Webstock 09 : Russ Weakley

Live blogging Open Web, Open Data, Open Panic? presentation at Webstock 09 by Author of “Teach Yourself CSS in 10 Minutes”, Russ Weakley.

Russ works at the Australian Museum. He had an idea for the museum web site about four years ago and it has taken this long to get to the pre-launch stage.

The public services world is about analysing, justifying and strategizing. The commercial sector is fast but the public service process is incredibly slow. This has had one unexpected benefit: Having to defnd every aspect has meant that we had to carefully think about many issues before launch.

The museum’s site was launched in 1994. It grew enormously and now has 43,000 pages plus 16 sites. Sounds good? Nope, trouble in paradise. It’s hard to maintain, users can’t find content, so there’s lost relevance. The site provided a one way contact stream but this is no longer relevant in a Web 2.0 world.

Four years ago we went to management with an idea: To build a rich, interactive web site concentrating on 4 objectives:

1) Communication. Interaction, not static. Allow users to communicate with museum and each other.

2) Allow users to share their own content

3) Provide new and easier navigation pathways

4) Allow all staff to publish easily

Management reaction? Initial shock! Than 1 year of silecne, 1 year of discussion, 1 year of planning, 1 year to build.

The overall concept:

– site has 3 levels, categories, sections and assets

– every piece of content will be an asset, no more web pages

– there will be a range of different types of assets

– wanted assets and sections to exist in multiple locations

Traditional model of site design doesn’t work because things are boxed together in a static location. We wanted it to have a dynamic, multiplicet model.

– every asset will have five different navigation methods. New asset pages show “other sections”,

– in new model, users can comment on any asset

– users and staff can add tags any asset

– author and user tags will provide new methods of navigation and richer search

– allow users to collect favourites and sets and share them with others

– upload their own images, movies, audios, comments, stories

– allow people to apply for expert status

– Wanted the system to be seamless. Allow users to move seamlessly through any type of content

What about staff? Every staff member will become an author

– allow staff to publish assets directly (after training). Initial management concern but now overcome with approvals in place.

– allow staff to own their assets

– allow users to create their own focused, passionate and personal blogs

– allow microblog to create instant news

Russ talks about how his bosses’ first day at the museum involved taking a chain saw to a dead whale in the museum carpark. Also mentions the discovery of Mr Blobby in the deep sea off New Zealand. This type of stuff makes priceless social media juice. Why waste it? Let’s give staff the ability to share such stories with the public.

– the system will allow authors to publish all content via one simple system

Questions asked by management about the new system:

1) When we go live, can we all sit back and relax? (no, we will need to work very hard to build the site and grow communities)

2) Will we moderate comments and tags? (no, we will use a simple login and allow all comments, tags, uploads)

3) Will a forced login alienate some users? (Yes, however we will review process after a 6 month process)

4) What if the information in comments is wrong? (Deal with it. Let the comment trail educate. Mistakes benefit everyone). Therefore clearly identified author comments are important.  Allow the community to self-moderate.

5) What about tags that are irrelevant? (Misspellings are useful because it allows more people to find information, no matter if they can spell or not. Long-tail keywords add to searchability of site. Just because they’re not relevant to you, doesn’t mean they’re not relevant to someone else.

6) Who is going to take responsibility for the comments? (Authors are responsible for comments associated with blogs.)

7) What if we are inundated with comments? (Nah, won’t happen)

8 ) Should we allow staff to publish? (Yes)

9) Should we have a single voice? (What? No answer to this. Can’t provide a single voice. Have different voices for each different asset)

10) How will we encourage tags and comments? (answer comments, encourage commenting, reward good behaviour, promote outside the site, eventually – let it go)

The new site strategy for the Australian Museum has been a long, painful journey. Despite the frustration, it’s also been a lot of fun.

Enjoy your own journey!

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