Collection databases Imaging

Microsoft Seadragon, Silverlight and collections

Last year there was an incredible presentation at TED which featured a demonstration of Seadragon, a technology that Microsoft licensed and has continued to develop.

Whilst the BBC and others have been using the Seadragon spinoff Photosynth quite effectively, Seadragon itself seems to have the most immediate use within the cultural sector with our large volume of 2D digitised resources.

Imaging Museum blogging

Powerhouse Photo of the Day – a new museum blog

I’m excited to announce a new Powerhouse Museum blog – our Photo of the Day blog.

This blog is aimed at exposing some of the amazing photographic work that occurs at the Museum. Our Image Services team doesn’t just do object photography, scanning and image sales – they have a fantastically talented group of professional photographers who shoot way more than gets seen in exhibitions and publications. Each day they will be posting a new photo – a mix of older work and right up to the minute shots. There’s behind the scenes photography, location shots, detail shots, and every so often we’ll be putting up a photographic essay complete with tips, techniques, and specialist insider information.

The other notable feature of Photo of the Day is that we are using our Flickr account to store the images. Each image is uploaded to Flickr, extensively tagged and where possible, also geotagged. Here’s one taken in China during some location work for our recent Great Wall of China exhibition. Clicking an image in the blog will take you directly to the same image in Flickr.

Already we’re connecting with other professional photographers on Flickr (and we’ve only just launched!). This is a good example of how a museum can utilise an existing content community (Flickr) to generate extra exposure for and conversations around its media assets.

Feel free to leave comments in the posts, or, if you prefer, in Flickr!

Developer tools Imaging Web 2.0

Comparing a site across browsers

One of the biggest problems when designing and developing a new website or rolling out a new look and feel is cross-browser compatibility. Usually the solution has been to have a series of machines, real or virtual, with different versions of the various different browsers out there installed, and then go through each one laboriously.

Fortunately now there is Browsershots which is a web-based browser farm which you can utilise for browser checking. You simply submit an URL to Browsershots and tick the various flavours and versions of browser you want to check against and then wait . . .

Your request is queued and once processed you can view and download screenshots of your site as it look in each of the browsers selected. Because it runs on actual machines these screenshots aren’t kludges, they are the real thing.


Content aware image resizing from Siggraph 07

A common bugbear encountered when working with diverse collections and images is the inability to gracefully created resized versions. We have never found a suitable solution to creating thumbnails of our collection for the OPAC and Design Hub – the current solution is to take the existing large image, resize it to be 500 pixels on the longest side, then take a square from the middle 400 pixels, and resize the square to 80×80 pixels, including any white space borders. This is run as a batch process. Whilst this works for most rectangular images it still has the unintended side effect of lopping off heads and feet, and on rare irregular shapes such as very long artworks, the thumbnail is virtually useless even for quick object recognition tasks.

Here are some examples –

But here, in a presentation from Siggraph 07, is a fascinating potential solution. It is quite amazing and by reducing or expanding an image based on ‘content’ has very interesting implications for intellectual property legislation. In many ways it does what MP3 compression does (poorly) for audio, intelligently remove the bits of the image that are least recognised by the viewer. In so doing it makes assumptions about the overall image – and how we ‘see’ images.

Imaging Interactive Media

Smashing Magazine round up of data visualisation

Smashing Magazine has put together a fantastic round up of a lot of very nice data visualisation sites and approaches. There’s a lot covered, plenty of links to explore, and much to inspire those of us dealing with huge amounts of otherwise impenetrable data in our collections.

Digitisation Imaging Interactive Media

Open Library demo launches

Internet Archive/Open Content Allinace has launched a public demo of its forthcoming Open Library project. Having heard Brewster Kahle speak about the OCA at Museums and the Web 2007, it is fantastic to be finally able to get some hands-on time with the work he was talking about.

Open Library is a very exciting project because it offers an open alternative to Google Books’ proprietary and retail/consumer solutions.

The search is impressive and the ability for users (both community and commercial) to improve the metadata of each record – adding reviews, publisher information etc – is exciting. The ability to locate the book in retail outlets (Amazon etc) as well as in your local library is nice too.

The page turning interface works quite well and is less flashy/dramatic than some of the others I have seen around. However, as Ben Vershbow at The Future of the Book writes,

But nice as this looks, functionality is sacrificed for the sake of fetishism. Sticky tabs are certainly a cool feature, but not when they’re at the expense of a straightforward list of search returns showing keywords in their sentence context. These sorts of references to the feel and functionality of the paper book are no doubt comforting to readers stepping tentatively into the digital library, but there’s something that feels disjointed about reading this way: that this is a representation of a book but not a book itself. It is a book avatar. I’ve never understood the appeal of those Second Life libraries where you must guide your virtual self to a virtual shelf, take hold of the virtual book, and then open it up on a virtual table. This strikes me as a failure of imagination, not to mention tedious. Each action is in a sense done twice: you operate a browser within which you operate a book; you move the hand that moves the hand that moves the page. Is this perhaps one too many layers of mediation to actually be able to process the book’s contents? Don’t get me wrong, the Book Viewer and everything the Open Library is doing is a laudable start (cause for celebration in fact), but in the long run we need interfaces that deal with texts as native digital objects while respecting the originals.

And, look – here’s a book from the Powerhouse Museum’s former incarnation – the Sydney Technological Museum! (hat tip to Paul for finding this!)

Conceptual Imaging Web 2.0

Trends in web technology visualised as the Tokyo rail network

Information Architects Japan have produced a lovely and witty map of the most popular websites on the Net at the present time. Unlike a lot of other similar projects they have used the Tokyo JR network map as a visualisation method meaning that if you know the JR lines you can make further inferences about the ‘stations’ . . . If you have been to Tokyo you will know which are the ‘cool’ parts of town, and which appeal to different demographics.

The interactive HTML version is particularly useful, and they have included a whole slew of sites that are usually missing from other ‘maps’.

Developer tools Imaging Web 2.0

Visualising a metasearch with SearchCrystal

SearchCrystal is a very nifty search visualisation tool. Above is the results of an image search for ‘Sydney’ across multiple engines – you can see clearly in the visualisation where results crossover and there is similarity. I really like the different types of search that can be done in this way – web searches, image seraches, video, news, blogs, tags . . . . below is a web search for ‘Powerhouse Museum’.

Collection databases Digitisation Imaging Interactive Media Metadata Web 2.0

Hyperlinking collectively shared images – Seadragon/Photosynth

There’s been a lot of discussion on the web about Microsoft’s Photosynth but this demonstration from TED really reveals the real possibilities. The image navigation opportunities offered by Seadragon are quite amazing but as Blaise Aguera y Arcas points out in the short demonstration, what a collective Photosynth experience offers is the ability for one user/contributor’s content to benefit from the metadata associated with everyone else’s content that is visually related (around the 6:10-6:30 mark).

If the cultural sector contributed images, or made use of this sort of application our very rich contextual metadata could be added to the common pool allowing for holiday snaps to be explored with deep connections to cultural collections and other people’s snapshots. And, again as Blaise Aguera y Arcas makes clear, the other side effect is the ability to generate rich virtual reconstruction works as well.

The BBC has already been exploring these possibilities.

Imaging Interactive Media Social networking Web 2.0

Visualising sound and music – visualisation tools

The big news around the internet at the present, apart from Microsoft’s Surface, is that Last.Fm has been bought out by CBS. Hopefully that isn’t going to mean the closing down of their current open policy towards data sharing and use.

One of the coolest data visualisation applications for is one that creates a rather stunning layered histogram of your tracked listening habits. Originally this popped up as an art project by Lee Byron at Carnegie Mellon, but now you can create your own visualisations via this nifty little program written by a 23 year old, albeit a little rougher.

Here’s my listening habits based on my Top 50 most listened to artists, averaged monthly,for the last 12 months.

Top 50 for the last 12 months

(click for larger)

I’m very excited about generating one of these layered histograms based on object usage in our collection database . . . . stay tuned.