National Digital Forum: Day 2 – Opening the gates: new opportunities in online collections

phcollection.jpgIn the afternoon of Day 2, Seb Chan from the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney presented on their innovative collections database. Seb started out by taking about visitor expectations have changed when comes to what they might be able to find on museum website and how they might browse collections.
Seb cited Amazon and Last FM as examples of sites that provide visitors with “recommended” items, assisting users to browse materials within a collection as influential sites in developing their own collections database. The Powerhouse’s early experiences in developing electronic exhibits on the museum floor which accessed their internal collections database also helped move their thinking along.

The Powerhouse Museum Collection 2.0 employs social technologies such as tagging and as well as search tracking. The search tracking feature is perhaps the most interesting one, providing “similar searches” for visitors based on the keywords that other visitors have used in accessing the collection. (This is a feature that we may want to incorporate for the ExhibitFiles project to help visitors find records in what will eventually be a very large collection.)

Since the Collections launch in June 14th 2006, the traffic to the Powerhouse museum website has nearly doubled and amazingly 95% of all available objects were visited at least once in the first month. Users have added 3,000 user tags of which about 100 tags had to be “moderated” mostly for spelling errors. In addition, the Powerhouse has seen tripling of public inquires including the correction of old records.

Seb finished up by showing Powerhouse’s Design Hub website, which has design-related objects at its core. Currators provide narratives discussing items in the collection. The search function brings back articles, collection items, and even items from other collections. They hope to add 30 new collections from other museums to design hub by 2008.

If you read this blog regularly, you might remember that Seb presented via video conference in the New Web course that I taught in Victoria, BC a couple of weeks ago. Jim Groom did a great job of summarizing the presentation and discussion on his bavatuesdays blog, The Powerhouse Museum: The Name Says it All.