The Web 2.0
We’ve embedded multitouch Flash applications into the GestureWorks site, making it (as far as we know) the first site to incorporate Flash multiouch! Many of the tutorial pages now feature their own multitouch examples that allow you to manipulate example objects on the page with zoom, rotate, flick and more.
If you don’t have multitouch enabled, the GestureWorks simulator still allows you to manipulate the objects using multitouch. Just shift-click to set additional touch points. The turtle above, an example SWF from our Away 3D tutorial, can be rotated in three-dimensional space by setting two static touch points using shift-click and then moving the mouse while pressing down. Try it for yourself.
. . . on the GestureWorks site. Today, we’ve posted a tutorial on how to make a multitouch twitter application in Flash. Not your cup of tea? Maybe you’d like to make a multitouch Google Maps/flickr mashup or just learn the basics on how to create multitouch applications in Flash & Flex.
Our tutorials have been some of the most visited pages on the GestureWorks support site and and we’re looking to expand the list even further. We’d love to hear suggestions on what kinds of tutorials you’d like to see on the site. Tweet us @gestureworks or comment on this post.
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.
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).
We’ve just launched a redesign of our portfolio site and blog. The site aggregates content from our Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube sites, embedding it in our new website. For now, we’ve added simple links to our Facebook and Linked In pages. We may expand our integration with these sites in the future. Along with extending our reach into these social networking platforms, the site is easier to maintain and update.
The site is powered by WordPress. While this is hardly revolutionary, having WordPress work as our de facto content management system gives us a flexible platform for our Web presence. Our portfolio and products are custom “pages” in WordPress. The WordPress plug-ins Tweet Blender and Flickr Feed Gallery display tweets and photo thumbnails on the front page.
The portfolio itself contains descriptions for 14 projects. We’ve gone with a new editorial style for presenting project descriptions along with an improved layout. Each project description contains links to either YouTube videos or Flickr photos (or screen shots). We use Adobe Flash to integrate these media items into each portfolio piece. “Custom fields” in WordPress are used as hooks to connect to remote content and control the layout.
Five of the descriptions in the portfolio are for new projects we’ve worked on this fall and winter. These projects all involve either multitouch and/or multiuser technology. The new projects are:
- Visitors explore the electromagnetic spectrum on a custom 100″ multitouch table
- Teams of museum visitors guide their ships to an extra-solar planet
- “Magic Planet” exhibit shows visitors global images on a spherical display
- A multitouch “Collection Viewer” presents surprising connections to museum visitors
- Visitors explore “Arctic Choices” with a multitouch, multiuser mapping exhibit
The redesign of the portfolio site is our 4th since the company was founded in late 1999. Here ‘s a look back on some of the earlier designs.
We just learned that the KQED Quest website won the Best Use of Web 2.0 / New Media Award at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. We worked closely with the KQED Quest team to develop this site, which makes extensive use of Google Maps and Flickr photos “mashed” into visually rich map applications.
Just a quick note that we’ve updated EditorOne, our online video editing platform. The software allows Web visitors to create their own video mashups with museum content and digital collections. The new version offers better performance, a full-screen playback option, and an improved content management system.
EditorOne now includes the display of source clip information and metadata. For example, when a visitor create a video mashup, a page is created that includes descriptions, transcripts, attributions, copyright information, and other important collections information. (You can view a live example here.)
The Museum Blogs directory site has been revised and relaunched. We have also added a companion site, Museum Podcasts (www.museumpodcasts.org). Both of these directory and aggregator sites are powered by our own RSS Mixer technology. The posts, episodes and information about each contributing blog or podcast come directly from their respective RSS feeds. The directories are updated about every hour.
Museum Blogs and Museum Podcasts have integrated widgets for viewing all posts and episodes in the directory. In addition, there is a ”detail” page for each blog and podcast each with its’ own individual widgets. All of these widgets can be freely cut-and-pasted into other Websites or blogs. Both directories accept new blogs and podcasts, so if you have any additions please send them along.
In January I will be teaching an online course for the Technology-Enhanced Communication for Cultural Heritage (TEC-CH) program. This online program is put together by the Università della Svizzera italiana in Switzerland. I’ve been teaching an in-person version of Museums and the Social Web for the last two years in Lugano, Switzerland each fall.
In my course we’ll be spending time within the online teaching environment and taking “field trips” to some of the social networking sites that museums are beginning to connect with. The TEC-CH online program has a full compliment of credit courses (European Credits) taught by professionals from all over the world. You can see the full course list here.
This article appears in the most recent print issue of the National Association for Museum Exhibition’s Journal Vol.27 no. 2.
Open source software designed specifically for use by museums has appeared on the scene in just the last couple of years. While commonplace in other domains, it’s just getting started in the museum world. The Internet is largely powered by open source software. Most servers run using Apache open source software, and millions of bloggers use WordPress. Many more millions of Web visitors use Firefox, the premier open source browser, to surf the Web. Museum open source software counts users in the thousands and developers in the dozens, but the movement is growing.
Wikipedia (2008) defines open source software as “a development methodology, which offers practical accessibility to a product’s source.” In other words, the source code is open to a community of developers who can modify it or add their own code. There are a handful of open source software packages designed specifically for museums, such as Pachyderm, Omeka, and OpenCollection. We’ll examine these projects, along with other planned initiatives, and provide some practical advice on utilizing open source software in museums.
Custom or Open?
Most interactive computer-based exhibits are developed using custom software. These exhibits are generally very expensive, quickly dated, and rarely shared. Open source software could eventually revolutionize the way in which computer-based exhibits are developed—with exhibit creators sharing their innovations and source code, as well as their expertise and effective practices. Open Source Initiative (2006), provides background on the topic and offers this encouraging view on the promise of open source: “better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower costs, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in.”
The Bernoulli blower exhibit. Photograph by Lily Rodriguez, © Exploratorium
A similar movement has already taken place in the museum field. In the 1970s, hands-on science centers began sharing “recipes” for exhibits. The Exploratorium Cookbook series, for example, shared the instructions for developing hundreds of exhibits. The Bernoulli Blower, which appears in the Exploratorium Cookbook II, 1980, is found in science centers all across the world. This spirit of community, which includes the free sharing of ideas, is central to the open source software movement.
Late to the Game
When it comes to technology, museums are usually behind, and it should be no surprise that this is the case with open source software. A fair number of museums are using more general open source software packages such as WordPress for blogging, or even Open Office for management and productivity. Most museums use open source software for their Web servers, but so far, only a handful have utilized software packages created specifically for museums. This will most likely change as the available open source software continues to improve, their communities expand, and more open source initiatives get off the ground. The following are some examples of available open source software that IT staff in museums should begin to explore.
Pachyderm – http://pachyderm.nmc.org
Pachyderm is a multimedia authoring tool designed for people with little experience in authoring computer-based exhibits. It uses Web forms and allows authors to upload their own media (images, audio, and video clips) to assemble exhibits. A series of templates allows authors to easily publish Flash-based presentations for the Web, CD or DVD-ROM, or an exhibit kiosk.
Scott Sayre, the Chair of the Pachyderm Governance Council explains that Pachyderm’s users are not necessarily just museums. “In many cases, faculty and teachers are using it as a building block, taking advantage of museum content. Both audiences (educators and museums) are key to the success of the project,” (S. Sayre, personal communication, June 26, 2008). On the Pachyderm site, visitors can view its showcase, which contains a number of projects developed by students and faculty. Its ease-of-use makes it appealing for exhibit developers who are just beginning to develop computer-interactive exhibits.
A Web form for a Pachyderm template.
As stated on their Website, Pachyderm (2008) is “as easy to use as filling out a Web form.” The featured templates allow authors to create multimedia presentations. Pachyderm can easily handle audio and video files, and it has a pan-and-zoom feature for images. While it is extremely easy to use, some may find the template-based environment limiting. However, more experienced developers (who can modify the open source code) can use Pachyderm to create custom computer-based exhibits, essentially building new features or custom templates on top of the Pachyderm platform.
Omeka – www.omeka.org
The word “omeka” is Swahili, meaning “to display or lay out goods or wares; to speak out; to spread out; to unpack,” (Omeka, 2007). The name is well chosen, as Omeka is a platform for publishing collections and exhibitions online. Web-based, Omeka (2007) is designed to facilitate “community-building around collections and exhibits.” The application is rich with Web 2.0 features such as a blog and Web feed (RSS), and it supports tagging.
Omeka began in the fall of 2007, but the roots of the project go back much further. As Omeka’s Executive Producer Tom Scheinfeldt explains, “Back in 2000, we found that museums had one group developing Websites, and another cataloguing and managing collections. No one at the museum was engaged in building rich interactive experiences,” (personal communication, June 25, 2008). Omeka is designed to fulfill that need, bridging the gap between Web experiences and collections.
While Omeka can be used to manage collections and is very well suited for small ones, “it is not a full-featured collections management platform,” stated Scheinfeldt. “Its real strength is in Web publishing, as a way to take a collection online and build rich narratives around the objects,” (personal communication, June 25, 2008). So, Omeka is not a replacement for collections management, but rather a tool for developing collections-based online exhibits.
Like other open source initiatives, Omeka is counting on contributions from its growing community. So far, most of the development has been done internally, but this is changing quickly as developers are beginning to have an impact. The software’s structure, which relies on plug-ins and separate “themes,” allows designers and developers to easily modify existing resources or create new ones.
The project’s online showcase contains a number of projects that have used Omeka software. For example, Hurricane Digital Memory Bank (2005) contains a collection of first-hand accounts from people who were affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The site contains photographs, audio and video, along with written accounts.
OpenCollection – www.opencollection.org
OpenCollection is a collections management application designed to handle large digital collections. The software “is intended as an alternative to expensive proprietary software solutions that have traditionally been used for collections cataloging and publishing by museums, archives, libraries and other organizations,” (OpenCollection, 2008). The administrative functions are completely Web-based, allowing the cataloging of items to be distributed and conducted on any platform. project’s roots go back to 2003, but the project wasn’t publicly released as open source until August 2006.
A number of museums have begun to use OpenCollection. Some are using it internally for staff only, such as the National September 11 Memorial Museum, but others have collections visitors can visit for themselves. The Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, New York has their collection online (http://collection.parrishart.org) and their audio archives available as well (http://audio.parrishart.org). A partial list of users can be found on the OpenCollection site.
Seth Kaufman, the technical lead for OpenCollection, explains that the project got started when, “We were building custom systems for everyone and that didn’t make sense. We’ve always been committed to open source software. So, it seems natural to do it. When we work with clients, we stipulate, and our clients agree, that whatever gets built goes back into the software,” (personal communication, June 20, 2008). This continual development allows for the addition of new features, making OpenCollection more competitive with its proprietary counterparts.
Along with developing software, OpenCollection supports a community. As Kaufman explained, “You can’t just make available open source software and expect people to use it. You need to support it. We try to help people to get rolling with software. Our goal is to get as many people to use the software as possible, to have them give us feedback, so we can improve OpenCollection software,” (personal communication, June 20, 2008).
The time seems right to break from the custom software model, build a platform for innovation, and try to reach science museums and other informal science education venues that have not yet connected with any of the existing open source initiatives. Ideum’s interest in open source software has led us, in conjunction with the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), to submit a proposal to fund and develop Open Exhibits (www.openexhibits.org), an initiative to create Adobe Flash- and Flex-based modules and templates for exhibits on the Web and the floor.
Another new initiative is CollectionSpace (www.collectionspace.org), a community-driven project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and led by the Museum of the Moving Image. The University of California at Berkeley, University of Toronto, and Cambridge University are partnering with the Museum of the Moving Image on this new open source collections management initiative. Carl Goodman, the Senior Deputy Director of the museum and the project leader for CollectionSpace, stated that they hope to have their software available sometime next year (personal communication, June 30, 2008). New and more options for digital collection management will most certainly be welcomed, as proprietary collections management software can be expensive and sometimes slow to adapt to technological changes.
The Future of Open Source
Evaluating which software package or technology to use on any given computer-based exhibit or digital collection is a complicated task and, initially, open source may only muddy the waters. Still, there is great potential and some “real” projects that are taking advantage of these new tools for exhibit development and collections management. With only a few active open source software packages to choose from, however, there may be cases when the software will not do what clients need it to do; the need for customized software won’t disappear anytime soon.
There are also questions concerning support and long-term viability of these initiatives. When approaching the development of a new exhibit or digital collection, these are considerations that are not normally factored in when looking at proprietary software, though perhaps they should be. Yet, even with these issues, the future of museum open source software seems bright. With each initiative the range of choices expands. At the same time, existing open sources projects continue to improve as their communities of both users and developers grow. All of this leads to better software, more features and innovation, and expanded options for museums.
Another important development is that the initiatives themselves are beginning to communicate with each other. Discussions have already begun that might eventually lead to interoperability between projects. In the future, it might be possible to take the pieces of one project and combine them with another. With a limited community of users and developers, the success, sustainability, and perhaps even the survival of museum open source initiatives may come down to working together.
The more museums and developers participate in these projects, the better the software will become. Each project potentially builds on the last, while new features are added, improvements are made, and new ideas are expressed. How often can people say that their project will benefit the larger museum community? That’s yet another reason to consider open source software for future projects.
Firefox Browser. (2008). Number of Firefox Users. July 16, 2008, from
Hipschman, R. (1980). Exploratorium Cookbook II: A Construction Manual For Exploratorium Exhibits. San Francisco, CA: The Exploratorium.
Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. (2005). Collecting and Preserving the Stories of Katrina and Rita. July 19, 2008, from http://www.hurricanearchive.org.
Omeka. (2007). Omeka. July 3, 2008, from http://www.omeka.org.
Open Collections. (2008). The Open Source Collections Management Software. July 3, 2008, from http://www.opencollection.org.
Open Source Initiative (OSI). (2006). The Open Source Definition. July 16, 2008, from http://www.opensource.org/docs/osd.
Pachyderm. (2008). Pachyderm Services: Multimedia Authoring for Peanuts. July 3, 2008, from http://pachyderm.nmc.org.
Weber, S. (2004). The Success of Open Source. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Wikipedia. (2008). Open Source Software. July 16, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source_software.
Tomorrow, I’m headed to Philadelpia for the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) annual conference. On Saturday, I’m presenting Web 2.0: A New Crossroads for Science Centers with Bryan Kennedy (Science Museum of Minnesota), Kevin Von Appen (Ontario Science Centre), and Nina Simon (Museum 2.0).
This our third year looking at issues concerning science centers and Web 2.0. We’re mixing up the format this year, to make the session more participatory. We will have a brief presentation with much more time for questions and contributions from those attending. There are some starter questions which Nina posted on her blog. We’re also posting bookmarks on del.icio.us with the tag astcweb2.
On Sunday I’ll be at the ExhibitFiles brunch. We’ll be talking about what we’ve learned in the year and half since the ExhibitFiles community site launched. There’s more on the ExhibitFiles in our portfolio. Hope to see you in Philadelphia.