Digitisation open content

Electronic Swatchbook version 2 – lots more public domain swatches, search by colour


We meant to launch our Electronic Swatchbook v2 last year but it got buried in a slew of server upgrades and other projects.

But here it is, now with nearly 2000 public domain patterns available for you to use and re-use. There are a whole lot of new swatches some dating as far back as 1837. And you can now search by colour.

Electronic Swatchbook initially launched way back in 2005. It was our first experiment with user tagging and also with releasing archival material into the public domain. The first iteration was always meant to expand but other projects got in the way.

Back then Electronic Swatchbook proved to us that, on the whole, you – the public – don’t come in and trash the place if we turn on tagging, and that releasing these materials as public domain gave these swatches new life, a new life that was often attributed back to the Museum (even though attribution wasn’t required). The comfort level that resulted led to the Powerhouse’s current range of online practices and pursuit of broader open access.

It should also be restated that the initial Swatchbook was, in part, a response to the demands of fashion design students to get access to the fragile swatchbooks for inspiration – a process that was time consuming, damaged the objects, and led to them being digitally photographed by lots of students.

Better to do this once and service them all. After all, that’s what digital is good at.

Since then we’ve noticed them appearing in all sorts of re-uses. And that warms the cockles of our hearts – and also provides good evidence of the worth of having the collection in the first place.

Giv Parvaneh (now at the BBC) worked on the original 2005 project when he was at the Powerhouse and again he helped on the rebuild and designed the ‘colour search’ feature. It works by analysing each swatch for a core set of colours – determined by breaking the original into smaller chunks then pulling the most dominant colours from each chunk. A colour hash for each image is stored in the database and this makes for quick cross-collection searching. As we add new swatches to the pot they need a once-only colour analysis.

(The site will be tweaked a bit over the next few weeks – the interface was never properly finished but here it is as a 80% done site – better late than never!)

3 replies on “Electronic Swatchbook version 2 – lots more public domain swatches, search by colour”

Love the swatchbook Seb. Colour search is brilliant.

I was going to ask you if any captions or details or tags were going to be added for each swatch. Is this in the final 20% of work?

@fraser : the swatches actually don’t have captions so to speak as they are effectively ‘pages’ in books. the books are catalogued and the sources are listed in the ‘About’ section.

we are going to make the tags visible but having just added 1500 new images we didn’t want to go with all these untagged images showing up nothing (especially because of the aforementioned lack of captions).

the colour search was a way around this problem of discoverability. we will show the tags later on – so don;t stop adding them!

we found on the initial ESW that the tags – even though they weren’t ‘visible’ to other users were actually pretty good. they will allow searching by style and pattern eventually.

we have a four project coding sprint happening right now so it is unlikely that we will make the tags visible for a few months. but you’ll get to see some (hopefully) amazing new things in the coming weeks.

Nice work, that’s a lovely thing. Searching by the feature that’s most important to the target audience may be obvious but doesn’t always happen. In this case the complexity of colour-based search would have put off most of us mere mortals.

And here’s ZoomBrowser again, used for explicity public domain content – a nice reprise to the week’s debate on the NPG/WikiMedia hoohah

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