Defining Open Authority

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2 years ago 22 notes Wikipedia accessibility museums

An interview with Roger Bamkin

This is the full interview conducted with Roger Bamkin; a shortened version appears on the New Media Consortium’s MIDEA blog.

Roger is not only the Chairman of the board of Wikimedia UK, but has also emerged as a leader in the GLAM-Wiki community over the past year. He has coordinated a number of projects at Derby Museum and Art Gallery, including a multi-lingual challenge, which aimed to increase and improve articles related to the museum in as many languages as possible. This contest was made possible by the creation of QRpedia, a special QR code that directs users to the Wikipedia article on a topic in your own language.

Read on to discover how Wikipedia, combined with a savvy new tool, helped a small regional museum become relevant to a global audience.

Also, watch this short video about the impact of QRpedia at Derby Museum.

1. How many articles resulted from the Wright Multi-Lingual Challenge, and how many languages and countries were represented?

We had just under 100 articles in English that were new, but lots more would have been improved as a result. I’m not sure how many languages there are in total but one acticle has gone from three of four to fifty languages.

If you ordered the translations you might have had them arranged differently. We have hardly any articles in German, Dutch or Chinese put apart from that all the main languages appear to be well covered and we have complete coverage in French, Spanish, Esperanto and Catalan as well as a few guest appearances for others like Latin, Anglo Saxon and two dialects of Cossack.

The editors came from over twenty countries including Korea, Indonesia, Brazil, Kenya and lots of European countries. The plan had been to use British people whose first language was not English when we set up the challenge.In the end we had only a few British editors. However success is success even if it isnt the one you planned.

2. I’ve heard you say that the Derby Museum’s QRpedia project shows how small museums can reach global audiences. Can you elaborate on how this is possible?

There was a great example of this. There is a quite noted American artist who became quite popular in the UK. His name was Benjamin West and allegedly he was first trained to paint by a native American using a mixture of clay and Bear grease. Derby Museum has a painting by him and it attracted the eye of a volunteer we had in France called Fanfwah possibly because there was a French guy in the picture. Fanfwah wrote about it in French and we translated that into English where 14,000 read about the painting. However after that the article was translated into Russian by an editor called Anastasia Lvova. That article was read by over 50,000 Russians.

The ranking of your website of your city, or your museum  in Google does not rely on keywords or even on the number of clicks it gets. The ranking of a web site in Google is largely based on how many other web sites link to your web site and how important those web sites are. 

So we know that due to this effort the positions of Derby and Derby Museum related objects will move slightly higher up the rankings on the English Wikipedia. But in other languages the effect would be much more marked. If I look at your city on a Google Map in Belerusian, Finnish or Indonesian then will your museum appear? Derby Museum does.

3. What impact has:

a)     QRpedia had on the museum’s local audience and; 

b)    The Wright Challenge had in increasing access to a global audience?


a) I think we can be criticised for being slightly ahead of the serious use of QR codes in England. When we started we had seen Korean supermarkets that had no stock only pictures of goods that shoppers could add to a shopping cart. The first trial of this has just started in the UK. We find that tech-savvy visitors will try the QR codes out but the curators have not been told about these codes and we did not supply free phones. These are being introduced now.  Derby can see the success that its imitators has had and its planning to exploit the technology it has. I now see QR codes in the middle of BBC cooking programmes and over 50% of British phones are now Smart phones which can easily read QRpedia codes. One of the big advantages is that QRpedia does not require that you download a specialist app and as long as your phone has a camera then it can do this trick. Are there clever things then QR codes coming? Yes there are, and because Derby Museum objects are already mapped into Wikipedia then they will be easy to upgrade.

b) Global audience? We have many more visitors outside the UK than we have in Derby in person. We have had an editor come from Spain and another from France to see the items they wrote about. I think if you asked the people who read our articles which cities they could name in England or more importantly where they would like to visit in England then Derby would get a much higher recognition score than it would have before. And the number of people who read our articles are over 100,000 in Russia alone.

4. What was the most surprising result of the Wright Challenge in regards to international collaboration?

So let me tell you an an odd story about a pigeon. There was a pigeon race where hundreds of homing pigeons were taken to Italy to fly  the 1,000 miles back to England. During the race there was a terrible storm and no pigeons returned … except for one. That bird was re-christened the “King of Rome” and for some odd reason it came out of the museum’s store on the day the wikipedians first met in Derby Museum. It was the only item that actually got an article written about it on that day. (Contrary to rumour Wikipedians can and do like to socialise!). The stuffed pigeon had become a bit more famous as a local folk singer had written a song about the pigeon and about how the owner would never see the world but his pigeons flew/lived for him. Its tells the story of the birds fortitude and how it flew but its poor owner never did. I think thats quite a nice story of how a simple museum exhibit can inspire creativity and the song was eventually recorded by a Folk Singer called June Tabor.

Now! this song by June Tabor became such a favourite tune of another man who had June Tabor sing it for him on his birthday. When this man got trapped in a blizzard in Norway, he had to fight his way through the wind and cold to get himself to safety. The thing that kept him going was singing the June Tabor song about the pigeon to himself.

Imagine that man’s surprise when he went to talk about the work of Wikipedia in Derby and the speaker spoke about this pigeon. The man saved from the blizzard knew he had been saved by a song, but he never knew that the story was based on fact and that the pigeon who saved his lfe was in a museum in Derby. He got the details after the talk, read the wikipedia article and immediately bought the book about the pigeon and song from Amazon. Hopefully he was amazed to see that pigeon article existed never mind that it was in over a dozen languages. He wrote a review of that book on Amazon which is how we know that Wikipedia has an article about a pigeon - that saved a man’s life in a Norwegian blizzard.

5. Did the Wright Challenge establish a community of online volunteers for the Derby Museum? If so, is this community sustainable beyond the contest?

Yes and No. Yes we created a community of volunteers, but the museum never exploited them, but we did! Derby museum has a “Friends of … ” organisation but I’m not sure that they knew how to deal with the idea that they had dozens of willing volunteers who may never actually visit the museum. During the three months of the competition we were receiving ten new article per day. When the mayor gave out the prizes by web stream we thought it would end but we still got a new article a day for some time afterwards. 

The volunteers have however congregated around QRpedia rather than the museum. We had an early adopter of QRpedia in Indianapolic Childrens Museum and she had installed QRpedia codes and they were available in a couple of languages but now she has Russian and Japanese? to  also offer her visitors. Others have taken QRpedia and applied it to a modern art exhibition in Spain (picture) and a photo exhibition in Saint Petersburg (picture). The ex-Derby wikipedians can in some cases not talk to each other or me because of language barriers but between us we are bringing down the barriers for any museum visitors.

I’m hoping that one day I will follow a Russian around a museum in Vietnam and despite the fact that neither of us can read the labels or speak the curators we can smile at each other as we both read slightly different articles that desceribe the same object in two different languages. Now that would be success, and we’re getting there.

6. Has the Derby Museum’s collaboration with Wikipedia & inclusion of QRpedia codes affected staff and on-site visitors’ perceptions of Wikipedia? 

This is a tricky one because I think this was an important year for both Wikipedia and to a lesser extent QR codes. There was a time when you couldn’t use the Word Wikipedia without getting a raised eyebrow or an offered anecdote. Even the bar room commentators now know that despite their years of predicting that Wikipedia could not possibly work, and despite everyone knowing that human failings would inevitably bring the Tower of Babel tumbling down…. Wikipedia continues to thrive.

The staff themselves have had changes to the way they operate. At one time they were not allowed to use Twitter or Facebook and strangely Wikipedia was also banned as being social network software. Three changes 1. Wikipedia is not thought of as social media and 2. They are allowed to use social network software becuase thats where their audience lives. 3. Some have realised that they too can add to Wikipedia.

I know that we have turned the museum inside out. I think it will take a while and for others to show how this means that museums can adapt to the virtual world. I don’t need to visit Derby Museum anymore to find things out. I want to go and see the stuff that I know is interesting.

Before we started we were all afraid that someone would click on what they thought was a QRpedia code and they would be taken to a shock web site or that vandals would change the Derby Museum article to say something offensive. So we have learnt something about Wikipedia but more importantly about human nature. The goodies win! We have had no vandal issues at all. The closest we got was small boys moving the codes … but when I was small I would have thought that was fun too.! 

Anything else you would like to share?

One point of interest is that the articles that were written only had to mention Derby Museum, they didn’t have to be about the museum or its objects. Obviously most of them were, but got articles about nearby bridges, biographies of artists and curators, nearby villages, archaelogical sites, paintings that might have been in Derby but were not and even articles about objects that were in the museums store. 

I’m hoping that the winner of the contest who was called Anastasis Lvova will choose a museum in Russia that we can all study and share around the globe. I’m also hoping that a museum curator or two realises the significance of this story.

We had planned to do a multi-lingual contest in Derby as we thought it would be fun and would allow British editors to create new articles. Whilst I was waiting I was discussing on the web why we couldn’t use Wikipedia to create the Museum labels. I was told they would never let us. I was told they wouldn’t even allow us to use QR codes. I had no idea what they were. Nick Moyes who worked for the museum had no idea either but he said “Yes”. Within three days we had found out what they were, made some, installed them and took photos to prove it.

Success yes, but a BIG problem. What were we going to do about that multi-lingual challenge? How could we sell that idea when QR codes only worked in one language. That problem is what led to Terence Eden and I conceiving of the idea of QRpedia. Now thats important to me and hopefully intruiging to you. But the important point is that if Nick Moyes had not let the luntatics in then we would never have had this idea. Wikipedians callit being bold. BE BOLD!

Post Notes

  1. hstryqt posted this
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