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: