Ideas

Map the Museum: An Experiment in Crowdsourcing

Kevin Bacon, Digital Development Officer at Brighton and Hove Royal Pavilion and Museums, and Rachel Coldicutt, Director of leading digital agency Caper, on developing an open data collections project

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“We’ve made it clear to the audience that it’s an experimental process”

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MaptheMuseum.jpg

Map the Museum is an open data project, developed by digital agency Caper and Brighton & Hove’s Royal Pavilion and Museums, to understand more about the museum’scollections.

The website asks people to place objects from the museum’s collections on a local map and aims to demonstrate the relationship between the city and the museum, while also creating new data that can become a part of each object’s permanent catalogue record.

The first phase asked members of the public to place pieces of fine art, photography, archaeology and ephemera onto an online map of the local area and explain its connection. The second phase brought the website onto in-gallery kiosks in the museum space.

The project came about through the Royal Pavilion & Museums’ interest in exploring approaches such as open data and crowdsourcing in their digital strategy. Would it be possible to design an intuitive and easy user experience that created value for the museum, while also opening up their collections data for the first time? Exploring a sense of place seemed like an obvious place to start.

Despite the close connection between many of the collections and the surrounding city, location information is rarely featured in the museum’s object records. Many of the clues as to where an object might have come from, or be related to, are hidden either in text fields or in the objects themselves – in street signs seen in photographs or familiar landmarks in paintings.

Even the most committed local historian is unlikely to be motivated by the fact that they were working to add data in a museum’s database, so we developed an idea which allowed people to both learn more about their city, and showcase their local knowledge.

The resulting website is a very simple, almost game-like tool that encourages people to place individual objects on a map of the city. Having been through two iterations, the site is still in beta. We’ve made it clear to the audience that it’s an experimental process and have asked them to feedback to us, so that we can make the experience better and more useful.

Map the Museum is built around the following principles:

1) Openness is good: Map the Museum is fully open source. The object metadata is released as CC0 open data, the images can be downloaded under a non-commercial Creative Commons licence and the code can be downloaded from github. If you contribute to Map the Museum, you are not simply providing data to the Royal Pavilion and Museums, you are also contributing to a collective, visible resource.

2) Minimal friction is best: There are no user log-ins or verification checks, and users are not asked to provide lengthy reasons for their actions. Instead, contributions go live instantly and users are rewarded with a clear sense that their contribution has made a difference.

3) Errors can be corrected and data can be incomplete: Some objects have been placed in the wrong location, but these can then be moved by other users - who are given the opportunity to explain why.

4) Some data is better than no data: All of the data we collect is examined and verified by the museum’s collections staff before it is ingested into the collections management system. While curatorial expertise is still vital, Map the Museum temporarily redefines these activities as editorial rather than authorial.

The site has been met with a positive reaction. The story the placed objects tell – archaeological artefacts, paintings, ephemera and photographs pinned across the city – gives an alternative view of Brighton & Hove. Like all honest histories, it’s an untidy one, and we’re intrigued to see what sort of exploration it might lead to.  

Kevin Bacon @fauxtoegrafik and Rachel Coldicutt @rachelcoldicutt

Map the Museum is an open-source project. If you are interested in using it for your local museum, Caper can work with you to adapt it into a bespoke project or point you towards the programming code for your own development work. Contact: hello@wearecaper.com