About Me

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Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Seb Chan on web stats

A thoughtful post on web analytics, re-emphasising the different needs of museums compared to e-commerce sites with regard to making sense of their stats, and the confusion and tail-chasing that result. We aren't especially sophisticated users of stats, although I'm the worst culprit on the whole: I don't get WebTrends and leave it to our web content manager to set up the profiles and deal with all that. However I do keep a fairly close eye on our Google Analytics data, although I'm not exactly a power user. We also don't have the script on quite all our pages, which means that I'm missing data on some of our most popular but older parts of the sites.
With GA it's a lot easier that with WebTrends to get to lots of revealing information about the sourc of our traffic (geographically and referral-wise), or stuff like entry and exit pages - you can hop from one statistic to another quite intuitively, and that's encouraging me to delve a bit deeper. But I'm not particularly methodical, it's more if I see something unusual (like spikes in visits from the BBC or games websites) that I dig into it.
The other form of web-related stats we gather (but which, again, I pay probably too little attention to) is on the exit surveys from the museum or from temporary exhibitions. These typically ask whether users discovered the museum on the web or used our sites for visit information or anything else. We've tried web surveys to little effect, and they're too self-selecting anyway, but the exit surveys are pretty informative.
There's lots more to say but I'm clearing out a backlog of drafts and this will have to do for now...

The National Archives and MS

I'd wondered what to make of the news that MS are to provide a futureproofing "strategy" for TNA by giving them copies of Virtual PC 2007, apart from it being a pragmatic step, and fortunately Chris Rusbridge has done the thinking for me. I guess I agree also that the progress with Open XML can only be good, since it's pretty much irrelevant that they aren't using the same standard as Open Office - the point it it's an open standard and XML is designed to be transfomed.
I'd be interested to know how TNA plan to integrate the emulation approach with any need they may have to preserve non-Windows or non-MS Office formats.

Monday, July 16, 2007

eFoundations: The Repository Roadmap - are we heading in the right direction?

Too busy to have thoughts on this at the moment but here's the link:
eFoundations: The Repository Roadmap - are we heading in the right direction?

See also Nik Honeysett's sceptical posting on Trusted Digital Repositories. Right or wrong he encapsulates the sort of frustration we must all sometimes feel when we're looking at something a little outside our own area of obsession and wondering, "why does it have to be so complicated?" Actually that's probably misrepresenting what he's saying and where he's coming from; in any case he makes a good point: most of the time we're migrating stuff frequently, and most of the time this is perfectly adequate.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Monday, July 09, 2007

Perpetuity, huh? Remind me, how long is that?

Another thing I meant to write about an awfully long time ago: http://ahds.ac.uk/news/futureAHDS.htm
The death of the AHDS (but not, it appears, the ADS for now) is not just a blow for the service itself and its users, but for the very idea of data repositories funded by UK Research Councils are trustworthy. Data preservation is for the long term and a broken thread may as well never have existed. With the AHRC (declaration of interest: they fund my PhD) pulling the rug from beneath the AHDS, and JISC being obliged to follow, who is going to want to hand their data to another such data service? I don't think it needs me to say much, there are better informed people out there who have plenty to say.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Well here are a couple of things from the last couple of weeks that might turn out to be interesting.
The new Hub e-learning officer, Mairiruth, has a number of projects in mind, which will probably not involve us directly i.e. we won't develop them, but which we'll advise on and host - so ultimately they're our problem. She has specified a 5 year lifespan, which is great - not the length, but the fact that durability is considered and will hopefully be built in and accounted for in terms of the resources allowed for over that lifespan.
One idea Mairiruth is musing, inspired by the V&A's "Design a Worksheet", is especially interesting for (a) its complexity (b) its small budget! (c) the various possible solutions to it, including perhaps the use of Gathery. Others might employ Magic Studio.
We had a meeting with a mobile media company, discussing options for the Capital City galleries currently in development, which was stimulating and cleared up a few questions whilst, of course, raising others. I guess we're now a little more wary of RFID but we're too early in developing ideas of what we want to achieve to settle on technology yet. With any luck, by 2009 some of the barriers to mobile phone use may have been reduced (especially, for a PAYG tightwad like me, cost), but they may not be ideal anyway, or perhaps we can adopt a flexible enough strategy to work on various current and future platforms - this would seem ideal, but perhaps the costs of ultimate flexbility aren't justified - a real sustainability dilemma.
Later that day we had a meeting to bring us web types up to date with the Capital City plans and to talk about a (long overdue) plan to converge our online collections database infrastructure and data models more. That didn't put it very clearly, but in short whilst we're going in the right direction there's a fair bit to do, and with the upgrade to Mimsy XG later this year we have an opportunity to sort out a lot of stuff. Groovy.
Going home now so that will do.


http://semacode.org/ This has sat a while as a draft waiting for a comment. Hmm, what can I add? Could be handy in the museum? That'll do. See also Semafox

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

On the back foot with SMTP nightmares

Lots of catching up to do. Though I didn't post much before holidays, with too much going on at work, there are quite a few things I need to note down for my own benefit if no-one elses.
Firstly, though, my current trials.The last week or so have been a battle with e-mail. Mail from the web server has failed to get through and we have lost key capacity to diagnose and rectify the problem. The trouble is that it is a function that bridges several areas of comptetence and when we lost Rich May, network/helpdesk manager and good friend, back in April we lost vital knowledge, not to mention simple capacity. One of the great things about our team's structure is that we work side-by-side, pitching in as appropriate, whether we're developers, managers or HDEs, and I know it gives us an advantage over larger organisations with more differentiation/compartmentalisation because it we can have rapid, informal communication and the flexibility that comes from being all the same department. On the down side, the loss of one central member, not to mention the pitifully slow process of replacing him, leaves us badly holed. By the time a replacement is in position it will be three, perhaps four months since he left, plus one for his notice period. Of course, no-one will have exactly the same patchwork of skills nor the case-specific knowledge of the person they're replacing, but this is a study in how not to manage knowledge - far from allowing for a cross-over between outgoing and incoming employees the organisation has ensured that we have a 3 month gap between them. Of course, as much as possible was handed over to our excellent HDEs and to the rest of us on the team, but being short-staffed Help Desk have been unable to exercise much of its knowledge as they fight fires elsewhere. Projects have slipped and broken stuff gone unfixed - unavoidably, given the policies that left us underpowered for so long.
This brings me back to my e-mail issue. It turns out that e-mail from the web server does get through to external addresses (in fact, some, esepcially spam, gets through to our own mailboxes), and its looking like a spam filtering or probably DNS/SPF problem. I dabbled with these possibilities early on in diagnosing the problem but there were, as always, a number of overlapping or coinciding problems and red herrings and I spent a lot of time following these up. This is a very good example for me of how loss of capacity or knowledge can incapacitate our services or cost us dearly in time.