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21st February 2019 Rebecca Moore

Shrinking changes for the Sex Pistols #DigiLab

Ruth Selwyn-Crome from the UEA discusses her early experience on the Digital Lab including getting to the heart of her experiments 

I joined the Digital Lab to experiment but to a certain extent the UEA Gig History project I’ve been working on for the past 23 months has been an experiment from the start – when UEA took a bit of a PR risk and decided to mark the anniversary of the cancellation of the Sex Pistols back in 1976 with a celebration of 63 years of gigs hosted on its campus. The project proved a hit with alumni, staff and the gig-going public in the region and continues to attract followers with its dedicated Twitter feed @UEAgighistory. The project website played its part well – showcasing material and guest blogs on a monthly basis – but now needed to be taken forward to a more permanent yet reactive state. I needed ideas and advice and, in the process, hoped that the knowledge I picked up along the way would also be useful for my colleagues here in the public events, alumni and conference teams as we strive to attract new viewers to our livestreams and recordings and look for new ways to share.

So far my time in the lab has been taking part in as many of the online workshops I can and so far they’ve all given me new tools to play with and share, as well as some advice. In addition I’ve had a great talk with my mentor – Daniel Rowles from Target Internet and have been given some doable homework which has helped to manage what could be rather a daunting and distracting challenge. Takeaways from the workshops so far have been:

Shrink those Changes

Initial visions for a more reactive website included a range of possibilities, from offering site visitors the chance to compile their own yearbook of favourite gigs to entering a digital museum, with rooms and podcasts and film and a whole “immersive” trip down memory lane…

The first workshop I attended was “Scrappy Experiments”. A big takeaway message from that was to “Shrink those Changes” and make them new, different but most importantly manageable. I forced myself to go back to the heart of what the project has been all about – i.e. attending live gigs and having a great time and then being reminded of that great time. The list alone in a published book – had already proven incredibly popular.  So my first task was to get the list into a more usable format; 80+ pages of gigs, back to front, in a word document, peppered with tabs has been transposed into a new, more experiment-ready shape via Excel.

Don’t steal from yourself (steal from others)

Another lesson picked up from that first workshop was not to “Steal from yourself by comparing yourself unfavourably to others”. Task/procrastination no. 2 I’d set myself was to research what OTHER music venues were doing with their archives – out in the real world, away from Higher Education. I’ve found some great examples of what I really wouldn’t want to use and some surprising ideas from elderly institutions such as the Albert Hall who have a nifty online perpetual calendar/time machine – take a look here. There are some great archives out there too – you know, ones that actually list everything that’s ever been performed in the, e.g. streets of towns or in whole regions, while others concentrated on particular genres. I loved what the Roundhouse had done with their history, including interview/podcasts with staff and ex-staff from across the years. This form of celebration of the whole venue community was more what I was aiming for. Venues encompass the performers, the attendees and the employees and many volunteers after all.

Visualise, visualise, visualise those goals

I’m good at visualising – ideally I wanted a website that looked almost exactly like an online version of the Rip It Up – the history of Scottish Pop exhibition I’d visited in Edinburgh back in August. The exhibition installation ticked every box going with its black walls, costumes, surprises round the corner and loud music always slightly out of reach…and a juke box! Now I just had to find a template to play with…

Tooled up

Three more online workshops over the past months and I’ve been equipped with some great tools – especially to search for influencers on social media and find out what people are asking (‘Whatever happened to the Dead Kennedys?’). My colleagues in the digital marketing department have given me access to the gig history pages on Google Analytics. The Google Analytics workshop gave insights into the mind-blowing depth of analysis it’s possible to drill into. This will be useful to re-visit when I’ve set up my test website. I’m finding each workshop adds something to the last – e.g. User Journey with Target Media’s Daniel Rowles included a tip about a free Chrome plug-in for KLEAR which is proving useful already for identifying Twitter influencers in the sphere of Music. I’m also looking forward to using Usability.gov for advice about tests for my user group.

But first I need to finish my homework for my mentor Daniel Rowles. Daniel made me take a deep breath and asked me to identify three gigs which had a lot of memorabilia attached to them (done), then find a WordPress template to try out a few things on with some project contacts (kind of done). It’s been more difficult than I thought trying to find a ready-made template that looks like the inside of an old gig venue – with a sticky carpet and cigarette stubs – but I think I’ve identified a couple of candidates.

Watch this space…

Header image courtesy of Tower Bridge Guildhall School of Music Drama  © Paul Cochrane
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