Digitalt fortalt: Now what?

This post is originally written for the blog of the Norwegian project Culture and nature travel (Kultur- og naturereise – in Norwegian). I report my experience with Digitalt fortalt, a site for sharing stories related to cultural heritage, and discuss opportunities. 

Digitalt fortalt is an outstanding tool that has the potential to engage a wider audience in culture, but what about thinking bigger? How can we capture more users? What about introducing technical improvements to ensure quality of content? Is it appropriate to exploit Digitalt fortalt beyond the Norwegian borders where many institutions lack and miss such a tool?

Digitalt fortalt is a website for sharing stories about our cultural heritage. Both cultural institutions and individuals can contribute. The aim is to show a breadth of topics, told by a diversity of storytellers. Digitalt fortalt was established in the Cultural Heritage Year 2009 by the Norwegian Authority for Archive, Library and Museum (ABM-utvikling). In 2011 ABM-utviklingwas merged with the Arts Council Norway, which now stands behind the initiative.

I discovered Digitalt fortalt by accident. I participate frequently in cultural activities and I am an avid user of social media where I exchange cultural experiences with friends also active in the cultural field. However it is only in 2013, through my work in TAG CLOUD, an ICT project related to cultural heritage, that I get acquainted with Digitalt fortalt.

TAG CLOUD is developing new and innovative digital services with the aim to engage a wider audience in cultural heritage. We know that people love stories and digital storytelling is central in our work. Digitalt fortalt has also become an important resource for the project. I have both created content and supervised the development of a mobile App “stedr” that uses the programmatic interface (API) to Digitalt fortalt. It is now time to share and discuss my experience with other users, developers and Arts Council Norway. This is the starting point for this post.

Digital Fortalt screenshot

More focus on dissemination

I experience that few people outside cultural institutions have knowledge of Digitalt fortalt. Many friends ask me about the site when I share stories on social media. None of the test users of “stedr” had previous knowledge of Digitalt fortalt. However they all show interest in it after learning about it. It is challenging to get attention in the information society. Hopefully the development of new mobile applications will engage more people. But is it enough? What about increasing effort on the dissemination of Digitalt fortalt? Why cannot we read about Digitalt fortalt in the Norwegian newspapers? Why do not the museums share information to visitors?

Mobilising storytellers

4000 stories are available on Digitalt fortalt, among them 2400 were registered by a cultural institution. This corresponds to 2 to 3 stories per museum per year since the establishment of Digital told in 2009. There are however large variations between institutions and between counties. Several institutions have created a single story. Was it the one first and only attempt?

The creation of stories is time consuming. It is therefore positive that Arts Council Norway and Culture and nature travel support projects and pilots. However this also contributes to an unequal distribution of stories over the country. For example, Rallarvegen is leading with over 200 stories, and Rallarvegen is even considered as a category to classify stories.

We see that many stories were created outside institutions. It is positive that Digitalt fortalt is open to everyone. In that way, we can achieve a richer or more varied content. The man on the street has a lot of knowledge and has motivation to share it. This is exemplified by Wikipedia. It is therefore important to focus on communication to engage more readers. The more readers, the more motivation to tell.

What about increasing effort to engage “amateurs” in storytelling? Several organizations are already active in the dissemination of cultural heritage. Several books are published each year. What about inviting them to provide digital content to Digitalt fortalt?

Ensuring quality of content

Inaccurate location on the map.
Inaccurate location on the map.

Eyebrows often raise when one proposes to involve “amateurs”. The professionals fear for quality of content. Quality applies to all writers, also for institutions. It requires efficient processes for the production of content, e.g., training in the creation of stories and review of the stories before publication. Institutions have usually defined a quality assurance process, but errors are still easily introduced. I have noticed errors, e.g., inaccurate location on maps, in stories produced by the institutions. How can readers report such errors?

Digitalt fortalt does not provide support for reporting errors. It is neither possible to send a message to the authors, nor to start a discussion related to a story. The reader can add a comment to a story, but this support has shortcomings. In particular, the authors do not receive any notification for new comments.

Erroneous information added by a reader.
Erroneous information added by a reader.

It is also possible for all readers, even without being logged in, to add new keywords and locations for stories. I’m not sure what it the intentions with such features, but I experience that authors are not able to delete the information added by readers. Further reader can only remove the added information if they were logged in. Such functionality is a threat for the quality of content: Anyone can damage any story. It should be removed from Digitalt fortalt.

An increased quality can be achieved by supporting a dialogue between readers and authors, either through comments or discussion spaces. More advanced support for cooperation during editing can also be introduced. Wikipedia provides good examples of cooperation between authors. The initial investigations we have conducted among high school students show that many students feel a strong ownership to their stories and are not motivated to create in collaboration with other authors. However, they all wish to be able to manage comments.

Creating a dialogue between developers

I appreciate that Digitalt fortalt offers an open interface (API) allowing developers to create innovative applications. During the development of “stedr”, we have received great support from Arts Council Norway and KulturIT. We wonder if other developers have similar questions as us. What about creating a discussion space where developers can discuss issues and ideas? In our dialogue with Arts Council Norway and KulturIT, we have concentrated on the essential issues. A discussion space would have given us the opportunity to discuss other issues.

Thinking Big

Few countries in Europe (are there any?) offer a site similar to Digitalt fortalt. The cultural institutions that we are working with in TAG CLOUD are lacking such a site. Europeana is now in the process of developing support for user-generated content. They organized a workshop at Digital Heritage in Marseille in autumn 2013, conducted a survey in the winter 2014 and interviewed some respondents. I was myself interviewed. I am now looking forward to the new support provided by Europeana. Will it include support for digital storytelling? There are also other types of content that users can contribute to, e.g., metadata.

Whatever happens with Europeana, Arts Council Norway, with experience from Digitalt fortalt, is a step ahead. What about exploiting this experience to create a cultural site for storytelling that can be used worldwide?

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