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October 09, 2007

Podcasting for museums

I spent yesterday at a podcasting event organised by the e-Learning Group for Museums, Libraries and Archives (part of the Museums Computer Group) and held at the Tate Britain.  (Podcasting clearly isn't forgotten in the UK museums sector).

Overall it was a pretty good day with a nice mixture of practical tips and tricks (primarily from Rachel Salaman of Audio for the Web), reports from the field (Jane Burton on Tate Shots, Martyn Green on The National Archives' work to podcast their lecture series, and Roger Ramrage on the podcasting collaboration between the Telegraph and  Brooklands Museum) and wider perspectives (Lena Maculan from University of Leicester and Alan Greenberg from Apple).  Having said that, the focus was largely on what I'd call the top end of podcasting - i.e. its use to promote a polished, cutting-edge, corporate brand.  For example, Rachel Salaman suggested that one could spend up to one hour of production time for each minute of podcast audio!  That certainly isn't my experience.

The report from Brooklands in particular seemed to concentrate almost exclusively on using podcasting as a (viral) marketing tool.  Hello, what about simply getting decent, re-usable content out there and letting the marketing angle worry about itself?

Personally, I'd have liked to have seen more focus during the day on user-generated content - surely the spiritual home of podcasting - and the use of open content licences and how these things can be employed to provide richer and more engaging experiences for museum visitors.  User-generated content was discussed a little in the final discussion session - but there seemed to be some confusion about the risks of hosting this kind of material on a museum's own Web site.  Well duh... user-generated content doesn't have to live on your Web site - that's the whole point of Web 2.0.  Give people a tag and let them put the content wherever they like.  As a nice example of this, Jane Burton talked about how the Tate got people to upload photographs to Flickr as part of the How we are: Photographing Britain exhibition.  "We didn't need to add the photos to our site because Flickr already existed".  Exactly!

Even the presentation about the work of The National Archives, which did focus primarily on providing useful, pragmatic, relatively low-end advice for making podcasts of lectures available, ended on a slightly low note (for me at least) by highlighting the irony of using royalty-free (and hence re-usable) music to start and end the audio track but continuing to make the resulting podcast available under an "all rights reserved" (and therefore non-re-usable) licence.  Shame!

There was some interesting discussion about how best to use the 'podcast' format.  What works best in terms of duration, for example?  Also about enhanced podcasts, i.e. adding audio tracks to slide presentations, and the use of relatively expensive tools like Camtasia (and Adobe, i.e. PDF, tools I think?) to create them - but no acknowledgment that Web 2.0 services like Slideshare now offer a simple to use slidecast facility for free.  I made the point that recent research about children learning best in 8 minute chunks and the pervasiveness of the 10 minute YouTube video indicates that we need to be focusing on that kind of duration as being natural and optimal(?) for this kind of material.  As an aside, I'm surprised at how little mainstream media is delivered in this way - when are we going to see 10 minute programming on the BBC (radio and TV) for example?

I'm trying hard not to mention iTunes because the day ended with a slightly out of place presentation about Apple's activities in this area which was a little too close to plain old marketing-speak for my liking.  But to be fair, Apple does deserve a mention, partly because of the widespread use of iTunes as a podcast discovery/delivery mechanism and partly because their desktop kit appears to make the production of podcast-type material so easy.

A wireless network was available (though not for free) so I twittered for much of the day. I'm still learning how to do this and would be interested to know if my tweets were received as anything more useful than unintelligible noise?  A couple of people fed back to me through twitter as the day progressed which was useful (to me), including Chris Hambly, who asked me to mention MediaCamp Bucks 07 if I got the chance.  Unfortunately I didn't - so I'm mentioning it here instead.  For those interested in the use of new media, this looks like an interesting unconference and I'm sorry that I can't be there because of other commitments.

Final thought... this was yet another meeting without a specified tag (YAMWAST?) which means that I can't tag this item in a way that guarantees it will be aggregated alongside other reports about the day.  Not a disaster, but then again, assigning a unique tag to every meeting is such an easy win that I feel duty bound to mention it whenever it doesn't happen.  I know, I'm a sad old meeting tag bore.


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There was no noise from your tweets.

I must thank you for sending those very clear "gems" of info in during the day, really gave me a feel of your experience and the topics covered.

This type of bite-sized micro-blogging as it happens is amazing.




I certainly found the Tweets interesting.

I was on the train at the time, and found some of your tweets useful for stuff I am looking at in relation to podcasting.

I am also pleased you supplemented the tweets with a blog post, which brings the whole thing together.

Have you seen this article?


I agree with you about the tag, I am at a Becta conference/event today and no tag!


I have some sympathy with Alan Levine's point about podcasting vs audio files online (http://cogdogblog.com/2007/08/17/podcasting/)

I think the episodic nature of podcasting makes it significantly different to simply using audio as a medium.

I'm not sure about costs, but I think it is worth thinking about spending on production to make a better product. Perhaps not in all cases, but the superior quality of professionally produced (and acted?) material definitely shows through. We've done a couple of audio inductions for Imperial College Library, and roped in people from RADA for voice work, and got it professionally produced. It clearly cost more, but it's kind of like handing out a nice glossy pamphlet instead of a p/c sheet of A4.

I'm not a twitterer, so I'm not sure my opinion counts. On the one hand, I like seeing 'status' updates in Facebook as a way of tracking people, on the other, I think I might have found the twitters a bit irritating if I'd been following your conference posts. However, they do give a different flavour to your blog post (more spontaneous, and 'raw' - like the frustration with Apple comes through more strongly)

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