Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Things that didn’t get made #754 – the ‘eBay/museum API valuation’ web service

May 18th, 2014 by Seb Chan

One of the things that is most commonly asked of a museum’s collection is “so, how much is it worth?”.

In an art museum context this question is usually asked with an air of incredulity – as in “That much? Really? For that?”. In a history museum it is often asked because the inquisitive person has something similar sitting gathering dust in their attic or shed.

In both situations the museum is mute. And with good reason – even if it sometimes results in uncomfortable exchanges.

So one of the digital products that sat unmade but staring everyone in the face at the Powerhouse was an eBay/museum API mashup. The idea was that ‘recent prices’ would be shown just like, say, Discogs does for its own marketplace.

discogs-price-index
(example Discogs sale history)

It made a lot of sense for much of the social history collection. We even talked internally about how many public enquiries such a service would reduce for the museum.

But these things can’t be made inside an institution.

Now harvesting the auction house sales prices from Blouin’s Art Sales Index and making a browser plugin that revealed recent sale prices as you hovered over artist names on art museum websites, would be a thing. In fact I’m sure it is already on Blouin’s roadmap.

But more useful and less provocative would be to build that more prosaic, less political, and more useful, social history collection eBay lookup service. Think of what it could do for thrift store hunts.

This came to mind again as I was reading one of Dan Hon’s recent daily letters (a veritable treasure trove). Dan mentioned, in passing, Amazon’s Flow app (iOS and Android)- “the idea of being able to point a camera at anything and being able to find out its current worth via a simple lookup on Amazon Marketplace or eBay”. Right now, Flow is aimed at buying new consumer goods and isn’t about secondhand items, but it won’t be long.

It would make for a nice two day project for a student . . . just not one working inside a museum. DPLA or Europeana APIs, anyone?

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