Friday 27 February 2009

Remix redux

Via Nat Torkington, a pointer to a lecture today (well - American today) on the topic of Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.

Speakers at the event are Lawrence Lessig, (founder of Creative Commons, IP warrior), street artist Shepard Fairey (creator of the Obama HOPE poster) and cultural historian Steven Johnson, "whose new book, The Invention of Air, argues that remix culture has deep roots in the Enlightenment and among the American founding fathers."

'Remix' is a newish word (adapted from the music context) to describe an age-old cultural and artistic phenomena. In fact, phenomena might not even be the right word - I'd argue that remix is one way that culture keeps developing (shades of my Masters thesis intrude here). A quick search of the photos on the Manuscripts and Pictorial site shows that we've been remixing for fun and profit for decades, at least.

In his short post, Torkington calls for similar events "all with a few tech-literate artists, academics, journalists, etc. telling it how it is.". I couldn't agree with that more; Remix is a scary concept for many, and it would be great to see it demystified, even encouraged.

Top: John Pascoe, 'A member of the Home Guard at the Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki', 1939 - 1945. Reference Number: 1/2-154214-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, image from the Manuscripts & Pictorial website.
Bottom: Leslie Hinge, 'Man 'catching' a shark', [ca 1910]. Reference Number: 1/1-022046-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, image from the Manuscripts & Pictorial website.

Thursday 26 February 2009

Very excited

Best of 3 web hero Shelley Bernstein, head of technology at the Brooklyn Museum, will be giving a public lecture at the National Library in Wellington on March 10. Trust me - you should RSVP now.

Tuesday 24 February 2009

A little bird tells me ...

... that Shane Cotton has flown his Auckland coop and landed at Michael Lett.

Image: Shane Cotton, detail of Melanin face (2005). Synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Collection of David and Helen Baffsky, Sydney. Image from the 2006 Contemporary Commonwealth exhibition website.

Monday 23 February 2009

Shine a light on me

It has been a mind-bending 10 days here at Best of 3 headquarters, what with the full immersion experience of Kiwi Foo Camp and the glories of Webstock.

Someone who blew me away at both events was Fiona Romeo, Head of Digital Media at the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory. The NMM is currently running what I think is one of the most exciting initiatives in the cultural/science/web matrix.

What is it? It's a photo comp. Yup, a photo comp. What's innovative about that, I hear you ask?

First off, the comp (Astronomy Photographer of the Year, 2009 edition) itself is being run using a group on the photo-sharing site Flickr.

This in itself is not super-innovative. The photos entered into the group on Flickr get displayed on the NMM website, and the ones selected by the competition judges will be displayed in a physical exhibition at the NMM.

In addition to this, the NMM plans to use the images collected in the group to build a "giant, zoomable photo-collage of the Universe". To do this, they're getting people who enter photos into the group to add astro-tags; information that helps identify where and when the photo was taken, and exactly what part of the sky is depicted.

But here's where things get very special and very interesting. The NMM is working with a group called Astrometry to add even more celestial metadata to these images. The Astrometry robot 'crawls' over every photo entered into the group, looking for patterns of star placement - 'skymarks' - that it recognises, based on a huge index of coordinates that knows. When it identifies a match between the stars in the photo and a skymark in its index, it adds all the relevant info to the image on Flickr. With each photo it crawls, the bot gets a little bit wiser and more experienced, improving its accuracy along the way and finding the gaps in its current knowledge (the index).

The thing I admire about the project is that everyone gets something out of it.

The NMM achieves its mission: "illustrate for everyone the importance of ... the stars and their relationship with people" and key objectives (I love this one) "maximizing access and inspiration for all users".

Keen astro-photographers can share their work and talk to others about it. The exhibition is not a one-off (it will be held yearly) so the community doesn't die once the institution no longer needs it to provide content. Plus, they're making an important contribution to scientific research.

And Astrometry gets a smarter bot and a positive public profile.

The topic and the language (skymarks, astro-tagging; did you know that space has its own north? It's called celestial north) are kind of magical to me. Fiona Romeo's enthusiasm was infectious. And the photos are extraordinary ....

Image: Our Milky Way Galaxy, by Sir Merv, on Flickr.

Monday 16 February 2009

The future of the essay anthology

One of the most thought-provoking things that happened to me at Foo Camp was being given a print-on-demand (POD) copy of the Best of TOC writing anthology from O'Reilly Media.

TOC stands for Tools Of Change For Publishing, a division within O'Reilly Media that "seeks to connect the people, companies, and organizations asking and answering the questions that will define the future of publishing." The TOC anthology brings together a couple of dozen blog posts from the past 12 months on this topic, drawn from the TOC and other blogs.*

I love anthologies. When I was a kid, it was fairy tales - remember the Blue book and the Orange book and the Red book of fairy tales? As an adult, it's the 'Best American Science Writing' and 'Best American Science and Nature Writing' series.

Over the past few years, I've used the bookmarking site Ma.gnolia to create my own anthology of blog posts on various topics that interest me. These are usually article-length pieces that I refer back to and refer others on to. As some will know, Ma.gnolia recently and very regrettably fell over, and while I've extracted my bookmarked sites , they're currently in the form of one very long HTML page, and I'm reduced to searching it using the Ctrl + F function until I get my act together and reload them elsewhere.

But even before that, I often wished that I could compile my own printed manual of those blog posts, a physical reference that I could flip through faster than I could keyword search my bookmarks. Of course, I could print off all the posts and spiral-bind them, but that wasn't quite the elegant solution I was looking for.

Over the past few years, I've also had a subscription to the New Yorker. Back copies of the magazines sit in piles around the house; every couple of issues there's an article that I so enjoy, that so changes my thinking, that I can't bear to recycle them. At the same time, there's no easy way to collate the bits I want, so I can get rid of the bits I don't. Yes, I could rip them out and file them, or bind them, but again - not the elegant solution I want.

POD publishing would seem to offer this elegant solution for both my dilemmas. If the blog posts were correctly formatted and Creative Commons licensed, or available at a modest price (say, a dollar per item) I could bundle them into an e-book and, using POD, easily print off my manual. Likewise, if the New Yorker made its online articles available for download in this way, I could make my selection of my favourite 20 or 30 pieces for the year and treat myself to a customised collection at Christmas time.

Now let's mash this up a little. Hendrik Hertzberg writes for the print edition of the New Yorker, and has a blog on their site. His reporting on the US presidential election was quite amazing; what if I could make an anthology that combined the best of his his print and online pieces?

And another step further. What if the New Yorker entered into an agreement with some other publishers whose magazines I read, so that I could make a cross-title selection. Then I could pull together all the really seminal pieces of reporting on the election into one mega-anthology, or create a selection of great book reviews, or aggregate pieces of social and tech reporting that are relevant to my job.

Then let's add a social element. Let's make it so that I can share my anthologies online. People could look up the Best of 3 account and download and print anything that interests them from the list of books I've compiled. Or, even better, let them use my list as a starting point, taking out the items that they're not interested in and adding new pieces. If you want to get all cool and Web 2 about it, you could add some ranking tools (so people can vote up popular anthologies), commenting and tagging, and maybe a couple of algorithms that surface titles automatically based on measures of popularity and timeliness.

I see this as a win-win situation. Publishers are trying to figure out how to make money off the digital versions of their print publications, and exploit their back catalogues more efficiently. I'm wanting to make physical versions of my favourite online things.** Everyone's happy. So - who do I talk to about making this happen?

*You can download the TOC anthology from the Reilly site for free; but you can also find links to all the blog posts collected in the book here; I really recommend this great interview with Derek Powazek on the 'evolving relationship between print and web content' and John Siracusa's extraordinary piece 'The once and future ebook'.

**A Webstock workshop that I went to yesterday had some really interesting reflections about the way online activities and communities filter out into real world objects, events and relationships.

Thursday 12 February 2009

Offline for a while

Best of 3 is off to Kiwi Foo Camp (oh yeah!) and Webstock (can life get any better?) and therefore posting will be erratic at best, and most likely non-existent, for the next 10 days. See you around about February 24th.

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Today's bright idea

If you want to skip a post that's essentially about copyright, why don't you skip over to this slideshow of works from the Rodchenko and Popova show at Tate Modern ...

This morning I was poking around in YouTube, looking for a copy of Len Lye's 'Rhythm' to play for a colleague. And it occurred to me - the web is full of Lye's film works, but there doesn't seem to be a legit place to watch them, or to download them from. While the Lye section of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery has info about buying copies of Lye's film work, you can't watch any of it online.

The role of the Len Lye Foundation is to "to provide for the conservation, reproduction and promotion of the works of Len Lye and to make facilities available for research." It also administers the copyright for much of the material in the Lye archive. So my bright idea for today is this: how about you (the Foundation) make Lye's film works available online using a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons licence? This would allow people to freely share the films (by, for example, dropping them into blog posts, or playing them in the classroom) as long as Lye is credited as the creator of the work, but doesn't allow for remixing of the films, or for commercial use of the films. Surely this fulfils your mission beautifully?

Even better, but perhaps a step too far for comfort, would be using the BY-NC-SA licence. This maintains the condition of attribution, but would allow people to build on top of Lye's work, whilst also placing them under the obligation of making the work produced in this way available under the same licence.

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Modernism is bliss

The State Library of New South Wales have done a rather lovely job of digitising and presenting items from their Harry Seidler collection. A particular highlight for me is being able to leaf through a 1951 issue of Australian Home Beautiful.

Best of all, it looks like they intend to keep adding extra material over time. It would be fantastic to see the work of some New Zealand architects (or NZ-resident: the Plischke show a few years back would have lent itself magnificently to this kind of treatment) delivered in this holistic manner.

Thanks W

Monday 9 February 2009

Art is dead, long live art.

You know what I think? I think the Te Papa squid dissection and the Auckland Museum's shark necropsy have changed the game. They took behind-the-scenes business-as-(kinda)-usual activities, and turned them into scientific spectacles that the public lapped up.

After thinking this, I started wondering - what have art galleries here in NZ done in the past 20 years that have changed the game? And I can't think of anything. Am I missing something here, or has it just been same-old same-old for the past 2 decades?

Thursday 5 February 2009


Tyler Green's post The collection catalogue is dead, long live the catalogue piqued my interest this morning. In it Green writes about the Getty's project to move from print publishing to digital publishing for public access to its collection information.

From Green's post:

The Getty's project is ambitious: It aims to replace the expensive dead-tree scholarly catalogue with an open-source, web-accessible-to-all, digital catalogue format. For now the Getty is working with eight museums on the initial stage of the project: the Getty Museum, the Smithsonian's Sackler/Freer, SFMOMA, the National Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Tate, the Seattle Art Museum and LACMA.

Digital catalogues are nothing new, although the existing examples vary wildly in terms of the proportion of the collection that's available, the quality of the metadata and the usability of the interface. But the phrase in this quote that really interests me is open-source, because it indicates that the Getty will be releasing its cataloguing software for anyone to use and add to. However, while the 48-page report (note:PDF) the Getty has released contains many persuasive arguments institutions could use when trying to convince funders to stump up for online catalogues, and a lot of common sense (hey everyone - let's used standardised cataloguing terms!), it makes no mention* of the software being used or plans to release it to the wider community.

Tyler promises more info on the initiative tomorrow. The magic words I would like to see are: "the project includes releasing a public-access API'".

*Admittedly, I skim-read this and am very happy to be corrected.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Around the web

This article in the Guardian - Book world's silence helps tome raiders - reminded me of a great article a couple of years ago by William Finnegan in the New Yorker (sadly not online). The article described a man who stole rare maps from libraries by visiting their reading rooms with a length of string secreted in the pocket of his cheek: he would order a book, lay the wet string along the edge of a page he wanted, close the book and wait until the paper weakened, quietly rip out the page, and then discreetly leave the building. Since then I've looked in askance at bulgy-cheeked library visitors.

In other links: Hendrik Hertzberg dissects that inauguration speech, and kittens poke fun at museums (via WACTAC)

Monday 2 February 2009

Hero image

Last week I pointed to an interview with one of my personal web heroes, Shelley Bernstein from the Brooklyn Museum.

This week's recommended media is this webcast of a presentation by Flickr and The Commons on Flickr founder George Oates. Fast-forward through the first 6 minutes or so of Smithsonian guy, and see how George has inspired the keepers of public heritage collections all around the world to set their photographs free.

Image: Paris Exposition: Salle des Fetes, Paris, France, 1900, from the Brooklyn Museum, via The Commons on Flickr