Richard Morgan, What is your museum good at and how do you build an API for it?


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A presentation from Museums and the Web 2009.

There has been an encouraging surge of interest in the museums sector in opening up museum data and building APIs on museum collections databases. However, a museum's collections are not the only and sometimes not even the most interesting service which a museum provides. Events, communities, shopping, learning and interpretation are all areas where museums have lively and engaging offerings. These areas typically have a Web presence, and therefore the possibility exists to build an API or make use of an existing API to open up that offering.

Furthermore, as museum collections’ content becomes more readily accessible on the Web, museums need to focus more and more on their value-add, the expertise and authority which they bring to the interpretation of their own collections and those of others.

Mini-Workshop: APIs- how and why [Mini-Workshop]

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Richard Morgan, What is your museum good at and how do you build an API for it?

  1. 1. What is your museum good at and how do you build an API for it? Richard Morgan Web Technical Manager, Victoria and Albert Museum
  2. 2. Introductions <ul><li>3 activities / discussions </li></ul><ul><li>3 demonstrations </li></ul><ul><li>Decisions </li></ul><ul><li>Frameworks </li></ul><ul><li>WARNING! </li></ul><ul><li>What do APIs mean for you? </li></ul>
  3. 3. Cognitive dissonance <ul><li>Is my museum actually good at anything at all? </li></ul><ul><li>Is there anything that makes my museum special? </li></ul><ul><li>Why would anyone want to use an API for my museum in the first place? </li></ul><ul><li>Focus on operational capacity rather than mission / goals. </li></ul>
  4. 4. The Zen approach to capacity <ul><li>It's a museum – get over it </li></ul><ul><li>Copyright </li></ul><ul><li>Infrastructure </li></ul><ul><li>Relationships </li></ul><ul><li>Content completeness and quality </li></ul><ul><li>All things that museums find hard – and that's ok </li></ul>
  5. 5. Demonstration <ul><li>The V&A collections API </li></ul>
  6. 6. Decisions <ul><li>Using the Django python framework – focus on what code we want to write </li></ul><ul><li>Increase capacity to move data – elegance is a luxury </li></ul><ul><li>RESTful interface with JSON </li></ul><ul><li>No API keys if it's just on the web anyway </li></ul><ul><li>Copy someone else – e.g. the Guardian </li></ul>
  7. 7. Barriers and problems <ul><li>Advocacy – why should we bother? </li></ul><ul><li>Tied to a vendor or system – no room for prototyping? </li></ul><ul><li>Infrastructure – can our system deal with API traffic? </li></ul><ul><li>Standards – dangerous if they become a way of not doing things </li></ul>
  8. 8. Activity: Collaboration <ul><li>What problems do you face creating APIs? </li></ul><ul><li>Can anyone suggest someone to help you? </li></ul>
  9. 9. What have we learned <ul><li>There are issues, but the benefits outweigh the costs </li></ul><ul><li>Screen-scraping is probably the easiest way of getting data and building a prototype </li></ul><ul><li>Production of real things is a compelling argument </li></ul><ul><li>Web application frameworks = rapid application development = more operational capacity </li></ul>
  10. 10. The “Damn the Torpedoes” approach to capacity <ul><li>Your museum is great. </li></ul><ul><li>Museums can be very good at task setting </li></ul><ul><li>Capturing something emotional and visceral </li></ul><ul><li>Online spaces negotiating between public and private. APIs facilitate that negotiation </li></ul><ul><li>What are we good at, what are we doing right and how can we do more of it? </li></ul>
  11. 11. More service, less data <ul><li>Data is so last year </li></ul><ul><li>We provide a service which allows people to construct narrative and identity using museum content, space and brand </li></ul><ul><li>How can we increase operational capacity? </li></ul><ul><li>How can we build an API for it? </li></ul>
  12. 12. Demonstration <ul><li>V&A wedding fashion site </li></ul>
  13. 13. Decisions <ul><li>Use the Drupal framework for all user-generated content activity </li></ul><ul><li>Use the Drupal services module to expose services with XML-RPC and JSON </li></ul><ul><li>Define Drupal views for quick read-only access to content </li></ul>
  14. 14. Our experience of Drupal <ul><li>Drupal core is quite good </li></ul><ul><li>Contributed Drupal modules are often unfinished </li></ul><ul><li>But there are lots of features out of the box </li></ul><ul><li>Works well with an ace development team </li></ul><ul><li>Assumes constant development and maintenance </li></ul><ul><li>You might want to use a service instead </li></ul>
  15. 15. Activity: What task would you set? <ul><li>What task might or does your museum set? </li></ul><ul><li>What contexts could that task be in outside of your museum website? </li></ul>
  16. 16. The ultimate museum service <ul><li>If I send my data to a museum, how will the museum make my data better? </li></ul><ul><li>Museums have dynamic, extensive corpora of text and data </li></ul><ul><li>How V&A are you? </li></ul><ul><li>What does the V&A have to say about your data? </li></ul>
  17. 17. Demonstration <ul><li>V&A tagging, text mining and data enrichment </li></ul>
  18. 18. Decisions <ul><li>Use lots of services in conjunction – cache and aggregate: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>OpenCalais </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Yahoo Content Analysis </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Our actual collections taxonomy </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bayesian analysis of categories </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Don't get hung up with feeding the information back </li></ul>
  19. 19. Activity: Why should I send you my data? <ul><li>How will you make it better? </li></ul><ul><li>Does your museum have a niche? </li></ul>
  20. 20. What have we learned? <ul><li>Drupal is good but doesn't feel super-robust </li></ul><ul><li>Text mining is surprisingly successful </li></ul><ul><li>Text mining and APIs demonstrate the importance of free text </li></ul><ul><li>That free text can be a public access description but it could be a user-generated comment </li></ul>