1.1 How do we, as a sector, deal with the integration of technology into the way we make & distribute work? 1.

2 We need to consider digital media not solely as a passive medium, but rather as a tool to glean further information, and to expand the outreach and audience engagement of projects. Are we even at the starting blocks? If not, what should we be doing to get to the starting blocks and into the race? 1.3 How do we integrate new technology into our current operations to make us more efficient and effective? Introduction When I volunteered to explore these three questions, posed above by Adrian Ellis, as part of my research in my year’s fellowship on the Clore Leadership programme, I came at the subject in common with probably all of the Mission, Money, Models delegates: as both an insider and an outsider. I would not pretend for a minute that I am any kind of academic or expert on new technology - my experience is as an artist and an arts catalyst working mainly in contemporary popular music. Nonetheless, I am an insider because as director of a London-based arts consultancy and event producer, the hub, my company explores all of these issues daily. We’re looking to integrate new technology into the way we make and distribute work, using it as an active tool and using it to make our business more efficient and effective. In addition our company offers web site design and search engine optimisation services to arts organisations. However, I am also an outsider because I encounter the use of technology as a user, consumer and audience member. In both these roles, I have a vested interest in the cultural sector making the most of the opportunities afforded to it by new technology. In this paper I will argue that the most important technological innovation of our time is the internet, explore some reasons why this might be, look for how cultural organisations might measure their success in this realm (and test some of these measurements out) and draw some conclusions based on my research for this paper. For reasons of brevity and focus, I will not examine closely the question of whether the internet will give rise to new art forms, nor offer recommendations of how we can work in the internet to create new work, as this will depend

upon the dynamic use of the internet as a medium of communication and exploration by artists, curators, funders and facilitators alike. The ability to make the most of the opportunities to use the internet as a creative forum will depend upon how we, as arts facilitators bed in the technology into the centre of our work in these, the early days of the internet’s development. 1. The Potential of the Internet Revolution There are many new technologies that have significantly changed the way arts and cultural institutions work (for instance, automated box office databases, computer aided in-house design, computer operated sound and lights, powered flying in theatres, mobile telephony and SMS messaging, even automated climate control and air-conditioning). However, unlike many of these innovations the Internet’s technologies, and specifically web sites which cultural institutions use as their principal Internet presence, are common to every section of the cultural sector. The Internet gives all of us contact with revolutionary new technology as insiders and outsiders. Every delegate organisation to the Mission Money Models conference has a website. How organisations interact with the changing environment effected by the opportunities and challenges of this new technology will have an impact upon how they will perform in the future. There are a number of reasons why the Internet has such an enormous potential to effect change: 1. In little over 10 years the internet has gone from being the preserve of early adopters and the academic elite ‘…when a relatively small and rather homogeneous group of people around the globe could reasonably consider themselves as constituting the Internet community’ 1 to being a communication medium, resource, tool, market-place and service that is commonplace to the point of ubiquity in the western world. Arguably, no other technology has had such a meteoric rise to such widespread use and acceptance by so wide a group of users.
1

Robert McHenry is Former Editor in Chief of The Encyclopædia Britannica (quoted in Tech Central Station.com’s article The Faith-Based Encyclopaedia November 2004)

2. Compared to entry by other means, there is an apparently “level playing field” as the relatively low cost of entry into presence on the internet allows tiny organisations and individuals to locate themselves on the world wide web, and therefore to compete for as widespread an impact as well-resourced and established cultural institutions. In addition, larger organisations may suffer from diseconomies of scale as they struggle to have the agility to get the most out of the interactivity and fast pace of the web. 3. Via the Internet, an audience can come from anywhere in the world (using here “audience” as anyone who interacts with the institution via the web – where appropriate, in this piece I will sometimes refer to this web-derived audience as “surfers”). 4. The Internet allows a cultural institution to consider a secondary potential audience who might be introduced to the organisation via surfing, and who might or might not be drawn into a relationship with the organisation beyond this. This exploration of future potential audiences can be achieved at a fraction of the marketing expense, per potential audience member, of “traditional” forms of marketing. This has been borne out in studies of small-scale cultural institutions. In 2002, an Arts Council commissioned report into Street Art and Circus groups reported that marketing via websites was the second most favoured manner of direct marketing behind flyers2. With recent clampdowns on another low-cost methods of marketing (fly-postering), and with the increased use of the Internet, the use of this marketing method by smaller organisations is likely to increase. 5. Audience members who surf to the organisation can enter for free and can enter anonymously. This anonymity allows the interaction of audiences who may feel intimidated or excluded from some cultural institutions via convention or tradition. 6. The surfer can leave and join the site at will. A surfer, as an online audience member, can take a break at anytime. They can leave the site to get more or different information, then return. In the “physical world” this is inconvenient in a physical gallery and nearly impossible in a performing arts venue!

2

Street arts and circus: a snapshot. Helen Jermyn, Arts Council England, 2002

7. The interactivity of the web means that cultural institutions have less control over this means of communication than they have over others. As Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger put it in their 1999 Cluetrain Manifesto: ‘Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy’3 Many commentators have observed this facet of the Internet, but it was applied to the cultural sector by Prof. Robert Hewison in 1998. He refers to this new challenge to hierarchy as a “weave” of culture where: ‘…the warp and the woof that constitutes the weave usefully suggest both connection and difference’4. On the Internet, cultural institutions have to learn to work within the Internet’s connections that now juxtapose different worlds that had never before rubbed shoulders. The potential for creativity, via this interaction is obvious, however it nonetheless leaves established cultural institutions having to adapt to the new challenges to their ability to control their environment. 8. Web presence can place the cultural institution in any online community that it believes is appropriate. You cannot physically move a building from The Mall, Cornwall, or Hackney. However, on the Internet, you can link yourself to whichever online community you see fit. As the writer William Gibson said: ‘When you use the Internet you enter a realm in which geography no longer exist’5 This provides organisation with the opportunity to choose to inhabit a context that is either complementary or distinct from the one that the institution physically sits in. For instance, it could link itself to international analogues overseas, other (non-arts) organisations around the organisation’s physical location or other institutions or resources that its target audiences may be interested in.

3

www.cluetrain.com Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger, 1999 New Cultural Models for Old. Robert Hewison, University of Lancaster, 1998 5 Quoted in www.josefsson.net. William Gibson interview with Dan Josefsson. Stockholm, Sweden, 1994
4

9. Similarly, other individuals or bodies can link to your organisation without your knowledge or consent. This can lead to both opportunities and challenges for the cultural institution. 10. As a means of opening up a dialogue that has the potential to shape and influence the cultural institution, the Internet offers unique and unprecedented opportunities for audience participation. What Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger wrote in their critique and analysis of corporate America’s response to the internet revolution The Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999 could be equally applied as a warning to cultural organisations today, not to underestimate the potential for activity and activism in online audiences: ‘There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone’.

2. An Insider’s View of Measuring Success in Using and Integrating New Technology So how do we measure the adaptation to this changed environment, specifically with regards to the cultural sector’s interaction with the Internet? The Archimuse Best of the Web Awards The museums sector has a track history of such measurement in the Best of the Web Awards established by Archimuse in 1997 at their annual Museums and the Web Conference in Toronto, Canada. Awards are given over six categories: Best Online Exhibition, Best EServices, Best Museum web site supporting education, most innovative or experimental application, Best Museum Professionals’ Site and Best Museum Research Site and from these category winners is chosen the Best Overall Museum Website. The judges for the awards are made up of an international (but mostly North American and English speaking) panel. They are all sector insiders, working for organisations within the museums and galleries sector, mainly in positions whose business it is to propagate cultural organisations presence on the net. This year’s UK judges were James Devine, Head of Multimedia at the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow and

Aileen O'Riordan, Online Project Manager at the National Maritime Museum. Past UK judges have included Dr. Jim O'Donnell, Web Developer at Royal Observatory Greenwich and Jonathan Bowen, Professor of Computing at South Bank University. Past winners of the Overall Web Site Award include MoMA in New York, St. Peterburg’s Hermitage State Museum and Egypt’s Theban Mapping Project. I could not find a comparison award in the performing arts, however the criteria that the Museums and The Web Awards use can be safely transferred across the cultural sector. The criteria for judging these awards offer us some useful starting points with which to measure success of UK cultural institutions’ websites. From the perspective of these experts, how UK museums and galleries’ websites have fared in these awards gives us one indication of how far off the “starting blocks” UK institutions in this sector are. Of the 122 nominated websites for the 6 awards in 2004, 8 represented UK galleries and museums. Of these nominees, three were finalists and one an outright category winner. The “markers of quality” listed below are the criteria by which the awards were judged as posted on the website of the conference at which the awards are announced.6 1. E-Services Solutions This award recognises services that improve on-line communication between the website’s host organisation and their audiences. Like all of the websites eligible for the awards, they may be a section of a larger site. Areas that are counted as “e-services” include: secure on-line transactions; electronic memberships; email broadcasting and personalisation services. Markers of quality include:

Innovative approach to e-service activities, including gift shop items, images, memberships, event tickets, on-line registration for programs and events, fund raising activities, philanthropy, corporate sponsorships, and planned giving Effective ways of using on-line communication, such as renewing membership information, customizing email newsletters, and creating personal on-line image gallery

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www.archimuse.com/mw2004/

A finalist of this section was the 24 Hour Museum website, “the UK’s National Virtual Museum”, at http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk. It offers daily arts and museum news, exhibition reviews and online trails. The site promotes publicly funded UK museums galleries and heritage attractions and seeks to develop new audiences for UK culture. It is funded by the MLA with project funding from organisations such as the Clore Duffield Foundation, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Arts Council England. 2. On-line Exhibition or Activity Site This award focuses on sites that present and interpret museum collections and themes and create a discrete, meaningful experience. Entirely virtual museums are eligible to participate in this category, as are exhibitions of Web art and other “born digital” collections. Markers of quality include:
• • • •

Effective use of multiple media formats Innovative ways of complementing physical exhibitions or providing surrogates for physical experiences in on-line only exhibitions New ways of representing museum processes and structures Imaginative audience participation and engagement of different categories of 'visitors'

Many UK museums offer online exhibitions or access to their collections (notably The National Portrait Gallery, in which you can very easily view and download many of the works in its collection). However, the “born digital” exhibitions have had a mixed history in the cultural sector in the UK. The ICA’s pioneering newmediacentre.com has lain dormant since 2000. It would be hard to envisage a major cultural institution leaving a whole department derelict in this way without a major outcry, but in the virtual world, this dereliction is a lot less noticeable. With innovative work, there are other new issues that may not have been considered. Very often these have a financial implication and as the work is new, funding streams do not yet exist to fill these pools. I spoke to the co-Founder of the excellent online curator and gallery, www.e-2.org, Peter Moore. Probably their most successful work to date has been their co-commission with the Chisenhale Gallery, Tomoko Takahashi’s Word Perhect. This work was cited by the Turner Prize judges as one of the works that contributed to her nomination for their 2000 award. The

work parodies a word processor, the choices that are (or are not) available to you when you use one, and the attitudes that you as a computer user bring to your work. Moore says: ‘This piece of work has developed a life of its own. It’s transcended an arts audience and appeals to a large and varied non-arts audience, of people who wouldn’t necessarily visit a gallery for instance. While this is welcome, it brings problems of its own.’ Alluding to the Cluetrain Manifesto’s adage, that ‘Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy’, Moore said that their website has been paralysed recently by one link from the US website www.collegehumor.com. He said: ‘You wouldn’t say that Collegehumor’s users were among the expected audience for Word Perhect, but it proved very popular - so many people visited it, liked what they saw and passed the link to others, that we have the problem of excessive bandwidth usage, which can be expensive, exceeding what we might expect over six months, in a matter of days. This can put our web site out of action. It’s a problem we’ve anticipated but the parameters are changing constantly – how to archive online work past its initial (funded) life. When planning a piece of work, we also need to assess to what extent the technology is durable; accessible in the future - what software is used for instance – what the archiving issues may be for a particular piece. It’s a very similar problem to a visual arts curator asking the artist “how will this work be stored? - will the materials used degrade?”, but whereas funding exists to archive and preserve “physical” art, it does not yet exist for online work.’ Implied also in Moore’s comments is a similarity between the Internet and other forms of cultural heritage that have a need to be actively preserved. Unlike a manuscript for a long forgotten oratorio that lies undisturbed in an attic, the Internet must be actively archived its cultural heritage will be lost to future generations. This is known already to the Internet publishing community, but is not commonly known to cultural organisations (hence both Moore’s difficulty with funding either archiving or an “extended run” of Word Perhect, and the tolerance of ICA’s derelict newmediacentre.com). Norbert Specker, Director of the Zurich based online news archive and consultancy, Interactive Publishing puts it succinctly: ‘The web has no memory - unless it is created’7

7

, www.interactivepublishing.net Norbert Specker, 2004

3. Museum Web Site Supporting Educational Use Museums and galleries in this award’s category seek to educate a specific audience (of any age) on a particular subject. This is distinct from the Best Research Site category that includes search engines and databases. Markers of quality include:
• • • • • •

Presentation of supplementary material for schools and teachers, and support for collaborative spaces for teachers to work together Presentation of supplementary materials for students of any ages, and provision of collaborative work spaces for students Interaction between museum staff and students, teachers, or educational groups of any level Integration of experiences of 'real' visits to museum and the educational Web site Provision of non-curriculum based learning experiences and support of lifelong learning activities The target audience should be identifiable and the pedagogical strategy should be clear

A Learning Journey Through Hampshire's Countryside at www.hants.gov.uk was a finalist for this category in 2004. Its site is aimed at young people and makes excellent use of the archive that is available via Hampshire County Council – maps, historical photographs and artefacts are used to give an insight into some aspects of the county’s history. Moreover, the manner in which these journeys have been put together make specific use of what the web has to offer distinct from other media. The site feels like a meaningful experience in its own right and not a poor alternative to a museum visit. 4. Innovative or Experimental Application These sites make innovative use of Web technology to provide new and creative services. Their originality and potential for development are valued above the technology that they employ – moreover, the use of technology should be as transparent as possible, and should not obstruct the user from the application in hand. Markers of quality include:

Introduction of new technology to museum Web sites

• •

Creative uses of older existing technology in new ways Uses of technology that offer new possibilities for further development

No UK websites were finalists for this category in 2004, nor have been finalists since the award was launched, however, two UK sites were nominated in 2004: 24 Hour Museum Free Museum and Gallery Newsfeed at www.24hourmuseum.org.uk/etc/formuseums/ and the Tate’s online exploration of Cornelia Parker's Cold, Dark Matter: An Exploded View at www.tate.org.uk/colddarkmatter/. It is notable that both these nominations had websites that were finalists in other categories. Without taking credit away from 24 Hour Museum or Tate Online, it would suggest that there were not many other UK websites that put themselves forward for selection. Participating in awards such as these surely would be a key force in driving up the quality of UK cultural institutions web presence, sharing best practice and finding potential partnerships for web-based activity. 5. Museum Professional's Site This category looks at the concerns of the cultural institutions themselves (the “insiders”). These sites serve museum professionals and their specific requirements, such as administration, exhibitions, education, public relations, registration, collections management, or development. They take the form of conference reports, pre-publications, reviews and technical literature Markers of quality include:
• • • • •

Support for the distributed activity of a consortium or group of museum partners in ongoing collaborations Contribution to their institution or to the museum profession as a whole Mechanisms for fostering innovative projects that help in the development of electronic media in museums Providing valuable on-line forums and discussions for museum professionals Providing software, guidelines, templates and packages for museum professionals

No UK arts institution was a finalist for this category in 2004. The last UK finalist was the Southern Museums Agency’s website www.southernmuseums.org.uk in 2001. when I tried to visit this site, it was not functioning. However,

6. Research Site, Museum Search Engine or On-line Database This award category looks at sites that support research on museum and gallery collections. They are primarily on-line databases and search engines that provide detailed information for individuals and/or groups. Markers of quality include:
• • • • •

Ease of use for both experienced and novice researchers Accuracy and depth of content Consistency of material Currency of links and updates Extent of links and references to other related resources and sites

The winner of this category in 2004 was Tate Online http://www.tate.org.uk The judges’ comments were recorded on the website8: ‘Overall, a rich, wonderful site. Tremendous depth of content, easy to use and easy to drill down to more information about an artist or movement. ... My hands down favourite of the group.’ ‘[The] site achieves many things that museums aspire to provide, including interrelation of content (description, documentation and image), and content is delivered in reliable and meaningful fashion. Content is rich and feels complete.’ I called Tate’s Senior Digital Content Manager, Sarah Tinsley, to find out a little more about how their website has worked its way from being little more than “brochure ware” to being the award winning site it is today. A major uplift in quality came from BT’s sponsorship that started in 2001. Tinsley said: ‘In those days, there was a lot of talk of to our web site as “the fifth site”. Although this term is problematic, what it means in effect is that we want the site to be a destination in its own right. In our surveys we have found that over 30% of online visitors come for the research that they can do via the website. As well as being able to access a great proportion of the collection online, we pride ourselves in having more comprehensive captions than

8

www.archimuse.com/mw2004/

many other museums or galleries (for instance the Pompidou or MoMA). Although this helps our visibility to search engines, we mainly work this way to help researchers to better find the material that they are interested in. Accolades like the Best of the Web Awards help us to keep abreast of other outstanding web projects, help to build our profile and also help with our relationship with our sponsor, BT.’ 3. Other Measures of Success Websites as Publications I interviewed Jane Finnis, Development Director of the 24 Hour Museum, whose site has won many awards in addition to its finalist position in Archimuse’s 2004 awards. I asked whether she felt that the current awards covered all of the areas of possible measures of success of cultural organisation’s websites achievement. One notable area that she felt could be added was the area of web publishing and editorial. Websites need a distinct voice and manner of communication because of their format, the unique capabilities of this type of technology (scrolling, hyperlinks etc.) and the sheer potential diversity of the human audience. She commented: ‘A website’s a publishing exercise, it’s like curating and so it should be treated as such – with the same attention to detail regarding construction and servicing of the site. We publish our site everyday, we pay a lot of attention to optimising our site for search engine visibility and that’s why it works. The Tate’s a good site, but unlike a lot of websites of cultural organisations, they treat it like another gallery. I’m sure if you looked, you’d find someone with “editor” in their title.’9 The trouble is the technology’s so new that many organisations don’t even know what they need, because for them the web’s technologies are “unknown unknowns” – people don’t know what they don’t know about them!’ Appealing to the “Mechanical Audience” In addition to the way they are read by a human audience, the way a site is written and formatted has a direct bearing on the website’s visibility to search engines. The website must appeal to this “mechanical audience” to maximise its potential audience on the web.

9

In its nine-strong digital programmes team, the Tate has two web editors: Joe Hall and Will Renny.

A Search Engine is a piece of computer software that searches a database of sites on the internet and returns to the searching computer relevant matches based on the information typed into a query on the search engine’s front end: the search page. The search engine’s databases contain web pages that have been indexed under the key words and phrases that have been found on those web pages. Search Engines try to match the words typed into a search query (the “search string”) with the web page that is most likely to have the information that the end user is searching for. The world’s most popular search engine, Google, is a computer-indexed database10. Software ‘robots’ called crawlers or spiders compile its database. This mechanical audience is important because it is the most common way that users navigate themselves around the Internet. How highly a web site rates (i.e. how close to the top of the search engine’s returned relevant web page matches) is purely dependent upon the content of the web site, and how visible this content is to this crawler programme. It is not dependent upon the organisation’s budget, reputation or history. Therefore, web sites, to make the most of the possibilities of the web, must appeal to both a human and a mechanical audience. Search engines are the most common form of gathering information from the Internet. Exploring how cultural institutions appear to search engines offers us clues as to how they may or may not be exploring the potential offered to them by the Internet. 4. The View from the Outside In his 2004 report for the Getty Leadership Institute, Metrics Of Success In Art Museums Maxwell L. Anderson argues:

‘In a global sense, the number of mentions of the museum on Google is a blunt but statistical measurement of
that museum’s reputation. For example, in two Google searches as of this writing, one can examine the results in two major cities, New York and Paris. The Metropolitan Museum of Art yielded 1,150,000 mentions, the Museum of Modern Art 817,000, the Guggenheim Museum 607,000, and the Whitney Museum 301,000. A search for the Louvre yielded 1,620,000 hits, the Centre Pompidou 483,000, the Musee d’Orsay 242,000,

10

As opposed to a human indexed database (e.g. Yahoo!)

and the Musee Picasso 26,00011. In each case this relative ranking seems intuitively in line with the girth of each museum’s reputation.’12 The point he makes is true, however in this instance, knowing that the institution exists predicates this search (as the search string used above was the name of the institution itself). Hence Anderson’s search is that of an insider. He is reacting to a known reputation and searching for what he knows is there. In addition to seeing how insiders define success, I was interested to see how well websites worked for outsiders – “normal people” who don’t work in the arts, but have an interest in the arts, but don’t necessarily know the institutions that we do (for instance, the delegate institutions to the Mission, Money, Models Conference). If this seems fatuous and your reaction is ‘everyone’s heard of [put the name of your institution here]’, ask how many delegate organisations would have heard of the award winning Theban Mapping Project, cited above. In looking at cultural institutions’ website’s on the internet as seen from the point of view of an outsider, it is possible to see how the UK’s cultural institutions are open to a world wide audience of neophytes that could form audiences of tomorrow (either virtually or physically). Therefore, I put myself in the position of an internet surfer who came to an organisation via a search engine and was interested in the kind of activity that the cultural institution does, but not necessarily aware of the institution.

11

Using the same method for four UK cultural institutions yielded the following results: 882,000 for “Tate Gallery”, 277,000 for “Welsh National Opera”, 218,000 for “Barbican Centre” and 15,800 for “Arvon Foundation” 12 Metrics Of Success In Art Museums, Maxwell L. Anderson, Getty Leadership Institute, 2004

As search engines are the most common form of gathering information from the internet, it follows that the more visible your web site is to search engines, the higher you will be rated by them and so the more visitors will come to your web site via search engines. I was interested to research how well optimised for search engine visibility a sample of UK cultural institutions were on the Internet, using Google’s search engine as an arbiter, and thus how visible they might be to my imagined surfer’s interest. I used a group of organisations picked at random from the MMM Conference Delegates’ list. The organisations that I searched for were: Arvon Foundation, Barbican Centre, Dulwich Picture Gallery, National Galleries, Scotland, National Portrait Gallery and Welsh National Opera. What if the surfer already knows the institution’s name? My first search was simple. To find out if by inputting the name of the sample organisation as the search string, Google returned the sample organisation at the top of its returned websites. The reason for this search was because often surfers know the name of the organisation, but not the website address (the Uniform Resource Locator or URL). This simple test aimed to see how visible the organisation’s name was to Google. As Google’s standard setting ranks 10 returns per page in descending order, a ranking below 20 will put your web site on the third page or below. With 20 other web site choices to explore regarding the surfer’s search string, it is unlikely that the surfer will search for web sites rated beneath this. All sample organisations were returned first in Google. What if the surfer’s interested in what the institution does, but doesn’t know their name? Once I had found the web sites and was logged on, I looked for a sentence on it that described the mission, aim or purpose of the organisation. I then used this as a search string to ascertain how visible this was to a surfing audience who were interested in the area of work of the organisation (i.e. as articulated by their aim or mission) but were not necessarily aware of the organisation that was part of my sample. How highly-rated each organisation was when using a string based upon this text would show how likely a surfer would be to find this organisation based on such a search. This provided some interesting results. On the first page of the Barbican’s BITE (Barbican International Theatre Events) page, it writes:

‘Welcome to BITE, the only year round international performing arts programme in London’ Therefore my search string was ‘international performing arts programme in London’ 13 Using this string the first placed returned site on Google was for Visiting Arts, pointing towards their training and development programme. Other first page returns with this string included Goldsmith’s College, London International Mime Festival, The British Council, London Metropolitan University and Oxford’s International Workshop on Yiddish Theatre. BITE was rated 59th, on Google’s 6th page. In search engine terms, this is close to being invisible. However, you do not need to be directly visible for audiences to find you. One of the advantages of the Internet is that it interacts with itself, via hyperlinks from other websites. The National Portrait Gallery’s home page tells us that it: ‘…was founded in 1856 to collect the likenesses of famous British men and women.’ Therefore my search string was ‘likenesses of famous British men and women’14 Searching with this string did not return the NPG’s web site directly15 (I looked at the top seven pages of Google). However, unlike the pages that preceded BITE’s appearance, the NPG’s site was linked to in all of the top 10 web sites that were returned for this search string. The top three were: Boughton House’s links page, Knowsley Council’s excellent Buzzin.net site (‘Learning Made Fun’) and www.allthatwomenwant.com’s What’s Free in London page. Surfers visiting any of the top ten pages would be led to the NPG’s website via hyperlinks.

13

It is doubtful that a surfer would use this string, the more likely string would omit the word “programme” but I wanted to give the Barbican a fighting chance 14 Again I think it is doubtful that most surfers would look for such a specific phrase. I also searched substituting “portraits” for “likenesses”. This returned a reference to the NPG that was 3rd on the first page of Google and many others beneath that. 15 This can be partly attributed to the text on the NPG’s homepage being within an image, as opposed to text (you can test this on any website by trying to copy the text and paste it into another computer document). Web crawlers cannot see text that is within images.

I searched the remaining websites in my sample in a similar way and also searched for strings taken from work that the institutions were currently presenting (see attached appendix for results). My conclusion was that some organisations did not appear to be fully aware of the need for search engine optimisation, and so did not maximise their visibility to this potential audience. What if the surfer’s found them, likes what they do, and wants to give money? As anyone who’s used eBay, Amazon, Ticketmaster, ebookers and countless other sites knows, websites are increasingly making themselves extremely cost effective marketplaces. However, for cultural institutions, they need not only be applied to ticket and merchandise sales, but also as active fundraising tools. I looked at our sample to see how easily an outsider could become an active friend, and donate money to the institution. Of the sample six MMM websites, only the National Portrait Gallery was ready for an online transaction. For £28 I could become a member for a year. The site even had a currency converter should I be logging on from overseas. All other sites except one had downloadable PDF application forms with either addresses, email addresses or fax numbers to send the completed form to. The Barbican’s site told me that a PDF application was coming soon and urged me to call their general box office. I became a member of the National Portrait Gallery and paid the extra £8 for a guest pass. So the surfer’s found them, given money, and wants to find out what company they keep The Internet is just that: an interconnected network. For it to work best, it needs to connect with itself so that some order or sense or reality is made of this virtual world. As described in section 1, a website by association can place itself within a particular community that it finds appropriate and helpful via the simple device of hyperlinks. I searched my sample’s websites to see who they were connected to. The National Portrait Gallery has a very comprehensive links page in their visitor information section, with links to over 1,000 websites related to their subjects. The sites fell into three main categories: buildings associated with the sitter, institutions associated with the sitter, and official websites. There was also a brief “other” links page. As, by definition, the institution

deals with UK portraiture, the links associated with the sitters were almost without exception to UK sites. However, only one “other” link was to a non-UK site: Réunion des Musées Nationaux at http://www.photo.rmn.fr/fr/index.html. The links from both the Welsh National Opera and National Galleries Scotland were similarly nationally focused. Very few of the sample websites had links to commercial organisations or organisations outside the cultural sector, although these organisations frequently had links to websites within the cultural sector (as we saw with links to the NPG site). The Barbican’s Art Gallery had a links page with 12 links, ranging from the Jewish Museum Berlin to the White Cube Gallery. The BITE site had no links from it. This might be one explanation for their poor showing on Google as reciprocal links contribute to the search engines’ rating. Neither the Arvon Foundation nor the Dulwich Picture Gallery had a dedicated links page, with the DPG’s only hyperlink pointing to the site developer, AtticMedia at www.atticmedia.com The institution’s website doesn’t turn the surfer on – where else can they look? The hierarchy-subverting nature of the Internet means that searching via search engines for strings that appear on cultural institutions’ websites will take the surfer in some very different directions. After going to the Welsh National Opera site, I realised how little I knew about Opera. WNO have their own site aimed at people new to opera at www.fresh2opera.co.uk and this helped, however I only found this site when I linked via the WNO site. It was not visible to search engines in its own right16. Other UK cultural institutions offer similar services (notably the Royal Opera House’s “Synopses from our Previous Season” pages). However, in terms of search engine visibility, the most prominent and helpful site I found was www.soyouwanna.com, a US-based site that claims that it “Teaches you how to do all the things nobody taught you in school”. Their range of subjects is enormous - my favourite other subjects included how to join the CIA and how to convert to Mormonism. Soyouwanna, unlike all of the UK cultural institutions that I searched that offered synopses and
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Using Google search string: “synopses of opera” and “I’m new to opera and I want to know more”

backgrounds, offered an “email this page to a friend” link – a cheap, effective and internetspecific manner of spreading the good news about Opera around the world. 4. Conclusions From my research, I’ve concluded: • Although some excellent work is being done to integrate the Internet’s new technology in the heart of some UK cultural institutions, many need to be more familiar with the Internet’s own culture, landscape and language. The Internet’s not going away. • Organisations need to explore more closely the unique capabilities of the Internet, have a better idea of how their websites are actually used and the opportunities and challenges that these give rise to.17 • Organisations need to be more creative in their Internet presence, learning not only from their own sector, and from their known physical environment, but also the commercial and the user-led worlds that inhabit the Internet. • Cultural institutions should play a fuller part in the Internet’s community (that is the global community of potential audience members, not just the parochial one that exists of current known audiences) and make better use of resources open to “insiders” aimed at fostering best practice, such as web awards. • There is a great range in search engine visibility between different UK cultural institutions’ websites. This would suggest many do not understand search engine optimisation or the imperatives of improving this aspect of their site. • Institutions have to work to preserve the authority and status that they take for granted in their physical world because, on the Internet, this authority is not a given. Institutions need to actively establish a distinct “internet reputation”.

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This conclusion backs up other research in this area. Dr Jim Devine’s What Clicks? Report in 2004 (University of Glasgow) found that although 73% of schoolteachers used websites to help plan lessons, 74.5% of the Scottish Museums surveyed either didn’t know or weren’t sure what use was made of their websites by their audiences.

Means of measuring how cultural institutions are dealing with the challenges and opportunities of the Internet (like the Archimuse Awards) exist but are not widely used. Using them more would allow arts organisations to learn from best practice across the sector.

The UK’s museums and galleries sector seem to be responding and adapting more quickly to the Internet than the performing arts sector. Funding organisations, including those charged with preserving our cultural heritage, must realise that internet-based work should be archived and treated in the same way as other potentially fragile work, and fund accordingly.

Cultural institutions must grow more comfortable with the interactive nature of the Internet. In an interactive age, we have to be ready to interact – and be good at it!

Once arts facilitators have harnessed the power that the Internet has to offer them, they can use the technologies within it to propel their mission, and provide a platform for the art that the medium may create. Finally, I’d like to reiterate how early on in its development the Internet is. If we compare it to other revolutionary new cultural technology (for instance the saxophone), it is as if virtually every household in the western world was given access to a saxophone in the 10 years following the instrument’s invention by Adolphe Sax in 1841. However, culture takes time to develop and mature. New technology takes time to bed in as its various avenues and cul de sacs are explored and people come along who create voices distinct to the new technology. Amid the chaos of saxophone music that may have been produced in this alternative world by 1851, it is worth remembering that Charlie Parker wasn’t born until 1920. Andrew Missingham Director the hub andrew@thehubuk.com www.thehubuk.com

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