Exhibit Files

  

New Features Added to ExhibitFiles

ExhibitFiles is an NSF-sponsored community site for exhibit designers and developers. Together with Project Directors Wendy Pollock and Kathleen McLean, as well as a dedicated group of advisors, Ideum has helped develop and operate the site. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the community site grow from a couple dozen people to nearly 1,600 members and there are now over 200 member-contributed exhibit case studies and reviews.

Last week, we rolled out some new features, including improvements to the Members section, greater visibility for the ‘Bits feature, and major improvements to the search function.  Individual profiles pages were also redesigned. A new tab navigation system makes it easier to browse individuals’ contributions to the site and connect to social networking and file sharing sites. Check out my profile on the ExhibitFiles site to view the new functionalities. We will be rolling out a few other features and improvements to the site in the next month.

In other news, new research findings from a study of the ExhibitFiles community was posted on the ExhibitFiles blog today(see ExhibitFiles: a growing community).  The study was conducted by Carey Tisdal of Tisdal Consulting.  More research will be posted in the coming weeks.

  
 
 
  
  

Case Study on L.A. Zone Multitouch, Multiuser Exhibit on ExhibitFiles

I just posted a case study on the ExhibitFiles website. It examines the L.A. Zone multitouch table exhibit that we developed with California Science Center and details some of the design considerations we encountered in putting this multi-user exhibit together. You can read the complete case study here.

This custom exhibit was built using Adobe Flash with our Gestureworks multitouch framework and runs on our MT-50 multitouch table. There’s also more information about this exhibit on our portfolio page: “Visitors Explore Los Angeles in a Google Maps and Flickr Mashup.

  
 
 
  
  

ExhibitFiles New "Bits" Feature

The ExhibitFiles Website is a community site for exhibit designers and developers. Almost three years ago now, Ideum worked with the Association of Science -Technology Centers and Independent Exhibitions to help design and develop the site. Created with funding from the National Science Foundation, the purpose of the site is share design practices and provide access to resources that can improve exhibit design. Last week, we launched a new feature called “Bits,” which best described on the ExhibitFiles site itself:

A Bit is an individual media element that you share with your peers. It might be a photo you take of an inspiring exhibit element or design approach, or it could be a prototype you’d like people to comment on — anything you can illustrate with a photo, video, or audio file. You can also just post a question if you’re looking for help from others.

Along with support for uploaded files, you can embed flickr photos or YouTube videos. We will be adding support for PDF documents and audio files in coming weeks. The custom-developed Bits feature and the site itself was developed using Ruby on Rails.

ExhibitFiles Bits - a new feature for sharing flickr and YouTube videos

You can try it out at: www.exhibitfiles.org/bits.

There’s more on the Bits launch on the ExhibitFiles blog and Paul Orselli’s ExhibiTrick blog. You can learn more about the ExhibitFiles site development in the Ideum portfolio (A custom-built community site for exhibit developers).

  
 
 
  
  

A peek inside the 100" multitouch table

We continue to see interest in the EM Spectrum multitouch exhibit that we developed with Adventure Science Center late last fall. The exhibit was featured on the popular Engadget blog and our video on YouTube just this week surpassed 40,000 views.

Today, I posted a case study about this exhibit on the ExhibitFiles website, under Space Imaging: Multitouch Multiuser Exhibit. In addition, we’ve decide to post a couple of pictures showing the inside of our 100″ multitouch table on the Ideum Flickr page.  Hopefully, these new posts will help explain more about how the exhibit was developed.

A view of the inside of the 100" multitouch table

A detail of the inside of the 100" multitouch table exhibit

As you can see from these pictures, we used infrared LEDs and a dual computer and projector system to create our optical sensing system. Find more about the inner workings of the table on our Flickr site by clicking the photos above. What isn’t shown is the exhibit software, which was developed in Adobe Flash and uses our GestureWorks multitouch framework for Flash. You can learn more about that on the GestureWorks site.

  
 
 
  
  

Jukebox Memories Case Study

juke2.jpgI just posted a case study about Jukebox Memories on the ExhibitFiles site. This computer-based exhibit is part of the Memory exhibition developed by the Exploratorium back in 1998. Jukebox Memories plays 120 #1 songs from 40 years of popular music spanning the dawn of rock and roll right through to the mid-1990s. The exhibit employs a simple question and answer format, asking the visitor which artist performed a particular song. While this activity engages most visitors, the exhibit is not about pop music trivia, it is about the memories that visitors associate with particular songs and eras.

I helped design and develop Jukebox Memories while working at the Exploratorium in the 90s. For that same exhibition, I helped develop another exhibit, A Memory Artist. The exhibition website is still up and is now, like the exhibit itself, nearly a decade old. You can check out the case study on the ExhibitFiles.

  
 
 
  
  

ExhibitFiles – New Features Available

We’ve just completed a series of changes to the ExhibitFiles website including: improved “member contacts,” better commenting, and enhanced member profiles. It’s now possible to include blog feeds and flickr thumbnails in your profile. You can see mine here, or click below.

exhibitfiles-profile.jpg

Along with improvements to profiles and commenting, a new search feature was developed. While the ExhibitFiles is only a couple of months old, there are already over 40 case studies and reviews and more than 200 members. Finding the right exhibit or a colleague’s profile was becoming increasingly difficult. The new search feature allows you to conduct a full-text search or you can click on a topic, institution, or individual in a case study or review to bring back results. For example, clicking an exhibit focus such as “Science” brings back the 15 records that share that focus.

search.jpg

We’re still fine tuning the search feature, but we hope this and other new features will help the ExhibitFiles continue to grow and make it even easier to use.

  
 
 
  
  

ExhibitFiles is live!

cbradio.jpg

For the past year we’ve been working with the Association of Science – Technology Centers in desiging and developing the ExhibitFiles, a community site for exhibit designers. (The image here is from the CB Radio exhibition which opened in 1978 and is part of the ExhibitFiles).

The concept behind the site is simple, too often the exhibit and exhibition development process isn’t recorded for future designers and developers. As a community, we sometimes redesign the wheel as there is no central place for us to find out about the best (and the worst?) practices in exhibit development. This issue is becoming more urgent as many of the exhibit designers who were active in the 1970s and 1980s are beginning to retire. Over the years, important exhibition development information is lost or stored within a museum where it can’t be easily shared with the larger community.

The ExhibitFiles site will allow any designer or developer to create a profile and to author case studies and reviews about individual exhibits or whole exhibitions. The software is completely custom. We developed it using the Ruby on Rails programming framework. The site has lot’s of interactive features beyond just authoring including the ability to favorite items, commenting, and even a Flash-based “thumbnail maker.” We’ll be adding the site to our portfolio soon with more details. In the meantime, the ExhibitFiles development blog contains lots of information and discussions about the design process.

Along with ASTC, we worked with Independent Exhibits and a great group of advisors. The site is just getting started and we will adding more features–but in the meantime feel free to join up and contribute. We’ll see you in the ExhibitFiles.

  
 
2
 
  
  

More ExhibitFiles

There are some new items of interest on the ExhibitFiles development blog since my last post in early July. You’ll find the results of our Design Workshop held in Berkeley in June, a front-end study by Randi Korn & Associates, and a great post by Kathy McLean about the project which includes her article, We Still Need Criticism.

We’ve starting to get comments from the exhibit developer community, which is really helping the design process. The project itself is unusual in that we (as exhibit developers) are the primary audience too. Most of the projects that we develop are for the general public or targeted for a particular grade level, etc. The scale of the project is also unique, it is funded through a three-year NSF grant. It will be the first major application that we (Ideum) has developed with Ruby on Rails.

The site itself won’t be up until later this winter, but in the meantime we’re learning a lot through development process, and the blog is great way to share. While we’d love to take credit for this idea, we’ve been following another development blog; Bare Naked App, which has been sharing their process and progress building an application called “Amigo” since February.

The focus of ExhibitFiles is very different than Amigo which is “Bringing advertisers and newsletters together.” Another difference is that along with the development blog, we have a group of advisors who represent our core audience. However, like the folks building Amigo, we’re trying to be as responsive to the needs of our future members as possible. It’s hoped that our advisor’s participation along with a fairly transparent process (via the blog) will help guide the development of the ExhibitFiles. Stay tuned.

  
 
 
  
  

ExhibitFiles: Development Blog

For the last six months we’ve been working on an NSF-sponsored project called ExhibitFiles. It’s a three-year project and our mission is to “create the infrastructure for an active online community of informal science exhibit practitioners, including shared records of exhibition descriptions as a core feature.”

Wendy Pollock from Association of Science-Technology Centers is the principal investigator and Kathy McLean from Independent Exhibitions is a co-PI. Ideum’s role is help design, and build the site which will launch this winter. We’re building it in Ruby on Rails.

For now, we’ve created a development blog for the project partners to post evaluation and design documents and to solicit feedback from our core contributors and others in the field. It just went up yesterday but we’ve already posted a few things that might be of interest. The Welcome message describes the ExhibitFiles project in more depth, a User Needs Assessment Summary provides information about the potential users of the site, and our own Competitive Analysis document explores some of the potential features of the ExhibitFiles website.

There’s a great quote that was used in the original proposal and has helped guide our thinking…

“Learning is least useful when it is private and hidden; it is most powerful when it becomes public and communal. Learning flourishes when we take what we think we know and offer it as community property among fellow learners so that it can be tested, examined, challenged, and improved…”
— Lee S. Shulman

  
 
 
  
  

RailsConf 2006 or: How I Learned to Stop Wasting Time and Love Web Programming.

Last month I had the good fortune of attending RailsConf 2006 in Chicago, the first official international conference dedicated to Ruby on Rails. For those of you who are out of the web development loop, Ruby on Rails (or simpy Rails) is an open source web application framework written in the Ruby programming language. In short, the Rails framework gives developers the power to create powerful web applications quickly and sustainably using much less code. What follows are some highlights from the conference.

WalkingBoss, a GPS/Google Maps/Flickr Mashup
Doug Fales gave a great presentation on WalkingBoss, a mashup that plots GPS data and photographs on a Google map. The basic process involves uploading a coordinate file generated by your GPS device, and then uploading photos or hooking it up to a Flickr photo collection. From the uploaded info, the site plots out a full course along the map with photo markers along the way.

This presentation was particularly intriguing to me because of its similarity to a project we’re currently working on at Ideum. Using PHP, we’ve built an Ajax-driven recycling site that plots recycling centers on a Google map. After seeing seeing this presentation, it became apparent that the site could be built more easily with Rails, making use of such features as built-in Ajax functionality, form validation, Scaffolding, and simple Google Maps integration using JavascriptGeneratorTemplates.

A few map-related links..
Google Maps Mania Blog
Google Maps Blog – Geocoding at last!
RailsConf Facebook
RecyleMap Torrance (coming soon)

BBC on Rails
Matt Biddulph, former Head of Plugging Things Into Other Things at the BBC’s Radio and Music Interactive, gave a great presentation on how they used Rails to create the BBC Programme Catalogue site, a searchable index containing details on nearly a million BBC radio & TV programs, dating back 75 years. His talk covered the ups and downs of converting the BBC’s database from an internal green-screen application into a publicly accessible Web 2.0 site using Rails. The resounding message of this talk was that Rails can easily be put to use for large-scale web applications.

Why the Lucky Stiff
A welcome performance was made at the otherwise exhaustingly technical conference by why the lucky stiff, a writer, musician, artist, and computer programmer best known for his work with the Ruby programming language. He graced the audience with a rousing show full of poetry, improvisational music (with three backup singerettes!), a smattering of hand-animated existentialist videos about computers and technology, and powerpoint slides of dysfunctional, redundant, and inherently illogical code snippets. A niche performer, you might say.

Oh yeah. He wrote a Ruby book too.

Other Things I Discovered at RailsConf
Rails incorporates the Model-View-Controller (MVC) architecture, which separates a web application’s data model, user interface, and control logic into three distinct components so that modifications to one component can be made with minimal impact to the others. I didn’t really fully undertand the importance of this design metaphor until attending this conference. MVC makes applications easier to build, maintain, and, as Dave Thomas (not the Dave Thomas you’re thinking of) pointed out, easier for other programmers to read.

Siege is an http regression testing and benchmarking utility. It was designed to let web developers measure the performance of their code under duress, to see how it will stand up to load on the internet. It lets the user hit a webserver with a configurable number of concurrent simulated users. Those users place the webserver “under siege.”

Shopify is fancy shopping cart creator built in Rails. It lets you build shops with as much style and flare as you see fit. When you signup for Shopify, you can choose from one of our growing number of custom-made designs or get really creative and create your own designs.

Camping is a tiny web framework, less than 4k, basically a Rails microcosm. Built by why the lucky stiff.

Rails Weenie – find answers to your Ruby on Rails questions

End
All the cool kids say Rails is awesome. And from what I gathered at Railsconf 2006, they appear to be right. We’ll keep you posted as our relationship with Rails blossoms.

  
 
8