Open Culture 2011

Only a week (well ok, 8 days) after attending OpenCulture 2011 in Birmingham and I’m already sitting down to blog about it – my response time is definitely improving. Give me another half a dozen posts or so and I may start to get things out in an acceptably timely fashion. No promises though.

So, what is OpenCulture? Well, to quote the website it’s an “annual international event for Collections Managers, Curators, Registrars, Archivists, Librarians – in fact anyone who manages a Collection, whatever your level of expertise”. Although none of that particularly seems to describe me, it was a great opportunity to try to get a handle on an area of work that’s still pretty new to me and hopefully meet some of the people in the sector who I’ll be working with over the coming months.

OpenCulture 2011 ran over the 7th and 8th of June with a trade fair and seminars on day 1 and a series of speakers giving presentations and panel sessions on day 2. Unfortunately I was only able to attend the second day but you’ll find a summation of what happened on the first day over on the Collections Trust Blog courtesy of Nick Poole.

The agenda for the day was incredibly packed with over 20 speakers… err… speaking… on a variety of subjects; a fact that was made immediately apparent by how quickly we fell behind schedule! It seemed a shame for some people to have to rush through their presentations when they all had such interesting things to say, but then I suppose that it’s better to be watching the clock because you’re running late than to be praying that it’ll all soon be over.

Once again I’m finding it incredibly difficult to summarise in a (relatively) succinct blog the key messages of the day – especially as they’ll be different for everyone who attended. So I’ll take another cop out and pick a couple of personal highlights from the day and then link on to those who are far better bloggers than I for a more detailed summary.

At the very start of the day I found Matthew Cock and Andrew Caspari’s presentation on the History of the World in 100 Objects project a really useful insight into large scale project collaboration between a museum and a major player such as the BBC. The stats alone were pretty impressive with 2.5 million visitors and nearly 30 million page impressions but even more interesting were some of the lessons learned. They told us that were they to do it again they’d put far more into the mobile site (a key message for all of us as mobile browsing is sharply on the rise). They discovered that their initial fears that contributors wouldn’t upload interesting content were completely unnecessary thanks to the incredibly high quality of objects. And that the project unexpectedly led to other unusual developments such as Shedworld’s A History of the World in 100 Sheds, but then who could have seen that one coming?

Immediately following them, I felt that I could have listened for a good few hours alone to Bill Thompson and his presentation on The Killer App for Culture. I won’t even pretend to understand everything that he said – (the man seems to have a brain the size of a planet) but I found his ideas on how digital culture is changing the way in which our brains work rather compelling and could even forgive his use of that often trotted out phrase ‘paradigm shift’ as, in this case, I could be persuaded to say that it’s actually relevant.

And as my final choice morsel of the day I’m going to pick the Hacking Arts & Culture panel session which introduced me to the concept of Hack Days. If you’re like I was and haven’t heard of them before, a hack day gets designers, developers and people with ideas together to solve problems. The three presenters told us about their experiences with hack days which had produced some incredible results for what seemed a relatively small investment of both time and money. A quote from the session that caught the imagination of those tweeting and blogging on the day was “Hunt down and embrace your local open data geeks”. This summed up what I believe everyone on the panel was saying – the geeks are out there and they’re interested in helping you out so go find them!

Well, I’ve already rambled on far more than I intended too but, as I said earlier, it was a packed day with so much to take in. Luckily for me Owen Stephens blogged the day as it happened so, if you’d like to, you can read his individual blogs on each of the speakers starting here. You can also get access to most of the presentations on the Resources page of the OpenCulture website.

For those Twitter users out there, tweets for the day went out with the #oc2011 and #oc2011flash tags (the latter being used for the flashconference that took place on the day – all new to me but an interesting concept!). Unfortunately the #oc2011 tag seems to have been hijacked by Orchestras Canada within the last week but you can see an archive of all of the tweets with those tags  at

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