Opening up museum collections with RSS

The Queen Mary arriving at Southampton
BHC2492 The Passenger Liner ‘Queen Mary’ Arriving at Southampton, 27 March 1936
(Repro ID: BHC2492 © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London)

Last week, Mike Ellis posted about RSS feeds in museums. Specifically, how useful it would be if search results were available as newsfeeds. After a bit of tinkering around, and a fair amount of swearing at catalogue descriptions written in the Windows extended character set, I’ve now set up feeds for the National Maritime Museum collections. If your web browser supports RSS, then you should be able to find a feed on almost any page that generates a list of catalogue records. Here are some examples – a search for ‘tower bridge’; objects from the Atlantic Worlds galleries; paintings and drawings by Charles Pears; photographs of the Aquitania; relics found at Erebus Bay. The collections search is also available via OpenSearch, which I’ve tested in Firefox and IE7. If your browser supports OpenSearch, then ‘NMM Collections’ should be available as a search engine from any page under This is really cool, as it opens up our collections to be used by any application that can consume RSS. I’ve also extended the news feed items with catalogue metadata using dc:coverage (publication info), dcterms:spatial (geographical coverage) and dcterms:temporal (date made), which opens up the possibility of plotting the objects on maps or timelines.

Andy Budd – shark wrangler!

Just back from a refreshing two days in Brighton, where work sent me to a couple of workshops run by clearleft. Excellent, and inspiring, stuff from Andy Budd and Jeremy Keith.

Now for some rest before heading off to Devon on Monday…

Microformats and TEI reference strings

Several years ago, we digitised some papers relating to the explorer and put them online as the Flinders archive. I’ve been looking at that site with an eye to redeveloping it. Firstly, the markup needs overhauling to bring it up to the same standard as sites like the prints and drawings catalogue. Secondly, it’d be nice to come up with a good model for publishing written papers online. Most of the two million or so objects in the Maritime Museum’s collections are bits of paper; log books, letters, diaries, crew lists and who knows what else. There’s a copy of the Declaration of Independence, letters from Napoleon and Nelson’s last letter to his daughter. You can see photos of these documents online, but the original text isn’t available.

Continue reading Microformats and TEI reference strings

London Semantic Web meetup

Tom Morris announced SemanticCamp this week. It’s a two day thing (Sat 16th – Sun 17th Feb) centred around discussions of meaning and . No wait, it’s a two day thing centred around discussions of a practical semantic web. Something that I’m very interested in, so I signed up.

Then I read the rules:

Attendees must give a demo, a session, or help with one, or otherwise volunteer / contribute in some way to support the event. All presentations are scheduled the day they happen. Prepare in advance, but come early to get a slot on the wall. The people present at the event will select the demos or presentations they want to see.

Ok, the last time I gave a presentation was an Open Museum lecture at the Maritime Museum in 2003. It was an overview of our , as an introduction to two days of talks about current Solar System research in the UK. Prior to that, I’ve also given lectures to the Flamsteed Astronomy Society. About – what they are, how they might have formed, why the Stardust mission was so interesting, that sort of thing.

All fascinating stuff, and well worth talking about, but what on earth would I present at a semantic web workshop? Answers on a postcard please!

How to make Ajax work for you

Really handy overview from Simon Willison130 slides about Ajax. Around about slide 58 he talks about the magical power of . If you’re still using XML to pass objects and data around, have a look at this.

I’ve been using JSON at work to open up our collections databases. The Collections Online search results pages are seperated into a controller script, which parses the URL for search query parameters and pass them off to the backend data model; a set of backend classes which run SQL and generate result sets containing the results; and a HTML view page which takes a search results object, loops through and displays the list of records. Fairly straightforward design. This gives me the flexibility to write new views of the data without having to muck about writing new SQL and data-processing code.

So I’ve experimented with writing a new view page (less than 10 lines of coldfusion code) which encodes the search results object as a JSON string. I’ve then added a module to our content management system which can read the JSON object and display it as a photo gallery. Kind of cool really – an object is instantiated in Coldfusion MX on one server, but then processed and presented by PHP running on a second server. JSON is very handy for these situations where you need to pass complex data structures between systems running on different application servers.

The next step, I think, would be to come up with some reasonable, standardised representation of collections records then open up our data with a standard JSON API that can be used by anyone.