Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Launch of the Powerhouse Museum Collection API v1 at Amped

October 18th, 2010 by Seb Chan

Powerhouse API - Amped

This weekend just gone we launched the Powerhouse Collection API v1.

For the uninitiated the API provides programmatic access to the collection records for objects that are on the Powerhouse website.

For the technically minded, Version 1 returns JSON, JSONP, YAML and XML through a RESTful interface – chosen mainly so that interested people can “make something useful inside an hour”. Upcoming versions of the API are planned to return RDFa. (Already Allan Shone has independently added YQL!)

Now you may be asking why this matters, given we’ve been offering a static dataset for download for nearly a year already?

Well, the API gives access to roughly three times the volume of content for each object record – as well as structure and much more. Vitally, the API also makes internal Powerhouse web development much easier and opens up a plethora of new opportunities for our own internal products.

The main problem with APIs from the cultural sector thus far has been that they are under-promoted, and, like the cultural sector in general, rather invisible to those who are best placed to make good use of the API. Having had experience with our dataset being used for GovHack, Mashup Australia (one of the highly commended was a Powerhouse browser) and Apps4NSW last year, we rushed the launch to coincide with Amped – the Web Directions free ‘hack day’ that was being held at the Powerhouse.

And, despite the stress of a quick turnaround (hence the minimal documentation right now!), we could not have had better timing.

Amped Sydney

Amped provided the perfect road test of the API. Carlos and Luke were able to see people using the product of their work and talk to them about their problems and suggestions. Nothing like combining user testing and stress testing all in one go!

Amped Sydney

Out of 250 people that attended the Amped, 24 teams submitted prototype projects. 13 of these projects used the new Powerhouse API!

So, what did people do?

Amped Sydney

The winning project for the Powerhouse challenges was a collection interface which pivoted around an individual visitor’s interests and existing personal data – aimed at being deployed as an entry experience to the Museum – and developed by Cake & Jar (Andrea Lau & Jack Zhao).

Honourable mentions and runners up went to a Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego?-style game using the museum objects as the key elements in a detective story built with multiple APIs and entirely without a backend; a quite spectacular social browsing game/chat client built using the Go language; an accessibility-enhanced collection browser for the visually impaired; a collection navigator that emphasised provenance over time and space; and an 80s dungeon crawl-style graphical adventure collection organiser loosely inspired partially by (the magical) Minecraft.

Amongst the others were a very entertaining ‘story generator‘ that produced Brion Gysin-esque ‘automatic writing’ using the collection documentation written by curators; a lovely mobile collection suggester using ‘plain English’ sentences as an entry point; and several collection navigators optimised for iPads using different types of interface and interaction design models (including My Powerhouse).

Judging

Now over to you.

Register for a free account and then create your access keys.

Read the (ever-growing) documentation. Then make stuff!

We’ll be watching what you do with great interest. And if you have any suggestions then email api [at] phm [dot] gov [dot] au.

Thank you to the inspired and pioneering work especially by our friends at the Brooklyn Museum, Digital NZ, and Museum Victoria. Their work with has been instrumental in informing our decisions around the API.

(All photos by Jean-Jacques Halans, CC-BY-NC.)

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