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Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Monday, February 08, 2010

Museums and online logins pt.3: making a better “why” (with a bit of how)

Breaking down collections database silos has long been a dream for me as a user (and consequently as a developer), hence my involvement in and (perhaps unrealistically) high hopes for Europeana. Well, collections-related functions aren’t all that museum sites have in common, and lots of things would work better if a few more walls were knocked over. In Part 3 I’ll suggest some of the things that a service built around universal museum login could offer that aren’t going to happen with the current situation, but could be of value to both museums and their online users.

In the scenario in Part 2 you used your MuPPort ID to log into a museum site that you’d never visited before, and then fiddled around with your profile before using the museum’s thimble freaks’ forum. What else could you do? How about bookmark a few items in the thimble collection’s pages? You could then tag them and put them in a set along with the thimbles you faved on the Framley Museum site, then share this set with a group of thimble lovers on the MoPPort site. Whilst you’re there you put some pictures from the V&A next to others from the British Postal Museum and perhaps use them to build a nice little timeline in Magic Studio (I’d better mention my Declaration of Interest here). How about saving some events listings, filtered to your preferences, from a few museum sites, supplemented with the events listings held in the Culture24 database? This being an OpenID site, if gave it permission to link to your Flickr account you could also see your museum-related groups and contacts here, perhaps filtering new uploads of thimble-related images from known museum Flickr accounts for you to view and comment upon. In short, this would be a service where all your stuff from UK museums would be in one place for you to mix up, share, discuss, tag.

What would be required of museums? Well actually, unless they wanted some function based on registration that the service didn't offer or if they needed access control functionality (authorisation), nothing at all. Imagine then that most of the time you didn’t need to log into museum sites at all, only MuPPort, using the MuPPort bookmarklet to favourite object records and save searches. A museum would be added automatically to your master profile whenever this happened. When login was necessary on a given site – such as for using a forum – it would be semi-automated, much like logging into YouTube when already logged into Google (or like Athens, if you know that). But many services would be much more valuable when run across institutions and would be fit for MuPPort, or a developer building on its platform. And much of the time login is important for tying data to a user rather than for authorising that user, so lots of tools could wrap around sites in just the way that Delicious does: requiring nothing of the site itself, only that the user is logged in to Delicious. If nothing at all is required of the museum, where’s the catch?

Well actually more interesting is, where’s the extra value for museums? Here we’re finally back to recommendation systems, which got me mulling over universal login again. Pretty much any museum isn’t going to learn much from the patterns of their own users alone, whether through their explicit, conscious actions such as favouriting and tagging, or the trails they implicitly leave browsing and searching their site. Put together, though, many users over many sites, hopefully doing more, adds up to a lot of knowledge and a good source of recommendations. This is good for museums and for users.

Well it's late and I've spent too much time on this so I’m going to leave it at that. There’s clearly overlap here with what could be offered by Europeana, but in the UK there are other organisations well suited to the task (of course I’m looking at you, Nick). I wouldn’t want to say really who or what should provide a service like this, but I do think that universal login is only a part: the whole point is to build real value on top of a nexus of users and specialised content which current generalist alternatives can’t really offer. Is there a case for a service like this? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And thanks for getting this far...

I’ve put a quick survey up to find out what sort of registration-dependent activities museums run at the moment on and off their own websites. If you work on a museum website it would be really interesting to have your input, which I’ll put on this blog in due course.

Other posts in this series:


Seb Chan said...

Hey Jeremy

The only way logins are going to be valuable and sustainable is if they are, as you say, cross-institutional. I'd argue that they also have to have an offline analogue.

They need to deeply tie into existing membership/loyalty schemes, and they need a social status element as well. Nina Simon has written a little on this.

That is also why they are probably quite a long way off from happening - first, the internal systems to be overcome in terms of making incompatible systems talk; second the visitor privacy issues; third, the inter-museum issues.

But that's not to say some won't try.

Indeed I've been thinking about these things a fair bit.

I keep thinking back to the rewards schemes at the local supermarket. Each time you shop you get points, you can redeem these points later on. I can even redeem them for other loyalty schemes and earn points with online behaviours. From the scheme-provider's end, the data is very valuable, not just in a 'knowing the customer' sense, but also in a B2B sense where it is traded (often without the explicit knowledge of the customer).

So, if I was to join, say a V&A login I'd want to be earning points helping them crop their images, earning points when I spend money in their shop, earning points when i visit special exhibitions . . . . then redeem those points buying a private tour of the Royal Observatory on Valentine's Day.

That's the opportunity . . . now, that's going to be hard to make happen. But also very valuable for all involved.

Jeremy said...

Great point, Seb. I shied away from the off-line aspect aside from the briefest allusion.
I've thought a little about whether there's any mileage in tying a single institution's online to its offline presence, but as you say there's every bit as much reason to make this multi-organisational as there is for the online "membership" I've been banging on about. Doing it will be challenging, but I'm sure I heard mutterings of a UK (offline) museum ID some years back, which was when the idea of an online version first came up in conversation.
What sort of organisation do you think is in the right place to make single sign-on and trappings like a points scheme and bookmark stash happen in Australia? Or is it just too implausible that it could happen at all?

K Landon said...

I could actually envision some great test developments integrating online/offline use with different regional culture passes. In Maricopa County (Arizona), there's a culture pass through the library, where library users can "check out" the pass, and then visit various museums and such free or for a discount.
Given some good funding and programmers (in the US, this might be a good IMLS project), I could see this working. (The great thing about IMLS projects is that they extremely encourage code that is developed to be released, if not FOSS. Several great digital software packages have come out of these projects in recent years.)