Brooklyn Museum API: the iPhone app

If anyone needed convincing that an API might be a good idea, this news might just do it for you.  A few weeks ago, we approved an API key for Adam Shackelford, a Brooklyn-based developer, to create an iPhone app.

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We couldn’t have been more thrilled when Adam contacted us to say he was working on this.  It’s the kind of thing we couldn’t do with our existing workload and quickly realized the API was allowing us to do more by collaborating with the developer community.   Before you run off to the app store for this free download, we’ll mention it’s a few weeks off from being listed.  Adam came over for a site visit to show us his just-finished version 1.0 before he submits it to Apple for inclusion in the store.  We’ll be sure to blog when the app is ready, but in the meantime we wanted to share this Q&A, so you can meet Adam.

This will be the first in an ongoing series of Q&As with developers using the Brooklyn Museum API.  If you are curious about our own internal process to create the API, check out the interview Paul and I did for Mike Ellis on his blog. Additionally, you can chart developer progress in our new Application Gallery and find out about our latest additions in the News section (note, there’s an RSS feed to keep you up-to-date).

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Site visit!  Paul Beaudoin (left) and Mike Dillon (center) check out Adam Shackelford’s (right) iPhone app version 1.0.

How did you hear about the Brooklyn Museum API?

One of my friends is increasingly involved in museum 2.0 (or 3.0?) emergence, and given the adoption of mobile technology in museums, we often talk about the intersection of our fields. She pointed out the API to me one day, and I thought to myself that someone surely was working on an iPhone application already. As it turned out, no one was, and so I built the app with the time I could find over the course of the last couple weeks.

Tell us about the app you’ve created, thought process behind it, etc?

In my mind, there are few things that inspire people to learn like museums and the web do. They seem like natural companions, and yet often this is not the case. Then along comes the iPhone, which has thus far created countless geeks out of otherwise normal people. Once I saw what the API allowed, it seemed like an opportunity to create something that people would enjoy. The key to invention in this field is to build things that people don’t realize they will use. I have only found one other museum application in the App Store, and it was something like 400 megabytes of space, composed of static elements, so we wanted to do something different. The app is entirely driven by the API, so it is always updated with museum content, and you are always connected to the museum in a very concrete way that was not technically possible before, and isn’t possible yet with any other museum in the world.

If there’s one thing you’d really like to do in version 2, what would it be?

Version 1.0 is being submitted to Apple very soon, and it is really only a foundation of everything we want to do with the application. Because all the content is pulled from the API, it is a very lightweight app that will be convenient for users to update. When the iPhone 3.0 OS goes public in June, we are planning a much more exciting geotagging experience, because the built-in mapping is making a great leap forward. Also we are interested in allowing users to tag items in the collection, expand the browsing options, etc. The main point I want to emphasize is that this is only the beginning, and we are planning to expand the application as the API evolves.

You mentioned this app was designed to scale, so that if other institutions release an API (hint, hint) you can grow the app. Tell us a bit about that?

Version 1.0 is largely just a demonstration. I could spend months refining it before its initial release, but as I said it is a very light app that can be easily updated, and the architecture is designed so that we can add or take away as needed for this or any comparable application. Indeed, we are hoping that this serves as a proof of concept and encourages other institutions to open up their collection to developers and thus the public. I also think that the iPhone can play a bigger role when people are actually visiting the museum, and I have some more elaborate ideas to develop someday. We are of course also interested in being hired by museums to assist with this.

We see from your website that you run an interactive media firm based in Brooklyn (!) – tell us a bit about your background and your company.

The company was started in January 2009 by myself and Katy Walker, our creative director, and Angela Chumley, our chief of operations and information architect. All three of us have worked primarily in advertising and corporate design firms, but agreed that it was time for a big change. We are all creative and passionate about our work, and bring diverse skills to the table, and a healthy amount of conflict and disagreement as well. We started Iconoclash Media because while we do enjoy making other peoples’ visions become reality, we also have our own ideas which we pursue together. The museum app is one example, but we divide our time between contracted client work and the development of original applications and have found that each aspect of our business influences the other.

So, you live in Brooklyn and have probably been to the Museum a few times…. Any favorite exhibitions, objects or events that come to mind?

I marvel at the geometric ingenuity of Islamic textiles, text, and ceramics, and Brooklyn Museum has a good amount of these. I’m also very interested in Japanese art, but I’m going to stop myself here before I list everything at the museum. One feature we built in the app is the ability to browse items totally at random, so I’ve been spending some time cycling through the 20,000+ items in the API, but many of those I have not yet seen in person. And there’s still no substitute for actually going to the museum.