Beyond Beyond

This blog was established to support our conference in 2011. There have been no new posts since then and the blog is now archived.

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Robert Ashton, The Barefoot Entrepreneur



We are delighted to announce Robert Ashton as our keynote speaker for Beyond Collections. 

Robert is a published author, social entrepreneur and campaigner. Quirky and clever, humble and human, Robert Ashton is direct and outspoken. He’s also tolerant and always makes time to listen. That’s why he’s called the Barefoot Entrepreneur; fiercely focused on the goal, yet he treads lightly as he goes. 

He blogs at: 

We are pleased to have so many interesting speakers contributing to the conference.  Jane Ellison is Commissioning editor for  BBC Radio 4 and has recently been involved with the British Museum in the  ‘History of the World’. The History of the World website had attracted 16 million page impressions and there are now more than 5,000 objects on the website, with the 500 museums and galleries around the country that are involved in the project adding items from their collection.

Gail Durbin, Victoria and Albert Museum


Gail Durbin manages the website at the Victoria and Albert Museum. She is interested in user-generated content and the V&A website has contributions from users ranging from tattoos, through knitting to recollections of fashions in the 1960s. She is keen for museum websites to be places that foster the interest and expertise of users as well as places to find authoritative museum information presented in a usable form. Gail started her career as a history teacher and has worked in the education departments of Norfolk Museum Service and English Heritage before moving to the V&A in 1991. She was involved in setting up the British Galleries and has published extensively on the use of objects in teaching.



Chris Morgan (Mog)


Chris Morgan (Mog)’s background is in digital storytelling and community-based multimedia work. He is an Outreach Worker for the Welsh Assembly Government’s Communities 2.0 digital inclusion programme which helps community groups, voluntary organisations and social enterprises in Wales do more with technology.  Communities 2.0  is a Wales wide initiative and Mog is based at The George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling (GEECS), University of Glamorgan.

Arfon Smith, Galaxy Zoo


Arfon Smith is Technical Lead at Galaxy Zoo an online project which harnesses the enthusiasm of 300,000 keen amateurs to classify images of galaxies. This has led to further projects following a similar model known as ‘the Zooniverse’ developed by the Citizen Science Alliance. With so many galaxies, the team thought that it might take at least two years for visitors to the site to work through them all. Within 24 hours of launch, the site was receiving 70,000 classifications an hour, and more than 50 million classifications were received by the project during its first year.

Valerie Wallace and Tim Causer from University College London are currently coordinating the Transcribe Bentham initiative.  The Bentham Project is launching an exciting new public engagement initiative – Bentham in the Community – to bring together academic and amateur historians and raise awareness of the life and work of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). ” We could never have imagined it to be as successful as it has been. Aside from the publicity generated— and dozens of blog  pieces our users have been responsible for editing over 1,000 transcripts during this time.”

Chris Wild, Retronaut


Chris Wild, aka The Retronaut, runs How to be a Retronaut. According to Chris, a Retronaut is “someone who goes back in time using just perception”. Chris will be talking about his project, The Retroscope, and share with us how he manages it as a visionary, entrepreneur, and time traveller. Chris brings a refreshing breeze of the ‘can-do’ entrepreneur into the issues surrounding the sustainability of community projects in the cultural heritage sector. Chris consults in archives, museums, brands and digital history.

Hope Wolf, Kings College London


Hope Wolf works on the Strandlines Digital Community project at King’s College London. Strandlines explores one of London’s most famous streets, the Strand, and its past and present communities. The project brings together local residents, workers and visitors by means of storytelling. Using digital technologies and techniques from life writing – a creative field concerned with personal life stories – it seeks to foster a more active sense of community in the Strand area.

We are delighted that Chris Batt has agreed to chair the proceedings. Chris is the former Chief Executive of the MLA (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council). As an independent consultant he has undertaken research projects for JISC including a study assessing the value of university engagement with the public in the creation and curation of digital resources. 

Your hosts from University of Oxford will be Melissa Highton of the Learning Technologies Group, Alun Edwards, project manager of RunCoCo, and Stuart Lee, PI on the Great War Archive and Woruldhord. 

Melissa Highton, University of Oxford


Alun Edwards, University of Oxford


Stuart Lee, University of Oxford
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Stuart Lee’s thoughts

  1. Crowdsourcing is not new – it’s just that the tools that are now available make it a lot easier for us to do it.
  2. We now have the software to help you put together your collections, and it is open source, so go ahead and use it.
  3. We found that there are a lot of bright, well-informed, enthusiastic people out there who are keen to contribute.
  4. It has been a wonderful experience to put together our collections, but what will be even more exciting is when people start to use them, and see how it changes our understanding of events.
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JISC – ooh, what next?

Maybe ‘crowdsourcing’ isn’t so new? – the victorians, the troubles in Northern Ireland.

Today we’ve seen a range of projects, covering many subject areas.

If we made a word cloud from today, the big ones would be: creating stories, curation, identity

How does JISC see crowdsourcing? We do lots of other stuff in terms of digital content as well – large scale digitisation. It should not be something different in the future – how can we work with all different types of users? It’s also about research and having a purpose.

Forthcoming JISC calls: (not ‘interest for the general public’)

  • digitisation via OER
  • large scale digitisation
  • clustering digital content
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Summary and discussion

Chris Batt’s thoughts:

  1. Tension between public and private is the point of departure  – gaming perspective, and the big publically supported projects, that don’t particular think about the user, as one would with games.
  2. Use of terminology – ‘crowd sourcing’ is now an inadequate word to describe what is going on, e.g. longterm momentum. Need to start unravelling the different meanings of the term.
  3. Crowd sourcing becomes digital by default.
  4. Issue between freedom and control – and who’s going to be calling the agenda.
  5. Institutional infrastructure – expecting it to be status quo, or revolution of new beginnings?
  6. Where will the power sit in the future – a professional, or much more rooted in communities?
  7. How does it all fit into the Big Society? – government policy is looking much more into driving things into communities.
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A History of the World in 100 objects

A History of the World in 100 objects has been a journey of discovery… the most ordinary object can tell the most extraordinary stories… It all started as a good idea and it took 3.5 years to put the project together..

We were looking or a new way to do history and innovative ways to approach history. Tell a different history – an object-oriented history. The title has never been questioned due to the power of it and the ambition of it..

Some of the objects move from tools to art… from the utiliarian to the emotional. What would the single thing be to connect all parts of the project together? It became utterly central to find one idea that linked everything… [not sure if I missed what this single thing was…?]

Once we began to engage with social media, it really pushed the usage statistics up. Nearly 4000 uploads by individuals – a little disappointing. It was a big ‘ask’, and people may have been intimiated by the museum aura… the moderation bar was set high, since the quality of the object was important. People found it quite difficult to identify the real story behind their object. We helped people to craft the text – we created 40 sec ‘trailers’ around special objects – “your story can be told on the radio”…

How do we create simpler tools for the users and smaller institutions?

The double-headed serpent – BBC and the British Museum 😉

Radio together with the web, is a fantastic way to reach your audience, because you can detach the voice from the visual, and give the listener control of the visuals (zoom in etc.)

Jane left us with this thought: Don’t forget the power of audio!

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Three simple rules and why do it?

More from Arfon Smith:

A social contract for crowd sourcing – we actually write it down:

1. Collaborators, not users

2. Contribute to real research (this turned out to be the main motivating factor…)

3. Don’t waste people’s time

Why do it? The benefits are:

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Crowdsourcing and ‘citizen science’…

Three terms which all mean similar things: crowdsourcing (althoug sometimes misused), volunteer computing (brain cycles and CPU cycles) and citizen science (doing some data analysis for you…).

The community is providing the data set, e.g. the Oxford English Dictionary, Big Garden Birdwatch, Ushahidi (grew out of the troubles in Kenya – documentary blog – needed a better way to visualise the information – sharing real time information about what’s going on).

Computers are bad at categorising things, but humans are absolutely trained for this. The robotic telescopes produced fantastically large datasets that we just couldn’t handle – a team of astronomers classified galaxies by eye…

You begin to get this richer data set than relying simply on the professionals. What can you do with communities of people and large data sets? And so GalaxyZoo became the Zooniverse – 425000 volunteers have produced 300 million classifications of various types of data. Current project is Old Weather – enables climate researchers to reconstruct the climate. New project is called Ancient Lives – largest collection of ancient Greek texts in the world, including the earliest records of the gospel.

Watch this space…

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A road-show with staggering results

The risk of live grenades – ‘Weissbart’ (Whitebeard’) to the rescue… Everett is a retired police officer with arms and ammunition experience, and the team was confident that he would be able to handle such a situation.

Crowd sourcing? – ‘Kraut sourcing’ ?? – a moment of embarrassment and quick reassurance to the contrary :-).  On that ‘bombshell’ …

“We had seriously underestimated the amount of interest we generated…” 700 images in Norwich – over 4000 on one day in Munich! (and that wasn’t the biggest day…). We also generated a movie clip – really new and interesting and modern (not the usual ‘men going over the top’ or red poppies) – have a look at it if you have the chance: []

You need to be in very close agreement with the local institution which is hosting the collection and recording of the artefacts – what do we digitise and what do we leave? “Selection and weeding are key”…

We learnt to look at an item very quickly and were able to make decisions about what to do with it… we were able to refer the holder to local museums who are interested in maintaining the actual items.

Sustainability? We are putting together huge repositories of digital material and rely on libraries like the Bodleian about how to store and display them…

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Transcribing Bentham’s papers

Bentham was an 18th century philospher. The project set out to transcibe his papers, with websites, social profiles as on Facebook, favourite Bentham quotes, a Bentham walk – again bringing together the physical and virtual communities, and interweaving the history of London at the time.

The community members score points for each paper they transcribe, and they thus advance up the ‘Benthamomter’…

Results since launch on 8 Sept 2010 – did it actually work? Average of 36 transcripts produced per week (since NY Times published an article about the project). Total of 1355 manuscripts transcribed. Remarkable amount of work done by the 1207 volunteers who have registered.  Interest in history and philosophy is the main motivating factor – “it leaves a legacy available for all to access”. The single most dissuading factor is the lack of time.

The authors conclude that “crowdsourcing becomes gangsourcing”!

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