A growing number of museums and other holders of cultural datasets are making their collections accessible to the public via online interfaces. Not always does
accessible also mean approachable. Often, the interfaces are about as attractive as Excel sheets and as much fun to use. What we need is interfaces that support exploration and discoveries in digitised cultural data.
Most of the cultural institutions who have their collections online, provide a basic search field, sometimes with options to further specify and filter results. Some even fully subscribe to the Open data philosophy and expose their entire collection via a SPARQL interface. Both interfaces however do not function if a user does not formulate a specific question. They immediately ask the user “what are you looking for?” without first presenting a glimpse of what can actually be found. All too often, a user is not specifically looking for a certain thing, but simply wants to look around.
I would like to look at examples, where this behaviour is supported. Where collections are exposed via rich interactive interfaces, that encourage to browse, learn and discover things. Interfaces that provide one with questions, to which one likes to find answers — as opposed to search fields that ask for questions where one inherently knows the answer already.
Originally I intended to write a blog post on some of such examples I have collected. However, it would not really do them justice to summarise them in one single post, or it would just be a really long article that no one would read anyway. So instead, I will write one article per example, in which I will provide an in depth description and impression. I will update this post and the articles that follow as I go along and maybe discover things that are worth to compare among the examples already presented.
So here we go.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has assigned Stamen with the task of developing an interface for exploring their collection of artworks. At the end of 2007, when the project went live, it consisted of 3500 artworks and has since then grown up to 6419 items.
Australian Dress Register
The powerhouse museum in Sydney, is the home of a large collection of artefacts from a wide field spanning design and technology. A relatively small part, namely their garment collection, is accessible via a dedicated website, the Australian Dress Register
The Manly Local Studies Image Library is a perfect example of how a rich and attractive collection is stowed away behind an impoverished database query form. It’s also a good example to illustrate the fact, that it does not need to be this way. A (prototypical) interface offers a different view on the collection.