Tweets in ‘Opening the Olympics’

Ellie Miles, Digital Curator at the Museum of London, writes about displaying tweets in the galleries.

If you’ve visited the museum in the last month or so you might have spotted some of the #citizencurators tweets on display. Downstairs, at the end of the Galleries of Modern London is a new display about the Olympics, and next to the case is a temporary exhibition about the Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies. There are objects and costumes from the ceremonies, film of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. Edited into the film is a small selection of the #citizencurators tweets.

Opening the Olympics

Last year Hilary wrote about thinking about what the digital object was that the museum should keep. We decided to make the spreadsheet of tweets a formal part of the collection, and it will now be preserved alongside the rest of the museum’s objects. The spreadsheet means that we have a brilliant index of the #citizencurators material which we can draw on in different ways in the future.

One of the project’s aims was to experiment with how the museum handled digital objects, so it was a good opportunity to try using some of the tweets in the exhibition. Sometimes exhibitions and displays have very long lead-ins, and sometimes it all happens very fast. This felt like a very quick project.

There are just a handful of the 8,000 tweets we collected in the film. I hope the tweets we used are a good sample, even though they aren’t the broadest. Some people tweeted more than others with the #citizencurators hashtag during the ceremonies. The footage was chosen to depict and contextualise the costumes, so we chose tweets that matched up with the moments on screen. Some of the most interesting discussions got left out of the selection for this display. What the process of choosing tweets really demonstrated to me was the difficulty in representing the tweet set through a small selection of tweets: there was so much discussion taking place, and plenty of RTs.

This was a fast experiment with displaying the tweets. I think it’s quite effective in the exhibit: it enlivens the footage; depicts the kinds of discussions taking place alongside major events; and shows off the #citizencurators project alongside other collecting work. Although this approach suited the speed and style of this display, it felt like just the start of something. There are plenty more tweets to use, and there is plenty more that could be done with them.

Write up of Collecting Social Media workshop held at MoL January 2013

In January the Museum of London held a seminar on Collecting Social Media. Here Digital Curator Ellie Miles and Laura Lannin, Higher Education Programme Manager, give a brief overview of what was discussed on the day:

Social media is part of how we experience and record London. It can be used to build communities, inform us, annoy us and, if we let it, it can take over our lives. It can be used to share news and images about events as they happen, it can be used to discuss the city and it can be used to organise and share information about protests. As Hilary wrote about last year, the Museum of London has started to explore how to collect social media and other born digital objects. The Museum of London has a long history of contemporary collecting, and an interest in collecting objects which comment on the social and contemporary history of London and Londoners. It was with this view that in 2012 the Museum and the University of Westminster designed a project to collect social media as a museum object. #Citizencurators aimed to explore ways to document significant events in London, and investigate the benefits and implications of collecting social media as an object to be archived and curated. The tweets that the Museum collected represented the highs, lows, support and opposition to the Olympics. #Citizencurators raised challenges too, opening the door to questions about how the Museum could collect social media.

So, what do you do when you have a number of unanswered questions which you want to explore further? We decided that you invite people with similar interests and ideas to come and talk to you over coffee. In the end we didn’t actually answer our questions, but just asked more!

These were the top questions we discussed:

  • How can a social history museum collect social media as an object?
  • How do museums collect, store and display social media? How will museums be able to do this in the future?
  • Museums have started to explore collecting and curating the digital world – but how do we realistically and idealistically approach this and what are our aspirations?
  • What lessons have museums, archives and researchers already learnt about storing and using social media?
  • Researchers are already using social media, with a wide and varied scope. What can museums collect that will be useful to researchers in the future ?
  • In 2012 museums focussed on digital collecting around events such as the Jubilee and Olympics. How can museums collect digital material on the topic of everyday life?
  • How will the rapid movement and changing trends and developments in technology impact on the ways that museums collect digital material?
  • If we choose to collect the digital forms of social media, how do we store them? How can we be certain that the decisions taken will be sustainable and manageable in 10 years, let alone 100 years’ time?
  • In the future will individuals want museums to collect their social media archives? Will individuals donate their data to museums instead of, or alongside, material objects?
  • There are a plethora of ethical issues and concerns. How does the plethora of ethical issues and concerns impact on collecting policies. How do these concerns affect the ways that museums display social media as a museum artefact?

Although none us had all the answers, it was a really interesting discussion that we want to take forward. We believe social media is an important part of our lives, so when, what and how should we be collecting it? We’re not sure, but we’re keen to continue the conversation.

Digital Objects


“@Brixtonite: Do we really have to pick just one? I’m finding that very difficult!”

Who would have thought that playing object of the day could be so addictive? @Brixtonite had a number of objects that she wanted to nominate to the Museum that reflect the 2 weeks of life in London during the Olympics. And they presented some interesting challenges.

One of the first objects that Brixtonite nominated was the ghost bike that appeared to mark the site at the Olympic park where the cyclist Daniel Harris was killed on the 1st August 2012. In @Brixtonite’s words:

“Ghost bike – I’m not sure the family would think it appropriate, but I’d really like to have a ghost bike in the collection for the cyclist who died during the Olympics.  Hopefully there will be one installed where he died, but this could be a duplicate.  I’m sure the people who make and situate them would be able to help with this. All sorts of issues I know, but I think it important the death is marked. It also ties in to the whole idea of ‘legacy’. It would have been a wonderful legacy to have left London with a better, safer, cycling infrastructure. Sadly that hasn’t happened.”


RT @OurOlympics : The #Ghostbike Vigil for Dan Harris #ghostride #criticalmass #occupy #citizencurator

Unfortunately Ghost Bikes are a common sight around London. Painted in white, often with floral decorations and a tribute to the person they appear at the side of the road where a cyclist has been killed.

The death of Dan Harris, so close to the Olympic Park, involving an Olympic bus and on the same day the UK was euphoric about Bradley Wiggins’  gold in the cycling time trial was a stark reminder of the reality of cycling in the city on a day to day basis.

As Ghost bikes are meant to be  memorials, removing one for a museum collection does pose some ethical concern. Therefore we suggested to @Brixtonite the potential to collect something else as opposed to the bike:  the Ghost Bike website perhaps and possibly any website that was created to mark what happened to Daniel Harris.

The Museum of London is currently developing its web archiving potential. But the UK Web Archive at the British Library has been collecting UK websites since 2004. And has been collecting Olympic and Paralympic websites since London was announced as the 2012 host in 2005.  You currently need to nominate websites to be archived by the British Library.

Of course the Re-tweet by @Brixtonite about the ghost bike memorial that appeared at the Olympic Park  will be in the Museum’s Tweet Set. But this train of thought around the Ghost Bike has emphasised the need to me to think about collecting websites or blogs that depict people’s reactions to events or highlight how people organise themselves in the digital sphere as this is an  important part of London’s contemporary history. Just think about the Occupy website and how it was used as an organisation tool.

So nominating a digital object that reflects  a very poignant incident and physical memorial, I think, is a good outcome.

Thanks to @Brixtonite for nominating the ghost bike.





London 2012 Objects

One of the tasks we asked our #citizencurators to perform during the project was to nominate an object of the day via Twitter that reflected their London Olympic experience. At the end of the project each person chose one object to nominate to the Museum curators.  The good news is that some of the objects have been taken up by the curators and will complement the Museum’s collection of 1908 and 1948 Olympic objects as well as those collected by the Museum in 2012.

Copyright Futura Publications; published 1948

Choosing and selecting objects to be entered into the Museum collection may seem like a dark art to those not versed in museum rationale. One aim of this project was to see if Twitter could provide another way for members of the public to have a say in what objects reflected their experiences during the games. We also wondered if Tweets could capture more information about objects’ provenance, use or story.  When we introduced this side of the project to the team their reaction was interesting. Some questioned the extent to which they were genuinely being asked to think about what the Museum collects. While other people found the process of thinking about objects that represent experiences a new challenge to explore.

Once the short-list had been drawn up I quickly sent the Tweet images to the curators for their comments. [Just as an aside: I'm going to write a separate post about @Brixtonite's objects as some of those presented interesting ways to think about collecting the Olympics digitally]

Beverley Cook looks after the Museum’s ephemera collection. What is a collection of ephemera I hear you cry? Well we think of ephemera  as paper items that were meant to be thrown away or not intended to survive. The Museum’s  ephemera collection includes valentine cards, all sorts of advertisements  and even carrier bags. So @LollyGee’s “tear soaked complimentary train ticket”, @deedeesvintage Hackney Wick newspaper and Olympic Delivery Authority planning notice were directed towards Beverley to consider.

Beverley’s first reaction flagged up the issue of using Twitter; the lack of being able to get a sense of the objects up close:

“It’s a bit tricky to comment on some of the objects without seeing them as we don’t usually acquire anything without having a chance to physically ‘examine’ them as it were. This is partly to assess their potential for display and research but also to assess their physical condition.”

However, the Hackney Wick newspaper was a straightforward no. The reason being that local newspapers are collected by the borough libraries and archives.

The complimentary train ticket on the other hand presented an interesting story whereby a Londoner’s usual journey was curtailed by specific transport restrictions for the Olympics. Since the ticket was issued early on in the Olympics when there was still a fear that travelling would be a nightmare and does not look like any old ticket, Beverley felt this reflected the impact of the Olympics and told a nice story.  @LollyGee’s Tweets about the scenario make a nice context to the physical object. Beverley has  reserved judgement on the ODA planning notice until she can see how big it is.

The Museum’s Senior Curator of Fashion, Beatrice Behlen had the tough job of considering the Union Jack wellies, @clairedavis’  Union Jack hijab, and @realnickperry’s suggestion of the Gamesmaker uniform. It is nice to know that @realnickperry and Beatrice are on the same wavelength. Of course the ubiquity of the Gamesmaker uniform across London and the role of the volunteers could not be missed.  Beatrice was able to confirm that the Museum has already been offered a Gamesmaker uniform that was worn on offical Olympic duty. As for the wellies and hijab Beatrice explained that “We only rarely acquire items straight from the store [shop], as it were. I much prefer objects that have actually been worn/used.” The personal story behind objects is a strong case and certainly makes for compelling interpretation. The fact that neither the wellies or the hijab were worn or have a personal story attached to them makes it difficult to justify collecting them. On the other hand the presence of the Union Jack throughout the Games and the way it was embraced by the public may be a bigger narrative about the UK’s 2012 story (on the back of the Jubilee) and not necessarily just an Olympic tale.  And the wellies reflect the horrendous weather prior to the Olympics when this traditional country attire made it’s presence known on the London high street. Beatrice is thinking about this.

Julia Hoffbrand, Curator of Social and Working History, expressed an interest in @digitalmarje’s mug-stained-Olympic-rings-tea-towel as it highlighted the branding restrictions of the Games. The citizencurators were really captivated by the various ways small businesses were managing this and Julia certainly feels that circumvention of the branding restrictions is an important story to tell.

So to recap…. the tear stained complimentary train ticket has gone through to the next level; the ODA planning notice might yet make it; and the Gamesmaker uniform is a must. The tea-towel unfortunately was not purchased at the time and was gone when @digitalmarje went back.

And? What did we learn?  One of Westminster’ questions was to unpick whether social networking could inform the Museum’s traditional ways of collecting. And in a way we did achieve this by adding a few more physical objects to the Museum’s collection. However, the same curatorial questions were raised and Twitter almost acted like a barrier to the physical objects. As the project evolved physical objects became less and less the focus of our concern.  Twitter is a really unwieldy and nebulous platform to co-ordinate tasks based on physical objects and the immediacy of the platform was difficult to manage. The story told by the Tweets, on the other hand, captures a snapshot and moment in time as Londoners reacted to what they were experiencing, witnessing and thinking about the London Olympics. What we didn’t predict was the value in the images and accompanying contextualising  text in the Tweets. These reveal the real value in capturing Tweets around an event like the Olympics.

Citizenship and #citizencurators

Guest post by Laura Lannin the Museum of London’s  newly appointed Higher Education Programme Manager. 

From my understanding #Citizencurators has proved really interesting in both answering and opening up questions about using, collecting and archiving social media to record a historical event as it is occurring. Having just recently read the blog from July – September 2012 I felt that I wanted to contribute a little to the project by sharing some of my thoughts on the project name #citizencurators.

I think that the title of the project and the chosen # really gets to the heart of what the project was about and what it aimed to capture. I have researched citizenship education; asking people what the term ‘citizenship’ meant to them. As a result of this research I have come to understand that although the term citizenship has political connotations what it really means to individuals (or at least those I interviews) and what is important about the term, is the idea of belonging to something: belonging to a community.

My research highlighted that the idea of belonging to a community is important to many people. Belonging means that we feel wanted; that we have an identity and that we have an association to something or someone which helps define who we are and what we believe in. What this identity is will be wide and varied. It will be influenced by our upbringing, social background, our interests, where we live, where we work, who we choose to socialise with, the media and probably many more factors which I haven’t even thought about!

Linked closely to the idea that the meaning of citizenship is about belonging to a community are the rights, responsibilities and roles which the citizen has to the community in which they belong to. However, this is also a two-way thing. In being a part of a community, that community should provide support for the citizen too. There is always the possibility that there are individuals in society who do not believe that they are part of a community, that they do not belong. But; everyone’s actions occur within a social context.

Viewing the CC project from an outsider’s perspective it appears that the project captured individuals’ experiences throughout the London 2012 Olympics. The CC project highlights how communities can be brought together and experiences shared. From an outsiders perspective it appears that the project captured the spirit of London in August 2012- in many of its guises and amongst many of its communities. Personally, I think the project was aptly named. After all, the # citizencurators itself provided a clear form of identity and community to belong to – even if it was only for a brief period in time.

Can the Museum Collect Tweets continued…

So moving on to the second part of my original post “what is of value or what is the object?”

I have to admit I am still thinking and working on this. Accessioning the TAGS spreadsheet into the Museum’s collection as an object is not a very exciting outcome. And this was confirmed when I explained what we had done to a media artist who was intrigued by this very museum-y/archive-y way of trying to deal with information!

Clearly the historical value in the  spreadsheet is the data i.e. the Tweet text and associated metadata such as time and date sent. As a historian I can imagine that this dataset capturing the interactions and reactions of an  (albeit small and self-selected) group of Londoners’ to the Olympics would be an interesting discovery in the archive in 100 years time. And clearly the personal stories that develop within the body of the tweets as we explore the themes and analyse this material more closely will have value in the future, especially when we want to question how Londoners’ reacted to the Olympics.

But how should we treat and value this data at the moment?


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Can the Museum Collect Tweets?

The main impetus behind this project for the Museum of London was  to investigate how social media can be collected as an object in its own right, if at all.  There is a wider research agenda for capturing contemporary events in the future as they unfold on Twitter. But for the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on simply “can a Museum collect tweets?”  “If so, what do we get or what is the value?”  [this has turned into a massive post, so I'll do a second post on "what is the value?"]

I’ve written briefly before on why we chose to focus on Twitter in this post here . To briefly sum up:  a large body of Londoners share information on what is going on in the Capital and reflect on this via Twitter. But ultimately, the London 2012 Olympic Games were billed as the first social media Summer Games or the first “Twitter Olympics”. It was expected that athletes, media and the public would Tweet voraciously about the Games. Of particular interest to our project team was the way Twitter would be used by some Londoners to communicate and gather immediate information, feelings and views around the Olympics instantaneously. But at the same time my internal museum curator voice was screaming ” can we collect this?” “and what do we do with it?” “what is the object?”

So rather than turn tail and head for the hills for the duration of August I decided to square up to the challenge and see it as an opportunity to explore if the Museum could collect tweets. There are precedents to collecting Tweets: the Library of Congress do it; and the British Library archive their own Twitter web profile; and there are open source programmes to enable folks, museum communication teams included, to save their Tweets because of the limited expiration date of tweets. But I could not find other museums collecting tweets as objects (please do get in touch if you are out there!)


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