Sebastian Chan on Museums for the Next Generation Part 2: Do tag lists get unwieldy over time?

I first saw Sebastian Chan speak at Web Direction on 2007. He presented on social tagging (“folksonomy”) projects at the Powerhouse museum. The first of these projects was the digitisation of electronic fabric swatches. After that the entire collection was digitised and published available for public classification. Recently I saw him present and got an update on these projects.

When I first saw this case study presented in 2007 the stats amazed me:

  • 95% of all available objects were visited at least once in the first 10 weeks of the collection being published online
  • 86% of tags created by users were not found in museum (curatorial) descriptions
  • 88% of tags were assessed as useful by museum staff

The result since has been an amazing amount of web traffic, content sharing and fresh perspectives on objects and audience interests. The technology has developed to include geo coding and search term generated tags or “frictionless” tagging as Chan called it. But in all that time I had one question, well make that two:

  • Do the same items stay popular because of tagging? (i.e. does tagging perpetuate was is already popular?)
  • Does the tag list get unwieldy over time?

I got the opportunity to ask Sebastian from the audience Q&A after he spoke at the Australian Infront Insight series of talks. Warning audio taken from iPhone and not that great.
Sebastian Chan on Tag Lists by erietta

What are the lesson to be learnt here? 

The museum found that audiences didn’t need incentives to describe objects. The audience tags unveiled a new lexicon of descriptions that in turn led to deeper and wider content exploration. If you have a large library of information, a catalogue, or a huge database of content open it up. Let your audience help you describe it and in turn, help other users find what they are looking for. I encourage you to check out the original 2007 presentation.

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