Collection Preview (and re-thinking tagging)

Our collection is going online and this is something we’ve been working on for a long time. Although we have some clean up to do and we won’t be layering this feature into our website until early next week, if you are reading the blog you can catch a preview now.

It has been an incredibly long haul. To get an idea of what we went through, check out this seriously-funny video a friend sent me. We started more than a year ago, had to find and implement a Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) and then develop a way the DAMS could talk to TMS (The Museum System, a.k.a. what we use for collection management internally) and then port everything to web. Deborah Wythe is going to be writing soon about the ins and outs and Paul Beaudoin (our fabulous programmer who made this possible) is going to open-source the code by the end of Summer if you want to take a look at how we did this.

There are currently 5,168 records online and this will continue to grow over time. The curatorial staff felt is was important to only release works with vetted data. While there are all kinds of arguments both for and against this kind of thinking, we felt it was important to honor their wishes. Records will move out more slowly, but it also means the data will be in good shape when it does and that’s a good thing.

We had three goals to accomplish in this round of development. First, provide the collection online for researchers and scholars. Second, provide a way a casual user could just jump in and start to visually navigate throughout. Third, we wanted to ensure putting the collection online would be in keeping with our mission and our community-oriented goals.

All of these factors are in careful balance. The strict data is there in clearly formatted areas and we provide an easy way to print this kind of information. We’ve implemented a very visual “related” column to promote browsing and accidental discoveries (serendipity is key). We’ve created a social component where visitors can create accounts and then anything they favorite, tag or comment on will be attributed to them both in the collection area and on their profiles—here’s mine.

In terms of the social component, the biggest thing we did was look at established tagging models and sort of reverse them. Sure, we’ve made it easy—if visitors want to tag they can do so without logging in, but I really wanted to re-think this and put the “social” back into tagging. When I tag another person’s photos on Flickr, I know the owner is going to see my contribution coming from me and even though that exchange is private, it is distinctly social. Even in The Commons on Flickr, as the manager of the Museum’s account, I know the taggers—Flickr lets me see their contribution and I get to know them as individuals. We took this same idea and made that a public exchange in our Collection. So, if you create an account and start tagging—you are rewarded for your effort because it displays right there on the page and we get to know you (or, at least, what you decide to share with us). Check out this record or see below for an example.


The reality is, there’s an amazing amount of work to do to make all of these areas (research, navigation, social) a lot more rich, but this is a start and we’ll be publishing more about this in the blog as we go along. Needless to say, we have plenty on the to do list.