Blogs Media Lab Announcements

“Gamechanger”: Early reviews of the new Walker website

Launched late last week, the new Walker website is generating plenty of reactions from art bloggers, journalists and our colleagues in the museum world.

Launched late last week, the new Walker website is generating plenty of reactions from art bloggers, journalists and our colleagues in the museum world.

Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes offered a quick response last week, calling the site a “game-changer, the website that every art museum will have to consider from this point forward.” He followed that up with a more in-depth piece today that both praised the Walker (“no American art museum is more prepared to produce journalism than is the Walker”) and offered some challenges (“How probative will the Walker site be about its own institution, which dominates the presentation of contemporary art in a huge section of the country?”).

“Art museum websites typically pretend that the museum is an island unto itself,” he writes. “The new Walker website rejects that approach by presenting the Walker as both a physical and a virtual community hub — and it defines its community appropriately broadly, as both the art world and the Walker’s home state of Minnesota. With its audience thus defined, the new website promises to provide not just information about the Walker, but information about art and artists wherever they are, with an special and appropriate focus on its home region. That’s smart. Next up: We’ll see how the website delivers on that promise.”

Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic writes that the site “should be a model for other institutions of all kinds.” He writes: “What I love most about what the Walker is attempting to do is that they seem to have realized that they can do more than stave off a slow spiral into irrelevance. The Internet means that the Walker can become a global art powerhouse from the comfort of the upper Midwest.”

Seb Chan, recently named director of digital and emerging media at the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum, interviewed Walker staff about the technology side of the site, noting that “it represents a potential paradigm shift for institutional websites.”

Museum Nerd, the popular anonymous art-tweeter and blogger, followed up a tweet from Friday (below), with a fleshed out analysis at Artlog. Calling the site an “earth-shaking gamechanger,” Museum Nerd writes, “They’re not just positioning themselves as an arbiter of taste (the connoisseurship thing has long been in every art museum’s bailiwick): the Walker is also placing themselves at the center of the conversation that their mission is all about.”

Marianne Combs at MPR: “As a reporter, I find this shift particularly interesting, because it marks a significant step forward in an ongoing trend. Namely arts organizations, faced with a lack of media coverage, are creating their own coverage, and taking the dialogue directly to their audiences.”

Secrets of the City: “[P]retty darn cool. The new look moves the site into more of a content focused direction, but also makes it easier to see what’s happening in the galleries.”

The Getty:

Minneapolis Institute of Arts:

ICA Philadelphia:

MoMA:

The Mattress Factory:

Museumnerd:

I’ll continue to update this post as more reviews come in.

Updates

12.06.11: Nina Simon at Museum 2.0:

“Here’s what I see: a website as a unique core offering–alongside, but not subservient to, the physical institution. Walkerart.org is not about the Walker Art Center. It is the Walker Art Center, in digital form.”

 

12.08.11: The Independent (UK):

“It’s curation, but not as we (or other galleries) know it yet. It ought to help hugely the Walker’s role on the arts stage…”

Minnov8:

“To say I was impressed is an understatement: the design is fresh, exciting to view and the content compelling. The breadth and depth of coverage of art and design quickly shifted my mind toward a completely different place, one of consideration, thought and ideas instead of my typical focus on the tech ‘flipper-flappers’ and ‘eye candy’ of this new website they’d delivered.”

12.09.11: It’s Nice That (UK):

“It’s a great step forward that should be welcomed by all creative types – the writing is excellent and it looks great too with lots of interesting web design tricks producing a thing of real beauty.”

 12.20.11: Alissa Walker, GOOD:

“A vibrant and thoughtful portal for the local creative community… Museums everywhere should take note, yes, but publications should be paying attention as well.”

Changes in New Media, job opening for a web designer/developer

There are changes in store for the New Media Initiatives department. After being with the Walker for four years, I’ve taken a position across the river Minnesota Public Radio as a Web Designer/Developer. It is very hard for me to leave the Walker, but I’m excited about working on new projects for an even larger […]

There are changes in store for the New Media Initiatives department. After being with the Walker for four years, I’ve taken a position across the river Minnesota Public Radio as a Web Designer/Developer. It is very hard for me to leave the Walker, but I’m excited about working on new projects for an even larger audience at MPR.

This means there is a job opening in New Media, and if you’re a web nerd, you should consider sending in your resume. My title at the Walker is New Media Designer, but the job posting is for a Web Designer/Developer. This reflects the changing nature of the work I’ve taken on over the years, including doing more back-end development work on the Walker Channel and Mobile Site, amongst other projects. In the future, we have work planned around an overhaul of major portions of the Walker website. Our tool of choice is Django, but even if you don’t have python or django experience, consider applying. I didn’t know a lick of Python or Django when I tackled My Yard Our Message, but it was easy to get up to speed and make things happen.

Full details for the position are listed on jobs site, and the deadline for applying is September 3rd.

Announcing the new Walker Channel — HD video, improved design, search, accessibility

The Walker Channel, in existence since 2003, has recently undergone a re-design. The old Walker Channel was originally built to serve Real Video and stream live webcasts using Real Video. It had slowly evolved over time to use more friendly MPEG-4 and H.264 video, and even moved from Real Video for live streaming to the better ustream.tv. […]

The Walker Channel, in existence since 2003, has recently undergone a re-design. The old Walker Channel was originally built to serve Real Video and stream live webcasts using Real Video. It had slowly evolved over time to use more friendly MPEG-4 and H.264 video, and even moved from Real Video for live streaming to the better ustream.tv. But it never really caught up to the modern, YouTube era of video. The re-design we just completed did that, and added a few other goodies.

Visual Design


Quite obviously, the site has undergone a major visual overhaul. The old site had almost no hierarchy to the video archive, which worked OK with a handful of video, but with 200+ in the archive, it became unwieldy to find a particular video or just browse.

Just like with our iTunes U site, we’ve split our internal, museum centric departments into more logical genres. For example, instead of just “Performing Arts”, we have Dance, Theater and Music. We also highlight content by it’s recentness, and, more importantly by it’s popularity (view count). None of this is ground-breaking in 2010, but it’s a big upgrade from 2003.

Streaming H.264 Video

We’re now serving all our video content as streaming h.264 video. This means you can watch a video and jump to any place in the timeline before it has buffered to that spot. Using h.264 enables us to easily switch to HTML5 and support other devices down the road. We converted all our older Real Media video into h.264 mp4s.

We also utilize YouTube to serve many of our newer videos. We have already been putting all our Channel content on YouTube for about a year, so there’s no need to upload it twice. YouTube serves a relatively high-quality FLV or MP4 file, and this means we do not pay for bandwidth, which is not an insignificant cost consideration.

Where we’re not using YouTube, we’re using Amazon CloudFront and their new Adobe Streaming Media Server. This means that we don’t have to run our own instances of EC2 and Wowza to encode & stream the video. We upload our video manually, so we don’t need to encode our video in “the cloud”.

High Definition Video

We also upgraded our camera and video capture equipment to enter the beautiful HD world. We now capture all lectures in HD and webcast them live at 640×360. Going forward, archived versions will be posted at 720P (1280×720). Drawn Here (and there): HouMinn Practice is our first video posted in HD, and it looks great. Here’s a visual representation of what this new video means, comparing the resolutions we have from older content:

Click to enlarge and get the full effect.

We have also added a video switcher to our hardware repertoire. The switcher lets us show the presenter’s slides, in-stream, rather than just pointing the camera at the projection screen. This switcher enables a dramatic improvement in video quality, and will be especially useful for Architecture / Design lectures, which typically feature many slides.

Transcripts and captions

Starting with our new recordings in 2010, we’re adding closed captions and transcripts for nearly every video. This video is a good example. That means a couple things:

  • Videos are more accessible for deaf or hard of hearing viewers
  • It enables you to visually scan the contents of a video to key on a section you want to watch. In the  example video, clicking on the time code on the right jumps the playhead to that point in the video.
  • It gives us much more meaningful text to search on. Search engines are still text based, so having more than just the video description to search, is a great thing.

We create our transcripts by sending our video to CastingWords. The transcripts that CastingWords generates is then fed into YouTube’s machine caption processing feature, generating a captions for the video in the form of a .SBV file. The .SBV file is then pulled back into the Walker Channel, where we convert it on the fly to W3C TimedText format for use in jwplayer as captions.

We also re-format the captions as a transcript for display in the Transcript tab on the video. Captions tend to be broken up not by sentence, but by how the speaker is talking and how they’ll fit on screen. Transcripts, on the other hand, are read more traditionally, and should be read in complete sentences. So we break the captions up and re-form them in complete sentences with associated timecodes. Here’s an example screenshot:

Note the fragmented captions (in video) with transcript (below), in full sentences.

Comments and video jumping

We’ve added comments! Like what you see or want to add your thoughts? Leave a note. One neat thing in the comments that we convert mentions of specific time into a link to jump the video playhead. So if you leave a comment with 3:13 in it, it will turn into a link to that spot in the video.

Similarly, when that happens we change the hash for the page to a link to that spot. The URL will change from http://channel.walkerart.org/play/my-video/ to http://channel.walkerart.org/play/my-video/#t=3m3s. Using that link anywhere else will jump the playhead to that point in the video. YouTube does the same thing, so we borrowed the idea.

Search and backend

We’re using solr for the search engine on the channel. Nate had great success with solr on ArtsConnectEd, so using solr was a no-brainer for us. The rest of the logic for the channel is built using Django, a python web framework that I also worked with for the My Yard Our Message project. To connect Django and solr, we’re using django-solr-search (aka “solango”). It was necessary to sub-class parts of solango to get it to present solr’s more-like-this functionality that we use for the “Related Media”. In retrospect, I probably should have used Haystack Search instead, since it supports that natively. As we move forward using solr and django in other areas of the Walker’s website, we’ll probably switch to using Haystack.

Funding

Funding for aspects of these updates came from the Bush Foundation, under a grant entitled “Expanding the Rules of Engagement with Artists and Audiences and Fostering Creative Capital in our Community“. This grant has many applications within the Walker as a whole, but for the online Walker Channel, it is specifically funding the upgrade of our camera and video equipment.

Do one thing in April…

… blog about it in May! Museums and the Web 2009 wrapped up with a challenge to all the inspired delegates: use the energy and ideas generated here to get one thing done in April.  (The idea being that many small steps build momentum, and it’s too easy to ignore the small upgrades we should […]

… blog about it in May!

onview

Museums and the Web 2009 wrapped up with a challenge to all the inspired delegates: use the energy and ideas generated here to get one thing done in April.  (The idea being that many small steps build momentum, and it’s too easy to ignore the small upgrades we should constantly be pushing out.)

Yesterday I pushed out a few small upgrades to our aging collection site:

You can now limit your search to objects that are On View

What works by Dan Flavin can you come see right now?

browser_searchOpenSearch capable

Can’t get enough of our collection?  Add it to your browser’s built-in search box!  When you’re on the Collection site, you should be able to pull down your browser’s search field and add “Walker Art Center”.

Developers (Piotr!): you can now use the Walker collection in your Yahoo Pipes tool without having to scrape the results!  Not an API (yet), but a good step.  Check out the XML for ideas.

Bring it all together:

You’re a busy person.  You’d love to come see Chuck Close’s Big Self-Portrait, and you know the Walker’s got it in their collection, but you see it’s not on view.  You don’t have time to check our website every day, so how will you ever know when it goes on display?  Easy:  build a search that finds Big Self-Portrait, then turn on the “On View” flag.  The object disappears (not on view), but you can subscribe to the OpenSearch RSS feed for this query (click the rss icon).  Now, when Big Self-Portrait is available to see in the galleries, the object will show up in your RSS reader!  (note: I picked this painting randomly.  I make no guarantee about seeing it in the galleries any time soon.  :)

So, baby steps.  Get one things done that opens more doors.

#didonethinginapril (I tag Andrew at the MIA to get one thing done in May!)

Walker Channel live streaming with flash video

If you’ve tuned into the live streaming events the Walker Channel has carried in the past, you have been forced to use Real Player to watch. Real was great back in the day when the Walker Channel was launched, but in 2009 it is a little dated. Flash streaming is much more convenient, and the […]

If you’ve tuned into the live streaming events the Walker Channel has carried in the past, you have been forced to use Real Player to watch. Real was great back in the day when the Walker Channel was launched, but in 2009 it is a little dated. Flash streaming is much more convenient, and the VP6 codec flash offers is quite good. 

For tonight’s The Art of the Book panel discussion, we will be using ustream.tv to stream the event, rather than Real Player. No fancy plugins or separate applications required. It is also free, and doesn’t require us to run our own Real Media server. It will also help us decrease the turn-around on getting a recorded event into the Walker Channel, iTunes U and YouTube. None of this is rocket surgery, of course. Other places, like The UpTake, have been using free straming services very effectively, we’re just a little late getting on the bandwagon. 

We’re doing tonight’s lecture is a test of ustream, and we will be working out any kinks. We’ve done some testing already, but haven’t used it in a live setting where anyone other than a handful of people have been watching. 

If you’re watching and run into any problems, let us know. Shoot me an e-mail (click on my name to get the address), hit us on twitter, post here, or join the chatroom on ustream.

mnartists.org has a blog

Starting today, mnartists.org has a blog on the Walker Blogs. If you’ve visited the Walker Blogs homepage, you’ve no doubt noticed it. The first post in the blog is a Q&A about why voting yes on the The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment is important and will help fund artists and arts organizations across […]

Starting today, mnartists.org has a blog on the Walker Blogs. If you’ve visited the Walker Blogs homepage, you’ve no doubt noticed it. The first post in the blog is a Q&A about why voting yes on the The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment is important and will help fund artists and arts organizations across the state, not to mention help protect our great natural resources.

Over time, the mnartists.org team hopes to use the blog to relay more behind the scenes information on the day to day running of mnartists and all the events and activities they take on. The blog isn’t meant to replace articles on the mnartists.org website, which will continue to be focused directly on arts happenings rather than the off the cuff meta-information that the blog will provide. We hope you’ll enjoy participating in it’s evolution and that it will add more dialog to the Minnesota arts community.

Walker Channel now available in iTunes U, Beyond Campus

The Walker recently launched a new site in the educational area of the iTunes Store called iTunes U, Beyond Campus. Beyond Campus features a broad range of audio and video material from sources other than colleges and universities, such as American Public Media, PBS, the Museum of Modern Art, and Smithsonian Global Sound. Now iTunes […]

The Walker recently launched a new site in the educational area of the iTunes Store called iTunes U, Beyond Campus. Beyond Campus features a broad range of audio and video material from sources other than colleges and universities, such as American Public Media, PBS, the Museum of Modern Art, and Smithsonian Global Sound. Now iTunes audiences can easily search, download, and play Walker content just like they do music and movies.

For the Walker, this is the first step in a redesign and branding of the Walker Channel. Today, the Walker Channel is generally recognized as the webcasting branch of Walker public programming available at channel.walkerart.org. Future plans aim to redefine the Channel as the Walker’s digitally distributed network of variable content (largely rich media) that is made available to people through different mechanisms, both on-site (computer displays, projections, cell phones) and on-line (Walker domains and broader web).

Visit the Walker Channel in iTunes U

My Yard Our Message winning yard signs

We’ve tabulated the results for My Yard Our Message and the 50 winning signs are posted. The wisdom of crowds looks like it has paid off, too: the winning designs really are the cream of the crop. The top vote-getter is “peace,” by teri_kwant, with 130 people saying they would put the sign in their […]

We’ve tabulated the results for My Yard Our Message and the 50 winning signs are posted. The wisdom of crowds looks like it has paid off, too: the winning designs really are the cream of the crop. The top vote-getter is “peace,” by teri_kwant, with 130 people saying they would put the sign in their yard. If anyone wants to share the entire set of winning signs on another site, I’ve set up a simple widget, as seen to the right.

We were very pleased with the results of voting: Over 900 users registered to vote, and over 24,000 votes were cast. There was a flurry of voting in the first two days after voting opened, then a steady trickle, with another uptick before voting closed.

Yard Signs Map

One cool feature in the project is the neighborhood aspect. We’re seeding three neighborhoods with sets of winning signs. Lindsey has more details about this in the ECP blog. To facilitate the community gallery aspect of the project, we’ve set up a signs map that we hope everyone who has a sign will use to let us know where it is. There aren’t many signs yet, but eventually there will be. To manage having many signs on the map, we’re using a handy google map plugin called Cluster Marker. This allows the map to automatically set the correct zoom level to see all the signs, but hide signs that would otherwise be too close together at a high zoom level. Every time I work with google maps, I am please with how robust and thought-out the map api is. It will be exciting to see the map flesh out as people add signs to their yards.

Voting almost closed for My Yard Our Message

Time is running out to cast votes for your favorite yard signs in My Yard Our Message. Voting will officially close on Sunday the 27th. But in reality, it probably won’t actually be closed until the morning of Monday the 28th, since that’s when I’ll update the code and turn voting off. Once the voting […]

Time is running out to cast votes for your favorite yard signs in My Yard Our Message. Voting will officially close on Sunday the 27th. But in reality, it probably won’t actually be closed until the morning of Monday the 28th, since that’s when I’ll update the code and turn voting off.

Once the voting is done, it will take a little bit of time to calculate the totals, and prepare all the winning signs for purchase in our store. I have been hard at work at some slick mapping tools for keeping track of where signs are, and what neighborhoods have the most. Vote and stay tuned!

My Yard Our Message now open for voting

Yesterday was the deadline for submitting sign designs to My Yard Our Message. We got a ton of signs over the last few days, putting us just shy of 300 signs total. We’re very happy with that number, and the quality of some of the submissions. This morning I turned the site off for a […]

Yesterday was the deadline for submitting sign designs to My Yard Our Message. We got a ton of signs over the last few days, putting us just shy of 300 signs total. We’re very happy with that number, and the quality of some of the submissions.

This morning I turned the site off for a little while to turn the voting on. Voting is now running and as of this writing, there are already 1100 votes in the past hour and a half! To vote, we ask you to consider whether or not you’d put the given sign in your front yard.

Vote on Signs

The site is using the django-voting module to handle voting, but I’ve modified it a bit. Instead of digg or reddit-style voting, where a vote up counts for +1, and a vote down counts for +1, a vote down doesn’t negatively impact the vote count. This relates directly to the question, you deciding not to put the sign in your yard doesn’t cancel out someone else deciding to put it in their yard. In this sense, voting “no” doesn’t impact a sign, but it does allow a voter to know they’ve already made up their mind on the sign. But unlike the ballot box, voters can change their mind through the end of our voting period.

Additionally, the order of the signs on the site has been randomized in an attempt to give each sign a fair shake. Odds are signs that are closer to the front of the order may see more votes than those at the end, so the randomziation is unique for each user. The randomization that I see will not be the same as another user. Additionally, voters who view signs anonymously will see a different randomization each day. This is achieved by using each user’s ID for the random seed, or the day of the year for anonymous users.

While it would be great if anonymous users could vote, even with proper protections in place, it is possible the vote could be hijacked by someone with a lot of friends to vote for them. To prevent this, users are required to have an account to vote. We’ve made it really easy to create an account, all that’s needed is an email address. I’m still working on the verification mechanism, so users who sign up today or tomorrow won’t get a verification message from us until then. Giving an email address logs users in immediately, so they can vote right away, but if they don’t eventually verify the email address, we’ll remove their votes.

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