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The paper reports on the lessons learned during the process of developing and running the competition, including the organisational challenges and technical context. It discusses how to create room for experimentation within institutional boundaries, the tools available to organise and publicise such an event on a limited budget, the process of designing a competition, and the impact of the competition. It also investigates the demand for museum APIs.
In Octoberthe Science Museum, London, launched the first mashup competition held in the museum sector. The Cosmic Collections project was based on a simple proposition: But how would such a competition work? In Decemberplanning began for the exhibition Web site or microsite for the 'Cosmos and Culture' exhibition.
The budget for Web design and development was quite small and had to include costs for external agencies costs as in-house resources were not available at that point.
At the same time, we were discussing the possibility of using our content management system to support the exhibition team in writing the content for the in-gallery touchscreen interactives that were to deliver the object captions and interpretation.
This content would be delivered to the multimedia applications via Web services from the content management system, taking advantage of infrastructure that linked our collections and image management systems with our content management system created during previous projects. The Web site was originally imagined as an on-line version api accessable eg programmablewebcom feature on binary brokers checks the gallery content. On-line crowdsourced astronomy projects such as Galaxy Zoo http: I began to test the idea against the organisational, museological and technical context in which the project would sit.
The potential competition could be aligned to the organisation's vision to be 'the most admired museum' and 'the best place in the world for people to enjoy science' and to its mission to make the best use api accessable eg programmablewebcom feature on binary brokers checks our collections with the 'highest impact for the largest audience'.
Aligning a project to organisational mission is important as it provides it with the best chance of on-going organisational support as well as initial approval. We met with the relevant departments to discuss the viability of the project, and then put together a presentation to inform the formal approval process. Aligning the risk profile of a proposed project to the host organisation's appetite for risk is vital, particularly in a difficult economic climate. At the time, the organisation's leadership had a desire for the organisation to take a few more risks, and the relatively small scope of the project made it an acceptable risk.
In this case, the worst case scenario would be that no suitable entries were received, but were this to happen, we could use the data to make a site ourselves so that the organisational requirement for a Web site for the exhibition could still be met. Before I explain the technical context for this project, there are two terms that require definition: They take existing information from known sources and present it to the viewer in a new way. APIs, or application programming interfaces, are a way for one machine api accessable eg programmablewebcom feature on binary brokers checks talk to another.
They tell a computer, 'if you go here, you will get api accessable eg programmablewebcom feature on binary brokers checks information, presented like this, and you can do that with it'. A mashup might use one API to access a set of data, perhaps a list of objects, and another to draw a map and place those objects on it. One of the main attractions of the project was that it built on existing technical infrastructure. Underlying Web sites such as 'Brought to Life' http: Object data collated in GOD can be re-purposed and re-published through new interfaces and Web services or APIs, and updates to records in the collections management systems are automatically updated on live Web sites.
Within the technical architecture for the Science Museum digital outputs, any functionality developed for future projects should aim to improve the overall capabilities of GOD. Alongside major long-term projects like Brought to Life, the Web and new media teams had increasingly worked to a model of using small-scale, bespoke APIs for very specific exchanges of data from a central database with in-gallery kiosks and the exhibition microsite for previous exhibitions.
The cooperation of the collections documentation and new media departments at this point were essential to the eventual success of the project.
The great advantage of this approach - where the data is free and easily accessible and left to others to exploit - is that whereas raw data looks unappealing, anyone can design tools to make it sing, mash it up with other data sources, like maps, to add extra layers of information. APIs are attractive for museums as they allow other people to re-use our data in innovative ways and provide interfaces to our collections that we do not have the resources to create.
But is it only a promise? The extent to which third-party developers would find our content usable was also unknown. Finally, while some technically-confident specialists or researchers might well write scripts to access cultural heritage data, there was at the time very little evidence that a museum API-based site that the general public would find usable, interesting and enjoyable might be created as a matter of course.
A mashup competition for the museum sector seemed to be a good way to test the promise of APIs. The exhibition included objects from different cultures, eras and locations across the world, items that would lend themselves to visualisations like maps and timelines, and provided many ways to approach the data.
Moreover, the physical exhibition was experimenting with new ways of delivering interpretation in gallery and with the form of object cases. Providing machine-readable access to our collections is an api accessable eg programmablewebcom feature on binary brokers checks project for the Science Museum.
Some exhibition microsite APIs had previously been opened to the public, but they were api accessable eg programmablewebcom feature on binary brokers checks designed specifically for public use, and it is not known whether they were used by any third-parties.
We wanted to release more APIs to enable greater access to our collections data, but it was difficult to find data on the formats and functionality preferred by developers likely to see the data, so a competition seemed an ideal way to run an open beta programme for future APIs.
It also provided an opportunity to discover what kinds of documentation would be required to make museum catalogue data comprehensible to people outside the sector. Once the project was approved by the exhibition board, planning continued in earnest.
The most important issues were designing the API, finding judges, deciding on appropriate prizes, and determining the optimum competition parameters. Calls to the API http: The API provides data about the object, including accession number, name, 'headline' a visitor-friendly indication of the significance of the objectdescriptive text, dates, materials and measurements.
Linked places, people and celestial bodies were included to help provide 'hooks' for developers to pull in related information or use in visualisations. Full documentation is available at http: After considering the options, I decided not to use an API key a code that helps track or restrict use of an API as the benefits of tracking were outweighed by the resources required to implement and manage it.
It also would have added a layer of complexity that might have been a further barrier to participation. As we wanted feedback to help improve the next iteration of the API, qualitative data was more important than quantitative usage information. The timing of the competition was coordinated across other commitments within the museum and to tie in with Autumn Moonwatch 24 October — 1 November We felt that the competition should not run for more than a month between launch and submission so that participants would not lose momentum.
Judging took place on-line, partly in order to minimise the demands on the time of our judges. We used the criteria as a scoring matrix to ensure that the judging was fair. Comments were optionally recorded to help contextualise the scores. I reviewed the criteria used for other mashup competitions. The final criteria are listed below, with some explanation for each as published during the competition:. As one of our project goals was to make use of limited budget and resources, we needed mashups that could be published without too much additional work.
Taking advantage of the transparency we had practised throughout the project, we further explained, "Make it easy for us. We are a small and very busy team. So the easier you make it for us to integrate your Web site into the Science Museum site, and maintain api accessable eg programmablewebcom feature on binary brokers checks for the next few years, the more we will like you" http: We prepared information about museum audiences http: I reviewed other competitions to get a sense of how much prize money was generally offered.
A number of competitions, such as last. This also allowed us to keep some budget in reserve, with the idea that we api accessable eg programmablewebcom feature on binary brokers checks award additional prizes if the project was under budget at the end of the competition. I did consider the issue of whether offering a prize would subvert the notion of tinkering for the fun of hacking with new data.
Based on my own experience of entering geek 'hack' competitions, I decided that prize money is rarely a reward commensurate to activity, api accessable eg programmablewebcom feature on binary brokers checks does provide a tangible motivation to finish and submit an entry. The launch event was held on a Saturday to enable the largest range of attendees.
We checked the possible event date against upcoming events in the relevant computing and astronomy communities, but after settling on the date, a big weekend 'unconference' http: Subsequently another 'open data' event was announced for the same day. This had an unfortunate effect on attendance levels for our event but shows the size and enthusiasm of the potential developer community. The primary goal of the event was to help people create teams by meeting people with complementary skills.
The secondary goal was to inspire them to share our ethos by giving them access to the objects and stories. We felt that experiencing the objects in person was important to help participants convey something of the material relationships between objects in the exhibition.
I'd originally planned to run some kind of 'speed dating for geeks' but realised that a neat binary division between programming and astronomy or any other division of skills and knowledge may not work for the type of person interested in this event.
We decided on an activity that would encourage people to mingle, and used name stickers with colours that represented the participants' primary area of interest. We hoped that people might start to form competition teams, and create a spirit of collaboration that would continue on-line. Chris Welch on the latest ways in which scientists are 'exploring the cosmos', and a special guest appearance by a drama character representing Caroline Herschelthe first female astronomer.
The event itself was a lot of fun, and we received good feedback from participants. The lesson we learned from the event was to decide exactly what it should be and make sure the format, particularly the length and venue, is focused around that.
While each activity was individually successful, the event ran for four hours, too long for a simple launch, and too short for a hack day or unconference. It was also difficult to communicate the ethos of an unconference to event helpers who had not experienced one for themselves.
Much of the decision-making process was publically visible, and those interested could comment at any point. In the early stages, I used an existing wiki based around discussions of machine-readable data for museums http: We used a number of free tools to help publicise and organise the project. Existing tools included the Science Museum Web site e. Hashtags are an effective way of creating an ad hoc conversation, and even a temporary community, around a particular topic.
Participants do not need to 'follow' or subscribe to another account — they can read the existing conversation by searching for the hashtag, and take part in the api accessable eg programmablewebcom feature on binary brokers checks by using it in a tweet or blog post of their own. With this in mind, we encouraged people to use the tag 'coscultcom' when discussing the competition. As with a Twitter account name, there is an art to choosing a hashtag — it should be long enough to be distinctive, but short enough that it doesn't use up too many of a tweet's characters, especially when retweeted.
We assumed that many of the potential participants would be on Twitter and that it was a natural fit as our main method of communication. We created an account with the same name as the hashtag, in part so that replies to the account would be found with the same search term. We started following people who might help spread the message and who were active in the relevant areas of programming, the open data movement, and astronomy.
We generally tried to design tweets so that they could be easily shortened when re-tweeted without losing vital meaning. The role of the Cosmic Collections wiki http: Free wikis such as pbwiki http: However, they can also be slightly difficult for people to manage. In hindsight, given later changes to project resourcing and the levels of participation that we were able to support, api accessable eg programmablewebcom feature on binary brokers checks blog that encouraged comments might have been as effective and might create a lower barrier to participation.