Review of #sfmetrix Social Collections, New Metrics, Maps and Other Australian Oddities


On the advise of Tamsen Schwartzmen (of the F.I.T. Museum), I recently attended the workshop, Social Collections, New Metrics, Maps and Other Australian Oddities, featuring Sebastian Chan, head of digital, social and emerging technologies for the Powerhouse Museum in Australia. I was there to learn how museums were using new technology in their museums and on their websites, but I also attended knowing that the Powerhouse has a great design collection and frequent fashion exhibitions.

The day long workshop was free, and the auditorium was packed. Limited to 200 participants, the room was filled with representatives from some of the most important arts institutions in the bay area, California and beyond. It also included some of the smallest, niche arts institutions. These included representatives from The Museum of Craft and Folk Art, the Silent Film Festival, LACMA, Getty, The Magnes, and many many others. As an aside, I have never seen so many people wearing cool and interesting glasses in one room.

The purpose of the workshop was to explore strategic social media for the cultural sector, with a focus on patron interface opportunities and encouraging museums to share their collections online. The day was broken into several sections, with many opportunities for Q & A. The ideas presented were fascinating, with new ways of using collections to interest the public as a highlight. While a vast majority of the day had little to do with fashion history, or specifically offered examples of how fashion collections were being utilized for these endeavors, some fairly interesting ideas did surface that are easily translated for a fashion collection.

Here are some of the highlights and take-home ideas for museum professionals working with fashion and dress:

  • Create additional websites for specific audiences, segmenting is key. Example: the Children’s website for the Powerhouse is designed specifically for kids and has a popular section on downloadable craft projects (such as these four french paper dolls). This idea seemed easily transferable to a fashion collection for design students and younger kids as well. Another segment for the Powerhouse was D*Hub, a design magazine specifically geared towards those in the design industry.

  • Join with social media sites that already have an established and committed following. For the Powerhouse, one of their key collaborative efforts was to get involved with The Commons on Flickr. This specifically invited flickr members to comment on digitized historical photos within their collections. The Commons in and of itself is a wonderful resource for Fashion Historians and researchers. (Check out this example photo from George Eastman House collection of an undidentified bride) One of the great things about this initiative is that it allows the public to be involved in the collection, and to provide information that the curators may not have readily at their disposal in an easy way via comments on photographs.


  • Use your collections in a way that allows the most ACCESS to online and physical visitors. In effect, making the collection act as a brand for your museum. For the Powerhouse this meant digitizing as much as possible, even in the photographs weren’t great or information on the objects was incomplete. It can encourage a dialog between patrons and curatorial that is valuable to both. Two great examples provided by Chan were fashion related. The first was an electronic swatchbook that includes 1500+ downloadable (high resolution) images from between 1837-1923. Searchable by color or date (and browseable), this really is an amazing resource for designers and students alike. The second example was a dress in the collection by Austrialian designer Jenny Bannister, who was having a revival of interest around the time the collection was first online. The image they had of the dress was pretty bad, and the dress was in equally bad condition, but because of the online interest(thanks in large part to a myriad of tracking programs) curatorial and conservation were able to react to that interest and help the dress out.
Before community involvement

Before community involvement

After community involvement

After community involvement

  • Utlize ‘New Technology’ in the gallery as much as possible. Many Museums have difficulty getting new technology actually into the gallery for a myriad of reasons, and the Powerhouse offered a really unique way of getting around some of those problems. Knowing that people always have cameras and phones in the gallery, the Powerhouse created URLs for label text (unique digital stamps) that when photographed with a camera-phone would link them directly to the detailed record for the object available online. Even though curators had a limited amount of space for label text (i.e. 20 words) this unique solution helped curators provide more information to those who wanted it in an easy, cost-effective way.


I could go on and on about how great and informative this workshop was, but I’d run out of space here (t was, after all 6 full hours packed with information) . I encourage you to explore all of the Powerhouse Museum’s website for ideas on how to utilize your fashion collection for your online community. Though not discussed in the workshop specifically, while I was exploring their website I came across their specialist resource Australian Dress Register. It aims to “assist museums and private collectors to recognise and research their dress collections and support better care and management.”

Here are a few other resources and metrix mentioned in the workshop: (for most of these, just type in your url and get details about your visitors) For details on how the Powerhouse uses these, check out Chan’s blog.

Website visitor tracking tools

Google Analytics

ROI Revolution report enhancer





For Social Media



Other Useful Tools


Yahoo placemaker


BBC Social Media Guidelines

Some other key phrases, philosophies and ideas that came out of the conference were: Whakapapa, Digital repatriation, and Mood data. An additional review of the conference is available from the West Muse Blog. If you also attended the conference and think I missed something important for fashion focused museum professionals, please feel free to add your comments below!

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  • Tove Hermanson September 02, 2009 08.21 am

    This was an awesome summary! Until recently, I worked for a museum and it was a constant frustration that we knew we needed to utilize more / better technology, both to connect departments within our organization (we were on the large side), and with our constituents. There are some great ideas here; the Flickr group is brilliant.

  • Heather Vaughan September 02, 2009 11.11 am

    Thanks Tove!

    I should have explained that the #sfmetrix tag in the title was something that the organizers gave to all of us so that we could Tweet about the conference during the day and connect with other attendees online and afterwards. Following that line of thinking, I included the tag in the title of the review.

  • Susan September 02, 2009 11.15 am

    This is a terrific collection of the great web resources and thinking Seb offered during that information packed day. Thanks for taking the effort to detail all of those links for us! Many museums are now taking the strategy of going to where the visitors are online: Powerhouse jumped in early and has been very wise to use the strategy to show off the collections.

    As a daughter of an intense fabriholic (as my mom calls herself) the interface for the fabric swatch collection made me almost swoon. What great fun, and so detailed. It is smart, smart design of the site.

  • Worn Through » Museums & Tech: The Australian Dress Register
    February 24, 2010 - 5:02 am

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