Category Archives: Technology

Wikipedia Welcoming Historic Sites and Landmarks This Month

wike-loves-monuments-2016Wikipedia, the most frequently used source for information on the Internet, just launched a month-long campaign to improve its coverage of historic and cultural sites in the United States.  Called, “Wiki Loves Monuments,” it is an international photo competition where participants capture cultural heritage monuments and upload their photographs to Wikipedia. For the first time in several years, Wiki Loves Monuments is back in the United States. The contest is inspired by the successful 2010 pilot in the Netherlands, which resulted in 12,500 freely licensed images of monuments that can now be used in Wikipedia and by anybody for any purpose. The 2012 contest in 35 countries resulted in more than 350,000 images submitted by over 15,000 participants, adding to the sum of all human knowledge gathered on Wikipedia.  The contest ends on September 30, 2016.

Anyone is welcome to contribute to the project by uploading photos they’ve taken of cultural and historical sites throughout the United States. Once September is over, the best photos will win cash prizes and will be submitted to the international competition.  In addition to taking photos, Wikipedia is also encouraging editors to write Wikipedia articles on historical sites and monuments as part of the event.  They are also developing state-level guides to historic sites and have already created versions for California, Ohio, and Washington.  Here’s a chance to fix that skimpy or inaccurate entry about your site or show a stunning photo (in my home state of Maryland, Belvoir is a particularly awful example).  Better yet, engage those photographers among your members to help you promote your site and others in your community.  Just remember, you’re putting this into the World Wide Web, so content will be freely and easily used by others (what will Getty Images do?).

If you’re looking for inspiration, Wikipedia is providing links to the National Register of Historic Places, Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks, and Daughters of the American Revolution Sites (hey, where are the Colonial Dames?).

Professional Development is Taking on New Forms This Month

Historic Annapolis logoProfessional development (aka staff training) is one of the key elements for developing capacity at house museums and historic sites, but it’s often considered a luxury because of the cost.  This month, for example, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Maryland, and Historic Annapolis are hosting a two-day workshop, “Preservation Leadership Training: Invitation to Evolve” on September 8-9, 2016 in Annapolis, Maryland and next week, the American Association for State and Local History and Michigan Museums Association are hosting their conference, “The Spirit of Rebirth” in Detroit, Michigan.  Both demonstrate the continuing trend of partnerships among organizations to provide professional development to increase attendance, reduce expenses, and improve the quality.  I’m not sure if others do this, but I can only commit to two conferences per year: one is always AASLH and the other rotates among one of the other organizations where I’m a member.

But lately, I’ve noticed new forms of training popping Continue reading

Put Your Website to the PageSpeed Test

Google PageSpeed InsightsYou may have spent lots of time and money refreshing your website, but how well does it actually perform on people’s desktops and mobile devices?  If it’s too slow, people will give up and go elsewhere, so loading speed is important to monitor.  Thanks to Google, you can test the speed of your website plus receive suggestions for improvement for free.  Go to PageSpeed Insights and enter your website address. In a few seconds, you’ll receive a detailed report. scored 70/100 for desktop performance and if you think that’s low, I checked a couple of my client’s websites and they fared much worse.  If you’d like to learn more, watch the Dotto Tech video “Episode #47: Importance of Site Speed” that explains how he redesigned his WordPress website to perform better.


Google’s New Data Gallery Suggests Directions for Historic Sites

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 10.16.58 AMGoogle has regularly shared findings from studies conducted from various sources (including its own analytics from searches and YouTube) in Think with Google, which I receive as an email a couple times each month as a subscription.  They’ve now gathered those studies together in a new Data Gallery which, of course, can be searched by topic.  There’s nothing for “museums,” “historic sites,” or “tourism,” but there is lots for “travel & hospitality.”  You can also narrow your search by industry (e.g., “travel & hospitality”), by platform (e.g., mobile, video), by themes (e.g., consumer trends, Millennials, U.S.).

A quick browse through the “travel & hospitality” shows the growing importance of video.  For example, their research shows that two out of three U. S. consumers watch online travel videos when they’re thinking about taking a trip and nearly 90 percent of YouTube travel searches focus on destinations, attractions/points of interest or general travel ideas.  This suggests that historic sites and house museums need to Continue reading

St. Louis’ new Blues Museum Needs More Artifacts (and Music)

National Blues Museum, St. Louis, Missouri.

National Blues Museum, St. Louis, Missouri.

In April, I had a chance to visit the newly opened National Blues Museum in St. Louis, Missouri while I was in town to lead a workshop with Ken Turino of Historic New England.  As the “only museum dedicated exclusively to preserving and honoring the national and international story of the Blues and its impact on American culture in the United States,” its mission is “to be the premier entertainment and educational resource focusing on the Blues as the foundation of American music.”  Those are pretty bold claims and we’ll have to give them some time to see if they can achieve them.  In the meantime, I wanted to share my initial reactions to the primary permanent exhibit designed by Gallagher & Associates of Silver Spring, Maryland (near my hometown!), who also designed exhibits for Mount Vernon, Gettysburg Visitor Center, and Jamestown Settlement Museum.

Housed in a former historic department store near the city’s downtown convention center, the bold use of panels filled with text, images, video, textures, and colors as well as a strong horizontal lines that pull you through each space, make it a compelling and attractive design. Indeed, it’s so effective that it didn’t strike me until about halfway through that the exhibit feels two-dimensional and there are hardly Continue reading

Latest National Research on Technology in the K-12 Education (with Tips for Historic Sites)

"From Pixel to Print," the 2015 report on the use of technology in K-12 education.

“From Pixel to Print,” the 2015 report on the use of technology in K-12 education.

Project Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization focused on education, just released a national study on the use of technology by teachers and students called, “From Print to Pixel: The Role of Videos, Games, Animations, and Simulations within K-12 Education.”  For the past thirteen years, Project Tomorrow has provided these annual “Speak Up” research reports to help schools and elected officials (and I’m including museums and historic sites) better understand the trends in technology in the K-12 education field. This year’s report incorporates responses from 415,686 K-12 students, 38,613 teachers and librarians, 4,536 administrators, 40,218 parents and 6,623 community members representing over 7,600 schools and 2,600 districts in the United States and around the world.


From “Print to Pixel” highlighted these major findings: Continue reading

Video: Detour’s High-Tech Audio Tours Come to Museums

Groupon founder Andrew Mason guides Casey Newton of Verge through the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art using the latest version of Detour, a location-based outdoor audio tour app that now works indoors as well.  Through your smartphone, Detour knows your location in the museum and presents the artworks in that specific gallery along with the associated audio recordings so you can wander (giving you the right information in the right place), as well as 15-30 minute “walks”.  Parts of this Verge video are silly and the background music too loud, but it looks like smartphone technology now has the capability to be used at historic sites for self-guided tours of the buildings, landscape, and neighborhood in a way that’s more flexible and responsive to visitor interests.

The video below is a better explanation of Detour’s ability to “automatically guide you as you walk, almost like you’re there with a real person”.  It debuted last year with ten Detours of San Francisco (including architecture) at $4.99.

Looking for Exhibit Ideas? Check Out These Online Files

Exhibit Files 2016Looking for an idea for an upcoming exhibit? Need some alternatives for an interactive activity? Want to know if anyone else has installed an outdoor exhibit at a bus station? You’ll want to explore “Exhibit Files,” a free online collection of exhibition records and reviews for exhibit designers and interpretive planners.  The Association of Science-Technology Centers launched this website in 2007 with funding from the National Science Foundation, but despite those affiliations, you’ll find plenty of files related to history, including a case study of Lewis & Clark (the national Bicentennial exhibition); a review of Terror House in Budapest by Daniel Spock of the Minnesota Historical Society; and a case study of a low-tech document-based interactive exhibit at the Missouri State Archives. Because most exhibit techniques can be used with any subject, you can adapt many ideas for your specific needs. The files can be searched by title, date, tag, or topic (such as history or architecture).   And if you have an exhibit experience to share or you’re looking to solve a problem, you can join for free and become one of the nearly 3,000 members.

Video: Online Event Sales and Promotion via EventBrite

In this 8:55 video, Steve Dotto at DottoTech explains Eventbrite, a tool that allows you to setup, manage, and promote an event online.  Eventbrite can handle paid or free events, allows for discounts, and can accept donations, plus it can create ads for email, Facebook, an event page, or a countdown widget for your website.  Eventbrite is free but collects a service fee for each ticket sold for paid events (2.5% + 99¢ per ticket; for nonprofits it is 2.0% + 99¢ per ticket; if the event is free, there’s no charge!).  Fees can be passed on to the customer or can be absorbed into the ticket price (a $10 ticket for a museum would incur $1.49 in service fees).  You can use PayPal to process payments or use Eventbrite’s payment processing service for 3% of the ticket price.

If your museum or historic site has experience working with Eventbrite, please share what’s worked or not in the comments below.

An App That Easily Merges Oral History and Images

My recording about a bird nest on the Galapagos Islands using PixStori.

My recording about a bird nest on the Galapagos Islands using PixStori.

At the National Council on Public History conference last week in Baltimore, Michael Frisch of the University of Buffalo introduced PixStori, a iOS app that he helped develop that easily shares photographs with audio recordings.  Frisch is a leader among oral history practitioners and he developed the app as a way for people to record short oral histories to accompany photographs.

Users pull up a photo from their iPhone or iPad and then record a short message (up to 20 minutes), which can then be shared via email, Twitter, or Facebook.  I experimented with a photo of a bird and it’s remarkably easy to use.  It’s definitely fun for sharing photos, but I can easily see museums and archives using it to share historic images or documents with a comment by an historian or help promote an upcoming event.  But I can also see how it might be used in-house to record visitor reaction to proposed exhibit or to send a message to your staff about a site emergency. It appears that the recordings are stored at PixStori, so recipients don’t need to have the app installed but do need an internet connection to see and hear the file. The app is available free for iOS devices and an Android version is underway.