New International Heritage and Conservation News blog

It seems like an age ago that I blogged about the use of the web, particularly blogging, to communicate better issues related to heritage conservation, particularly as it is a field in the broader heritage sector which is perhaps most shrouded in mystery. Communication has tended to be aimed purely at the professional with public understanding of conservation lower than it might be.

ICOMOS-UK’s new website, based around a blog, is now live. After a marathon month of literally pulling up the hand-break on this web project and changing direction, a completely new and different approach was taken to help the organisation make the most of the web and its audience: quickly and all on a shoe-string [note: what on earth are ‘shoe-strings’ in this sense?] Without going into too much detail about the background to this, the original plan for a redeveloped website, overseen and directed by me, especially the creation of new content, but technically put together by a company who had promised to sponsor the project, fell through.

I was left with two choices: persevere with the old site: static, of its time, impossible to edit by office staff and members, rigid templates; or start from scratch and grab every useful Web 2.0 and social networking tool going to create something genuinely new and original. As my own reputation was on the line, there was no way I wasn’t going to rise to the second challenge.

It is worth saying at this point that I am much more interested and knowledgeable about web content and how it is composed, than I am in web design (though have very particular ideas about how this should be done, I like other people to do it) so the latter was not something I was looking forward to. So this post doesn’t become an onary read, I am presenting my maverick’s attempt at getting this site together as a recipe. A few generalities first:

The aim of the project was to a) raise the profile of ICOMOS-UK in the wider world, particularly among audiences within and without heritage and conservation, who had not heard of it, or who thought of it as a lofty and cliquey orgnisation; b) to establish an easy-to-update international news service and c) encourage more people to join ICOMOS through the UK committee and get these members to contribute.

My personal aims were to a) create a content-driven website, i.e. content dictates navigation and design and not the other way around and b) to create something that is sustainable for at least the next 1-2 years and editble by non-specialists who work for the Secretariat or volunteer members. One of the things I did not have time to implement were individual user logins but tried to ensure individual’s names were included in posts where relevant. Patrick Steel’s recent article in Museums Journal (August 2008, p. 28) cited the head of the Guardian’s blogging team on the importance of the personal touch in blogging, on p. 31:

“The focus on the individual’s point of view can benefit organisations, says Kevin Anderson, head of bloggin and interaction at the Guardian. “People don’t engage with institutions,” he says.
“They engage with other people.” And he warns: “Dry, press-release-style posts are diametrically opposed to blogging. The benefit is in putting out a human face and being less institutional. The biggest challenge is not that you will be overwhelmed by negative comments, but that you will feel lonely.”

Most of the current content was authored by me on behalf of ICOMOS-UK and I hope that I have managed to convey a personal element in my writing and use of illustrations (thank you also to all those flickr community members who allowed their Creative Commons photos to be used). I included the contributor’s name prominently in stuff they submitted, see for example: Barry Joyce’s Book Review on the diary of an Indian conservationist and Leonor Medeiros’ Student Work Placement report on Mining Heritage in the UK and Portugal.

Owing to the tight schedule, putting this together took me right up to the wire (31 July) no evaluation work can take place as yet. WordPress.com use Google Analytics to provide statistics. Apart from external feedback this will have to do for now. I have a summary of usage of the old site up to last week for comparison. I will be keeping an eye on how things go.

At this stage, I would very warmly like to thank ICOMOS-UK’s web hosts, ICUK, whose patient help and assistance made the transition from the old site to the new one, hosted at WordPress.com but requiring clever redirection, happen. They are quite honestly some of the most helpful web tech people I have worked with. I would also like to thank Tom Goskar, who co-writes this blog, whose superior knowledge about such things as .htaccess files made me ask the right questions at the right time!

Ingredients

Content (from ICOMOS-UK members, UK representatives of International Scientific Committees – like foreign correspondents, news on World Heritage and from the other national ICOMOS Committees, event and publication reviews, consultations, campaigns)

Blog (WordPress.com: it had to be a hosted solution to ensure some form of sustainability after I left; WordPress’s updates are frequent and some ‘themes’ need rebuilding every time; it had to be easy for non-specialists to use)

Photo-sharing (ICOMOS-UK on Flickr.com: see a first attempt at using Flickr’s geo-referencing facility in the London Views Project)

Document-sharing (ICOMOS-UK on Scribd.com: all ICOMOS-UK public documents are, and hopefully more older ones will be, made available via Scribd; the latest document is made available via an RSS widget on the home page)

Presentation-sharing (ICOMOS-UK on SlidesShare.net: see some examples which make up the Summary Proceedings of the Action on Skills Training and Education for the Historic Environment Conference)

Video-sharing (ICOMOS-UK on Vimeo.com: only one film at the moment but hopefully future opportunities might bring more, see the Norwich: People and Places feature; I also used Vodpod to highlight latest films/videos of interest or made by/for ICOMOS-UK)

Navigation, RSS and other widgets (A well-desgined WordPress.com theme: I customised Neo-Sapien by Small Potato, can display a number of widgets in the side bars)

Sidebar 1:

    Latest stories (5 most recent blog posts)
    ICOMOS Documentation Centre RSS (Latest post)
    World Heritage Centre News RSS (Latest post)

Sidebar 2:

    Categories (I rephrased this to ‘I’m looking for‘; categories on this blog class the type of story being posted: the first part of content-driven design and navigation, see Features & Reviews category; some stories occupy more than one category making it more discoverable than ‘standard’ navigation would allow)

    Tag cloud (I rephrased this to ‘Browse theme‘; each story carries a set of tags, again allowing multiple methods of discovery, see World Heritage tag or urban tag)

    Archives (Standard WordPress offering, browse by month, funnily enough July 2008 has been the busiest month for new posts!)

Sidebar 3:

Static content navigation

I wanted to keep static content to a minimum and therefore reserved it for long-term information such as what the organisation does (e.g. Our Work, Who We Are and Membership). In addition I have created an index page to in-depth features to which many of the blog posts lead (In Focus) as a sop to those who prefer ‘traditional’ navigation.

In sum, for a web project with high aspirations but lacking the appropriate resources at the moment, this was an experiment in creativity more than technical know-how. Comments I have received so far include:

This all looks very good and I am optimistic that this will receive positive feedback. It should make a huge contribution to ICOMOS-UK’s vision of being a global hub for conservation work.

“I’m impressed – just what we need! There’s a lot more inforamtion, and it all looks much more friendly and accessible… a website set up by somebody who is actually interested in the subject matter is a great deal more appealing.

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4 Responses to New International Heritage and Conservation News blog

  1. Benjamin Chesterton 5 September, 2008 at 1:00 pm #

    Hi,

    enyoy this website with lots of solid thinking about heritage and communication which is really important but often gets lost along the way.

    This might interest you … its a audio slideshow that celebrates the heritage of Brunel. The photographer, David White, rebuilt the camera that was famously used to photograph Brunel in 1857 and then travelled around Britain photographing Brunels work … nuts but the photographs are really amazing .. its this kind of stuff that I think gives people a window into heritage. http://www.duckrabbit.info/brunel … more of our stuff can be seen at http://www.duckrabbit.info THANKS

  2. Tom Goskar 5 September, 2008 at 1:24 pm #

    Hi Benjamin,

    I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed some of our posts!

    Thanks for the link to David White’s photos – they really are amazing. I might mention it on here – fascinating stuff…

  3. Benjamin Chesterton 6 September, 2008 at 12:06 pm #

    Tom, thanks for your post and kind works.

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  1. Photographs of Brunel’s Structures at Past Thinking - 5 September, 2008

    […] recent comment alerted me to the photographs by David White of Brunel’s engineering […]