Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Vertical Management: A Barrier to Innovation?

This article by Chris Anderson really caught my eye. Speaking to the conference of CIO’s Anderson underlines the extent to which Web 2.0 applications, hosted services and social production sites are driving IT departments generally and CIO’s in particular towards obsolescence.

Translating this story to the Museum world is not difficult. The proof is in the pudding. Take the cultural sector’s general lack of Web 2.0 production. In this new age of content, users and web tools, notice how absent museums and cultural institutions are in defining how users interact with content on and offline. Looking across the cultural spectrum, there is almost limitless opportunity to develop access via API’s, cross-institutional collaboration, Web 2.0 tools or Public/Private technology partnerships. Yet, none of this is taking place at any meaningful level.

As Anderson notes, there is a new day on the web as “a zillion free hosted services on the web have replaced the functionality of the IT departments service by service…” These are the types of services and access that Museums should be leveraging – not just as cool outreach mechanisms but also as a way of increasing staff productivity and transparency. This shift is a realignment in sensibility, responsibility and priorities for IT departments.

Yet, these routes are barely being explored and, when they are, only being done by smaller institutions – take, for example, the Maxwell Museum’s build your own movie web tool.

Why is the majority so far behind? Why are there so few Web 2.0 leaders in the cultural sector?

There are two overwhelming reasons for this. The first, as Anderson notes, is the lack of understanding amongst the current generation of technology and institutional executives. These leaders, though “mildly interested” in new technologies and trends, are often threatened by these technologies and the paths to democratized and distributed production. (Anderson certainly isn’t doing any favors here labeling the CIO as “one step above Building Maintenance”)

The second reason for the lack of Museum adoption is the nature of the cultural sector. In the Museum world, the sector is incredibly stratified in terms of collections and resources. The general direction of adoption of both exhibitions and museum-practices is a trickle down from the resource and collection-rich institutions. It is a vertical sector in this sense.

This structure is mirrored in institutions’ management in an almost linear relationship. As resources grow, so do organizational charts. Amongst the most resource-rich institutions, there are immense bureaucracies to help coordinate the complex operations and priorities. This is significant because fortified bureaucracies only magnify the managerial layers with this power of “No” and lockdown. In Anderson’s musings, he narrows the institutional role of the CIO to the “unpleasant job of mopping up data spills when they happen, along with enforcing draconian data retention policies sent down from the legal department. They respond to trouble tickets and disable user permissions. They practice saying "No"…” These responsibilities are inherently conservative and dampening in reference to innovation and are distributed when middle managers rule an institution.

The trouble with this state of affairs is that it effectively negates technology innovation first within major institutions and subsequently across the sector. This can be seen not just in the vetting of new projects and resources but also at the staffing level. Because of the dampening affect, some of the best institutions face very real problems retaining talented and visionary workers. One reason, the sisyphus-struggle to build buy-in and momentum on new ways of delivering content when technology managers are only able to respond “No.” (See my previous post on Museum innovation)

This is a sad situation. It is these very same large institutions that have the most to give and gain from agile development teams and open-ended technical strategies. As the sector takes its cues from the funding/programming priorities of major institutions, there is a self-realizing cycle of stifled innovation.

There is another route though. As the STEVE project makes clear, committed Museum workers can adopt a form of social production that rises above individual IT departments and institutional priorities. The tools developed by this consortium have the ability to create new paradigms for Museums, their collections and the public that these serve. Clearly, websourcing and user-generated (augmented?) content benefit the entire cultural sector as both a content model and a development structure.

It is time for more Museums and practitioners start asking “What if…”, even if they have to do step outside their organizational chart to do so.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Weekly Tour 2/2/2007 - 2/25/2007

I know, 23 days is a bit more than one week worth of touring. Many apologies to reeaders. I did get a little backlogged with some of the posting these last few weeks. I think the MoMA scandal is worthy of some devoted time and converation. Hopefully, the tour will return to its regular schedule this week and next (unless any other startling revelations hit the press).

  • Artful Manager had an interesting look at the economics of nonprofits and how they differ from the private sector (duh!). Buddhist Economics is one approach that he claims offers insights on nonprofit motives and missions. I am still waiting for Buddhist Technology to explain why the cultural sector is such a technology laggard.

  • Though not exactly a Museum piece, I found this article on Org. Charts and Social Networks fascinating. "Org charts are not just about putting people in their place. They are the basis for a social network of professionals. And now that social networking tools and software are advanced enough to express complex relationships between people, projects, and ideas, we should be integrating these technologies into our workplaces." Great idea, but once you've spent capital on this software (ROI anyone?), it seems to me you haven't even begun your task. The real challenge is linking the 75 year-old curator of mideveil art with the visionary project manager and the gifted web developer and somehow finding some common professional ground and vision upon which to build services. Overcoming the silos is only the first step.

  • A cute by rather naive piece on how art informs technology was posted on queeqegs. The one lesson that I did enjoy was "Lesson 7: Experiment with small studies and prototypes. When Monet painted outdoors, he made many small studies and then would return to the studio to climb up onto scaffolding to create the wall-sized panels of water lilies. When Henry Moore developed bronze sculptures, he developed many small prototypes. When you’re building something enormous, build many small, quick prototypes before you’re ready to embark upon the real thing." My hesitation with this analogy? Monet wasn't being ridden by finance offices to produce results or drive revenue. Further, few technologists have the freedom and executive buy-in to go dark and develop projects of genius on their own - outside the confines of their departments.

  • Museum 2.0 asks a great question: who owns visitor-generated content in a Museum setting? As interactive exhibitions and sharing tools turn content production over to users, who owns the work that these Web 2.0 tools generate. How do we even talk about this phenonmenon in terms of rights, licenses and ownership? Is it fair-use that is applicable here or do Museum and other institutions need to develop robust creative commons or ownership policies. This question may arise as the Web 2.0 equivalent to privacy policies and opt-in regulations that arose with the web's last wave.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

MoMA and the Importance of Echo Chambers

Less than one week into it, there have already been many words written about the MoMA compensation scandal. I think the weeks to come will see an ever growing and widening scope of discussion and facts from Strom's initial revelations.

Before the next round of spin and fallout related to Glen Lowry's compensation hits the news, I thought this lulled moment might be a good opportunity to present some of the best blogs related to the scandal. In the weeks to come, it will be interesting to see to what extent user-generated sources serve to extend this debate.

In the political world, the resilience and echo chamber of blogs have been able to wreck havoc on otherwise robust political personalities and careers. We saw this throughout the 2006 election cycle between John Kerry's comments, macaca politics and Conrad Burn's perspectives on race. What made those controversies powerful was a combination of factors: the volume of political blog watchers, the media's attention to these grassroots sources and the sheer intensity of the campaign. Does the museum world have that kind of intensity? Do that many people care about the future and integrity of an American institution with enough force to override the wax and wane of the news cycle?

Time will tell. I am sure you will find that the following blogs will have plenty more words to spill before it is all done.


  • Modern Art Notes - Tyler Green puts the current compensation issue in the greater context of MoMA's other recent lapses. He also puts forth quite a few suggestions to finding resolution.
  • Artful Manager - In an ironic (purposeful?) twist, the day after the MoMA story broke, Andrew Taylor put forth this great post on IRS guidelines for maintaining tax exemption. I hope that the museum can avoid that ordeal, but once the regulatory and oversight wheels start rolling, it is difficult to say what it will take to stop them.
  • Looking Around - Richard Lacayo writes a follow-up piece in the Time Blog covering much of the same ground as the original article. The notable addition his writing makes is the potential conflict of interest this would create between the director and trustees. Given some of the nasty criticism MoMA has received regarding its exhibition planning, MoMA's institutional government and decision-making seem entirely relevant.
  • CultureGrrl - Lee Rosenbaum authors a revealing post providing additional details going back to 1995 relating to Lowry's pay package. Some of the more revealing details here include NY State auditors' complicity in this affair. She also makes clear that Sen. Charles Grassley might have been the initial impetus for this controversy and is committed to finding the truth in this matter. Given government's power to subpoena, this could be a very bad for the Museum.
  • Bloggy - On a lighter note, there was a great post submitted on the site bloggy. A fine piece of satire, web or otherwise.
  • New York Intelligencer - One final post, this time from New York magazine's blog. Basically just another repetition of previously disclosed facts. One thing it reminded me of though... the $20 admission fee. I have a feeling this is going to get worse before it gets better, not just for MoMA, but for the entire cultural sector.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

User-Generated Content and Artist Copyright

After my numerous posts on copyright issues tangentially related to Museums (Viacom, Google), I decided to contact the Artist Right Society for a better insight into digital copyright as it relates directly to artists, Museums and user-generated content sites. I spoke with the associate counsel for ARS in the New York Office, Ms. Adrienne_Fields, who gave me a great perspective on how copyright holders (and their representatives) view the trends of the information age.

Below are some snippets from our conversation:

  • NM: What is the ARS’ position in relation to artist copyright material propagating on the Internet (especially user-generated content sites like YouTube, Flickr and MySpace)?
  • Answer: Our response depends on the situation. We look for the uses that offend our members. We target specific types of [image] use rather than specific websites.
  • NM: When you say specific types of use, what does this usually entail?
  • Answer: Commercial uses mostly. Merchandise. Products. Sometimes a band will have an image of a licensed work on its cover or in its video and one of our members finds offense in its use. Sometimes a book cover will appropriate an image without contacting us first.
  • NM: It sounds like there is a lot of investigation and analysis for every specific use.
  • Answer: And, not all uses are infringing uses… we certainly have to be sensitive to fair use whenever we explore a member’s complaint.
  • NM: With the different ways content is distributed on new user-generated websites, I imagine that makes the process even more complex. How can you measure the interests of private fair use, like education or research, when it is performed on for-profit platforms? Do you feel like the law is keeping pace?
  • Answer: The law is fine. It is the facts that are always changing. Actually, most uses are covered by existing regulations and precedents, though we do monitor case law for new applications and extensions of these regulations.

So initially, it sounds like user-generated reproduction of artist material is a relatively minor issue for the society. From my conversation, I understood that they track and investigate complaints on an as-needed basis when prompted to do so by a member (i.e. an artist or estate). Mostly, these complaints seem to center on outright commercial uses rather than incidental reproduction - a la video phone Museum tour - and they have little interest in getting wrapped up in blanket cease-and-desist orders for entire websites.

This made me wonder about the recent case of Google and Agence France Press that has recently been in the media. Out of curiosity, I forwarded Ms. Fields a copy of the New York Times article discussing the case. As she explained it, the issue at stake was more a protection of private individual's "right to display" or "right to publicity", not the search engine's somehow inherent freedom to link.

And while it seems possible that an artist could file an ARS complaint for links from Google or images on MySpace, the stakes and damages seem incredibly small when compared to those of outright reproductions of a work.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

MoMA and Museum Accountability

It was not a good weekend news cycle for Museums in the context of public accountability.

Stephanie Strom of the NY Times lambasted MoMA for its covert executive compensation scheme. According to the times, two MoMA trustees established an independent foundation for sweetening the compensation for Director, Glen Lowry. It seems odd to step outside the Museum's bi-laws and structure for compensation since it is the trustees themselves who define and approve salaries for the Director. What possible reason could the trustees have had for this action except seeking to obscure the size of the Director's compensation package as reported in the Museum's public tax record - its 990's.

This behavior sounds familiar doesn't it - like the various excessive compensation schemes, creative accounting, back-dating options and general tomfoolery that has run amok lately in the corporate sector. It would seem MoMA's latest gaff points directly to the sad thesis of Paul Werner's book Museums Inc. - that Museums are increasingly corporate and as a public institution have served their purpose in society and are now in decline.

The proof is in the pudding here - there is a cost to slipping Museum accountability. In another NY Times article, this one by Carol Kino, the newspaper explores the rising trend of private art museums. Wealthy collectors are abandoning the obscured decision-making and politics of major museums in favor of a more grassroots and democratic approach. In order to get their art collections to the public, individuals are creating their own galleries and spaces. One of the most insightful quotes here is that "this new crop of exhibition spaces suggests a power shift within the art world — one that is leveling the playing field between collectors and museum professionals, driving up art prices and allowing wealthy private citizens an ever greater say in terms of how their gifts will be used."

Who can blame these collectors?

Museums seem increasingly insulated from their public roots. As Modern Art Notes reported, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have chosen to host the privately-sponsored King Tut exhibition. The question of accountability here turns on the exhibit's educational and cultural significance. Tyler Green, like other art critics, claims "The AEG Tut show has no scholarly merit. It doesn't belong in a respectable art museum". So what then is it doing at a major museum? Where are the museum's executives and trustees in defending this decision?

It is disappointing, in both of these cases, that the mechanism for public oversight is silent. Trustees are meant to serve as the oversight and will of the public in insuring institutions are accountable and pursue their missions. At MoMA, Tyler Green has made some suggestions for first steps. Each of the suggestions, start at the very top of the institution.

While I agree with these steps, there is something more fundamental that needs to be achieved. Before the cycle of blame, finger-pointing, scape-goating and spin - these Museums need to engage the public in a full and transparent dialogue, and then seek to make amends. I would like to see these institutions embrace an executive blog. While this is perhaps not the most elegant or theatrical devices for social accountability, that's OK. They would be a start and one that would last beyond the initial binge and purge of PR cycles.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Museum-Generated Video

This week, I read some great analysis on the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. In their presentation of photographic works by John Collier Jr., the Museum created an online tool for creating "patriotic films" up to 40 seconds in length. As Ideum pointed out, the technology behind this project is exceedingly complex, but for the user, exceedingly usable. A good example of the end result, a user-generate film, can be found on bavatuesdays.

I cannot commend this work more highly. As I have previously written, this approach represents the future of online content delivery - especially given the rash of litigation related to content delivery. We have seen copyright news of Google in Europe and YouTube receiving its weekly cease-and-desist. The problems with these cases, is not the delivery mechanism (Web 2.0 tools) generally but rather disagreements of the source materials and content specifically.

Archives and Museums, as the maintainers of public domain images and cultural content, stand at the nexus between the content and distribution/public disbursement. Once these rich information sources are opened and the tools of creation have been turned over to the people to propagate and distribute as they like (via blogs, email, personal websites) the content itself is freed from the hegemony of the platform, the institution and the limitations of the geographically-determined audience. Think the long tail writ large...

But, to make this happen, technology professionals need to change the terms of the discussion. A recent article in Artful Manager makes clear the disdain that persists amongst Museum executives. Andrew Taylor makes the following point, "Computer and communications technology is extraordinarily cool and often powerfully effective. But if it's easier, cheaper, faster, and more effective to use a pencil...use a pencil." Though framed amusingly, the reality is that important Web 2.0 tools face an ever-increasing challenges: budgets shrink, technologies increase in complexity and the power of individual perspective is seen as threatening instead of liberating.

This is a barrier to adoption that must be overcome. In conversations with senior leadership, technology professionals need to move beyond discussions of specific technologies. We must engage a fuller, more professional dialogue on what these technologies mean to the experience of cultural content and the execution of institutional mission. It is only when directors and curators are informed of the true reach of Web 2.0 (In September 2006, YouTube had 34 million monthly visitors) and how this represents a watershed moment for Museums and cultural institutions. At this moment, we can exponentially expand audience while also making previously obscure content accessible. Amongst technologists, once we can get over our love for the technologies (the cool factor) and treat these services as the strategic outreach they are, only then will the adoption rates for these tools truly blossom.

As Queequegs pointed out, "technology changes everything." Given the opportunity at hand, we certainly hope so. But first, we the early adopters, must change a little as well.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

What is a link?

"Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed." - William Shakespeare

In the information age, one could just as well which is a link? Is it the purse or the good name? Can it be both?

The question is especially pertinent given the most recent round of Internet copyright news. Google is facing a lawsuit in Europe, initiated by Agence France-Presse, that alleges that links to copyrighted material equate to infringement. Does a copyright holder own the initial work, the license to reproduce that work and also an inherent license to any HTML reference to said work. Are we, as a society, approaching an age in which the publication of a URL can be construed as theft? As this trend matures, will all usage of HTML links be monitored and regulated - forcing artists, private collectors and Museums to rethink their own websites and thus further restricting public access to art and performance? This would create an even greater chilling effect on culture in the information age.

This question strikes at the heart of intellectual freedom and has even greater ramifications for the future direction of the information age. The claim of intellectual property to the reference of a link (linkage, hyperlink, anchors, etc...) represents a push by private interests - here in the name of copyright enforcement - to control a vertical layer of the Internet. This is a greater issue than just one article, journalist or image. Tim Berners-Lee, a web pioneer and the leader of the World Wide Web Consortium, explicitly avoided ownership of any layer of the technology that makes the Internet possible. That is why the W3C exists and why Internet standards are developed by the community. They are the property of all. The result of this anti-proprietary model has resulted in unforeseen innovation, economic expansion and communication distribution across the globe. Yet, by creating a framework of legal control over the reference of a link, the court is effectively handing control of an essential part of the HTML standard to copyright holders.

(Bloggers, students, artists and scholars, create linkage at your own risk!)

It is easy to understand how this has come about. Social networks and content creation are throwing massive losses to industries that specialize in content creation. The profit motive will continue to push the publishing industry to fracture and close down publically available information on the Internet. Yet, it is ultimately the state of online public discourse that suffers. The dark internet grows and open access and public discourse are eroded.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Gross Clinic: Success and Distress

Make no mistake, I am excited that the Eakins painting is remaining in the care of the the Philadelphia Museum. By any measure, the Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins is an amazing acquisition, one of which any Museum or city would be proud.

However, there are other issues than Jefferson, Philadelphia and Thomas Eakins. There are ramifications for the field of philanthropy as a whole in this case. In the media, the prospect of losing the Eakins was framed as the equivalent to a natural disaster for the art and history communities in Philadelphia. What is troubling in the whole affair is that the museum had to tap a crisis-psychology across its cross-channel fundraising campaign (View Pages). As successful, creative and unique as this approach to marketing and fundraising is, there exists a real possibility that the public response may also be unique.

If Museums are able to garner such philanthropy around the maintenance of a single piece of art in crisis, it is disheartening to ponder how cultural institutions (in general) have such difficulty with ongoing fundraising. Last October, Bloomberg noted the recent trend of declining funding for the arts (-10.6% between 2005 and 2006). Further, in today's Wall Street Journal there is an article by Robert Hughes entitled "Firms Funding Arts Seek a Return". Echoing the Bloomberg report, Hughes also notes that donations to performing arts organizations have declined by 25% since 2000. From Hughes' perspective, this decline is meaningful because it forces Museums to offer greater visibility, benefits and premiums in exchange for support from top institutional donors. He labels this philanthropy "transactional".

The bottom line is that the cultural sector is having to find ever more market-driven angles for supporting their institutions. This raises serious questions of how institutions consider fundraising initiatives that the public might value. Because, let's face it, Museums need lights, guards and heat. These, however, are not great or flashy marketing causes.

In the final analysis, it is disingenuous that the arts are funded generously in support of "keeping works" but not to keep these same works cleaned, guarded and open to the public. I certainly hope that the Philadelphia Museum is able to build on the Eakins success (both symbolic and economic) by increasing its visitorship and Membership roles. That is, that the interest and support that the Gross Clinic has attracted will be stewarded to create deep and meaningful relationships with the public. This is a great opportunity to do it. The first challenge was keeping the important work, the next is remaining important.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Google Drive: Cure for Social Network Fatigue

In recent years, it seems social networking sites arise and fall in ever-shortening intervals. Perhaps for the newest crop of teens and tweens, this frenetic pace of technology migration makes sense - MySpace has become old news, passé or too mainstream. These users are able to flitter (with their offline social networks) to whichever service or platform is a la mode.

But then there are the rest of us. Jon Udell wrote a great piece yesterday on social network fatigue. It is clear that advertisers and technology venture capitalists may bend over backwards to find the next big thing, the next killer social platform, for the majority of technology users and practitioners it is increasingly difficult to navigate and discern what these sites can offer in terms of either connection or investment (whether personal or institutional). In the non-profit and cultural sectors, more times than not, this quandary has translated into a certain level of paralysis when considering social networks. Yet, the sheer size of these networks make them impossible to ignore (as does the general trajectory of Web 2.0 adoption in the last two years).

What is missing, as Mr. Udell points out, is the convergence across networks. Each user can only manage a finite number of profiles, bookmarks, sites and blogs. And, given the distribution and varying layers of log-in and personally identifiable information that exist for each site, the onus for managing the varying social networks falls on the user. Not a particularly user-friendly scene. There is no unified credential or login management resource to make using the various platforms easier. And while some writers have called for greater interoperability between sites - all signs point to a more to monolithic rather than distributed solution.

The rumors of the Google Drive reflect a possible form and structure for what the next (perhaps final?) step may be in integrating social networks. More information Google already has Blogger and YouTube under its belt - the leveraged acquisition of Facebook, Friendster or LinkedIn (or some other social content site - Digg?) when paired with a personal storage drive, would represent a wholly trinity of Web 2.0 resources. Not to mention the economic enginge already represented by Google's search services.

Currently, users, technology nor law seem quite prepared for a Google drive. There are still too many privacy and copyright/licensing considerations that need to be defined before this endeavor could be successful. If and when this does happen though, I believe it ultimately will help purveyors of cultural content to better exist and serve in the digital world. Finally, there would be a single place and standard to apply in making culture available to as many individuals as possible. Resource deployment, platform interoperability and content management would have a single umbrella standard for which to aim, and thereby hit the mark with a greater number of users.

Information users (and managers) of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your social network fatigue!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Museums: To Flickr or Not To Flickr

The Brooklyn Museum has done a fantastic job of late leveraging some of their internal images while also enabling users' to upload and tag images of the Museum. They have leveraged the Flickr platform to give an inside look both into the creation and experience of their exhibitions - most recently the critically acclaimed Ron Mueck show. Though this feature has now been taken off the Museum's home page (it still lives on here, along with their other blogs) - the exploration into image serving and tagging provides a great insight into how Museums might serve cultural content on Web 2.0 platforms.

This is a topic worth discussing. Below is a short review of two image tagging sites. One commercial, (Flickr) the other, a joint museum research project called Steve.


Flickr is a fully integrated platform whose primary purpose is not a folksonomy or image catalog, but the more basic storage and sharing of images amongst a diverse community of users. Social tagging is a by-product in all this. Tagging, from a functional perspective, is one of many ways in which friends and guests can comment on an image – tagging here is analogous to “comments-light” – a deprecated form of user feedback and dialogue.

What I find most intriguing about Flickr is that it points to a velvet revolution for the semantic web. The emergence of a descriptive, meta-data driven web will emerge not through killer app’s but ‘smart platforms’ that allow people to choose, create, share, comment and interact with content. Clearly, with 5.5 Million registered users and 20 Million monthly visitors - the sheer size of the network insures the platform's relevancy - but its power lies in replicating users' "natural" interactions on the web.

This is exactly the model that Museums need. Though the platform may be proprietary, the social content model leaves plenty of room for the cultural sector to define its own space and requirements.


Steve is a joint research project of technology practicioners of SFMoMA, the Met, Indianapolis Museum of Art, LACMA and Guggenheim. It is an interactive tool designed for Museum researchers, curators, technology practitioners and librarians. Steve is based on the concept of folksonomy. According to Wikipedia, a folksonomy– antithetical to taxonomy – is a labeling system created and maintained by the end-users, not a class of outside experts. In theory, a folksonomy creates more natural and user-centric search and aggregation systems.

I recently had a great discussion with a technology developer at a major art Museum regarding the life of information in peoples' actual lives. He pointed out that tagging, bookmarking and information storage is personal. With sites like , part of the user's value is the
ability to choose and create networks of personally relevant resources and references - remarkably similar to the personal value of Museums. Yet, the experience of Steve is far from personal. I greatly admire the goal but the execution leaves something to be desired.

2/7/2007 UPDATE: I recently caught up with a contributor to Steve and he mentioned that the project has received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences and would soon be unveiling a site update. This is a great development and demonstrates the sheer possibility of this project. It is certainly worth following. I'll check back on Steve after that redesign has gone live with some further thoughts, perhaps even an interview (fingers-crossed).

Sunday, February 04, 2007

YouTube and Artist Copyright Infringement

The YouTube/Viacom news this week appear to be the beginning of the next battle over copyrighted material distribution over social networks. However, there are real and significant differences between YouTube and the Napster and P2P networks conflicts of old. These differences expand beyond just new technologies and ownership issues and touch on the very nature of public participation in culture.

On one hand, while the Viacom request does signal an awareness of Web 2.0's ability to perpetuate the unauthorized capture, storage and distribution of intellectual property, it also reflects the company's embrace of the medium as powerful, proprietary tool. Reading related news, I could not help thinking that Viacom's cease and desist move is not a battle against the innovation of Web 2.0, but rather is the first logistical step towards the creation of its own video and interactive media platform to rival YouTube. Content creators have gotten smart to the power of democratized distribution in powering new brands and innovations. The catch is, they want to control the terms and discourse of that democracy.

This creates some profound dilemmas for cultural institutions. While Viacom has the ability to develop their own video and rich media platform, Museums and cultural institutions are hard-pressed to deliver platforms for even static images of their collections on the web - most institutions are worlds away from tools for interactive media and video. Unfortunately, the inabaility to develop their own tools for distributing cultural content does not resolve issues of copyrights and licensing for Museums. This issue is rather platform independent - and given the prevelance and breadth of material that can be distributed via social networks is virtually unbound. Many museum goers now have cell phones with video, image and sound capture. A bit of informal research indicated that searching "Metropolitan Museum of Art" uncovered over 140 unofficial videos of its collection online at YouTube. Many of these videos contain material to which the artist or the artist's estate still maintains a copyright.

To probe this question more deeply, I contacted the Artist Rights Society (ARS), the foremost licensor, regulator and protector of artists' copyrights in the United States. Indeed, the question of cultural content on sites like YouTube or Flickr will most likely turn on the enforcement of image copyright by the ARS. Below is a portion of my open letter to the society.

"I am inquiring as to whether ARS has an official position is in relation to artist copyrighted material propagating on the Internet (specifically on user-generated content sites like YouTube, Flickr and MySpace)."

"... in terms of enforcement, in whom is the ARS most interested; the institutions where the image capture occurs, the public who personally store and transmit copyright materials or the websites (such as YouTube) that broadcast this material to millions of users without permission?"

I look forward to reporting on the response, as these are essential questions for how Museums ride the Web 2.0 wave. It will define the future direction cultural institutions can explore social network and media websites for their own publicity and exhibition outreach. In the end, it is ironic; if cultural content on the social media sites represents an improvement in terms of Museum and art accessibility, i.e. it expands the reach and scope of Museums to more diverse audiences, then ARS would be performing a public disservice by entering legal action. This would signal yet another instance in which intellectual property and copyright acted as a barrier to both innovation and the free movement of ideas and beauty in society.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Weekly Tour 1/27/2007 - 2/2/2007

There was a lively offline discussion with the DigComm users on the new (im)potency of video online. As a follow-up to that discussion - this week's theme is Images: Moving, Social and Interactive.

  • On the moving image front, there were a couple of great stories this week discussing video, YouTube and social networks. Frantic Industries discussed the impact of tagging and bookmarking on the YouTube platform. Supposedly, users can post YouTube videos to networks like Digg and through the click of an icon. This functionality points to the ever-increasing social tendancies of images and videos on the web.

    Perhaps the pressure for increased social value, reference and meaning, is making up for the otherwise short attention span of most web video. Editorializing on this trend, two great articles discussed the democratizing (or shallowing) content model of YouTube - discussed here on Wired and here on O'Reilly.

  • On the interactive front, there was an interesting amount of buzz related to the Bumptop desktop prototype released this week on the web and specifically featured on YouTube. Link Though this project is just in its infancy, the redesign of the user interfaces for desktops will most likely translate sooner or later to other platforms - website, phones and PDA's. For Museums, the question will be whether better, more natural interfaces hinder or help the development of educational and interpretive content on digital devices. Does handheld technology as "life's remote control" (as envisioned in Howard Rheingold's book Smart Mobs) free the Museum to explore new methods of interaction or present yet another possibility and budget drain on already strapped technology departments? Hype versus reality on this front - time will tell.

  • Another entry on this interactivity front, the San Jose Tech Museum has begun exploring DAVE, a next generation handheld to be used in their tours, guides, displays and exhibitions. Can't waite to see whether this type of interactive handheld is paired with RFID and other smart tags to increase accessbility and content retention for visitors in Museums.

  • One final note: according to the Associated Press, the Louvre in Paris set attendance record for the 2006 calendar year. How did they do it? Engaging programming, winning exhibitions and publicly relevant interpretive and marketing strategies. It isn't all technology which is a wonderful thing - otherwise the technology would be meaningless - a vessel containing nothing.