Finding #Darwin – Where’s the Twitter Map?

Just a quick post this morning to follow on from yesterday’s #Darwin fun. While writing yesterday I was looking for the link to the lovely animated Google Earth 5 #uksnow tweet map, and only just found it again, so here it is:

And if you tire of watching that vid of the animation, Barnabu has done a browser-borne version of it, minus the rather fetching music:

(Just for once, I haven’t hidden those links behind easy, short urls.)

This lovely socially-generated, but individually-curated work made me think about how people ‘situate’ themselves in cultural terms. Is it important that #uksnow tags have geodata? Yes, because there was a collective or memetic agreement, an agreed context,  that taggers were buying into when they Tweeted using the # tag.

But take the situation across to the cultural space, the place where today #Darwin taggers may well slow Twitter down, and there’s less understanding of the informational context in which people are #Darwin tagging. I can see that it would be great to be able to see where in the world people are digitally remarking about the founder of evolutionary theory.

It’d be interesting to analyse the mix of political, religeous and cultural cues that result from a geographically placed map of #Darwin tweets. Where might it take the debate between creationists and evolutionists if we can visually show the geo-distribution of the protagonists?

Getting people in the arts to begin to think about place in digital terms sounds really geeky, but when you suggest thinking about Barnabu’s #uksnow map and, say, landscape painting, or poetry, people might begin to embrace some ideas around this. As I wrote yesterday, it’d possibly need some central co-ordination, inspiration or creativity to sketch out some agreed #tags for art/artist terms or vocabularies.

Maybe that’s a useful role for cultural authorities like the Arts Council; in the past, however, ACE have shown no interest in centralised informational policy.  There’s no time like the present though…

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Charles Darwin gets web 2.0 and joins Twitter!

Charles Darwin goes on Twitter - is he more Web 2.0 than you?

Charles Darwin goes on Twitter - is he more Web 2.0 than you?

Just when you think the world of information science and the web has gone to sleep, bored to tears with endless discussions about when the semantic web will pop up, along comes something fabulous.

Hard on the heels of last week’s fascinating #uksnow Twittering and the lovely animation of tweets across Britain as the snow rolled us over, this week we’re being over-run by Darwin200 tweets using a #darwin tag.

Naturally the great man himself is Tweeting from beyond the grave – if you’d like to follow him he’s @cdarwin, not surprisingly. I wonder if he’s got a netbook with dongle, an N96 or an iPhone? I don’t suppose there are many powersockets on The Beagle. Have a look at his homepage on Twitter:

Please can someone now do a #darwin mashup map so we can find out where everything is? Over the next weeks and months a string of events are being held all over Britain.  Check out .  Disappointingly, while a few months ago there was a rudimentary RSS feed of D200 events, it doesn’t seem to be around any more. The D200 site seems really flat and web 1.0.

Thinking about Twitter tags, these user-tagged info clouds could be great low-tech, high-flexibility models for socially-driven information creation. I think it’s fascinating that within just a few weeks, people are making up their own tag taxonomies, placing them in a networked environment, and letting nature take it’s course. Kind of like Darwin, really.

What’s next? A simple, standardised list of artist names, eras, types? It’s not that complex, because what seems to be happening is that users quickly twig which is the most powerful or sticky #tag to use and then the memetic effect that seems to energise Twitter takes over, and the #tag goes everywhere.

Meanwhile, check out the latest #darwin tweets in my RSS feed box up there on the right of the Machine Culture homepage.

JP/Feb 10

Twitter: @jon_pratty

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Not getting together? Museums and Social Networking in the Midlands

On February 4th 2009, at The Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry,  I co-ordinated a Renaissance West Midlands event all about museums and social networking. Part of a wider research project, the successful day opened out some discussions about how museums take part in our socialised, digital society. Here is an introductory post about the project, to be followed by more posts about the event itself.

It’s quite unsettling how I assume the world spins the same way as me; and for a journalist and culture sector consultant, not actually that good either. I’d assumed that other people in museums and galleries also used Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. We all use eBay, Amazon and stuff like online banking don’t we? We all muck about with RSS feeds and know our way round Google maps and things that help extend our horizons.

Well, actually, no we don’t, of course. In a user-centric world (which means, in plain English, real life) there’s lots of people who don’t know about newsfeeds, web 3.0 and Creative Commons.  And in fact, if you go round the corner to your local (regional English) museum and ask them if they have an online collection that is commentable by members of the public they’d look at you like you’re an alien.

The reality is that in our local backyard, many museums are run by volunteers. The venues themselves are often only just joining the web revolution, with perhaps, at most, a simple brochure website and an email account that’s checked less frequently than it could be. And one pc in the corner of the room.

In spite of ten + years of lottery-funded largesse that has successfully grown IT for the library sector and built the People’s Network Discovery Service, there’s not been much digital development in small local museums. As the editor (until August 2008 ) of the 24 Hour Museum since 2001, I had lots of contact with some smashing people all over the uk doing a great job running tiny museums, telling us their stories about great discoveries, plucky tales of resourcefulness and occasionally, funding battles for survival.

Clearly – there were, and still are, some splendid tales to tell about UK history and heritage. And yet, there seems to be an increasing gap between those who have digital tools to tell their stories, and those who don’t. Ironically, while post-1997 Labour cultural policy has been all about meeting the needs of users and politically-inspired audience targets for cultural creators, a major group of disenfranchised and under-represented people has emerged.

This group is us – people who make the exhibitions, curate collections, accession the objects, paint the pictures, run the loan box schemes. Curriculum Online passed us by. Culture Online flew over our heads. Lottery money from nof-Digi did come our way to a certain degree. But by and large, right now, there’s an underclass of cultural workers in museums and galleries, libraries and archives, across the whole country, who don’t have access to the means to make online content about our own work, our collections, our lectures or our events.

The recent debacle of the Cultural Olympiad, which saw major promises being made on the behalf of the museum and gallery sector, with no funding stream whatever, only re-inforces this thesis.

While it might seem negative to make these points, I’m merely setting the scene. There are now many, many, well tried and simple means to get presence online. As 2008 closed WordPress, the most popular, free and simple blogging software out there, is gradually morphing from a calendar-based blog tool into a versatile and customisable platform for all sort of publishing tasks.

And, while some in museums find a website of any sort unattainable, others are using free and well connected social networking systems like Facebook, Flickr and MySpace. They are doing this because sites like these are free, vastly popular, and easy to maintain.

So are there lessons we can learn from culture sector users of digital platforms like Facebook and Flickr? Are they the answer to the current lack of infrastructure, support and mentoring, resources and know-how that we are confronted with? What challenges to our traditional ways of working and values do social networks bring?

To begin examining some of the issues at ground level, Renaissance West Midlands commissioned me to carry out a programme of research centred on an event pulling together people from museums in the Midlands.  The event, held at The Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry on February 4th, 2009,  explored some of the issues that we were aware of, and opened out some more that need further enquiry.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sketching in issues discovered, resources contributed by participants at the event, and new directions for further work. A set of pages, links and other resources will be put together on the Renaissance West Midlands website as a record of what come out in our work. In the meantime, I’ll be pulling it out and posting it up on this site to keep the pot boiling.

Further outputs are likely, and may include suggested templates for Facebook use, ideas for advocacy within your museum to help win over unbelievers, and a systematic approach to local government network difficulties.

Thanks to everyone who has participated so far – and welcome ot anyone who wants to join in and help! There’s a Google Group (museums_midlands_network) to house our conversations and ideas, but of course, feel free to comment right down there – below these words.

Next report – the event itself at The Herbert Art Gallery

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Syndication, serendipity, spying? Custom Twitter Feeds

As part of a continuing research project that supports a workshop at MW2009, I’m looking into how people navigate online contexts, platforms and social spaces, and how content is syndicated to those places.

One place I want to explore is Twitter, a constantly changing, evolving and (perhaps, sometimes) contextually obscure platform. We mostly imagine that our tweets (Twitter messages) are between just us and our friends – but in fact they’re out there in the [data] cloud, and searchable by tag, keyword, phrase or whatever.

Yesterday, I looked at what people were saying about the UK government’s Digital Britain ideas, and I posted a feed that captures the buzz from Twitter about these new strategy directions. To do this, I simply did a Twitter search from the site homepage and then saved an RSS output of the search, pasting it into my WordPress RSS widget. If you want to try it, one moment of warning; you’ll find it really slows down your WordPress editing client.

Today, since it’s the end of the week, I’m posting a new feed to suit the mood: I’m looking at what people are saying about that familiar Friday feeling.

I’m not leaving any of these rather voyueristic syndications up for very long: I think there are very real concerns about copyright, publishing context, privacy and so on. In addition to that, if anyone objects to this exposure, I’ll take the respective feed down immediately.

Please email me if that is the case: jonnypratty(at)


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Journalism, law and misidentification: McNabbed?

From Look to the Stars, a German charity sector website - the real Andy McNab?     From Look to the Stars, a German charity sector website - the real Andy McNab?

From Look to the Stars, a German charity sector website - the real Andy McNab?

Picture the scene: it’s monday morning, the coffee is cooling, I’m blankly trolling around in a free-associating Google image search. For some reason a glimpsed headline suggests the name Andy McNab to me and I end up looking at a screenful of pixellated thumbnails of the celebrated SAS survivor.

In one corner I notice an undisguised head and shoulders shot – a bit of a shock as, famously, McNab guards his identity carefully: he’d won the Military Medal for service in Northern Ireland and later trained anti-Cartel forces in Colombia; so he’s got all sorts of understandable reasons to keep his head down.

Here was an odd-looking face – head shaved, strong neckline, glancing slightly ostentatiously at the camera, in what seemed to be a PR faceshot. A quick look at one of McNab’s books in WH Smiths showed that the neckline, chin and cheekbones on the web pic looked quite close to the only other undisguised pic of Andy, taken in 1977 in South Armagh.

Could this be the first undisguised pic of the famous Mr McNab? (Link checked on January 27, 2009, still there). It’s on a German-based PR flummery site that seems to be soliciting money for charity contacts. Why was the pic there? Was it just an innocent mistake by an inept webmaster? After all, in newsrooms all over Britain there are photos of the man himself before the pixels are layered over, and in edit suites there must be hours of video of him without his digital disguise in place. Must be easy for someone to pop the wrong pic in the queue to FTP to the webserver, I wondered.

Wanting to find out more, I popped off an email to McNab’s publisher, Bantam (an imprint of Random House). I asked if they knew about the site. I guess I also had bought into the mystique of McNab – if he really wants to keep Sinn Fein/IRA and the Cali Cartel off his tail he’d want to know about this, I thought.

A press assistant at Bantam gets back to me: “It is always good to know that people will comment when they see something that is not right. Fortunately in this case the gentleman pictured is not Andy McNab, nor does he look anything like him – so a potentially disastrous situation is actually quite amusing.”

Ok then, so it’s not McNab. In a way I’m relieved not to be mixed up in outing McNab: if I had, he’d possibly turn up on my doorstep with some of his former friends from Hereford to remonstrate… A contact in the intelligence community tells me that McNab’s real ID is well known ‘in the trade’ and his wishes to keep his head down are merely a great way to build his brand as an author. So there we’ll leave the real McNab.

But if it’s not him, then who is it? While our friendly Bantam press assistant might find it ‘quite amusing’, if McNab’s really got mobile units of trackers on his tail then surely the person misidentified in the picture is going to be pretty cheesed off to be woken one day looking up the barrel of a nine millimetre pistol.

Now, publishing law is one of first (and most worrying) bits of professional practice you learn about when doing your NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) course. Misidentification by hacks can cause all sorts of distress and has resulted in some biggish payouts to unfortunate innocents.

Robert Rigby, as seen on Random House's own website

Robert Rigby, as seen on Random House's own website

Some days later, things move on. I find the not-McNab pic again, in another Google Image search. This time it’s got the name Robert Rigby underneath it. Rigby turns out to be the co-writer who pounds the keyboard while McNab yarns away about the years of gunsmoke and car chases.

OK – stand down the lawyers and bodyguards – this seems to me to be quite benign, with one big proviso: if I were Robert Rigby, I’d get onto that German webmaster and get the pic of him taken off the site asap. We don’t know how long the pic’s been up, misidentifying him as McNab, but search engine servers and spiders have been indexing this pic for months and the error, if left, will linger for a long time.

In online journalism, early action to correct legal errors is absolutely vital because of the danger of  search engine caching of the legally unsound material.  Once it’s out there in Google Image land, it’s in the wild.


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Journalism: The Guardian revealed again


Just when you thought The Guardian would be restored to it’s pre-eminent correctness thanks to a wave of post-Obama enthusiasm, they go and spoil it with a daft ad campaign for their own content, complete with greengrocer grammar !

The screen shot above is from Monday morning’s web edition at 9.15.

There are those of us in the trade (me, sometimes, I suppose) who malign the dark forces (at the Scott Trust) that push the once great paper further into mediocrity will be Twittering all day.


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Jodi Awards 2008 – Full text of Kevin Carey’s keynote speech

shows a photo of a man with a beard talking on a stage at a lectern with a BSL signer to his left

Kevin Carey, Director of humanITy, Vice Chair of RNIB, delivers his keynote address at the Jodi Awards 2008. Copyright Culture24/Jodi Mattes Trust

Kevin Carey kindly gave his time on December 5 to deliver the keynote address at the Jodi Awards, held once again at the British Museum.  Kevin’s detailed and erudite address is worth reading in full; several guests who were present at the Awards have asked if they can access the full text of his speech.

The text will go up on the Jodi Award pages ( along with other resources from the night later this week; but here they are as a Word download for those who want to read them while the memory of the Awards evening is still fresh.

The text is copyright Kevin Carey


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