objects from the far corners of the collection, starting with the Rosetta Stone, the Throne of Weapons, The Great Wave print and the Jade Terrapin.”

    The world in our city
    young voices from the Borough of Brent
    During this project, young people explored local and international identity through the collections of the two museums.
    A range of youth groups from across the London Borough of Brent took part in object handling, art workshops and visits to both museums. Here, some of the participants explore their personal reactions towards objects.

  • Risks at the BM were seen as:

    Bad press –
    BM staff seen as talking their time writing on Wikipedia, and not on new scholarship, care of the collection etc.
    BM staff writing history the way that they want it seen – just like many organisations have tried to do on Wikipedia.
    Our Wikipedian in residence writes something we don’t like....

    OK, so why wasn’t the Museum worried about any of the risks, and my proposal sailed past the Directorate Group, approved straight away?

    It couldn’t go wrong if:

    We didn’t ask any curator to write anything unless they wanted to, and were fully briefed in the rules of WP. In fact, very few of them did, actively edit any articles.
    Neitjher did Liam – he didn’t really edit any articles in the 5 weeks he was there – except for the project page, and some tidying up
    What Liam did was to facilitate – match make, explain, enable etc.

    Event if he had – Liam knew – and we knew - that he had to be incredibly careful as he had a “double COI potential situation” – he couldn’t take dictation from the BM as that would show he wasn’t really a Wikipedian, and he had to play nice with us – by keeping us out of trouble – because Museums are his thin, nearly as much as WP.

    So – it wasn’t in our interests to get it wrong – and it wasn’t in his interests.

    We did agree we wouldn’t look at any controversial articles (succh as the Parthenon) or those related to BM staff or the history of the BM, but we were never really interested in those anyway.

    So, what was the other risk?

    That the two sides – the WP editors and the curators wouldn’t play ball .

    That was the biggest risk – and for me the whole residency was a process of understanding the differences, and where the two work best, and not so good together.

    First off, the fundamentals….
  • I am not seeking to judge which is better than the other. They are just different. And the sooner that people appreciate it the better.
  • This is the example I have used to curators to explain the essence of Wikipedia.
  • Contract this to the publication of an individual scholar who has
    a) worked more deeply on a subject than anyone else
    b) Has had privileged access to the objects
    c) developed insights and understanding

    Wrongly or rightly, they may see that this give them the right to assert that theirs is "the best view“

    And that their “personal experiences, interpretations, and opinions” do belong there.

  • Sept and Oct are higher than June and July (we expect August to be low, even Wikipedians go to the park sometimes.)
    OK, this is OK – pretty static and better than before the residency, but not earth-shattering.
  • Anony

    I talked to Alison Bean, who I hope is here – Alison? – ansd asked her why she thought their referrals from Wikipedia were so high.

    She saoid:

    I made a concerted effort to add information to Wikipedia (with citations back to our website) back in 2009.

    That seemed to coincide with a drive by philatelists to improve philatelic articles on Wikipedia. Basically, a lot of philatelists started complaining about the accuracy of the philatelic articles on Wikipedia, and some of them started to take action. I’ve noticed a few citations back to our website that I don’t think we put up there ourselves.

    We also participated in Britain Loves Wikipedia earlier this year. Participants at our Britain Loves Wikipedia event submitted the second highest number of images (around 60).

    We did a couple of blogs and lots of tweeting about the event, and we also got a little coverage about it in local papers and stamp collecting magazines.

    Those two things, and our social media drive over the past few years, have probably prompted a few people with specialist knowledge to start contributing to Wikipedia. We’ve certainly seen them follow us on to Twitter, Flickr and so forth.
  • Some large orgs had high referral rates, some low. Some small, like the Postal Museum, did well, some not so good.
  • But, before we get disillussioned remember:

    Referrals wasn’t BM’s top priority, and shouldn’t be anyone’s in this - because there are easier ways to drive traffic.

    Also, this shrinkage may just be that Museums are getting better at SEO, or getting better referrals from other sites – their overall traffic is growing faster than that from Wikipedia.

  • But, before we get disillussioned remember:

    this shrinkage may just be that Museums are getting better at SEO, or getting better referrals from other sites – their overall traffic is growing faster than that from Wikipedia.

    And - referrals wasn’t BM’s top priority, and shouldn’t be anyone’s in this.
    For example, we don’t put video on YouTube to try and get people to click on links in the video description to come to our site. We put them there so that people watch them.

    In the same way – we want lots of lovely accurate text about our objects on Wikipedia, so people read it.
  • Ongoing – I keep an eye on the pages, I have put a few wikipedians in touch with curators
    I use this tool – developed by Ed Summers at the Library of Congress, which helps me monitor what pages link to the BM site
    He’s looking to develop a new version.
    If anyone is interested, let me know, and I’ll put you in touch.
  • A Wikipedian-in-Residence at the British Museum

    1. 1. Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums & Wikimedia Finding the common ground #GLAM-WIKI
    2. 2. mcock@britishmuseum.org @matthewcock #GLAM-WIKI
    3. 3.  Belief that despite some mistrust and prejudice (on both sides) we share some common goals.  Because we need each other.  From the Museum’s p.o.v. because we can’t ignoreWP  In October 2009, the Rosetta Stone article in britishmuseum.org was viewed 18,358 times. In the same period, the Rosetta Stone article onWikipedia was viewed over five times more frequently (92,565 times) in the English language version alone.
    4. 4.  Similarities  ‘Wikipedia is a community that shares a goal - to build a resource that is made available to all the people of the world for free.’  The British Museum has been free to the public since 1753  Wikipedia is a multi-lingual project and one that has roots in communities across the world.  The British Museum is a ‘museum of the world, for the world.’
    5. 5.  Training and capacity building  Fieldwork, research projects  International exhibitions Africa, China, Middle East
    6. 6.  Talking Objects  The world in our city  Supplementary and community schools
    7. 7. OK, so working with the community of WP editors is just an extension of our community programme…. And together we improve the encyclopaedia for the benefit of the world…. But what are the risks? What could go wrong…?
    8. 8.  Wikipedia has a neutral point of view. We strive for articles that advocate no single point of view. Sometimes this requires representing multiple points of view, presenting each point of view accurately and in context, and not presenting any point of view as "the truth" or "the best view".  All articles must strive for verifiable accuracy: unreferenced material may be removed, so please provide references. Editors' personal experiences, interpretations, or opinions do not belong here.That means citing verifiable, authoritative sources…
    9. 9. The difference between: the consensus view (WP) and individual scholarship (BM)
    10. 10. What emerged over time on en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel was: ‘a collection of statements that everyone could agree represented as neutral a depiction of Israel as was likely to emerge’ (Cory Doctorow, Content: Selected Essays onTechnology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future)
    11. 11. Controversial subjects show up howWikipedia works more clearly – It emerges over time (always a work in progress) It is a consensus It is a compromise
    12. 12. The Museum wants scholarship to inform and influence accepted established knowledge (consensus) If both GLAMs andWP learn about the processes of their respective , we can speed that process and get to balanced, accurate information online, based on and citing up-to- date and thorough scholarship.
    13. 13.  Wikipedian-in-Residence  ‘Backstage Pass’ day  Feature Article Prize  Presentations to departments (Asia, GR, P&D, P&E, PAS)  One-to-one collaborations ▪ Wikipedians seeking curators ▪ Curators seeking Wikipedians  The ‘Hoxne Challenge’
    14. 14.  1 Wikipedians seeking curators  1.2 Cyrus Cylinder  1.3 Cycladic art  1.4 Rosetta Stone  1.5 Daniel Solander  1.6 HarpyTomb  1.7 Royal Gold Cup  1.8 Gebelein predynastic mummies  1.9 Papyrus of Ani  1.10 Lindow Man  1.11 Ormside bowl  1.12 Feathered Helmet  2 Curators seeking Wikipedians  2.1 HolyThorn Reliquary  2.2 Admonitions Scroll  2.3 Isabella Brant (drawing)
    15. 15. Challenge: take theWikipedia article on the Hoxne Hoard to ‘Feature article’ quality in one day.  Sackler Studio, Friday 25 June 2010  Preceded by public gallery talk and showing of items / coins not on display  WiFi, projector, whiteboard, tea/coffee  BM experts - curators (from Prehistory Dept, and Coins Dept,Treasure Dept), archaeologists, conservation experts, scientists etc.  Wikipedians Why Hoxne Hoard?  most of the scholarly resources about it were produced by museum staff.  A lot of staff could contribute  Important objects, with good popular awareness, recent published sources and readily available experts at the BM  Very low quality article onWikipedia , despite being one of the highest individual referral articles to the BM website  Featured in both OurTopTenTreasures and #AHOW
    16. 16.  Article itself  Learning  key differences between communities  Choose object wisely  Give it time and space
    17. 17.  Engage with theWikipedia community  Improve mutual understanding BM:WP  Reach new audiences / increase engagement with the BM collection  Avoid bad press (get good press)  Get some referrals to our site
    18. 18. Press and comment positive
    19. 19. “What is depicted is a model for institutions on how to deal with the internet revolution. It’s clever, it costs them nothing, it gains the institution respect and traction on the internet… there is, in truth, no downside.” Roger Pearse http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/?p=4451
    20. 20. 08-09 09-10 June 2010 July 2010 Aug 2010 Sept 2010 Oct 2010 Referrals from Wikipedia (all languages) 107,330 110,448 10,566 10,114 9,369 11,081 11,826 of total pageviews 1.64% 1.49% 1.82% 1.72% 1.63% 1.64% 1.50% EnglishWikipedia links 1,799 1,846 1,909 EnglishWikipedia pages 732 740 783
    21. 21.  I asked other museums and cultural orgs  16 UK 10 North American (all Eng-language primarily)  One month (September) across 2008, 2009 and 2010.  Total visits, total referrals fromWikipedia (all languages)  Promised anonymity
    22. 22. Range: 7,000 – 3.3m visits Average:580,000 visits 26 respondents Month of September 2010
    23. 23. Referrals fromWP (all langs) as %age of total visits: Range: 0.07% - 3.33% Aggregate: 0.82% * *skewed by some of the orgs with the largest visit numbers having the lowest number of referrals.
    24. 24. So, what about everyone else?  British Museum were #6 at 1.64%  No correlation between size and referrals  8 out of the top ten were UK-based GLAM: WIKI UK
    25. 25. So, are referrals on the increase?  On aggregate:- down from 0.96% to 0.82%  17 showed increase  8 showed a decrease
    26. 26. Because, in the end, we really were doing it to reach audiences where they hang out. And we know lots of people get their knowledge from Wikipedia. Getting them to our site isn’t the primary aim.
    27. 27. www.britishmuseum.org mcock@britishmuseum.org @matthewcock #GLAM-WIKI