Thirty8 Digital we do nice web stuff Mon, 25 Sep 2017 10:22:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Digital signage with WordPress and a Raspberry Pi Tue, 18 Oct 2016 09:26:56 +0000 We’re in the middle of building a little project at the moment for our lovely clients, The American Museum. It’s a bit out of the ordinary for us and takes us into unknown territory – but we like a challenge..

We’ve already been developing some prototype builds with Raspberry Pi’s – among them a really nice project which involves running WordPress on the Pi and it throwing out a local WiFi network – this means you’d be able to create localised digital points for things like mobile tours even in environment where there’s little mobile signal and no network. Think Info Point, only cheaper and based on open source tools.

But: this project is even simpler. The basic requirement is to have a digital signage screen up behind the reception area in the museum with regularly updated content: events happening that day, freeform text areas to drop in images and video, etc. The team were first of all thinking about a simple Powerpoint presentation running on a cheap PC, but realised that changing content would be painful – and they wanted something a bit more flexible.

Our approach is to use WordPress – but this time not on the Pi itself. Instead we’ve got WordPress running on the web so that the team can log in and add new slides, edit existing ones, etc. There’s a new Custom Post Type called “signage”:

Signage custom post type

In here the team have just one “page” ( = one digital sign) to edit – but we’re thinking that if the project works well then they may want additional signs in the future:

Signage list

Once you’re editing a sign you can then add slides. We use a kind of modular system we’ve developed which hooks into Advanced Custom Fields – and at the moment there are only a few content types – but this could easily expand in the future:

Signage content types

..and a pretty easy to use / familiar WordPress editing interface:

Slide editing screen

The team can then do all the things they’d be able to do in WordPress – re-order slides, save drafts, preview the signage – and then when they’re ready, publish.

Then on the Pi itself we have a little script which polls the WordPress site every 3 minutes, and pulls down the content locally. We’ve also got some caching in there so if the WiFi network goes down then the most recently fetched version is used instead. Incidentally, we had all manner of problems getting Epiphany browser to full-screen on boot – and then it messed up our styling. But the recently arrived Raspbian Jessie includes Chromium which runs brilliantly in kiosk mode. My other hot tip is to use the ever-so-simple Etcher to do the SD card burning – none of the “write failed” issues you often get!

The actual presentation side of things uses the excellent reveal.js, which is basically a simple way of doing html presentations. This allows us to do nice transitions and other stuff with minimal markup. At the moment the display is very simple but it could potentially be adapted up at the WordPress level, making this really flexible and simple to deploy.

One of the things we’ve had to think quite hard about is being able to change the look and feel of the slides remotely. Although we can get to the WordPress site easily via SSH we don’t know yet if we’ll be able to SSH in to the Pi itself. So the CSS is kept in one file, and that is fetched as part of the polling process.

For the actual screen itself – we did some research via the MCG list (which also validated using RPi’s – there are lots of museums doing this!) – and although some people responded suggesting high end displays (between £700 and £1500) we had a positive response from the V&A team about a 43″ Digihome 287 TV. It’s made by Tesco (I know) and retails at £199. It isn’t display quality of course but actually it’s pretty good, and ridiculous value for money.

We’re almost ready to install the hardware at the museum – will keep you updated as things progress!


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Half it in size. Then half it again. Fri, 16 Oct 2015 09:39:46 +0000 I’m sitting looking at my inbox. It’s a bit full – I’ve been away for a week. I’ve done a bunch of culling but in there are three newsletters catching my eye, all from museums or museum related people.

Out of interest, I just pasted each one into

They average 1,400 words each.

Here’s my mental response:

There are two things at play here.

  1. Your email newsletter is probably your single most important bit of marketing collateral. Having a gazillion followers on Twitter or likes on Facebook is great, and maintaining that social dialogue is absolutely key, but it’s transient in nature. These little snippets float past, with a tiny little half-life.
  2. People don’t read on the web or in their inbox. They skim. This is why I spend a lot of time talking about the inverted content pyramid (see our recently updated writing for the web guide) – providing little bits of content which give a sense of what’s underneath without people having to invest the time to actually read in long form.

If you collide these two thoughts you end up with something quite useful:

  1. Write short – really short – really, really short – newsletters which have little, skimmable snippets of text and maybe a few images to cheer things up.
  2. Have a “read more” link against each piece of text which takes people off to the web if they’re interested
  3. Put the bulk of the content on your website – on a single page if you can with local anchors (sometimes called “bookmarks“) so people get scrolled to the bit they’ve just clicked on or on multiple pages if that’s where the content originated from.
  4. Make sure your stats software and mailing list software can give you some useful analytics about who clicked what.

Sometimes there is quite a lot of confusion about why to use both Google Analytics AND MailChimp (or whatever your software is) to measure the responses to your newsletter. Generally, your mailing list software can give you data on what people clicked on, when they clicked it and even who clicked something. Google Analytics can then be set up (via campaigns) to show you the users onward journey – so you can ask questions like “are people who come to our site via our newsletter more likely to do X?”.

Having shorter, more succinct newsletters written like this and then encouraging people to click therefore does two important things: first, people will be more likely to read it in the first place (which is presumably a motivation, given the time you’ve spent writing it..) and second, you get really powerful analytics about what they are interested in if they are motivated enough to follow through to your site. And if they aren’t clicking through, you also need to know why and to adapt accordingly.

I’ve written too much. 455 words. Off to edit.

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What do you need help with? Thu, 10 Sep 2015 09:32:45 +0000 Yesterday, we revamped and updated our resources section – these are free worksheets, guides and templates which are supposed to help organisations get a better handle on digital engagement.

As I mentioned in that post, we’ve had 5,000 downloads of these resources, and we also get a lot of positive feedback about these at the workshops and seminars we run. So at some level, we must be doing something right…

But at the same time there’s nothing quite like actually being in an organisation that is dealing with these challenges – so I’d like to ask you to spend maybe a minute filling in the survey below. This will help us in developing resources and workshops that are aligned to your needs – but I’ll also compile the results once we’ve got enough to make this worthwhile and will email these back to you (if you check the “ok to contact” box…).

Thanks for your time 🙂



New, improved resources.. Wed, 09 Sep 2015 11:03:02 +0000 I’ve just updated our resources section – lots more stuff on there now, including our just-updated Writing for the web guide.

Looking back over the stats for these (we use a URL shortener and can see who clicks on what) it appears that these have been downloaded about 5,000 times overall, which is pretty exciting. And: in case you’re interested, here are the top 5 most popular:

> #1 – our digital strategy training portal (really a selection of guides rather than individual ones, so a bit of a cheat..)
> #2 – zooming to second place in…2 days(!) is the writing for the web guide
> #3 – recently (ish) updated: WordPress editing guide
> #4 – an introduction to WordPress
> #5 – mobile 101

We’ve added a searchbox on the resources page too – in part because there’s a lot of them now, but also (sigh) because I’m damned if I can get pagination to work. Don’t tell anyone.

Anyway. Help yourselves – all of it is licensed under CC attribution, so feel free to plunder, steal, share, etc. And – retweets, shares, all of that gratefully and muchly appreciated.

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Getting your collections online Thu, 23 Apr 2015 09:17:42 +0000 I was recently asked to present a session at the SW Digital Champions Forum on how to get your collections online. I wanted to do something which was practical but which also asked those bigger picture questions. I divided the talk into three sections:

1. Online Collections – strategy

Too often the answer to the why are we getting our collection online question is simply “because”. Although it is almost enough for museums to say “it’s our remit, our collections are what we do, we should allow more people to see them”, this can quite easily become an excuse not to ask the normal good practice questions everyone should ask when thinking about doing…well, anything:

> why are we doing this?
> who are we doing this for?
> how are we going to know if this approach is working?

As well as being a good thing to do anyway, these questions can be really useful in helping to focus the process itself. A general audience for instance will probably want longer, more story based representations of collections online; this in turn suggests the focus of the project should be on writing more about less objects – and certainly wanting to make sure you have good quality images to accompany these. Conversely, if you are mainly pitching at a researcher audience you may well be focusing on quantity.

Alongside this, the focus on “success” is important. This is something we push all the time as part of our digital strategy workshops and it applies just the same here. What does this look like? For collections online it could be a number of things:

> more visits to collections pages
> increased time on these pages
> more shares of object stories
> more likes / mentions
> increased sales of licensed photography
> increased throughput from / to the rest of the site
> …etc

If a project has a firm grasp of what this success is – and how to measure it using Google Analytics, or qualitative approaches – or whatever – then they stand a better chance of this whole process being a worthwhile one.

2. Implementation

The actual “how do I…” side of a collections online project was the focus on the second half of the slides. This is of course about the movement of records from “some kind of in-house system” to “some kind of web-based, public system”. The former can be existing CM systems, Excel spreadsheets, or nothing at all (yet) – but the primary questions are the same: which records and which fields do you want to make public?

With this in mind, I identified 5 possible routes – obviously not an exhaustive list, but I think I have the main ones:

  1. Use your collections management system “plug and play” system
  2. Build something bespoke which uses your collections management system (or other!) API
  3. Use an existing, hosted service – even something as simple as Flickr, Tumblr, Medium, Blogger, – or hosted databases such as Zoho Creator
  4. Build or adapt an existing open source system:, CultureObject, CollectionSpace, Omeka
  5. “Other”: CultureGrid, Europeana, Wikipedia, build a totally bespoke solution with its own database or (ouch) static html

3. Making the decision

Obviously each and every scenario is different – different audiences, resources, budgets, technologies, requirements…

Having said that I reckon there are five principles which can help steer the decision making process, no matter what scenario museums find themselves in:

  1. Be strategic: know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and who for
  2. Know the answers to some fundamental questions: things like “can I get my data in and out?”, “is my stuff backed up?”, “what ongoing costs are there?”, “what risks should I be thinking about?”, “what standards are being applied?”
  3. Consider “Open” as being the baseline for everything: not just Open Source, but open data standards, open and transparent contracts and relationships with suppliers, etc
  4. Be wary of bespoke: although “bespokeness” is a continuum, and at some level you’ll have to have something built which is just for you, be wary about solutions that re-invent wheels which are already pretty well formed. Thinking “ok, so this guy wants to build X for us – but what if he got hit by a bus? Who else could pick this up?” is quite a good way of clarifying thinking here..
  5. Be measured: getting all 100,000 collections items online might be a good aim, eventually, but embrace small wins. Get ten objects up there first; blog about them, share them, get a feel for what people want – then aim to do a bit more. Don’t feel you have to go the whole hog in one go.

My slides are below:


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Keeping track of content in WordPress Thu, 19 Mar 2015 10:14:02 +0000 Recently, we launched Waterloo 200 (see for the live site) and as part of the project the team needed to gather together rich museum object data and other content from a range of sources.

The site is a reasonably complex WordPress build, with a number of custom post types to support the rich content on the site. For objects, there’s a range of fields – all kept tidy with the wonderful Advanced Custom Fields tab view:

Object editing view

Under those tabs are both externally visible content – object description, images, links to related objects and venues and so on – but also some fields which we added in later to help keep track of where the team had got to.

There will only be around 200 objects on the site in total – but even with a small collection there’s a lot to keep track of – whether the 360º view had been added, how complete the tagging was, etc etc.

To help the team manage this we put together a really simple, really quick WordPress plugin which displays an object report in the dashboard:

W200 object report


There’s no rocket science here – we simply iterate through all the objects in the database and, lookup how complete the record is and then provide a simple report – but actually we found this absolutely invaluable. Firstly it gives a snapshot view which allows editors to understand how much is left to do (the colours help: if you squint you can get a sense of how much red “need to do” there is!) – but it also acts as a quick way to edit, view, see the 360/zoom view etc on any object.

We did a second, even simpler plugin which does a similar thing but for pages:

W200 page report


..again – really simple, but gives a nice snapshot view of what’s going on from a content-completeness point of view.

The whole process got us thinking about how WordPress is lacking nice content management tools (ironic, really) – but simple auditing, bug-catching, content scanning stuff is a bit sparse – so we’re now looking at whether to develop some plugins that help the editorial people manage their workflows a bit more effectively.

We’d be interested to hear from you if you’re a WordPress person – what do you use to manage content flow within the CMS (and outside it)? Are there tools that help the process that we could learn from?

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Just because your museum objects are online doesn’t make them interesting Wed, 11 Mar 2015 17:21:11 +0000 I was asked by Claire Ross and Jane Audas to talk about objects online at a conference day (Show Us Your Assets) held at Mima last week.

There’s a tendency for museums to “just get our collections database online” without actually thinking about why they’re doing it, how to do it better and who they’re doing it for.

I decided to focus on ten habits that from our experience help to focus the mind

  1. think about (think like) your audience
  2. understand a bit about how to work with Google
  3. create social and sociable objects
  4. iterate, don’t fire and forget
  5. focus on object stories
  6. make informed, long-term choices about technology
  7. know what your users do, and adapt (see #4)
  8. do less, better
  9. don’t be afraid of marketing
  10. be visual, designed, playful

My slides are here:

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Introducing Culture Object Fri, 14 Nov 2014 13:50:50 +0000 I’ve just knocked up an extremely rough video capture introducing our latest thing – Culture Object.

TLDW: it’s a WordPress plugin which pulls in museum object records from various sources, including AdLib and Culture Grid.

Why might you want it? 

1) It bridges the gap between the “really easy but almost always horrible” plug and play option which the collections management companies tend to offer and the “we have lots of time and money to build a thing that interfaces with the CM API” option.

2) By bringing in the object data into a local store, you can have unprecedented control over how it appears on your site, and how you embed your objects into stories, blog posts, newsletters, sidebars and so on. We get very, very sad when we see museum collections online “over there” on a separate part of museum website – sometimes even on a separate site.

3) It provides the means – easily – to optimise for mobile, kiosks on-gallery, provision of API – and can do this with SEO and usability right at the heart of the process.

4) We believe very passionately that WordPress has huge potential for museum website content management. It’s open source, amazingly easy to use if you’re an editor, great to build for if you’re a developer, and has a world-wide community of people working on it. As such, we are building tools which will help provide routes into WordPress for museums and other non-profits.


Thoughts? Let us know in the comments. If you’re interested in using Culture Object on your site or are a collections management vendor who wants us to build a connector for your system, get in touch.

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How best to cut down on the distraction of email? Mon, 03 Nov 2014 14:41:11 +0000 I’m pondering making a change to the way I work by cutting down on the time I’m being distracted by email.

My natural tendancy is probably the same as most people which is to have email open all the time and then find I’m periodically checking it, responding to stuff and otherwise being distracted by things other than the thing I’m doing.

I’m tending towards having an email window – probably somewhere early afternoon – when I open it up and respond to anything, but then avoid it for the rest of the day. The thing I’m looking for advice on is:

1) How long I should put aside for this time. I know: length of string question – but would still be interested in hearing what you do. I think I may try an hour and see how it goes…?

2) Whether to explicitly tell our clients that this is what I’m doing or just do it? – or do something like put a little note in my signature: “I only look at email between 2-3pm each day” (I think I tend to the latter?)

3) If I do this – should I have an URGENT inbox which twangs me in a different way (I dunno, a Slack push or SMS or something non-inbox related) – for critical “our website is down” stuff…

What do you do – would be really interested in hearing either here or on Twitter..

(btw. I turned off email notifications on my mobile a long time ago, and ditto removed Twitter from there. On my desktop I still use Twitter but kill it when I’m busy. So that’s very much less of a distraction….)


I’m going to try a 1-3pm email window, and have put a message in my signature telling clients this – but also telling them to ring or hit up our urgent inbox if anything crucial is happening.

If you’re a geek you might like to know that I’ve created a forwarder on this urgent inbox which sends an email to our Pushover account – that way I’ll get an alert on my phone if someone does email us here – that way I know I’ll get to know but without having to check email…. 🙂

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Five (slightly provocative) thoughts Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:51:32 +0000 1) Users and user testing is everything – but thinking about why is as important as thinking about who.

> Know what success is and how you’re going to measure it. “Visits” isn’t enough. Engagement, newsletter signups, downloads, time on site, registrations – think about what makes a difference for you and your organisation, and why.

> User test with your mum, your friends, your class

> Buy “Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug

> Don’t assume anyone else will get what you’re doing

2) Museums aren’t special.

> If you’re a regular online punter, someone looking for an image, an experience, some history, a story – museums are one of a gazillion billion other sources.

> Even as a day out, we’re a day out. We could be a zoo, a gallery, a theme park.

What does this mean? Not despair – of course we’re bloody special – but it means we have to work really, really, really hard to be seen. Relaxing safe in the knowledge that “we’re special” doesn’t work.

3) Mobile apps are a terrible money-eating timesink red herring. One with big googly eyes that wants your life in exchange for 5 downloads and £1.50 in revenue.


4) If you can’t iterate, you aren’t making the most of what digital can do for you. The last thing digital is is “fire and forget”.

> having google analytics on your site is one thing

> looking at your Google analytics is another

> actually acting on what you find – that’s the important thing.

> this means resource and money on an ongoing basis, not just when a funder pays you to launch something.

5) Visibility is authority.

This one is stolen from Koven J Smith and his colleagues.

Museums worry a lot about authority. They worried and continue to worry that social media – prosumers – are undermining authority.

The simple truth is that if you’re not found on the first page of Google, you have no authority anyway.

Search Engine Optimisation – SEO – is probably the single most important thing you or your tech team should focus on. After user testing and strategy, obviously.

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