Steve: The Museum Social Tagging Project
Steve in Action

In 2008, the steve project and the New Media Consortium (NMC) were awarded a 3-year National Leadershp Grant for Advancing Digital Resource for their "Steve in Action" project. The goals of the grant are to enhance the existing tagging software tools to make steve easy to use for museums of all sizes and types; to develop next-generation tagging tools that motivate and engage users, including mobile interfaces that allow tagging in museum spaces; to investigate ways to aggregate tags in order to facilitate cross-collection searching and browsing; and to demonstrate integrations of the steve tagger with commonly-used museum systems. Each museum partner has pledged to design at least one implementation of the steve tagger that will demonstrate a way in which tagging can be applied to museum practice.

As the partners develop their case studies and build their tagger installations, we will use this space to post examples that demonstrate the flexibility of the steve software and highlight the range of ways that the steve tagger has been implemented. A few implementations of the software launched during the early years of the project are also illustrated here.

Tagging at

Screenshot from The tagger installation at is where data was collected for the project's 2006-08 research project, "Researching Social Tagging and Folksonomy in the Art Museum." The tagger presented works from more than a dozen museums; members of the public were recruited to visit the site and participate in the research by tagging art.

The two-year research project included four cycles of data collection, in which we varied interface configurations slightly. These variations were guided by hypotheses about how taggers behave, and helped us to answer some fundamental questions about what an effective tagging environment might look like. One of these interface configurations continues to be available to demonstrate the tagger functionality; visitors are encouraged to continue to enter descriptions.

A nearly identical installation was also installed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and was available only to invited members of the Metropolitan Museum community (members, volunteers, and Web site registrants).

Indianapolis Museum of Art Online Collection The Indianapolis Museum of Art's website features a large public installation of steve tagger ( The steve software powers tagging of the IMA's online collection; it has been seamlessly integrated into the IMA site design.


ace2.jpg The Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Walker Art Center are using steve tagger to collect tags that will complement the data in their upcoming redesign of ArtsConnectEd, a joint database of works of art, educational materials and more (

In the next phase of work, the steve tagger will be incorporated into the ArtsConnectEd site to allow users to describe the objects in the ArtsConnectEd resource. 

Seeing Tibetan Art

Seeing Tibetan ArtShelley Mannion, a cultural heritage researcher, has used the steve tagger as a tool for studying differences in perceptions of Tibetan art between diaspora Tibetan communities in Zurich and New York. Mannion designed a bi-lingual (English and German) version of the steve tagger that also incorporates a pop-up survey that records demographic information about taggers (

An initial report of Mannion's findings was presented at Museums and the Web, 2008.The project was covered in an article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in June, 2008. A translation of the German text is available.

Pachyderm Integration Prototype

A prototype integration of the steve tagger software with the Pachyderm multimedia authoring tool (another open source software tool developed by and for the museum community) allows visitors to Pachyderm web features to tag artworks within Pachyderm educational modules.

The integration was successfully implemented in an April, 2008, interactive web presentation created by The McNay Art Museum about Picasso’s Portrait of Sylvette. There, viewers may engage with Picasso’s work in a way rarely seen before, from the perspective of one of his models, Sylvette David. Sylvette tells the story of her time spent with Picasso and how this relationship has influenced her life. The web presentation, created using Pachyderm, connects to a steve tagging tool, representing the first example of the two open-source software tools working together to provide online multimedia content about a single work of art. 

By assessing what visitors find significant about the portrait, staff at the McNay hopes to generate interpretive strategies that bridge the semantic gap between art historical language and visitor voices. If this initial phase is successful, presentations on other works in the McNay collection would provide more opportunities for tagging, for posting classroom ideas, and for generating interpretive media.

You can access the Portait of Sylvette tagging tool or visit the entire site.

facebook.jpgAs part of its 2006 research, the steve team released a Facebook application ( ) that allowed Facebook users to tag art, share images with friends, see the descriptions contributed by their friends, and display works of art from the steve tagger application on their Facebook pages.

The application provided some functionality usually associated with social software, and it was hoped that a community of users might form around the application and allow the project team to measure differences in behavior between those who participated in tagging as a social activity, and those who may have tagged for other reasons.

The application had relatively low traffic, and was removed from Facebook at the conclusion of the research project.