'Mashing up' at the UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008

This week I attended the UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008 in Leicester. Like last year, I also attended the 'mashed museum' mashup day the day before the conference. It's not nearly as big or glamourous as the BBC's Mashed, taking place this weekend, but it's an important and useful step forward for the museums sector, who are still coming to terms with the remix web culture.

The day was run by Mike Ellis, who this year decided to provide some more collections data to play with by working with Dan Zambonini to screen-scrape the data (outlined in his blog post, Bootstrapping the Naw).

I decided to tack away from object data altogether, and instead play with exhibitions data. This was partly because I've realised recently that exhibitions data (the dates, names and descriptions of museum exhibitions) is even more invisible than object data, and yet potentially more useful, and more socially interesting. For this reason, I put together an exhibitions information API for the Science Museum a few weeks ago, after manually collecting the data from trawling through old websites (some of which are no longer even publicly accessible).

I spent the first half of the Mashed Museum day exploring Freebase, which I'd heard about a few times but never properly investigated. After a bit of reading through the help pages, I created an Exhibition 'type', and then started to import the Science Museum's exhibitions through a semi-automated import process.

I spent the afternoon learning how to use the MIT Similie timeline to plot the exhibitions on a timeline, using the API from Freebase. I came to the conclusion that the API is actually pretty powerful, even more so because it has a useful Query Editor tool where you can run test queries and instantly see the results.

The finished demo is here: Exhibition Timeline.

Exhibitions Timeline

It starts with a javascript prompt asking you to enter a museum name. I suggest entering 'Science Museum' if you want to see it with some decent data. However, you can also refresh and try a few other museums, and if there's no data, then you can enter it in Freebase and instantly see the results.

I may try and refine it a bit over the coming weeks, but as a quick demo I was quite pleased - not particularly with the end results, but that the process of using Freebase and Similie can work so easily.

Have a play. And if you're interested in investigating Freebase, sign up and leave a message on my profile.