Steve: The Museum Social Tagging Project

The FAQ section answers some of the commonly-asked questions about the steve project, our history, and our activities. This website, especially the Links and Resources section, provides rich documentation about our work, and the project's listservs are the place to get the latest news about the project, or to discuss our work with other members of the community. If you still have questions or just want to be in touch with a steve team member personally, you can reach us by email at steve [at] steve [dot] museum.

Why is the project called "steve?"

Steve is neither a person nor an acronym. When choosing a project name, the team wanted something simple, friendly, and easy to remember. We chose steve (written with a lower-case "s" except at the start of a sentence) for those reasons.

Close observers of the project may have noted that the project's first paper was entitled "Social Terminology Enhancement through Vernacular Engagement," a bit of an in joke, but not (as some have suggested) the source of the project's name. Our project name also predated the trailer for the movie, "Over the Hedge," which might otherwise appear to be a source of inspiration. 

Who is steve? How can I contact someone on the project?

The steve project is a genuine collective, with an informal management structure and roles assigned based on the skills and interests of the project participants. An unofficial management team coordinates project activities and outreach. This team includes Susan Chun (Project Co-Founder and Co-Principal Investigator for the "Steve in Action" grant) and Robert Stein (Technical Lead for the "Steve in Action" and "T3: Text, Tags, Trust" grants).You can contact members of the project team by writing to steve [at] steve [dot] museum.

Currently, most formal steve-related work occurs within the framework of the project's two IMLS-funded grants, "Steve in Action" and "T3: Text, Tags, Trust." Project teams for these two projects include core team members from the lead organizations, and representatives of museum partners.

Core team members for the grants are:

Steve in Action
Lead Partner: New Media Consortium (NMC)
Larry Johnson, Project Director and Co-Principal Investigator
Rachel Smith, Project Manager
Alan Levine, Technical Manager
Rachel Varon, Project Coordinator
Susan Chun, Project Lead and Co-Principal Investigator
Robert Stein, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Technical Lead
Charlie Moad, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Lead Developer

T3: Text, Tags, Trust
Lead Partners: University of Maryland and Indianapolis Museum of Art
Judith Klavans, University of Maryland, Project Director and Co-Principal Investigator
Jen Golbeck, University of Maryland, Co-Principal Investigator
Dagobert Soergel, University of Maryland, Senior Researcher
Rebecca LaPlante, University of Maryland, Project Coordinator
Robert Stein, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Technical Lead
Ed Bachta, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Lead Developer
Susan Chun, Chair, Museums Working Group

Representatives from the museum partners for the grants are:

Steve in Action
Helen Abbott, Rubin Museum of Art
Robin Dowden, Walker Art Center
Diana Folsom, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Jonathan Furner, University of California at Los Angeles
Matt Morgan, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Peter Samis, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Scott Sayre, Minnesota Digital Library

T3: Text, Tags, Trust
Rich Cherry, Balboa Park Online Collaborative
Jennie Choi, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Diana Folsom, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Cathryn Goodwin, Princeton Art Museum
Kathryn Haigh, Indianapolis Museum of Art
Mitzi Harp, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Ethan Lasser, Chipstone Foundation
Nancy Proctor, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Peter Samis, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Tom Scheinfeldt, Center for History and New Media, George Mason University
Koven Smith, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Francine Snyder, Guggenheim Museum
Nate Solas, Walker Art Center
Holly Witchey, Cleveland Museum of Art
Bruce Wyman, Denver Art Museum

What was the reason for starting the project?

The steve project was founded in 2005 to address concerns by art museums about access to their ever-growing online collections. As museums were welcoming increasing numbers of visitors to their online outposts, they were also discovering that these visitors struggled to navigate digital collections. The problem, in part, stemmed from a semantic gap that separated museums’ formal descriptions of works—usually created by art historians or other specialists—and the vernacular language used by the general public for searching. This language, reflecting the broad range of needs and perspectives of users, simply did not exist in collection documentation. Project team members believed that by employing the then-emerging technology of social tagging and its resulting folksonomies we might bridge the semantic gap by engaging users in the time-consuming and expensive task of describing our collections; add a multi-cultural, perhaps multi-lingual perspective to our documentation; and possibly even develop strategies for engaging new types of users in looking at and thinking about art. We were also intrigued by the potential of the medium to expose our professional staff—curators, educators, and others—to direct evidence of how works of art in our collections were perceived by visitors. We formed a collaboration, open to anyone interested in thinking about social tagging and its value to museums, and began to develop a set of open source tools for collecting, managing, and analyzing user-contributed descriptions. 

Where can I go to hear about steve?

Steering Committee members attend and present at museum, technology, and socialscience and humanities conferences and events throughout the year. Inthe coming months, project team members will discuss steve's work atthe following conferences or events:

Museums and the Web, Indianapolis, April 2009

Art Libraries Society of North America, Indianapolis, April 2009

Enterprise Search Summit, New York, May 2009

Digital Humanities 2009, College Park, Maryland, June 2009

American Library Association (ALA), Chicago, July 2009

CIDOC (Annual Conference of the ICOM International Documentation Committee), Santiago de Chile, September 2009

Museum Computer Network, Portland, November 2009

If you'd like to meet with one of our team members at one of these events, send email to us at steve [at] steve [dot] museum. We'll make sure to put you in touch with someone who you can talk to.  

Why is steve doing this work? Aren't others doing the same thing?

The steve project’s unique combination of research, software development, and a commitment to broadening awareness of the potential of social tagging for museums distinguish it from other social tagging initiatives.

The project team has embarked on a rigorous program of research into how social tagging can best serve the museum community and its visitors. To support our research, the team is developing a suite of open source tagging tools; these tools have been made freely available and the cultural heritage community has been encouraged to use them to introduce tagging on their institutional Web sites or within their institutions. In addition, the project has served as a nexus for a lively discussion in our community about social tagging in particular and social software and user communities in general.

Steve team members follow with interest social tagging projects developed by other museums and cultural heritage organizations, and we maintain active dialogues with our colleagues who sponsor these initiatives. We admire the work done by the Powerhouse Museum, the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and others. We are excited by the potential of Flickr Commons, and are currently exploring possibilities for collaborating with Flickr and/or contributing to the Commons.

How can I participate?

Any interested organization or individual can volunteer to participate in some or all of steve’s activities.

The best way to begin is to review the materials available here on theproject website, where you'll find full background information aboutsteve and our activities, including a schedule of forthcomingpresentations where you'll be able to meet team members. You may alsowant to sign up for the project's listservs, where members of the community are discussing project activities, as well as other developments in the social software sphere.

To volunteer to contribute in specific ways, or to ask a specificquestion, please use contact the project team at steve [at] steve [dot] museum.


From 2005-06, members of the SteeringCommittee and their institutions/companies contributed their timeand money to prepare for the release of the steve tagger 1.0 software;to attend project meetings and to make presentations at conferences;and to build and maintain the project's public and internal Web sites.

The steve Project is grateful for the generous support of the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services for the funding that has supported its 2006-08 research project, as well as the two projects funded in 2008. 

The steve team welcomes communication from potentialfunders. Please contact us at steve [at] steve [dot] museum if you area funder interested in hearing more about our plans for the future.


Web site design: Osamu Takahashi / Willy Lee

A steering commitee set the project’s initial goals and priorities, and was responsible for the early success of the project. Members of the project's original steering committee included Helen Abbott, Rubin Museum of Art; David Bearman, Archives and Museum Informatics; Richard Cherry, Guggenheim Museum; Susan Chun, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Robin Dowden, Walker Art Center; David Ellis, Think Design; Diana Folsom, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Douglas Hegley, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Doug Hiwiller, Cleveland Museum of Art; Michael Jenkins, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Willy Lee, Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Matt Morgan, Brooklyn Museum of Art; Peter Samis, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Ray Shah, Think Design; Koven Smith, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Robert Stein, Indianapolis Museum of Art; Jennifer Trant, Archives and Museum Informatics; Bruce Wyman, Denver Art Museum.

The project team would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their contributions to the project in its earliest stages: Maxwell L. Anderson, Indianapolis Museum of Art; Michael Belkin, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Peter Bojkov, David Ellis, and Gavin Foster, Think Design; Bryan Gawronski, Albright-Knox Museum; Phil Getchell, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Thea Hashagen, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Katherine Merrill, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Doralynn Pines, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Chris Scornavacca Coulson, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Leonard Steinbach, Cleveland Museum of Art; Chris Borkowski, Guggenheim Museum; Danielle Uchitelle, Guggenheim Museum; and the members of the subject cataloguing working group at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Jennie Choi, Malcolm Daniel, Claire Dienes, Douglas Hegley, Colin Kennedy, Billy Kwan, Stephanie Post, Daniel Starr, Deborah Vincelli, and Julie Zeftel).