For many heritage groups, the past year was spent getting their bearings in a world that became highly interactive seemingly overnight. For NCPTT, it has been a time to develop and refine its online content to deliver useful, engaging information on preservation technology that can be accessed anywhere.
NCPTT’s adoption of the WordPress platform for its website last year marked a turning point in the organization’s ability to deliver information quickly and directly to its audiences. In a world where content is king, NCPTT is making its mark among both heritage and government organizations that use the web to communicate.
In December, the influential magazine “Government Video” named NCPTT its Website of the Week, citing the National Center’s use of “photos, videos, podcasts and every other modern method to demonstrate [its research].” Additionally, tech blog Honeytech named NCPTT number four on its list of “Top 10 Government Sites Powered by WordPress.” Honeytech ranked government websites from around the world for their outstanding use of WordPress, which is the web’s most popular content management system (CMS).
Additionally, the WordPress organization chose NCPTT as one of eight U.S. government sites featured in its Showcase for outstanding implementation of the CMS.
Developing a Community
Even while NCPTT’s efforts are recognized by the web and design community, its core audience in the heritage field is growing steadily. Online fans of NCPTT visit more frequently and consume more content now than any other time in the organization’s history.
NCPTT web metrics from March 15, 2009, to March 15, 2010 indicate the website served 6,048,298 page views with over 998,919 visits. Of these visits, 145,960 were unique visitors.
The number of visitors steadily rose from about 1,000 per day at the beginning of NCPTT’s WordPress launch to over 3,000 per day. Visitors viewed an average of six pages per visit and returned an average of seven times each.
The NCPTT website design continues to improve with a focus on simplicity, compatibility, and syndication. Its RSS syndication continues to be a very popular method of accessing NCPTT content. A growing number of mobile users are accessing an optimized version of the site designed for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices.
NCPTT’s primary website is supported by its involvement in external social networks. The National Center has approximately 700 fans on FaceBook; 24,000 photos on Flickr; 1,100 followers on Twitter; and has 15 informational videos on YouTube that have been viewed just under 7,000 times.
The highlight of the National Center’s web content is the “Preservation Technology Podcast.” NCPTT posts new audio podcasts to its website on a monthly basis, along with a full transcript. These transcriptions provide better accessibility to the information, increase the National Center’s search engine rankings, and draw additional readers to the National Center’s website. Listeners can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. So far, listeners have downloaded episodes of the podcast nearly 20,000 times.
NCPTT is using online communication beyond just websites. In 2009, it began using an e-mail marketing service called Constant Contact that allows targeted mailing lists, easy-to-build newsletters, and campaigns for training initiatives. As a result, National Center ported its “NCPTT Notes” newsletter to an online format that reaches more than 3,500 people each month. NCPTT gains on average 10 new subscribers each week.
Though email and blog sites remain popular, the web is clearly trending toward video. NCPTT has long maintained video training and research products on both its website and on YouTube. Now, the National Center is investing in live webcasting as a critical tool to economically fulfill its mission and reach its audiences, regardless of where they may live.
NCPTT’s first webcast featured its annual Preservation in Your Community event. The event is held at the end of each summer to showcase the National Center’s research for the community where NCPTT is headquartered. The event’s non-technical approach made it the perfect opportunity to launch NCPTT into the world of webcasting. Viewers were able to watch the event on the UStream site as well as NCPTT’s own website.
The National Center delved deeper into streaming video with its Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit in October. Two days of presentations were streamed live. Additionally, many of the sessions were video recorded and are now viewable on the NCPTT website.
Sharing Social Media Expertise
NCPTT hasn’t been alone in navigating the social space. Recognizing the launch of the WordPress site as an opportunity to use social media more effectively, NCPTT began bringing in experts in social media for staff training. These experts have covered the basics of blogging, net etiquette and content privacy.
Last June, the dynamic Lorelle Van Fossen shared with NCPTT staff her expertise as author of one of the world’s most popular sites on the art of blogging and community building. In March 2010, Jonathan Bailey of the popular Plagiarism Today blog visited NCPTT to talk about web privacy and online content protection.
The National Center shared its own expertise over the past year as well. Several organizations contacted NCPTT’s Jeff Guin with their questions about communicating heritage online. Among these are Preservation Ohio, Past Horizons Heritage Media, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Association for Preservation Technology, British Library, Library of Congress and numerous other community, statewide and independent heritage organizations. Additionally, Guin has been interviewed for two dissertations (University of Colorado and University of London) currently being written about social media’s impact on the heritage realm.
Mobile is the way to grow
Interactive tech’s promise continues to grow with the recent explosion of smart phones and PDAs. The GPS and camera features of the iPhone, the 75 million install base of the iPhone OS, and the distribution model of Apple’s App Store have made this platform particularly attractive for historic preservation applications.
Building on work done over the course of the last two summers on electronic landscape records, NCPTT’s Sean Clifford has been developing an iPhone and iPod Touch application called Landscapes. This app works as a catalog and condition assessment system for trees, plants, markers, and other landscape features. The user can browse through previously recorded landscapes, add new ones, or examine a landscape via augmented reality and see features as a layover of the live camera feed, a feature only available on the iPhone.
A group of people with iPhones and iPod Touches can quickly inventory a landscape and synchronize data amongst themselves wirelessly. An iPad version of this application will allow a landscape architect, arborist, or other preservation professional the ability to manage the landscape on a tablet and examine data as it is streamed in live from personnel performing data collection. A custom WordPress plug-in will serve as a web-based storage and backup for this program.
NCPTT’s Sean Clifford is collaborating with David W. Morgan, former NCPTT archeology chief and current director of the NPS Southeast Archeological Center, on the development of an iPhone application to provide a vulnerability assessment of endangered archaeological sites. This is based on work done with the Louisiana National Guard and will be expanded to provide a live system to track site assessments and visits. Similar to the Landscapes application, Vulnerability will use the iPad as a management tool and the iPhone or iPod Touch will be primarily a data collection tool.
The Landscapes app is slated for release the summer of 2010 and PTT Board members will have an opportunity to interact with these applications. Vulnerability is slated for release in the first half of FY2011.