Digital Adventures

Tweet & Grow – game preview by Wendy
March 16, 2011, 11:52 am
Filed under: Garden Life, Kew website, Social Media | Tags: ,

Kew’s new mobile game development has been progressing over the last few weeks and in my last post I’d promised to share with you a few hints at what will be coming up.

As you can guess by the title of this post, we’re calling the new game ‘Tweet & Grow’ which succinctly explains the premise of the game – nurture your chosen plant and tweet about your progress to gain virtual and real rewards.

Design challenges

The intricate elements of the game-play required us to work closely with Kew experts to ensure that we had captured realistic visual stages of plant growth patterns and decay.  Pancentric’s illustrator designed our chosen plants frame by frame to mirror movement for animation based on plants found at Kew Gardens and from our image research.  This way of designing posed more challenges than the usual process as we tried to match the wealth of knowledge from our Kew experts with audience expectations and artistic license.

Tweet & Grow's 'plant collection screen'

Preview of the 'plant collection screen online'

Players will be pleasantly surprised when they are rewarded with beautiful animations of their plant growing after they’ve tended to it and tweeted about their actions.

Some of the game screens contain visual elements which encourage players to feel immersed in their plant’s habitat and needs. It’s been vital to meet our design challenges as players can learn about horticulture and some of the plants featured in the game have a research purpose at Kew and reflect the work Kew does as a global plant science organisation.

Plant details screen for Tweet & Grow

Preview of the plant details screen online

To assist game play and deliver our accessibility requirements, features and icons within the screen will have roll-overs with short text explanations or prompts.

Testing game play

It’s always crucial to test stages of game development to tease out issues with functionality and we’re being extremely rigorous in this area.  Having successfully tested our first prototype within our teams, we plan to test a beta version of the game with all visuals and functionality available for Kew staff and members of the public who fall within the target audience we are aiming for (aged 25-44, with a passion for arts and culture).  If that brief description fits you then you may wish to preview and test out the game before we launch mid-April.  Watch out for the beta version before the end of March.

Get involved: If you’d like to take part in beta testing for Tweet & Grow, please email to express your interest.

– Wendy Shearer –


What’s at the bottom of the biodiversity data mine? by kewdmt

As the quantity of data available online reaches ever greater volumes, particularly structured or ‘linked’ data, questions of what value can be derived from that data, and how much that might be, are increasingly interesting.

Working at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, I’m particularly interested in biodiversity data, what it might be used for, by whom, and to what end. This is both an academic interest and a pressing need given the impending crisis that threatens biodiversity around the world.

Superabundent data

Many people, including Professor Nigel Shadbolt, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at Southampton University, describe the supply of online data as a ‘superabundant’ deluge of information. In a paper on semantic responses, Professor Shadbolt and his colleagues estimated that the amount of data generated in 2010 would be around 1.2 million petabytes. To put that into some context: if you tried to read through this data, assuming an average reading speed of say 1,000 characters (or approx 1 kilobyte) per minute, then it would take you about 2 trillion years! So techniques of data mining (not a new term, it has been around for several decades) are increasingly essential in locating and making sense of this incredible data mountain.

Biodiversity data is a subset. There is no reliable estimate of the quantity of biodiversity data available, but it is huge – GBIF (the Global Biodiversity Information Facility) reported in 2010 that it has 216 million records of primary biodiversity data available through its portal, and it estimates that the data records available at partner institutions run into several billion. Kew alone has tens of millions of data records.

Scientific discovery

So what is the role of data mining in making sense out of the information  we have recorded about the planet’s biodiversity?

At Kew, some important aspects of scientific discovery rely on identifying patterns from large data sets. Biodiversity data usually includes accurate location-based information (for example the location a specimen was collected), providing a powerful opportunity to mine data by location. A good example is the work conducted recently to assess the risk to plant life around the world, expressed as the Sampled Red List Index (SRLI) for plants. Researchers at Kew, the Natural History Museum, ZSL and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) took a representative sample of 7,000 species from around the world. Using a combination of bespoke and existing tools such as Google Earth, they mined data from the partners’ collections, remote sensing data from satellites, and other sources such as GBIF to arrive at the final assessment.

Explore the state of plant life

Interactive map displaying IUCN Sampled Red List Index (SRLI) for plants data

Another important use of biodiversity data is to derive models that can be used to make ecological predictions, for example when modelling climate scenarios. Projects such as TRY work through a global partnership of institutions that provide primary biodiversity data, which is mined to derive traits used in these models.

More miners – and mines

In a growing number of cases, people are mining data sets that nominally have nothing to do with biodiversity, to reveal new information. A fascinating example is that of a citizen scientist from Maine who used tourist images from Flickr to track the migration journey of a humpback whale from Brazil to Madagascar, publishing her results in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters. With Facebook now reaching over 500 million people, there is bound to be some useful biodiversity information to mine.

From eBird to iSpot, there are no shortage of opportunities for citizen scientists to invest time in documenting biodiversity – and they are doing it in large numbers. Increasingly data providers are also finding ways of making their data available to these groups. In the UK, the National Biodiversity Network offers a set of web services that enable use of data by developers creating applications, and GBIF similarly offers a number of services into its global data. The Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) aggregates biodiversity data aimed at a broader range of audiences, for which there is now an API (application programming interface) that can be used to build apps.

eBird website

Screenshot from eBird website

Although we’re not inundated with applications based on this kind of data, there are signs that both specialists and amateurs are approaching the data more creatively. There are for example some good illustrations of what is possible using data visualisation such as species heatmaps, or Google Earth layers showing species distribution. And there are certainly developers keen to get their hands on new data. Take the realm of civil data, for example, where organisations like MySociety create hugely popular apps out of freely available data.

So why are there not more biodiversity apps? Well the data is certainly harder to decipher, and in some cases includes concepts that simply don’t make sense to a non-specialist. So perhaps closer partnership between data publishers and app developers might stimulate more activity – maybe in the form of hack days or so-called ‘crowd-sourced’ projects.

If this happened, what would they build? Perhaps field guides compiled on the fly for a user-defined region, food-chain or ecological modelling, visualisation of the effects of man-made structures such as roads to habitats? The possibilities may be endless, and in some cases could prove genuinely insightful.

The value of more diverse communities using this data may be in the serendipity that it creates. The example of whale tracking via Flickr is a case in point. Not only will different communities look to new data sets with which to combine the primary data (even perhaps social networks such as Facebook or Twitter), but they may also approach the problem from new angles.

A partnership of miners

Although I believe that getting a broader base of people interested in biodiversity data could have significant benefits, I suspect that the cutting edge of mining biodiversity data will remain with the specialists.

Without expert involvement, mining data can lead to misinterpretation or false conclusions, especially where the data is complex and opaque. Only within the bioinformatics communities do you find the combination of taxonomic, GIS and regional expertise needed to make major breakthroughs in understanding from this data. In fact, many of the potential apps imagined above would probably need expert input to create genuinely valuable products.

And there is an important footnote – the data does not digitise itself, curate itself and offer itself up for use. It is an expensive (although valuable) function to create and maintain usable datasets that can be mined. Kew and other institutions are having to consider how to ‘biocurate’* their data for future use.

But where I think we could all benefit is by creating more opportunities for citizen scientists, experts and the public to engage together with this critically important data.

– Mike Saunders -**


References & Notes

* Howe, D. et al. (2008) Big data: The future of biocuration. Nature 455, 47–50 for review of biocuration

** This article was originally published on blog, 7 March 2011.

New game for Kew by wshearer
January 26, 2011, 8:04 pm
Filed under: Engaging audiences, Kew website, Social Media | Tags: , , ,

We’re extremely excited over at Kew’s Digital Towers.  In addition to our usual day job of maintaining the website, developing new features and chit-chatting with followers and fans about Kew’s work on its social media channels… we’ve commissioned Pancentric Digital to develop a new game.  Aimed at audiences aged 25-44 , this will be a new gaming experience for iPhone and Android users that will be equally playable online.

So why do it?

The reason is simple.  We want to create a compelling experience which introduces players to some of the habitats and plants found at Kew including how Kew’s work is associated with them, whilst enabling players to actively participate in their survival.  In addition to this we do have a few objectives in the guise of promoting Kew’s amazing activities this summer, encouraging people to visit Kew Gardens, expand the membership of our social media channels (Facebook & Twitter) and increase the number of people who visit Kew’s website.

What is it?

Those challenges seemed like quite a tall order initially, but during today’s creative meeting with Pancentric we walked through the user flow and fine tuned the concept.  We think that the game will be easy to learn but difficult to master… it will engage players by allowing them to nurture and grow Kew plants whilst receiving rewards for their activity with new levels and real prizes.  The growth and vibrancy of each player’s plant will be influenced by social ‘tweeting’ via twitter. Players’ friends and followers will also be able to contribute to the care and nurture of each other’s plants and collectively to their habitat through tweeting.

How accessible?

The beauty of the game (apart from the amazing visuals and animations) will be our use of technology and the fact that this will be accessible to many people – you will be able to get involved even if you don’t own a Twitter account or a smartphone.  Game play will be limited if you don’t sign up but audiences won’t be completely alienated.  In addition to this we’ll be enticing people to play through our social media channels by revealing tips on how to grow your plant and where to find hidden codes which will help you.

The idea is very much in its infancy but we’re aiming to launch around the end of March 2011 ahead of the start of Kew’s summer festival.  We’ll keep you posted on developments.

– Wendy Shearer –

Blogging, why bother? by claire_w

I wrote this post for UKOLN Culture & Heritage blog on 19 December 2010. Click on the link at the bottom to read the full post.


Following a couple of recent posts that I’ve written for Kew’s Digital Adventures blog (run by the Digital Media Team), Ann Chapman from UKOLN got in touch to ask if I’d share a little bit more about why we set this blog and what we (the team) get out of it.

Why we set up Digital Adventures

We originally set up the Digital Adventures blog to document the re-launch of Kew’s website and create a space for the Digital Team to write about things that interest them and share information and knowledge with each other and the broader sector.

To date member’s of the team have written behind the scenes posts about trips to the Herbarium and the Queens visit as well as more digital focussed posts that reflect on knowledge sharing events that we’ve attended, such as Top hints and tips for making great audio slide shows for the web (our most popular post to date) and Why open data projects are here to stay.

6 reasons to start a team blog

There are many reasons why people get into, and enjoy blogging. The most important thing to remember is the delicate balance at play in terms of blogger motivation. From personal incentive on the one side (what am I getting out of it) and knowledge sharing on the other (what am I giving back). In the context of my work at Kew, here are some of the reasons that I share when talking to people who express an interest in blogging.

Blogging is great because you can:

  • Build interest in your work and inspire others
  • Take part in conversations that are happening online around your area of interest and establish a profile within these communities
  • Invite comments and feedback from readers to increase your awareness of their interests and views
  • Be generous and share knowledge about the things you know so others in your industry can learn and benefit too
  • Provide your peers and interested audiences with unique access to your work, regular updates and exclusive behind-the-scenes insights
  • Use writing as a way of thinking things through and working things out.

Read this post in full – Blogging, why bother?

– claire welsby –

Follow me on twitter


Opening the information floodgates – why open data is here to stay. by claire_w

On Tuesday 16 November the Royal Society ran a fantastic free public lecture entitled Opening the information floodgates: the technologies and challenges of a web of linked data. Interested in the new opportunities that open data projects can bring to the public sector, and more specifically our work at Kew, Mike (Director of Digital Media at Kew) and I decided to attend and find out more.

The lecture was led by Professor Nigel Shadbolt, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Southampton. In June 2009 together with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Nigel was appointed to help transform public access to Government information. A major output of this work has been – a single point of access for all Government non-personal public data. In May 2010 he was appointed by the Coalition Government to the Public Sector Transparency Board responsible for setting open data standards across the public sector and developing the legal Right to Data.

What is a web of ‘Linked Data’?

It is broadly accepted that we live in an age of superabundant information, and the Internet and World Wide Web have been key agents in this revolution.

Internet map 1024.jpg

Visualisation of the structure of the internet - wiki commons

In the introduction to his talk, Nigel Shadbolt said that this deluge of information and data has already led to a range of scientific discoveries and engineering innovations. From characterising the shape and structure of the Web to efficiently searching its billions of items of content.

Following developments in the semantic web and the recent release of large UK public data sets into the public domain, Nigel believes that we are now witnessing the emergence of a new Web – a Web of ‘Linked Data.’ This, Nigel says, offers new opportunities for science, government and business.

On top of the data released via earlier this year, the new requirement for MPs to publish their expenses online and the Coalition Government’s recent announcement to change the law ensuring that all data released under the Freedom of Information Act is machine readable, provide yet more signs that the reality of open data in the UK is here to stay.

Nigel went on to describe the spectrum of ‘openness’ in the context of ‘Linked Data’. From the publication of public documents in pdf format (least open format of ‘Linked Data’), to data in which real-world things are given addresses on the web (URIs) and data is published about them in machine-readable formats at those locations (most open format of ‘Linked Data’).

Find out more about ‘Linked Data’ and

Why share non-personal public data?

At the centre of the ‘open data’ movement is the idea that increased access to non-personal public data, information and knowledge is changing the rules of our relationship with power, politics, our communities and our environment. On the one hand it offers new levels of transparency alongside the opportunity to rethink the world in which we live and how it works. And on the other hand, particularly in the context of ‘Linked Data’, it opens up a world of possibilities for using public information in new ways, including the creation of new kinds of digital products, services and tools that can support positive social change.

Based on this position, Nigel listed five specific reasons why public service organisations should seriously consider sharing non-personal public data online and open up their information for broader public access and interpretation.

  • Improve transparency for UK tax payers.
  • Stimulate new economic value by inviting people to build businesses around the interrogation, analysis and use of non-personal public data.
  • ‘Get more for less’ by inviting the public to help improve and interpret data, adding value in different ways. The UK transport mapped project is a good example of this.
  • Engage citizens with public information in new ways.
  • Stimulate new kinds of discussion and debate.

If this all feels a little bit abstract, here’s a list of some of my favourite ‘real world’ services and tools that have already been created by entrepreneurial developers using public data sets made available via


This mobile application provides access to anti-social behaviour (ASB) information at your current location and gives you access to key local ASB statistics. ASBOrometre website.


Asborometer screen shot

The application uses ASBO CDRP survey full dataset Oct 03 to March 09 and the Number of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs). This data is provided by the Home Office under the UK Crown Copyright licence.


Provides air pollution alerts by text, email and voicemail for people living in London. Users select a zone to receive the alerts for, when air pollution levels are predicted to reach MODERATE or higher levels, users receive an alert to warn them that pollution may be elevated. AIRtext website.

This service uses London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (LAEI) data set, provided by Greater London Authority.


This UK-wide cycle journey planner system lets you plan routes from A to B by bike. The site is currently in beta testing phase. Cyclists around the country are invited to test out routes and contribute feedback to help improve mapping data. Cycle Streets website.

This service uses map data from OpenStreetMap which is freely available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Where does my money go?

This project promotes transparency and citizen engagement through the analysis and visualisation of information about UK public spending. An independent project run by the Open Knowledge Foundation, the aim is to make government finances easier to explore and understand – so you can see where every pound of your taxes gets spent. WhereDoesMyMoneyGo website.

Find out more about the data sets used.

Where does my money go?

Where does my money go? screen shot

What are the challenges?

Many of the challenges facing the open data movement stem from the fact that it’s at an early stage in its life cycle and mainstream implementation requires a shift in ‘culture’.

Many of us working in the public sector have a pretty low awareness of the benefits, opportunities and risks that open data projects can bring and some of us are understandably anxious about adopting new approaches to information transparency and citizen empowerment before we understand these aspects more fully.

Common questions and concerns include, how can we ensure that the quality and integrity of non-personal public data and information is retained once they are opened up for public use and interpretation? How can we respect and protect our privacy in a world of increasingly interconnected data? How can we strike the right balance between making the most of new opportunities while retaining an understanding of how these developments might impact other aspects of our lives? How can we ensure that we ‘don’t take things too far too soon?’

In response to the issues of data integrity and public interpretation, Nigel believes that much like like existing information online, the provenance of open data will become increasingly important to the value and credibility applied to it and any consequent products that are created using it. On top of this (and in Nigel’s experience), people interested in using non-personal public data sets to create products, services and tools are generally pretty good at interpreting it. It’s worth remembering for instance, that it’s in the interest of the person using public data to interpret it effectively and responsibly, because their reputation as a ‘producer’ is on the line as well. On the flip side, it’s the data publishers responsibility to ensure that information explaining the context of data sets, including how it was gathered and its limitations is made available at point of use too.

A shifting culture…

As the open data movement picks up pace, one of the most exciting areas for me is the new opportunities open data projects offer to explore public data in new ways and stimulate new kinds of discussion and debate around it, particularly as different non-personal data sets are linked up and interrogated together. Information that may not have been looked at together or compared before could start to provide new kinds of public value – in the discussions they start and the questions they both pose and answer.

Another aspect of open data projects that excites me is the new opportunities they offer organisations to engage audiences and enable people to participate in some way. This could be applications that enable individuals to interrogate and/or compare public data quickly and easily or tools that enable data users to add value to public information in some way, either through verification or adding more detail.

In the context of Kew for instance, we recently published a global analysis of extinction risk for the world’s plants that revealed that one in five of the world’s plant species threatened with extinction. The study, entitled IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants, is a major baseline for plant conservation and is the first time that the true extent of the threat to the world’s estimated 380,000 plant species is known.

Explore the state of plant life

Explore the state of plant life around the world

A first for plant science and global plant conservation, this was also one of the first projects by Kew that enabled non-specialist online audiences to engage with real scientific data directly. Although this project is not a truly open project, as we didn’t release the data via open standards for public use, the maps and graphs that we produced did offer mainstream audiences a series of visual interpretations that improved access to real scientific data – so a step in the right direction. Very much a data driven project, I wonder what kind of analysis and interpretations might have been produced had we released this data into the public domain? You can take a look at our maps and graphs here.

In the process of shifting from a position of ‘my data’ to ‘our data’, I hope that we (at Kew and the broader pubic sector) will start to get involved in more open data projects and gain first hand experience of the new opportunities in this area and start sharing the benefits and learning that we gather.

It seems to me that improving access to non-personal public data and information is a good thing and an exciting prospect. The non-personal data sets that we share can only become increasingly valuable over time – as we are able to compare new data sets with old ones, find new relationships between different kinds of information and start to produce services that make access to public information quicker and easier and tools that make public services better, more collaborative and more relevant.

– Claire Welsby –


Related links

Other blog posts by Claire about this topic

Top hints and tips for making great audio slide shows for the web by claire_w
November 1, 2010, 10:00 am
Filed under: Engaging audiences, Garden Life, Kew website | Tags: ,

As the Digital Team at Kew endeavor to produce more video and slide shows for the web in house, I decided (as a member of the team) that it was time to get myself out and about a bit more, to learn more about the tricks of the trade – in particular top hints and tips for making great rich media for the web.

A Tour of Duty by Paul Kerley

As luck would have it, a week or two ago, Sound Delivery and Third Sector PR and Communications Network announced a free knowledge sharing workshop about making audio slide shows. Located at the Computer Club in the Aldgate area, the event took the format of a Q&A session with journalist Paul Kerley, the BBCs online audio slide show guru.

Paul was really open in sharing the knowledge and skills that he’s acquired over the years. So, for those of you out there like me, who are just starting out in audio/video production for the web, here’s some of Paul’s top tips for making fab audio slide shows:


1) For a successful slide show you need to source around 8-10 images per minute. The quality of images is really important. Use the best that you have.

2) For a 3 minute slide show you will need around 20 minutes of audio to edit from. Personal stories and first hand testimonials, with the interview questions edited out, work best.

3) Plan your slide show as much as possible before hand. Be clear in what you want to communicate and know your audience. Work out what questions you want to ask your subject, and have a list of photographs that you need to source and/or take.


4) Have a chat with your subject before you turn up to record the interview/audio. Get to know them a little bit, discuss the subject matter and find out the kind of things that they might want to talk about up front.

5) Brief your subject about what to expect in the recording session and advise them not to bring along a script to read out.

6) If you have sourced images already, make sure that you talk about these with your subject when conducting the interview.

Loving and living with Alzheimers by Paul Kerley


7) When putting your slide show together, always start with the images and then build the story (the audio track) around them.

8 ) Make sure you include a variety of images in your slide show and remember that ‘relevance’ is key. It sounds obvious, but the images used should compliment the audio and help to tell the story.

9) If you need to drop in bits of organisation messaging, make sure that you do this as short snippets within the story. Resist building the slide show around messaging.

10) Remember that a good opening image is crucial to capture people’s attention online. A strong closing image is also important to help viewers remember your slide show.

11) Add music to your slide show if you can. Music is emotive and can help to enhance the impact of your slideshow and connect with your audience. I’ve added some links to music licensing providers that sometimes do deals for charities below.

Promoting your slideshow

12) Research and find your ‘subject matter allies’ online. Develop a network of mutually beneficial connections with sympathetic bloggers and mainstream media channels where possible. Popular blogs and mainstream media channels (like the BBC, the Guardian and TelegraphTV) are often seeking good audio/video content to use online.

13) Where possible, take advantage of topical trends by promoting your slide show when it’s most relevant to the media appetite. If you make a slide show about growing pumpkins, approach popular bloggers and contacts at mainstream media channels in time for Halloween.

Example slideshows

As with all these things, I imagine it’s far more difficult to produce a great audio slide show in practice, than it may first appear in theory. But the team here at Kew are going to give it a really good go. Watch this space for upcoming Kew Media efforts!

– Claire Welsby –

Follow me on twitter


Useful links

Kew goes to Measurement Camp by claire_w
November 18, 2009, 8:19 pm
Filed under: Engaging audiences, Making stuff happen, Networked Projects, Social Media | Tags:
Measurement Camp logo

Measurement Camp - November 09

Alongside launching Kew’s wonderful new website in October, and following a handful of social media pilots, myself and my colleagues in Kew’s Digital Media Team decided to embrace some of the new opportunities offered to us by social media.

Our reason for doing this was not to be young, cool and funky (I promise). Nor was it to follow the latest trend or ‘be seen’ to be innovative. We decided to embrace social media because of benefits that ‘doing stuff in this space’ can bring. We wanted to:

  • improve access to Kew’s activities, knowledge and expertise in different spaces across the internet
  • take Kew to new audiences rather than wait for them to ‘find us’
  • make the most of the web by connecting up with others and inviting online audiences to participate with Kew’s work in different ways, and add value
  • encourage audiences to build stronger and lasting relationships with Kew and ‘get involved,’ in different ways

Now this all sounds great – and we’re really enjoying trying things out in social spaces online to help make Kew more visible across the web. We’re also really enjoying interacting with ‘real people’ and learning along the way…

Measuring social media

Following a handful of successful pilots, we’re now moving into the realm of more official channels for Kew content online. And as a result, some of the 50 million dollar questions have started to raise their head.

How can we measure and make sense of Kew’s impact in social spaces online? How can we identify our successes and build on them in the future? How can we learn from things we do and report this stuff to our colleagues internally?

In other words…what are Kew’s Social Media KPI’s and how can we report our progress?

On the road to enlightenment

As many of you who work in this area know – measuring social media is not easy or straightforward.   Tracking awareness raising activity, extending audience reach and increasing participation are complex activities that are just not that easily measured right now.

September 09 Measurement Camp - by unlovablesteve on flickr

Photo from September 09 Measurement Camp by unlovablesteve on flickr

So, on our first step on the road to enlightenment, my colleague Damian (@mrfly) and I (@claire_w), decided to join in the Measurement Camp meet up in November. Set up and run by the lovely Will Mcinnes, the purpose of Measurement Camp is to bring people facing similar challenges together on a monthly basis, to share knowledge and experience around social media measurement.

What I learned…

One of the most useful things that I learned ‘at camp’ is that there are many lovely people in London who are interested in, and making progress in the social media measurement space. And many of us are trying different things, on different scales, to track the impact of our efforts in social spaces online.

These are my highlights of what was shared in the November meet up:

  • set relevant benchmarks before you begin social media activity. This will help you track progress more easily and find out where your efforts are having impact
  • reporting of social media activity should include both quantitive and qualitive data
  • where possible, reports produced for organisations should speak the language of that organisation and explain impact and progress in terms used and understood – E.g. KPI’s ROI’s
  • there are few standard measures for capturing and analysing data across social networks as different platforms offer different ways for communities to interact and participate.
  • there are a few clever people developing complex tools to help measure social media impact –few of them are cheap and few are tried and tested.

What’s next for Kew?

It’s fair to say that Kew doesn’t have a BIG budget to blow on complex tools for measuring the impact of its social activity online. We’re definitely in the ‘practical approach camp’ when it comes to measuring social media.

So, these are the steps that I’m going to recommend we introduce.

Step 1

Agree a clear starting point/benchmark for Kew before doing too much more activity in social spaces online. We will do this by assessing our impact in the social platforms that we focus our efforts on, and draw a level of comparison with peer organisations, like the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum

Step 2

Agree a number of easy to measure quantitive KPIs for the different social spaces that we inhabit – and track these each month.  Some ideas we’ve had:


  • track the number of new followers we get on a monthly basis
  • track the number of replies and retweets each week
  • use topsy or twitter search to measure buzz on Twitter


  • use Facebook insights to track the number of new fans we’re getting, trends in Fan demographic and the average ‘quality of conversation’ each month
  • track the quantity of media shared each month by our fans

Media sharing (e.g. youtube and flickr)

  • capture the number of views our videos and photos are getting, the average rating they receive or the number of times people favourite our content

Step 3

Capture indicative qualitative data from the different spaces we inhabit on a monthly basis. What’s the quality of discussion like? What value did they add?

Step 4

Track referrals back to and look at broader buzz – E.g. track referals via google analytics, track mentions/results in google blog search, technorati and blogger

Step 5

When we do a specific push around a campaign or event – watch out for spikes of interest.

Thanks…and keep in touch

If you’ve managed to get this far – thank you – I hope this post has been of some interest to you.

If you have any feedback, other ideas or ‘things to think about’ in terms of social media measurement, then please do share them with us via comments below.

We’d love to keep the conversation going on this one, and in particular, keep in touch with those of you working in this space and dealing with similar challenges.


Join Kew’s network

Tools and resources

  • Trendrr – allows you to track the popularity and awareness of trends across a variety of inputs, ranging from social networks, to blog buzz and video views downloads, all in real time.
  • Google insights – compare search volume patterns across specific regions, categories, time frames and properties
  • Topsy – A search engine powered by tweets

Trip to the Herbarium by kewfly
August 12, 2009, 10:01 am
Filed under: Engaging audiences | Tags: , , , , , ,

Sometimes, you just have to be there to see something. Well perhaps the role of tweets, Facebook and the rest is partly to replicate the serendipidity of coming across something really interesting.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know precisely what a herbarium actually did so my interest was piqued when I saw a sign offering tours. I tagged along on a Wednesday morning with two volunteer guides who had a profound knowledge of Kew and the work done in the Herbarium. As with so many things at Kew, if it didn’t actually start with the Hooker family (friends and contemporaries of Charles Darwin), it certainly came to life with them

A herbarium is much more than a place to store or catalogue plant specimens, I discovered, it actually acts as a definitive reference point so that botanists can say this plant is x and this specimen is new because it does not match anything else known. So as well as information on the plant, its location and behaviour, a reference copy of the plant itself (pressed onto acid-free paper and referenced like a library book) is kept.

Inside the Herbarium's holiest of holiesIn essence, herbariums in general and Kew’s world class one in particular, are the basic pre-requisite for the entire science of botany.

Our trip took us through the magnificent new Herbarium building and into the original chamber where we saw specimens collected by Darwin on his trips (and later catalogued by one of his descendants, who worked at Kew). We also saw a specimen collected by Dr Livingstone. As I have a real interest in Victorian explorers (a pretty rum bunch on the whole, Livingstone and Darwin excluded), I was aware that the collection of rare plants and fruits was always high on the agenda of explorers – at least since Columbus returned with spuds and tomatoes from his travels – so it was great to see some examples. I took some pics and you can see them on Facebook

Piles of folders, stuffed with plants, often sandwiched between sheets of local newspapers from far-off lands, were stacked and getting ready for processing. These incredibly precious spoils of botanical expeditions will be analysed, checked for alien life forms, digitised and lovingly arranged as specimens as they pass through the hands of the experts who work in Kew.

We also dropped in on the digitisation team with their own custom-made scanners (these ‘upside down scanners’ allow samples to be scanned without getting crushed). Apparently they have digitised the known specimens of Africa and are well on their way to completing Latin America’s. Magically (if you are a scientist at least) you can get a PDF of these specimens here for free If you get a chance to visit Kew on a Wednesday in August or September, I can highly recommend you snag yourself a place. Booking essential:

Kew a ‘Digital Britain’ partner by kewdmt

I once got a confused reaction from an American after telling him I worked at Kew Gardens, which to him is a suburb of Queens, NYC. I’ve occasionally had equally bemused reaction when telling people that I run the digital media team at Kew – what would a garden do with digital media?

nesta and kew

This is what I tell them…. as one of the leading science institutes in the UK (and the leading plant science institute in the world), Kew is a gem in UK plc’s public service landscape, and digital media is a key tool for unlocking that potential.

So it was great to see Kew highlighted in the government’s Digital Britain report last week, not only as an example of good use of digital media but also announcing we’re going to partner with a range of other public sector organisations including Arts Council and Tate on a pilot run by NESTA of new approaches to digital procurement and IPR in the public sector ( | this link opens a pdf | see pp. 217 – 219).

I hope this pilot will help streamline and focus procurement of digital projects in the public sector – creating advantages for both commissioners and suppliers.

Kew plays both these roles at different times, so is in a particularly interesting place to work on this. One of the areas that I’d like to see coming out of the pilot is the ability for commissioners and suppliers to form better partnerships – that ultimately benefit the supplier by enabling them to grow their business, and the commissioner by supporting the exploitation of their IPR. It will be a very interesting project.

If you’re interested in following Kew’s progress with this project, then do watch this space for updates.

For more day-to-day stuff from Kew’s digital media team you can also follow @gardenadventure on twitter.

-Mike Saunders-

Putting the Royal into the Royal Botanic Gardens by nmerrett
May 6, 2009, 4:30 pm
Filed under: Garden Life | Tags: , , ,

The whole of Kew was awash with excitement yesterday, as we were graced with the presence of some very special visitors: Her Majesty the Queen – or “Queenie” as us DMTers have come to affectionately call her in the office – and HRH Prince Phillip.

The Queen cuts the Palm House cake

As the big day approached, the gardeners seemed to be working round the clock to get the Gardens ship shape for Her Majesty. In fact, whilst walking back from a meeting last Thursday, it was observed that it looked like they’d run not just a lawn mower over the lawns but given them a quick hoover too – such were their perfection. In addition, the Orangery has had a lick of paint, the spiders have been removed from the Banks Building atrium (big sigh of relief from my phobic self) and even the Kew Explorer, just for the special day, was given a makeover of 250th logo colour inspired flowers.

If the gardeners were concerned with the gardens, Kew Constabulary the security and the Press Dept the photography, for us ladies there was just the one big question: what shoes to wear to a royal reception in the Orangery? Surely one doesn’t want to wear skyscraper heels when meeting the diminutive monarch? Vanity took hold and the heels won out, a decision that was doubted for the ensuing 2 hours as I stood around waiting for Her Majesty to arrive.

During this time, the obvious question on everyone’s lips was “what colour was she going to wear?” Colours were thrown around like candy drops: lemon; pale green (my guess); peach; lilac… not one person correctly guessed a salmon pink ensemble with black trim – perhaps what started the impromptu round of applause as she entered the Orangery at 3.25pm? For me, I was just in awe at how beautiful our monarch looked. I like to think we exchanged a little smile, but am sure everyone else in my group felt the same – such is her magic.

The pain from the shoes paid off before too long with the excellent view they offered in viewing the Royal Couple meeting fellow colleagues (including our very own Head of DM Mike Saunders who enlightened Phillip on our website re-launch project) before unveiling a 250th plaque, being presented with the Kew Gardens rose (no thorns so safe for Queenie) and cutting the amazing Palm House cake (for those that are curious, the base was a cake but the Palm House elaborately iced polystyrene).

After a quick signing of the guest book, the Queen and Phillip said their goodbyes. Tea and cake was enjoyed by all and I then rushed back (as fast as my heels would take me) to report to the rest of the DMT and my eagerly awaiting Twitter followers, the events of the afternoon.

There does seem to be an element of comedown in the office today – and that’s not just due to all us ladies back in our flat shoes. After all, where does one go after being in the presence of royalty? Off for tea and cake if you’re a member of Kew’s DMT…

Some Flickr highlights:

The Queen, Prince Phillip and the Palm House Cake

The Queen and The Media

Dressed up for the Visit

– Nicola Merrett –

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