originally published in Online
Currents October 2003 and reprinted with kind permission of the
publishers Enterprise Information Management Pty Ltd.
The story of Arts Hub Australia - ‘the online
home for Australian arts and cultural workers’ – provides valuable lessons
on attitudes, skills and tools for success in the information game and it
prompts questions about the management of Australian information resources.
Origins & development
Arts Hub is the brainchild of David Eedle and
his partner, Fiona Boyd. Eedle,
in an earlier life, trod the paths of stagehand, theatre technician, lighting
designer and regional arts centre manager.
Boyd, with qualifications in media and education, worked in radio
broadcasting. They formed
Dramatic Improvements in 1996 as a consultancy business specialising in
cultural venue management, research and information technology.
In April 2000, they started publishing free job
information on Dramatic Improvements’ website, then began distributing an
email version and a news feed to a small number of people.
The demand for the email service persuaded them, in October of that
year, to launch DramaticOnline as a commercial venture.
In a jiff, information distribution had more or less replaced the
Two and a half years later, in March 2003, they
relaunched DramaticOnline as Arts Hub Australia to more accurately convey the
scope of the content. The
establishment of Screen Hub, developed with Paxinos and Associates, and of
Arts Hub UK, in partnership with Euclid International, is a
reflection of their energy and the growth of the business.
Products & services
The Arts Hub Australia
website has five subject sections covering the performing arts, museums,
galleries, writing, publishing, festivals, film, radio, TV and multimedia.
Each section has links to feature articles, daily local and
international news feeds, employment opportunities and events.
A separate jobs section facilitates job advertisements, CV lodgements
and job searching.
The personalised news
bulletins are distributed to subscribers three times a week.
A typical feed
includes about 12 items written by staff
reporters and between 20 and 30 items from other sources.
Reviews of performances and exhibitions are not included, unless
there is an angle of interest. Featured
articles in recent months have included Lindy Hume's diary on the Perth
International Arts Festival, Circus Oz, the Queensland Biennial Festival of
Music, the Nelson Review of Higher Education and the closure of Ballarat
University's theatre production course.
The job bulletins,
distributed once a week, typically list about 75 positions
and opportunities. Anyone can lodge a job advertisement free of charge.
The site also has links to other international specialist job agencies.
are available for $66 a year, life memberships for $500.
Institutional subscriptions range from $528 to $5280 (10-100 people).
Library licences, with unlimited access for students at tertiary
institutions, are also available
The website now attracts
13,500 web site visitors a week. The bulletins emanating from the three sites
have about 25,000 subscribers, including full time employees (about 55%), the
self-employed (18%) and casual or part time workers (15%).
About 63% work in small organisations with fewer than 10 employees.
Despite slow growth in the UK, David Eedle has his eyes on an
international subscriber base of 250,000 – only a small fraction of the arts
and culture workforce in Australia and the UK, but a target that will demand
further acumen and persistence.
Eedle summed up his
business approach at the 2002 Ozeculture conference in the following terms.
“It is not the content, stupid, it’s the customers.
Great online businesses know that content is a means to an end. Avoid the monolith. Create
multiple sites. Offer convenience
and familiarity. Don’t lie.
Touch a nerve. Be
realistic. Build relationships. Take criticism on the chin.
Embrace etiquette, security and privacy.
Push it out and bring it back. Make
it snappy. Make it personal and direct.
Be consistent and reliable. And
take the plunge”.
Eedle and Boyd had to back
their instincts when they took the plunge.
“We were told that no-one would be willing to subscribe to an arts
news and jobs service.” A
strong business plan, with financial targets, however, convinced them to
follow their noses.
They now employ eight
staff. A substantial amount of content comes from the members
themselves, most of it in the form of snippets, some of it in the form of
of our members”, Eedle says, “ was recently commissioned by the Australian
Financial Review to produce a long piece, off the back of something
they saw by him on Arts Hub. It's
also a nice feeling that exposure on Arts Hub is leading to other writing
commissions.” The ICT
consultant and ex-chairman of the Australia Council, Dr Terry Cutler,
appointed Chairman in February 2003, contributes a regular column, as does Senator Kate Lundy.
A content management system
was developed in-house because, at the time Arts Hub was launched in 2000,
off-the-shelf systems were out of their league.
The main components are databases for news, jobs and events. Each record (there are currently around 27,000 in the news
database) includes an article or piece of information, date of entry, name of
the author, name of the person who approved it for publication, and subject
categories. The administration
module consists of a set of web pages which staff use to add new content, edit
existing content, search and interrogate the databases, and distribute the
Arts Hub is of value to those arts workers who
are looking for a change in their employment circumstances and those who rely
on Australia-wide news as a factor in their decision-making.
If you derive income from the arts and cultural
industries and subscribe, like I do, to the Sydney Morning Herald and
the Weekend Australian, you will find Arts Hub, a useful complementary
service at a reasonable price for interstate opportunities, stories, and
features - and comment not included in the mainstream media.
If you work in an organisation that relies on
external news for ideas and information, the service may be a more cost
effective choice over other media/press clipping and online services.
Arts Hub currently has no real competitors: it
seems to have found the right niche during a period when the dot-com
pretenders infected perceptions about information services.
In an evolving marketplace, the risk of future disintermediation seems
low because many arts companies are too cash-strapped to afford more expensive
services and it is pitched predominantly to the individual worker anyway.
It wasn’t the first local entrant into the
marketplace. Artslink, a web
enterprise linked to Performance Media, publisher of the Australian
Performing Arts Directory, was up and running at the time with funding
from the Australia Council, but the instigators failed to interpret and
develop prospects with the same flair – thus disproving the marketing dictum
of Al Ries and Jack Trout that ‘it’s better to be first than it is to be
better’, while proving their other dictum ‘it’s better to be first in
the mind than to be first in the marketplace’.
Other local publishers and specialised sites
that complement the Arts Hub alert service include State of the Arts
(print, e-zine and site on arts events and people) and Fuel4arts
(website and bulletin on arts management and marketing).
From the United States, Douglas McLennan
produces ArtsJournal Newsletter, consisting mainly of news feeds from
American newspapers. McLennan offers a premium version at US$28 a year and
free daily or weekly versions with just the headlines and links to originating
sources. The Center for Arts and
Culture, with funding and sponsorship from US philanthropic organisations,
recently launched Cultural Commons, a site and service that aims to
engage the cultural community in issues affecting cultural policy.
This provides US-oriented free daily news feeds, a weekly digest,
announcements about conferences and other events, opinion pieces, a directory
of cultural organisations, job announcements and other features. The Art Museum Network, in partnership with Reuters, has
created a fine arts news service to distribute press releases emanating from
galleries and museums. The Art Newspaper, produced in the United
Kingdom with a number of syndication partners, is devoted to the international
visual arts sector and is available for ₤79, with a free weekly
Business, research and scholarly needs relating
to the arts in Australia are also served by Informit databases like Australian
Public Affairs Information Service, Australian Public Affairs Full Text,
and Arts and Entertainment Management Database (which ceased production
in 2000, but is still available). Specialised
databases on the visual arts include AustArt Index (an index to
articles on Australian art, produced by and available from the College of Fine
Arts Library, University of NSW), Artex (an index of Australian art
exhibition catalogues produced by the National Gallery of Australia Research
Library) and Natsivad (a database on indigenous artists, produced by
the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies).
Artex and Natsivad are available through Art Right Now2
The subject gateways MusicAustralia, AusStage,
AustLit and Australia Dancing are academic and library efforts to
create pathways to information sources, usually without accompanying push/pull
features (AustLit offers a newsletter and personal alert service to
subscribers). AusStage, a national performing arts gateway, is
developing a major database of theatre, dance and opera events in Australia.
The Australian Visual Arts and Craft Gateway
is developed by National Association for the Visual Arts to provide
information on artists and visual arts practice.
International specialist databases, sometimes
with local content and sometimes with full text access, include Arts and
Humanities Citation Index, International Index to the Performing Arts, Music
Index Online, International Index to Music Periodicals, NYPL Dictionary
Catalog of the Dance, Film Index International, International Index to
Film Periodicals and Art Full Text.
General media monitoring services include AAP,
LexisNexis, Factiva, Media Monitors and Rehame.
AAP’s packages include e-mail alerts, digitised clippings, news feeds
marked in XML for processing in client content streams, and the ability to tap
into the expertise of journalists and subject experts.
Factiva has just launched a new subscription package to individuals and
small businesses: for $US69 and other modest usage charges, individual
subscribers can now gain access its search and news tracking areas. To control
New South Wales Government expenditure on press clipping, media reporting,
archiving and search services, the NSW Premier’s Department awarded a
sector-wide contract for broadcast monitoring to Rehame in December 2002, but
deferred issuing a sector wide contract for print monitoring services because
the proposed price structure did not provide sufficient value for money and it
“expected imminent entry of new suppliers, expanded services by current
suppliers and likely changes arising from continued competition”.(3)
Arts Hub’s aggregated information resides in
a database that cannot be picked up by Google and other search engines.
In searching for external information on specific topics, organisations
will therefore depend on their ability to locate ‘invisible Web’ sources
like Arts Hub, advances in search engine technology, access to complementary
databases and developments in media services.
Elizabeth Swan, in an article on Australian
newspaper databases in 1997, tabulated the online coverage of 12 Australian
newspapers available at the time. This
showed that full text online availability effectively began around 1990.
Software to facilitate access, she concluded, was more suitable for
surfing than searching (3). “There has been a huge change since then,”
she says. “All News Limited
publications are now available, even suburban and regional papers – either
directly (using a fairly crude Newstext search engine) or via more robust
services like Factiva. Most
Fairfax publications are also now available.
In the near future, Australian Consolidated Press data will be
available on Factiva.” Increased
availability of online indexes or full text digitised versions of historical
files held by newspaper proprietors has not yet materialised – apart from
the Port Phillip Herald 1840-1860 on Newstext.
Despite general advances in Internet search engine, comparing Factiva,
LexisNexis and Dialog search capabilities with F2 and Newstext is, according
to Swan, “still like comparing a real fire engine with a child’s pedal
If anything looms as a long-term threat to
services like Arts Hub, it is the development of intelligent agent and
personal knowledge management (PKM) tools.
These tools and services have been touched on recently by Glenda
Browne, Steve Barth and Andrew Ford (4).
Google has just launched a free news alert service to complement its
Web alert service. Arts Hub is
likely to meet this threat for some time to come, I would say, by continuing
to provide value added features at a reasonable price.
The information needs of arts and cultural
workers are different to those of workers in many other disciplines and
industries, differences that are emphasised in particular art forms, types of
activity and employment situations. According to several reports and articles
that have been produced in recent years, the needs of arts and humanities in
the scholarly arena are characterised by the diversity of research materials
required (eg, scores, images, objects), the continued importance of physical
access to research materials, and the high requirement for mediated
information and library services (2). The
arts industry has a thirst for historical information.
It recycles products created centuries ago. It has a very high proportion of lowly paid or unpaid
For arts organisations and individuals, getting
the right combination of information alert services and search capability will
depend on the size of the organisation, the size of their coffers, the demands
of the art form and level of information literacy.
The transformation of Eedle and Boyd from consultants to information
publishers and distributors is indicative of the morphing of the information
profession. Many enter the
industry doors via avenues remote from library and information science
courses. Many are phantom
information professionals working principally in other roles, driven by
interests in writing and information technology.
The library profession, overly obsessed with differences between
content and technology, appears to be still wrestling with the implications of
The practice of syndication by commercial players, government agencies
and individuals has led to the creation of the XML formats RSS (sometimes
called Really Simple Syndication), NewsML, XMLNews, NITF (News Industry Text
Format), PRISM (Publishing Requirements for Industry Standard Metadata) and
ICE (Information and Content Exchange specification). These use conventions for distributing chunks of information
or articles to several enterprises for simultaneous or later publication and
employ tagging components like protocols, envelopes, headers, identifiers,
milestones, channels, provenance, rights, alternative presentations, metadata,
revision tracking, subject matter and links.
The New Zealand Government recently released an RSS standard for the
publication of government news summaries.
James Robertson, author of the KM column, says that
interoperability continues to be limited by the lack of standards.
“Progress has been slow in this area, and it is expected that several
more years of practical experience will be required before the best solution
becomes apparent.” Paul Festa
supports this scenario in his recent article on the turf wars between the
major developers (3).
The Arts Hub website is not included as an online publication in the
National Library of Australia’s archive of online publications, PANDORA,
which is highly selective in its approach and excludes some types of blogs,
datasets, individual articles and papers, news sites, online daily newspapers
for which print versions exist, organisational records, and portals among
other types of sites. The PANDORA
selection policy is currently under review, but the limitations of today’s
technology and availability of funding will place constraints on major changes
to the scope.
online and digital information is
beyond the means of any one organisation and can only be dealt with on a
national scale by thorough planning, notions of significance and value, the
use of more sophisticated technology and new forms of collaboration.
Australia is still searching for a
comprehensive national blueprint.
management and long term preservation of online and electronic information
emanating from Australian government bodies is, in theory, controlled by new
legislation and guidelines on recordkeeping. These regimes are in their
infancy and have been only partially successful.
At least one state government is exploring knowledge management to
streamline talking, information
handling and thinking.
management of digital information emanating from the less regulated private
sector is more problematic. The
fate of this content is subject to the vicissitudes of the originating source
and is partly dependent on the concerted efforts of Australian archive, museum
and library bodies - either to engineer control over relevant material or
influence the practice of others.
Most countries are still grappling with the
notion of national information plans. Muir and Opennheim provide a useful
introduction to the territory in their Report on Developments Worldwide on
National Information Policy.
de facto national information plan, Advancing Australia, is driven more
by the notion of ICT take-up than efficient and effective management of the
nation’s information resources. It
promotes the need for stronger collaboration, but, apart from consideration of
the role of national cultural institutions, it contains no coherent
consideration of how libraries, archives and museums fit into the information
The National Library of Australia touches on
some issues in its Digitisation policy 2000-2004 and Electronic
Information Resources Strategy and Action Plan 2002-2004. The Library of
Congress’s Preserving Our Digital Heritage: Plan for the National Digital
Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, endorsed by the US
congress in February 2003, will be a touchstone for further iterations of the
local plans. Although it focuses on long-term preservation rather than broader
issues, it is based on intensive consultation, acknowledges a potential black
hole in sources emanating from the private sector, identifies the need for
more clarity on responsibilities and life cycle management of digital content,
promotes stronger engagement of sectors outside libraries, archives and
museums, and invests substantial funds to build core capacities and a
preservation architecture. (5)
Even though the digital realm, as the US plan
notes, is likely to be one of change and uncertainty for the foreseeable
future and there is a danger in trying to find a single ‘right answer’,
let’s hope reports from the Australian Senate Inquiry into the Role of
Libraries in the Online Environment and National Collections Advisory Forum,
both anticipated in the near future, will point us in directions that will
take advantage of enterprises like Arts Hub Australia.
Paul Bentley is Director of Paul Bentley
& Associates email@example.com,
Director of the Wolanski Foundation http://www.twf.org.au,
Chair of the Arts Libraries Society / Australia and New Zealand http://anulib.anu.edu.au/clusters/ita/arlis_anz/
Hub Australia http://www.artshub.com.au
Hub UK http://www.artshub.co.uk
Museum Network http://www.artmuseumnetwork.org
Art Newspaper http://www.theartnewspaper.com
Right Now 2 Discovery Media http://www.discoverymedia.com.au
News Alerts http://www.google.com/newsalerts
of the Arts http://www.stateart.com.au/
Arts Net http://www.visualarts.net.au
Australia information was
drawn from its website, member newsletters, David Eedle’s The Currency of
Content (Arts Hub Australia, 20 February 2003) and email interviews with
Arts and Humanities users. Reports and articles
include Scholarly Work in the Humanities and the Evolving
Information Environment by William S. Brockman and others (Council of
Library and Information Resources, http://www.clir.org/)
and End-Users in Academia: Meeting the Information Needs of University
Researchers in an Electronic Age, parts 1-2 by Eti Herman (Aslib
Proceedings Vol 53, no 9 Oct 2001;
387-401 and Vol 53, no 10, Nov/Dec 2001:431-457). See other citations on the
Wolanski Foundation website http://www.twf.org.au/management/customers
Newspapers and Syndication. XML in News Syndication by
Edd Dumbill (XML.Com 17 July 2000); A Standard for the Publication of
Government News Summaries Version 1.0 Final 7 July 2003 (New Zealand
E-Government website http://www.egovernment.govt.nz/docs/rss-v-1-0-final);
XML and Content Management Systems by James Robertson (KM
Column July 2003, Step Two Design http://www.steptwo.com.au);
Blogging by Biz Stone (Boston: New Riders, 2003); Battle of the Blog
by Paul Festa (CNET News 4 August 2003, http://www.newscom/2102-1032_3-5059006);
Australian Newspaper Databases: Are They for Surfers or Searchers? by
Elizabeth Swan (Database August/September 1997: 19-26); and NSW Premier’s
Department circulars on media monitoring services (http://www.premiers.nsw.gov.au).
Intelligence, push and pull. Push Technology /
Alerting Services by Glenda Browne, (Online Currents May 2003); Personal
Tools: a Framework for Personal Knowledge Management Tools by Steve Barth
(KM World January 2003); Using Intelligence: Overview of Intelligence
Systems that Analyse and Extract Ideas – presentation by Andrew
Ford in Turning the Light Bulbs On Seminar (Paul Bentley and Associates,
Strategy. National Library of Australia Digitisation
policy 2000-2004, Electronic Information Resources Strategy and Action
Plan 2002-2004 http://www.nla.gov.au
and e-mail on PANDORA from Paul Koerbin (National Library of
Australia 7 August 2003); e-Performance:
Electronic Recordkeeping in Australia: A Work in Progress Report Card
by Adrian Cunningham (IIM Conference, Brisbane, July, 2002), Report
on Developments Worldwide on National Information Policy by Adrienne Muir
and Charles Opennheim (Chartered Institute for Library and Information
Advancing Australia: The Information Economy Progress Report 2002 (National
Office of the Information Economy, http://www.noie.gov.au);
Preserving Our Digital Heritage: Plan for the National Digital Information
Infrastructure and Preservation Program (Library of Congress, 2002 http://www.digitalpreservation.gov);
KM in the NSW Public Sector by Kris Corcoran (presentation NSW KM Forum
7 August 2003).