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NDF 2012: Highlights and reflections

I’ve just returned from an inspiring few days at New Zealand’s National Digital Forum (#ndf2012 on twtter). I’ve been to a lot of conferences in the last 15 years, most of them have been productive and interesting, others have been disjointed, but very few have left me feeling inspired and energised. NDF is such an event.

As I understand it, NDF has been around for 10 years in it’s current form, and has recently earned a strong international reputation. This is exemplified by the quality of the keynotes it is able to attract and the number of people I spoke to who had sacrificed a trip to MCN in Seattle in order to attend (myself included).

Here are a few of my (totally subjective) NDF 2012 highlights, followed by some reflections on the conference overall.


Piotr Adamczyk on the Google Art Project.
Although I’d dealt with Piotr during the negotiations for the Museum of Contemporary to join version 2 of the Google Art Project (GAP), I did not know he had a museum background. Before joining Google he was at the Metropolitan Museum in New York where he worked as an analyst on things like collection visualisation techniques. Like me, he is a computer science graduate, with a passion for art, who has found himself in the museum sector. His talk about GAP, hows it’s being used, GAP’s museum view technology and different approaches to copyright was fascinating. Even to someone very familiar with the project.

Live demos.
Both Tim Sherratt (with his web of data) and Chris McDowall (with a beautiful visualisation of cropped faces that he’ll post online soon) performed live demos during their talks on the opening morning, which I thought was brave. They inspired me to do a live augmented reality (AR) demo, and to tweet a image of the demo from the stage. I had linked an AR 3D model of the MCA building to the NDF handbook and encouraged everyone in the audience to download the app and try for themselves. That resulted in momentary flooding of the venue’s internet connection that effected other talks that used streaming video (as I later found out…sorry!).

Open linked data.
A number of sessions featured personal and institutional endeavours in making collection and other data open and connected, or showcased innovative ways such data is been used. This could be because of the support of Digital NZ – which has now surpassed Europeana to became the world’s largest online cultural heritage repository – or because it’s a good idea…or both. Tim Sherratt and Chris McDowall from Digital NZ, Adrian Kingston from Te Papa, Paula Bray from the Powerhouse and Ingrid Mason from Intersect Australia, all got into the open linked data spirit.

Courtney Johnston on emotion in and about the museum.
Courtney’s emotional talk on Wednesday morning was a powerful and honest evocation of why she works in this field. Something that resonated with me and many others in the audience. After a few years in the private sector, Courtney Johnston has returned to the museum world become the first of her kind (a straight digital person) to become the director of an art museum in New Zealand (Dowse Art Museum). I can’t think of an example elsewhere either.

Nate Solas give us a peak under the hood of
Nate Solas is one of the big brains behind the game changing website for the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis. Since joining the museum sector, after many years in online broadcasting, this was the first site that I saw that comprehensively left the MCA’s web offering in the shade. It’s focus on engaging content, that strays beyond the Walker to all online arts writing, is exemplary. Nate spent a lot of time on the statics that reveal how the site is working, how the content is being consumed and how rich and deep it is. He also revealed a few ideas of how to take the site even further. Incredibly useful for the museum web people in the audience.


Put simply, the conference was a cracker. It was the right mixture of good talks, open data, innovation, resource sharing, humour, openness, craft beer, twitter and little moments of inspiration…all with signing for the deaf.

I came away reminded that there are many people, all across the world, who are trying to find new ways of telling compelling, original stories with the images, sounds, words, videos and ideas in their collections. Further, that digital technologies offer us whole new ways finding and engaging with our audiences.

And remember, when you’re trying to get your institution to embrace concepts like open linked data, as Nate Solas says “6 years in real time is one year in museum time, and a thousand years in web time.”

Twitter archive for the super keen:

Note: I’ll update this post with links of videos of the talks when they are published.