Open Culture 2011 – A History of the World

Today I’m at ‘Open Culture 2011’ conference – follow on Twitter via #oc2011

Opening keynote this morning is from Andrew Caspari (@caspari – BBC Head of Speeach Radio and Classical Music, Interactive) and Matthew Cock (@matthewcock – Head of Web at the British Museum) – talking about the ‘History of the World in 100 objects’ project.

Started as traditional Radio 4 series … but grew into a set of materials and programmes across local and national radio and a huge web presence.

Web site attracted 2.5 million visits to the site and almost 30million page impressions. Half a million referrals to the site from outside the BBC.

Notable that there was still healthy traffic to the site even when the series was not being broadcast.

‘Net Promoter’ score of 65 – puts its in the Top 8 BBC sites (and most of the others in the top 8 are foreign language learning sites). The ‘appreciation’ score was 85%. Score went up significantly after a redesign of the front page – moving away from complex flash front page.

There was a mobile site, but it was underplayed, and they feel that if they were to do it again they put make mobile experience at the heart of what they were doing (as well as desktop).

Podcasts are available permanently – and continue to be popular downloads – clear that permanence of that archive is really important.

Most popular object was – Mike Hailwood bike – over 92k views. The most popular ‘personal object’ was Edith Bowman’s grandfathers(?) flat cap.

Challenge for the British Museum was to allow digital objects to be starting points for the thousands of other projects. Key aims for digital was to be “Innovative and unusual and on time!” – and Matthew says nothing like a broadcast deadline to keep you to time.

Matthew notes the web is a visual and participative medium. This project true partnership – BBC about programmes, Museum about objects…

551 UK Museums worked with the project, 1400 objects – and post-launch more and more museums wanted to get involved – 50% of the 1400 objects added after launch. Examples of how regional involvement happened – got people bringing down objects – e.g. given of estate agents bringing house deeds. For regional example see this report from Suffolk

What did the BBC learn about museums? Andrew says – great enthusiasm; demand for involvement outstripped ability to respond at times. BBC (in London) over estimated the digital capacity of both museums and regional BBC centres – needed to give people more time.

What did the BM learn about the BBC? Different culture – BBC better at talking than writing things down; They leave things quite late!; They listen to partners and respond; Partnership within the BBC is harder than you think – not just one big org to interact with, but actually lots of smaller orgs in many ways; World Service is a hard nut to crack!

Big debate about contributors uploading objects – quality vs quantity. Initial worry that there would be lots of not that interesting, not that historical objects – that was not an issue – lots of high quality and huge variety of objects.

For BBC a genuine 360 degree project – user content created output. The ability to comment and debate is very important – once they supported comments on the objects site the quality of commentary was high.

‘Upload’ was a big ask – and hard to do – many started but didn’t finish… – reward was elusive – was presence in digital museum enough?

It only works with a big on air call to action – it needs sustained effort for the broadcaster.

Project lead to developments they never expected – e.g. ‘History of the World in 100 Sheds

Learning about social:

  • Underexploited Twitter until the end – it is not marketing
  • BM activity more extensive and successful than the BBC – they already had engagement in this area – learnt – don’t reinvent what is already there

The key social engagement happened when they asked for the ‘100th object’ contender – able to get ‘celebrity’ involvement as well – easy ask ‘what would your 100th object be’ etc.

Has the BBC changed as a result? – an new view on partnerships – defined by mutual benefit. Principles around shared content and benefit. Realised how much time needed to be spent planning this type of project. Challenging to balance partnership with editorial control.

Andrew asks – could this work in a commercial environment? He believes being able to start from public service ethos is important.

Has the BM changed? – understanding more about ‘participation’ – close the gap between public engagement and collection research… Developing new Skills, tools and infrastructure.

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