April 13-17, 2010
Denver, Colorado, USA

ArtBabble: A Year's Worth of Lessons Learned and Thoughts about Collaborative Content Platforms

Robert Stein and Daniel Incandela, Indianapolis Museum of Art; Jonathan Munar and Wesley Miller, Art21; Allegra Burnette and David Hart, The Museum of Modern Art; and Nancy Proctor, Smithsonian American Art Museum, USA

Abstract is a multi-institution collaborative portal for video about art. Launched in the spring of 2009, ArtBabble has explored ways in which niche content portals might impact the efforts of cultural organizations on-line. During the first 9 months of its launch, ArtBabble has been successful in growing an on-line audience of viewers, adding significantly to the number of partners collaborating in contributing content to the site, establishing an on-line brand, and in general understanding what it takes to run a large collaborative content platform. This paper reviews the successes and failures encountered during the first year of ArtBabble in order to offer suggestions or examples for other domains wishing to explore similar content collaborations.

Keywords: art, video, collaboration, ArtBabble, social media, metrics


On April 7, 2009, the Indianapolis Museum of Art and six partners launched a collaborative video portal called ArtBabble. Since that time, ArtBabble has continued to grow and add more new partners to the mix. Today - with 22 partner organizations and hundreds of high-quality videos – ArtBabble has established itself as one of the premier destinations for art video content on-line.

In this paper, we examine the first year of ArtBabble’s existence and critique the successes and failures encountered along the way. We provide recommendations and examples for other museums to use when trying to bootstrap large-scale collaborative content efforts. An hypothesis that niche content portals offer better findability and cross-pollination for art content is examined, and comparisons made using traffic patterns and analytical data derived from ArtBabble and other content distribution channels.

A Brief History of ArtBabble

Years before the launch of ArtBabble, staff at the IMA had discussed new ways of video content presentation which would be separate from the IMA's presence on YouTube and iTunes U. Originally, this site was envisioned as ‘IMA-TV’, and would help promote IMA’s high definition video content. As plans for this site evolved, we discussed the benefits that a collaborative video platform might afford: a site that could showcase some of the best art video content from around the world. Moving forward, the IMA team shifted focus to build a video-specific site that could serve as one of the premier on-line destinations for art content. Although still without a name – ArtBabble was born.

The internal development of ArtBabble was a major collaboration that allowed the New Media and Software Development teams of the IMA to work together in a brand new way. While both teams had been successful on previous projects, the two areas had never been required to work together so closely nor depend on each other so much. ArtBabble represented and synthesized all aspects of our previous projects into one major initiative. The second half of 2008 was devoted to developing, testing and implementing the software platform supporting this new site. In late 2008, the IMA began adding video content to ArtBabble, leading up to January 24, 2009, when ArtBabble released a private beta version of the site by invitation-only. At this point, ArtBabble featured only Indianapolis Museum of Art content.

The ArtBabble team used this limited release to make progress in several areas. For one, the team needed time to monitor and test all aspects of ArtBabble and discover what it would take to manage a video site of this sort. The beta period allowed the team to monitor traffic, fix issues and conduct stress testing. Keeping the site by invitation only allowed us to control site traffic and begin building an interested audience that could provide feedback during the beta phase -and also help generate some buzz. Each ArtBabble user was allotted five invites that they could e-mail to friends and colleagues. This period also provided the team with a fairly polished product to begin sharing with potential partners and contributors to ArtBabble.

Understanding that the success of any collaborative effort depends almost entirely on the quality of the partnership, the IMA went about identifying and cementing partnerships with several well-respected and talented collaborators that would prove instrumental to the initial success of ArtBabble. During the first few months of 2009, the team from the IMA worked closely with colleagues at other art museums and organizations to establish a core group of partners that could represent and contribute to the official launch of the site. On April 7, 2009, the ArtBabble Web site opened up to the world with seven partners – Art:21, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York Public Library, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the IMA

ArtBabble has been a unique experience for everyone involved. While staff from the IMA carry the administrative load for making sure the site stays healthy on a daily basis, each ArtBabble partner institution is responsible for managing its own presence on the site and determining how it will use the available tools. Partners continue to work together and strive to better understand the ways in which we might leverage or benefit from each other's efforts.

ArtBabble is committed to being the premier on-line destination for video art content. Part of this mission involves sustained growth in the number of videos, number of partners and, in general, quality of art content. As these areas grow, we anticipate that site traffic will increase, and that ArtBabble will become a more important on-line resource. Site growth will present new opportunities for the creation of educational, curriculum-focused activities, collaboration amongst partners in content production, streaming of live events, and the potential for premiering new content exclusively on ArtBabble. Most important, ArtBabble will continue to seek input from partners and its audience and will need to be agile to respond well to those suggestions.

ArtBabble's Features and Approach

The ArtBabble platform takes a number of unique approaches which are aimed at increasing the findability of museum video content while maintaining an enjoyable and friendly user experience. Perhaps the most obvious feature that distinguishes ArtBabble from other on-line video channels is the presence of "Notes," small pieces of enhanced Web content that are embedded into the timeline of the video. When users encounter a note while watching an ArtBabble video, they are presented with enhanced content related to the video at that point. Notes can be used to provide additional jumping off points for users to explore their interests, links to other videos, or references back into museum collections or Web sites. Notes also provide a way for content producers to add extended descriptive content which can be indexed by Search Engines, thus increasing the number of potential keywords which may be returned through search.

Figure 1

Fig 1: ArtBabble's User-Interface and Notes Feature

In addition to typical methods of Search Engine Optimization, ArtBabble allows for the inclusion of a full text transcription of the spoken content from the video on to the video page. These transcripts are used to drive closed captioning within the video player, but also to add additional content to the video page to be indexed by search engines. Because ArtBabble's video platform allows for quick indexing to points in the video, each line in the text transcript is linked back directly to the point in the video where that line was spoken. For long-format videos, this feature allows users to index directly to the content that might interest them even if it's buried deep into an hour-long lecture.

As a site dedicated to video about art, the visual quality and presentation of video is extremely important to the creation of ArtBabble. At the time, our experience with existing on-line video platforms resulted in visual quality that was below our desired expectations. ArtBabble provides a cost-effective solution by which museums can reliably deliver High Definition quality video in a full screen setting. To be fair, many Web video services now offer reliable HD streaming of video as well, but frequently this is supported by advertising on the site in ways that might not be desirable. To match the experience expected by users of on-line video sites, the ArtBabble video platform provides a number of resolutions of streaming video as well as embeddable players and sharing tools.

Collaborative Governance and Administration

Certainly one of the most intimidating parts of launching a large collaborative partnership like ArtBabble was the creation of governance methods, appropriate legal contracts, and a financial model which could sustain the effort long enough to garner success. To date, ArtBabble has been successful in these three areas in part due to a lot of detailed work, but also to an equitable approach which seeks to benefit partner organizations as much as the creators.

Cultural organizations are very conscientious about their rights and responsibilities with respect to copyright law and the licensing of content. At the same time, most museum staff members are cautious and a bit uncertain about the needs and extents of copyright protection required for on-line content. This is in part due to the developing nature of on-line copyright law, but also to a lack of professional experience in that area. To develop an appropriate set of legal documents for a collaborative site like ArtBabble, the Indianapolis Museum of Art worked closely with attorneys having specific expertise in on-line copyright law and licensing.

In particular, the IMA prepared documents governing the contractual relationship between ArtBabble and Content Partners in an ArtBabble Partnership Contract, a Terms of Service document which applies to users of the ArtBabble Web site, and a Privacy Statement which governs the ways in which ArtBabble can use any information about users derived from their participation and interaction with the ArtBabble Web site. Basing our requirements on similar documents governing our own relationships with YouTube and iTunesU provided a useful point of departure.

Each Content Partner in the ArtBabble Web site is required to agree to and sign a Partnership Agreement prior to publishing any videos on the site. A draft agreement which contains the most commonly requested changes has been prepared. This document serves as a starting point for negotiations with new partners. Invariably, each partner has specific requests or requirements for their individual needs or policies. Many of these can be accepted; a few cannot. In either case, consulting legal counsel for help to determine which are acceptable is invaluable. The salient features of each document are described below, and can possibly serve as a starting point for other organization to develop documents of a similar nature.

ArtBabble Content Provider Agreement

This contract describes the nature of the partnership between organizations who will publish video on ArtBabble and the IMA who will host that content. A draft version of this document is circulated to each prospective ArtBabble partner. A signed copy of this contract is required prior to the publication of any third-party content on the ArtBabble Web site.

Definitions - detailed descriptions and terminology of names and vocabulary particular to this agreement (i.e. ArtBabble, Content, Confidential Information, Term).

Licensing Terms - The document gives ArtBabble the right to host content which is wholly owned by the Partner. It restricts ArtBabble from modifying partner content in any way and requires written permission from partners if the presentation of that content changes significantly. This section also solidifies the IMA's legal ownership of the ArtBabble Web site, and allows ArtBabble to disable or remove any content from the site which might violate any laws or constitute a privacy concern.

Warranties and Disclaimers - This section states that the Content Partner is responsible for the content that they upload to the ArtBabble Web site and indemnifies both ArtBabble and the Content Partner from liabilities incurred by the other with respect to their own content. The goal of this section is to ensure the appropriate protection of each party from the actions of the other.

Term and Termination - The section on term and termination clarifies how the contract may be cancelled, and what kinds of notifications would be required to do so. In general, the goal with this section was to allow either party to cancel the contract without penalty given a reasonable notice (i.e. 30-60 days).

ArtBabble Terms of Service: These terms govern what kinds of use by visitors to the ArtBabble Web site is acceptable and allowed. The Terms of Service are posted in the footer of the ArtBabble Web site, and every registered user of the Web site is required to accept the terms prior to their account being approved. Acceptance of the Terms by anonymous users is implied by its presence on the site, a practice endorsed and recommended by our attorney.

License to use Content - Because the content on the site comes from many different sources, users are required to abide by content licensing disclosed with every video. The default content license for the ArtBabble Web site is a Creative Commons license. However, individual partners may choose to override this license with specific license terms on a per video basis. In this case, the Terms of Service require users to abide by these restrictions.

Prohibited Conduct - This is a list of all the things users are not allowed to do on the site.

Disclaimers and Liability - The user agrees to indemnify the ArtBabble Web site from any liability or damage encountered during their use of the ArtBabble Web site.

Copyright Infringement Notification - In this section users agree to notify the ArtBabble Web site regarding any potential violations of copyright contained on the ArtBabble Web site.

ArtBabble Privacy Policy: This is a readable and user friendly policy describing how the ArtBabble Web site collects and maintains information about its users.

Information Collected - Describes how the Web site collects information when a user registers for an account and also collects anonymous information via Web tracking software (i.e. Google Analytics)

How that Information is Shared - The ArtBabble Web site only shares the collected information with other non-profit or charitable organizations (i.e. partners), to comply with law enforcement requests, or to communicate back with the users.

Policy Regarding Children - The ArtBabble Web site adheres to the Children's On-line Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (

Hopefully these recommendations will provide a starting point for other organizations to talk to a qualified legal professional of their choosing. Having some idea of the scope and requirements inherent in these documents will help make the process of developing new versions smooth and more cost effective. Collecting and studying similar documents from other on-line Web services is also a useful way of assembling your own lists of needs.


In launching a collaborative Web site like ArtBabble, developing a model of governance which can help guide and dictate how the site grows and evolves over time is an important step. Putting too much control in the hands of the IMA would set the museum up to make a series of challenging decisions regarding site participation and future direction. These decisions could have negative impacts on the future of the collaboration as well as for the public image and perception of the museum. On the other hand, ceding too much control to a large group of partners would quickly get unwieldy and the site could soon lack the consistency of experience that makes ArtBabble unique. Finding a middle ground based on trust in the professionalism of our collaborators and a commitment to do right by the users of the site was an important step in the development of ArtBabble.

Today, ArtBabble is governed by a small set of partners. This group is called the ArtBabble Advisory Team, and while the IMA is responsible for the day-to-day administration and maintenance of the ArtBabble Web site, the Advisory Team is tasked with the long-term steering and direction of the site. Today, the ArtBabble Advisory Team includes members from the following organizations: Art:21, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York Public Library, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Specifically, the ArtBabble Advisory Team is responsible for how the site grows over time and which partners are invited to participate. ArtBabble receives applications from prospective partners via an on-line form, and from time-to-time the ArtBabble Advisory Team reviews the types of video created by those applicants along with their intentions for partnership with ArtBabble. If a majority of the Advisory Team members support the addition of a potential partner, then the IMA officially extends that offer and proceeds to work with the new partner on preparing for a launch of their content on ArtBabble.

In addition to the expansion of new partners, the Advisory Team also plays an important role in helping decide important or strategic issues. For example, the Advisory Team held a series of discussions regarding the inclusion of for-profit partners to the site. Issues addressed included the ways in which these partners might change the type and quality of content on the site, the legal or tax ramifications that might be at play, and also how we might maintain appropriate content standards. It was finally determined that ArtBabble would allow for-profit organizations to become partners of the site, providing that their content steers clear of specifically advertising any products or services. Because there is no cost associated with participation as an ArtBabble partner, it was deemed that there would be no tax or legal liability that was not already covered by our existing partnership agreements.

The Advisory Team is currently discussing whether or not to lift a requirement for the publication of Notes with every video on the Web site prior to releasing it on-line. The Notes requirement is one feature that sets ArtBabble apart from other on-line video repositories, but frequently results in a delay in the publication of video to the ArtBabble Web site, especially when compared to the ease of publishing on other on-line venues. There is some feeling among several on the team that dropping the requirement might allow a much larger volume of video to become available more readily on the ArtBabble Web site, leading to increased participation and value to the community. The final resolution to this issue has yet to be decided at the time of this writing.


Early on, the IMA made a decision that in order to facilitate the partnership with as many partners as possible, there would be no cost for participation in ArtBabble other than the time spent by a partner managing their own content. Steps were taken during the software design and implementation phases to ensure that the video platform could achieve the stated goals above while doing so at a reduced cost.

The team chose to use cloud computing tools and infrastructure from Amazon's Web Services in order to leverage the scalable storage and processing requirements anticipated with running a streaming video Web site. The resulting tools have proven to be extremely cost effective as documented previously in the literature (Moad & Stein, 2009). More details about the costs involved in running the ArtBabble site are made available in the presentation and on-line.

Collaborative Partnerships

In conceiving ArtBabble, we knew that if it was to be successful it had to focus on collaboration and partnership with some of the best producers of art content. Initially, staff at the IMA used established relationships with colleagues to form a group of partners that could provide support prior to and for the April 2009 launch. These partners were selected because of strong professional relationships, their organization’s quality of content, and the advice they could provide before, during and after the launch. We spent much of the early part of 2009 cultivating these partnerships.

After ArtBabble launched, we were flooded with requests from new museums and organizations to join the site. As described above, we formed the original launching partners into an Advisory Team to help steer ArtBabble on its next steps regarding the addition of new partners and how to assess the quality of their content – among other things. From that point on, we worked with the Advisory Team to review all of the partner applications (which can be found here: As new partners were approved, the IMA team continued to shepherd the process of launching their content on ArtBabble.

An intriguing side to the effort is the collaborative spirit of working with so many organizations. This includes access to engaging video content, but also opportunities to jointly promote ArtBabble through a variety of channels; such as e-mail campaigns, networks on Facebook, Twitter, and through more traditional means like press releases. The IMA team helps each partner by providing much useful information for newcomers to receive press attention and views for their own videos on ArtBabble. We want all of our partners to feel they are an integral part of ArtBabble.

The collaborative process behind ArtBabble has exceeded early expectations, but it’s far from perfect. IMA staff quickly learned that ArtBabble requires significant attention on a daily basis to properly maintain its operation and good relationships with the partners. For ArtBabble to meet its goal of becoming a premier destination for on-line art video, it needs to grow considerably. We are currently reviewing ways in which we can streamline areas of management so that the burden of supporting those needs does not overwhelm the staff support available.

A Partner’s Point of View


Art21 is always seeking to elevate the status of quality videos on art in our society, and ArtBabble was an opportunity we could not pass up. We were excited by the prospect of joining a community of mission-driven organizations experimenting in this format, as well as by the prospect of seeing this community grow to include for-profit partners and eventual contributions by ArtBabble users. As an organization with a 10-year track record of producing high quality documentary video, we also felt supporting a project such as ArtBabble would perhaps inspire additional organizations to produce more innovative content or join ArtBabble themselves, bettering the field of video-on-art overall and creating more opportunities for artists, scholars, and general audiences.

ArtBabble has been an immensely positive experience for Art21 for a number of reasons. As a primarily media-based, internationally focused organization, it has been fruitful for Art21 to collaborate with local museums and libraries in a professional context, linking our virtual activities and audiences with partners who have a more on-the-ground focus. The clever and successful public relations campaign for the launch brought much-needed energy and excitement to several of our own projects-in-progress. Post-launch, ArtBabble has continued to bring visibility and buzz to video-on-art as a meaningful form of arts content, enlivening both new and archival videos, and increasing interest in funding on-line video production.

The professional development aspects of this project – from talking with fellow partners to understanding some of the inner workings from the technical side – have helped us immensely in developing our own independent projects. The chance to see our content in a new frame/context has allowed us to re-think many of the assumptions we had when producing video for an on-line context. This frame/context includes not only the unique feature set of the tool – notes & the transcript/timecode feature being the most prominent – but also the upbeat branding for the site itself and the ability to navigate between videos produced by multiple partners.

Art21’s primary challenge, touched on earlier in the paper, is that we have a substantial number of videos available to publish on ArtBabble, but the notes requirement has been a barrier to releasing them all in a timely manner. While we’re advocates and avid adopters of all of the unique features that ArtBabble has to offer, we lack the resources to simply use all of the tools effectively. We sense that other producers are facing similar manpower issues (especially in this moment of economic belt-tightening), and that the site would perhaps reach a broader audience with a substantially larger footprint of video content. While the creation of notes was a time-consuming process, it did create opportunities to introduce related content that we may have otherwise not considered when publishing to other platforms.

Collaborative content platforms like ArtBabble create a great opportunity to communicate beyond the local audiences of each organization, to a larger national scale. Likewise, a collaborative environment allows each organization to communicate with the audiences of other organizations, creating opportunities for a new approach to storytelling. By sharing resources, new and unique voices can be established, utilizing the strengths of each collaborator. Art21’s presence on ArtBabble gained our organization attention from other organizations whose contacts might have otherwise been unfamiliar with our content.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

While MoMA has been making video content available on YouTube since 2006 and iTunes U since cultural institutions were added in 2007, being an initial partner in ArtBabble presented a unique opportunity. The IMA team was putting together a video channel created and managed by an arts institution, focused solely on the arts, which fostered collaboration among different institutions. Those factors set it apart for us from YouTube and iTunes U and intrigued us enough to show our support by participating in the first public launch. The IMA team had clearly thought through a lot of the issues and concerns prior to bringing the partners on, but had also left areas open for group discussion and consensus. For a collaborative project like this to work well, though, someone still ultimately has to be the organizer and herder, and it helps to have the IMA team in that role. While we as partners can voice our opinions and help shape the direction, the IMA is still carrying the burden of developing and managing the site.  

While the same content attracts more traffic on YouTube, we still view this project as a success, mainly because increased traffic wasn’t our primary motivation for participating. Instead, it was about being part of a collaborative project that makes art-specific content available to an audience that may not be on YouTube or may not want to weed through content in order to find substantive art-related videos. While the project does involve additional time and effort, we’ve been able to fold that into our other work without too much pain, and the administrative system allows us to distribute the efforts across areas. We’re anxious to see what the next 9 months brings in terms of new partners and continued growth and are pleased to be part of an effort to share content across institutions

Smithsonian American Art Museum

ArtBabble has been a wonderfully fruitful platform and collaboration for the American Art Museum. We have found that we get up to five times the number of video views on ArtBabble as on YouTube for the same videos, so it has increased the reach enormously for our video content.

It has also offered American Art the ability to enhance the value of its video content through the Notes system. By adding links to related information and content on-line from specific points in our videos, we are able to offer viewers not just a high quality video viewing experience, but also depth of related content in a format that is incredibly easy to access, and so encourages viewers to ‘dig down’ and find out more about aspects that pique their interest.

Moreover, the ArtBabble development and management team at the IMA have demonstrated great skill and vision, both in the design and implementation of the platform, so the process has been very easy and pleasurable for our team to participate in.

In joining ArtBabble initially, we saw the increasing importance of video on the Web and wanted to follow the excellent examples of organizations like the IMA and SFMOMA in building our library of art videos. We also wanted a high quality distribution platform for our art videos – that is, contemporary artworks that are born as digital videos – as well as documentary content. ArtBabble offered an excellent technical solution at a price we could afford – $0! Knowing and respecting the IMA’s earlier work to create software solutions for museums, we also thought it would be exciting to partner with them on this innovative project.

The main challenges since the launch of ArtBabble have been in staffing our video production pipeline adequately. ArtBabble videos do take longer to produce than standard videos because of the time required to research and think about the Notes. There really haven’t been any technical challenges or difficulties.

By facilitating a meaningful dialogue among partners, ArtBabble has strengthened our ties with other arts organizations and professionals. This has encouraged us to think of our Museum’s content in the context of a larger, multi-institutional offering. We now ask not only what will enhance our Museum’s offering to arts audiences, but how we can positively contribute to a global resource where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This kind of social responsibility and awareness is critical for Museums, particularly in the current age of social media where traditional delineations between brands and authors are becoming increasingly permeable or blurred. Because on-line visitors can follow their art interests in so many directions from the ArtBabble portal, they are both encouraged and immediately rewarded for investing more time and interest in the arts. I am convinced that the long-term benefits of forging these stronger and deeper connections with our audiences will accrue to the entire arts field, not just organizations participating in ArtBabble, so here too the platform has a larger social impact.

I was grateful for and struck by the statistics that the IMA provided the partners on video consumption on the ArtBabble platform. It was interesting to note that American Art is in the minority in receiving more video views on ArtBabble than on YouTube. Without having done research to confirm this hypothesis, this statistic may indicate that ArtBabble is particularly valuable for organizations like ours whose video programs are less well established or less known and publicized. Other than standard Web links, we do not put any particular marketing effort into promoting our videos, either on YouTube or ArtBabble. In the absence of more dedicated video marketing resources from our side, the IMA’s marketing efforts for ArtBabble have clearly yielded huge benefits for the American Art Museum individually, as well as for the project overall.

Initial Results

In the 9 months since ArtBabble's launch, the site has been warmly received by the public and media, seen robust site traffic, and grown significantly in the number of partners and videos available on the site. Since launch, the ArtBabble Web site has received 215,150 visits totaling 691,598 page views and 215,954 views of videos on the site. Each visitor to ArtBabble averaged 3.2 pages per visit, and visitors who watched video on ArtBabble averaged more than 7 minutes of time on the site. Video on ArtBabble has been seen in 156 countries around the world, and even though the current set of partners is largely based in the United States, roughly 30% of the videos are viewed from outside the U.S.

As a collaborative experiment, ArtBabble has been very successful, growing from 7 partner organizations at the launch to more than 21 organizations at the time of this writing. The pool of art-focused video available on ArtBabble started with around 100 videos in April of 2009 and now claims over 500 videos on-line. In the next year, the ArtBabble team will take steps to dramatically increase the number of both partners and videos available on the site.

Comparison of ArtBabble to YouTube

Many museums are currently using YouTube as a distribution channel for their video. While we don't expect to surpass one of the world’s largest and most successful Web sites in less than a year, we do want to provide some context with which to judge ArtBabble's performance. 

To do so, we sampled 112 videos from the ArtBabble Web site that partners had also published on YouTube. For each video, we recorded the number of views on each platform, normalizing each by the number of days that particular video had been on each site. To do this, we used the view count from the YouTube page for each video, and reporting from Google Analytics which tracks views of each video page on ArtBabble. It should be noted that we did not use the view count available on each ArtBabble page. These numbers are significantly higher than the counts reported from Google Analytics and would make our results look much better, but it's difficult to tell what the impact of Web crawlers is on the view count of an ArtBabble video. Google Analytics, on the other hand, neglects view counts related to embedded views and views which access videos by a parameterized URL. Embedded videos account for 11.2% of all video views from ArtBabble, and parameterized views account for less than 4% of all views. For the purposes of this analysis, we make the assumption that the page views reported from Google Analytics are likely to be most consistent with views from YouTube. 

Using the sample set of 112 videos, the data shows that videos on ArtBabble received an average of 2.65 page views per day, while videos on YouTube receive 9.55 views per day. Thirty-eight videos performed better on ArtBabble, 3 videos performed about the same on either platform, and 71 videos performed better on YouTube. Of 15 institutions with videos on both ArtBabble and YouTube, 4 performed better overall on ArtBabble, 2 performed about the same on either platform, and 9 performed better on YouTube

Figure 2

Fig 2: The Performance per Institution of ArtBabble videos relative to YouTube

While still young and growing, early indications show promise for ArtBabble as a platform. YouTube still delivers more views, but ArtBabble's growth and engagement with the community of art lovers, as well its potential for supporting institutional collaboration, suggest an important secondary channel.

It is interesting to note that even though the IMA invested a large amount of effort in the production and promotion of ArtBabble as a channel for video, an analysis of IMA's monthly views on the museums YouTube channel shows little decrease in the long-term number of viewers received on the museum’s YouTube channel. This suggests that ArtBabble's audience segment is different from the audience currently viewing IMA content on YouTube, and therefore most likely amounts to a growth in the total audience for IMA video content across both channels.

Figure 3

Fig 3: Views by Month of IMA's YouTube Channel

Building an On-line Brand

The ArtBabble team was faced with an interesting challenge – develop a brand for a new product that’s separate from the IMA. Since there was such a heavy emphasis on the collaborative nature of this new video site, we knew ‘IMA TV’ just wouldn't do. So we began brainstorming potential names.

The name search process quickly became frustrating when we learned that most combinations of the words art, video, TV, and so on were already registered domain names. Art had to be an essential part of the final name, and after lots of brainstorming, we arrived at ArtBabble. ArtBabble might seem like a nonsensical name, but so do sites like Yahoo!, Google, Bing, and so on. The ArtBabble name also represented a particular way of speaking about art – one that would shape our entire approach to the design, branding and content tone.

We know from previous user surveys that our audiences feel that art content can often be intimidating. We felt strongly that ArtBabble should be a site where visitors of all backgrounds feel welcomed and entitled to explore and discover art. Visitors with a strong knowledge of art should feel satisfied with the quality of the content. On the other hand, visitors that might be investigating art for the first time need to feel comfortable with the look and feel, as well as the structure, of the site. The casual voice of the site and the use of tag lines like “Play Art Loud” and “Babble On” were adopted specifically to communicate an accessible, welcoming, fun on-line experience with art. Instead of taking ourselves too seriously, we decided to create a fun experience which would allow the content to speak for itself. The ArtBabble brand was born.

Figure 4

Fig 4: The ArtBabble Logo and Brand

Beginning in early January of 2009 during the invitation-only period of the site, the IMA team initiated several approaches to generating buzz for ArtBabble. Using e-mail invitations, we specifically reached out to friends and colleagues, and additionally to members of the press and influential bloggers. These users were issued five invites of their own so they could share the site with their friends. For certain ‘power’ users, we continued to dole out invites, allowing them to do some recruiting for us. We continually monitored the invite process through social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and blogs that many of our contacts were using for offering invites to readers or followers. Using invites in this way provided a way for our followers to be a part of generating buzz for the site, and helped them feel that they were a part of the site launch from the beginning.

Figure 5

Fig 5: A Graph of Invitations During ArtBabble's Private Beta

Prior to the launch in April 2009, many IMA staff members provided glimpses of the site’s progress through personal Facebook and Twitter updates and also through the IMA blog. This approach was complemented with more traditional communication strategies such as press releases and e-mail marketing blasts.

The IMA created an official ArtBabble Facebook Page that serves as a space for fans to leave comments and to check out the latest news, including the latest videos. As partners joined ArtBabble, we maximized the potential for a larger audience by involving all partners in spreading the word of ArtBabble (Babble On). Instead of one museum tweeting, blogging or utilizing Facebook, we now had a community of twenty organizations that are committed and vocal about ArtBabble becoming the premier, on-line destination for art content.

“Play Art Loud” and “Babble On” continue to be the slogans for ArtBabble. E-mail communication, blog posts, and other written content typically end with Babble On. Play Art Loud is part of the main logo on the home page of ArtBabble, but it’s also used on the bumper stickers we distribute to partners, at conferences, and to any fan that requests one. To maximize the impact of these stickers, we created a Flickr group called Play Art Loud where ArtBabble partners and fans can post their own pictures with the bumper sticker to the group. Using Flickr in this way provides a visual way for fans of the site to get creative and be represented graphically on the Web site.

Figure 6

Fig 6: ArtBabble stickers from around the world

As ArtBabble grows, IMA staff will continue to work with new partners to help them promote their own presence on the site. ArtBabble was created and branded as a project to be owned by the collaboration of partners. All partners should feel ownership or a stake in the success of this on-line initiative as it’s the only approach that will result in long-term success.


Clearly, even though the project is only nine months old, ArtBabble holds promise for the benefits that exist when many distinct partners collaborate around a shared goal. This paper has described the amount of work and institutional investment required to succeed at launching and governing such an effort. While no organization should be deceived that this is an easy task, this paper describes several tangible ways that other museums might use to begin their own collaborative efforts.

Despite the fact that ArtBabble’s raw statistics do not yet match those for the same videos on YouTube, the benefits of a single destination site for art content in addition to the benefits of a collaborative partnership demonstrate value in continuing and expanding the collaboration.

We are really jazzed to be a part of ArtBabble and eager to add more content right away. And because of the incredible content being put up by other institutions, we find ourselves inspired to create innovative work in the months and years to come. (Jon Prown, Executive Director, The Chipstone Foundation – ArtBabble Partner)

At its core, the ArtBabble Web site will always be centered on the art video content contributed by the partners. Because of this focus and the exclusive control of the site by cultural organizations, ArtBabble can successfully tailor its experience around that topic in a way that mainstream content platforms cannot. The future success of ArtBabble will depend on creating and communicating a distinct experience that relates to the underlying art content.

Several specific strategies will help us achieve these goals:

  • Continue to pursue a growing body of art content by expanding the number of partners and streamlining the process for adding new video content, enabling existing partners to add more content easily.
  • Provide the ability for partners to add video content to the site without associated notes, allowing quick-turnaround between video upload and the publication process. It will be important to continually encourage the creation of innovative and fun expanded content to preserve the character of the site.
  • Explore ways to better engage the community of users and help them to interact with each other and the partners
  • Experiment with ways to support the use of ArtBabble in the classroom by creating tools which would allow educators to assemble lessons based on the expanded video content
  • Work with partners to co-create and author content themes or playlists that leverage the deep content on the site
  • Refine the current navigational tools on the site to specifically leverage the art focus of the video content.


Moad, C., R. Stein, & E. Bachta. “Museums and Cloud Computing: Ready for Primetime, or Just Vaporware?” In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2009: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2009. Consulted January 26, 2010.

Stein, R., & C. Moad. Cloud Computing Primer: Using the Cloud in your Museum. Workshop, Museum Computer Network 2009.

Cite as:

Stein, R., et al., ArtBabble: A Year's Worth of Lessons Learned and Thoughts about Collaborative Content Platforms. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2010: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2010. Consulted