Digital technology is presenting us with some unexpected views of ourselves.
For instance, in stark contrast to what advertising-driven ratings measures would have us believe, the top-rating items on the television and film website (www.nzonscreen.com) are programmes on entrepreneurship and innovation, especially local items and documentaries — particularly those about natural history and politics.
Broadly, this is the kind of material the ill-fated TVNZ charter was supposed to subsidise as minority taste.
However, ratings — supposedly based on data from 500 households with electronic “people-meters” — tell TV decision-makers we want reality shows. Reality shows on the NZonScreen measure come a third of the way down — 250th out of 750 categories.
The false impression is self-reinforcing, The project director of NZonScreen, Brenda Leeuwenberg, told last month’s seventh annual National Digital Forum. Perhaps we watch what we watch not because we want to watch it; but simply because it’s there.
The vice-president of Wikimedia Australia, Liam Wyatt, told the forum the often-criticised comparative rarity of Australia/New Zealand content in Wikipedia can be attributed in part to over-zealous protection of copyright in this part of the world.
Wikipedia/Wikimedia’s open standards dictate that it can’t use anything that cannot be licensed for general reuse. Much New Zealand’s content is more tightly restricted than that, he says.
Wyatt outlined some of the positive collaborations Wikimedia has set up with conventional museums, libraries and archives, which shows an encouraging change of attitude internationally to open licensing of content.
Museums, libraries and art galleries are already primes sites for public social interaction with information. With computing and the internet taking on an ever more personal and social face, the fields are converging in interesting ways.
Angelina Russo, from Swinburne University, Melbourne, researches technology’s role in the design of the public interface of GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) institutions. She had high praise for the colossal squid exhibit at Te Papa, where the conference was held.
“The processes of museum research have been made visible through webcasts, public lectures, blog and ultimately a Discovery Channel documentary,” she says. “It’s a wonderful example of engagement,” going a step further than a passive digital interface, she says.
Local consultant Colin Jackson used the example of a vault in Norway storing seeds against an environmental catastrophe, to appeal for a similar effort to preserve the world’s heritage of knowledge digitally. There is no reason, he says, why this could not be done here.
Seb Chan, web services manager at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, works on the Australian federal government’s Government 2.0 taskforce.
The government data release side of services to the public is well down the track with incentives like
data.govt.nz (and Australia’s equivalent, data.govt.au), but much more work is needed on getting the citizen engaged with the processes of government, he says.
Locally, the cultural sector is increasingly seen as having a role as a testing ground to get the public involved. “The cultural sector is pretty good at engagement, unlike many other parts of government,” he says.
Libraries are especially good at providing the tools citizens need to become engaged, with a collection of information as well as providing training in digital literacy.
Chan is hopeful this need will spark a greater government interest in the cultural sector; “because without our sector, Government 2.0 will become dead boring”.
Even data analysis and presentation skills, such as exhibited in citizen-generated mashups, do not constitute engagement, he says. The sector needs to put itself forward to help government refocus on designing frameworks to encourage true interest and participation by citizens in the way they are governed.
DigitalNZ award encourages content digitisation
At the National Digital Forum, DigitalNZ announced it is offering two prizes of $10,000 each, to support New Zealand-based organisations in digitising local content.
Entries will be evaluated by a panel of judges, though entrants are encouraged to register their projects on the Make It Digital website to gather public votes.
Weighting will be given in the judging for public benefit, innovation (it is preferable that the collection is not already available online in another form) and the extent of community involvement, along with the lack of any copyright encumbrance.
DigitalNZ undertakes to help the winners with hosting, access and metadata, while the award is intended to help with the cost of the digitisation itself. Entries close on February 1, 2010.