Revealing historic sketches online
Revealing the historic sketches of Francis Place for the very first time…
After Museum conservators in the Art department had completed their conservation work on the Francis Place sketchbooks – containing some of the earliest on-the-spot- sketches of Wales in the Museums collections – I was given the task of figuring out the best way in which to present these sketches online.
Secret sketches hidden for 200 years
Places' sketchbooks had been taken apart 200 years ago and their pages stuck on a woven paper backing. Recent conservation work has since revealed further sketches on the reverse – sketches that have been hidden for over 200 years.
What's more, these hidden sketches were a continuation of the panoramic view from the previous page – so by digitally stitching two double page panoramas together, new complete views could been created that would never have been possible to see before – even by the artist himself!
Now, how could we display these new super long panoramas online whilst still allowing the detail to be seen?
The default width for our webpages is set at just under 1000 pixels across, this was just not enough to be able to show off these panoramas in any detail, so I decided that the easiest solution was to add scroll bars direct to the image, allowing them to be displayed across the page whilst at the same time allowing the complete panoramas to be studied in detail.
One of these newly generated images is of a panoramic view of Cardiff, containing an unique view of the medieval town as it was back in 1678.
To show this detailed sketch off in the best possible way, I decided to repurpose our interactive image navigator tool, which allows the user to pan around a high resolution image viewing details close up.
By using texts from a previously published article on medieval Cardiff, I was also able to pinpoint and highlight certain aspects of the panorama that were noteworthy – be it places that have remained unchanged since medieval times, or places that have long since vanished.
Francis Place goes global
To promote this work, the marketing team at the Museum distributed several Tweets and Facebook mentions. As well as being picked up by the BBC Wales news website and local media, we also published images onto the photo sharing website Flickr and added the extra information as notes embedded within the image. To make it a bit more user focused, I posted a comment asking users to guess where the artist was postitioned as he sketched… The foreground area of the sketch has altered so dramatically since 1678, it's not as easy as it seems….
And as if by magic - it's still not here.
Well, the iPad now has a release date for the US - early April, not mid-March as first expected. It will probably arrive in the UK late April. In the meantime we seem to have exhausted ourselves trying to decide whether or not it's a good thing - let alone a necessary thing. But then not being needed didn't make the iPod or iPhone any less desirable.
Apple's marketing for the iPad has taken a turn for the interesting, as their key words are "revolutionary" - possibly true - and "magical" - what?! Of course it's slick, sexy, a thing of beauty; there might well be something revolutionary about it; but - magical? Now using that concept to describe a piece of digital equipment, that's revolutionary! It's a piece of kit that lets us use our email and the web, look at our pics and videos and play with all our digital toys (150,000 of them apparently). Eventually we'll be able to use it to read e-books.
Previously Apple were promoting the iPad's similarity with the iPhone in terms of functionality, so that we'd all feel at home right away. Now, however, the iPad is revolutionary, magical and value for money. It sounds as though somewhere in the flurry of attention since its announcement, Apple have abandoned the "third category" concept that so many people questionned, and instead are positioning the iPad as a gem of a product, something lovely and affordable and just so much fun. A must-have accessory, perhaps. In which case, where does that leave the e-reading function? It was never primarily an e-book reader, more for all-round media consumption, but publishers were desperately looking forward to the healthy, straightforward supply deal offered by Apple, and any further delay in launching iBook in the UK is surely going to be a major cause for concern.
Publishers are happy to have a bite
Macmillan have now ended their stand-off with Amazon, and come to an agreement over the terms of sale of their ebooks. When Macmillan initially demanded new terms, all their books became unavailable on Amazon.
Now, even Rupert Murdoch says that Amazon's terms "devalues books", and he looks like renegotiating HarperCollins terms.
The problem is Amazon's selling model, in which they act as a straightforward reseller. They can sell the ebooks at any price they choose, even lossleading on some if they want to. Apple, on the other hand, have taken a completely different model with US publishers, who are welcoming it with open arms. Apple will be buying ebooks from publishers at a price set by the publishers, with Apple effectively taking a commission.
There's still no indication that Apple has started negotiating with UK publishers, so when the first iPads ship to the UK at the end of March ebooks might not be available through iBooks. If not, however, it won't be trhough lack of enthusiasm on the part of publishers. This is one American trend I don't think we'll mind following.
Apple not so shiny
How disappointing to find out that, in one aspect, Apple are no different from Amazon. At the moment, no books are available for iBook in the UK. It seems Apple are just as behind as Amazon in negotiating publishing rights for the UK territory.
Disappointing, but understandable I guess. They're both American companies, based in the USA so it makes sense that they sort their domestic market out first. Also, as I've commented before, the iBook isn't being promoted as the iPad's primary feature anyway. It's just that, for some of us, that was what we've been waiting for! There's no way ereading will move towards the mainstream until we have a decent colour multi-touchscreen, multifunctionality and an intuitive UI. At the moment the devices on the market work for fiction (no images, minimum functionality needed) and the academic market (especially with the specialist Kindle Tablet for students). I'm looking forward to being able to browse my reading material in the way we now 'browse' the web.
It's i-read, not e-read
As predicted, Apple have launched their new product, what we were expecting to be their version of an ereader, with suggestions for names like 'Tablet' and 'iSlate'. In fact, the iPad isn't even marketed as an ereader but as a tool for engaging with media all-round. Jobs describes it as a "third category", and the promotional video highlights three aspects to the iPad experience:
- a web browser
- and lastly an ereader, featuring, inevitably, iBook.
Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and S&S have signed on provide content through iBook. Apple has offered a more attractive deal than Amazon by agreeing to link the ebook price to the print price. They'll split the sale 30/70. Initially publishers will still earn less from the iPad, but the agreement gives longer-term control and helps still fears that Amazon are driving prices even lower over time - and gives publishers some leverage.
Of course there are other features, and the larger touchscreen makes this a much better tool for enjoying your images in iPhoto and the most feasible device yet for downloading and watching films.
Perhaps one reason why Apple avoided positioning the iPad directly into the ereader market is the size. Although the 25cm multitouch colour screen is clearly easier to read from, ereaders have so far been promoted for their convenience, which includes being highly portable - more so than a pile of books. The iPad is nearer the size of a netbook, although at 1.25cm much slimmer (and prettier!). Another reason will be the price: although initial guesses at the cost were around 1,000$, at 499$ for the basic model the iPad is still a wee bit pricier than other ereaders, and the 3G 64GB model will be 849$.
Industry comments so far have questioned whether consumers actually want a "third category" device, especially at those prices. Publishers, however, seem to breathing a sigh of relief: at last, an attractive device and a publishing model that protects our profits. And as Jobs says, the 75m people who've bought iPods and iPhones already know how to use an iPad. The questions are, can they afford to, and do they want to?
To e or not to e?
A couple of years ago we were being told that everyone was talking about changes to the supply chain. Today the book industry "buzz" is undoubtedly ebooks. In fact, I'd bet that more words are being written about this issue than are being e-read – estimates on the size of the market are still 1%-2%, even in the USA. This first wave of users are the 'early adopters', people who habitually use new technology, whatever it's for.
First, there were the usual 'death of the book' noises, which have been emerging every now and then ever since the invention of newspapers (or probably since the invention of moveable type itself). Curiously, the fact that this premise has been discredited several times doesn't stop it re-emerging. In reality books align themsleves fairly quickly and eventually benefit from whatever was meant to sound the death-knell (remember how after VHS videos came out, cinema attendance rose?). The content crosses the platforms, whatever the medium or the technology. Newspapers publish books. Films and tv programmes have tie-ins. And publishers are exploring ways of spreading their content across online, broadcast and print. The online content adds value to the book experience, it's not yet replacing it.
Booksellers now have to find a way to maximize on these opportunities, as selling coffee and DVDs isn't the answer (just ask Borders UK – oh, you can't). Some publishers are already blurring the lines, or even eradicating the traditional route to market – booksellers – entirely. Amazon, playing cuckoo in the nest, is simply gobbling up other people's content and selling it packaged as an Amazon product. It buys rights to content and publishes ebooks that can only be read by the ebook reader Kindle – produced by Amazon. The same will be true of the forthcoming Kindle 2. And when you download your book you don't actually own it, you just sort of licence it – if it's deleted or withdrawn you lose access to the content. Imagine buying a new book from Blackwell's only for a bookshop assistant to turn up at your house some time later and take it back! (Actually that wouldn't happen if only because they don't get paid enough to make house calls. Booksellers are among the best qualified, best-informed and worst paid employees anywhere.)
The Kindle and other ebook readers are probably the reason ebook reading is still marginal to the market. The reading experience isn't great, as on the whole the screens are smallish and black and white. As pieces of kit they're expensive (average £250-£400) and limited in what they do (no video, for example). In fact most ebook users (53%) are using their laptop instead. Another common complaint is the lack of quality and range of books available. There are only 250,000 titles available for Kindle in the UK (350,000 in the USA, none in Canada); that might sound a lot but over 100,000 new titles are published every year in the UK.
For publishers, the pricing is the major issue. We can't for the life of us decide what ebooks should cost. Most existing and potential readers – over 80% - believe ebooks should be cheaper than print books. But, cheaper compared to what? Paperback? Hardback? Book club edition? And should it be available before or after the paperback release? Publishers have already seen supermarkets loss-leading on trade titles, should the value (not price) of their product, brand or author be even further undermined? And then there's the debate over author royalties, which the Society of Authors believe should be higher than the current 15%-20%, given the larger margins available to the publishers.
Soon, however (March, actually), a new ereader enters the market. We're going to get the long-awaited 'iPod moment'. Apple are making a press announcement on 27 January, which is expected to end much speculation and say that in March they launch their own ereader. An ereader is already available as one of the thousands of Apps for the iPhone, and it will probably be the kind of multifunctionality and style we expect from Apple that will change the ebook reader landscape, for the better, if more expensive – the Apple version is expected to retail at about admin:edit_field,000. By doing more and doing it better, Apple will bring the 'added value' to the experience that other ereaders haven't. Apple don't launch products until Steve Jobs believes they've got something special. Some years ago he said he wasn't interested in the ereader market – but, a long time ago, he said that about mobile phones… At least one very major publisher, HarperCollins, is already in talks about making ebooks available for the Apple hardware (iSlate?), possibly via iTunes.
Of course, there are still the whines of "you can't read an ebook in the bath" and so on; hey - only 6% of us say that the bath is our favourite place to read, so there goes that argument. Sustainability is a more valid concern: I wonder how much carbon we'll using as we charge up our ebook readers, what nasty materials they're made out of and what happens to them all when we thrown them away.
Once we get to know and, undoubtedly, love the iSlate, answers will emerge for some of these issues, and publishers can continue their experimenting with multiple, complimentary formats, while hopefully maintaining the true value of creative, high-quality content.
I am an Intranet & Web Developer working for Amgueddfa Cymru and this blog entry is about The Next Web Conference held in Amsterdam 15th - 17th April.
If you avoid the tourist areas after 9pm, Amsterdam is a calm and laid back city. People are friendly and the only dangers are the thousands of cyclists criss-crossing pavements and over-enthusiastic refuse collection trucks spinning three-sixty at road junctions – I believe the trams are there to provide safe passage over longer distances.
Anyhow, the first “unConference” day was a little loose in how it was arranged, but intentionally so. I ventured to the Mobile DevCamp and Music & Bits sessions:
Steve Jang, CMO of social music service iMeem gave away one of his insights: despite Apple’s current dominance in the market, Google’s Android shouldn’t be underestimated and would provide decent mobile development/financial opportunities - I should clarify that this conference had money iconography and business models roaming all over it.
Continuing with the music theme, Lucas Gonze presented one of the infrequent talks of the three days that tried to avoid direct business model chatter. His main reference point was Fresh Hot Radio, which allows people to propagate musical playlists and tracks in a sympathetic manor. Most of his selections appeared to be demos, third drafts found on web forums and such (all good); but his point was that the original author information was not lost through web propagation (embeds and share links). The website pages were simple, but they always tried to use the sometimes-scarce sources of artwork from the actual musician - it’s about the music after all. Jolly good.
Other sessions discussed and demonstrated musical ideas using mobile phones to aid interaction between the user and music. One example used an accelerometer as part of a university project, Mustick (PDF) - interesting because the development time was short.
There were Sun Microsystem start-up presentations intermittently throughout the next couple of days. The Mendeley pitch was engaging in that it approached the research world: organise your research papers across multiple computers and help find trends within your particular research field (museum's are full of curators and researchers). It is built on Adobe Air, I believe - the proliferation continues.
Andrew Keen conceptualised the state/ideal state of the web using both flamboyant and succinct language. I enjoyed his enthusiastic approach, even if certain conclusions appeared to be driven by the need for a good sound bite, rather than firm logic - "web 2.0 is dead, long live Twitter".
A Dave sidetrack: Andrew Keen used a Johannes Vermeer painting to demonstrate a particular intensity of human interaction: Woman reading a letter. I couldn’t recall the artist Jonathan Janson at the time, a fact that you wouldn't have known, but he created a humorous painting influenced by Vermeer: A young girl writing an email.
Turn on the radio, read a web article, visit the next web conference, Twitter is doing the rounds - that is fine and dandy. It can be used for good (twestival.com), it has an open API - aggregate this source into your website/application. A conference recommendation to help control your Twitter action appeared to be: Tweet Deck, another Adobe Air application.
Another Dave sidetrack: since leaving the conference I have wandered through the saveIE6 website. My web developer love of IE6 has been restored, I have seen the light - I shouldn’t fight it.
Michael J. Brown, an architectural theorist and practitioner (nice), completed the conference. He pointed out that current 3D environments have a little too much benzoic sulfinide (artificial sweetener) [Mr. Brown didn't use this kind of language] - they fail because they are merely trying to replicate the real world. Who needs hardware? He finished with the cocoon concept, a learning pod.
A scaled back research project of the cocoon: It would involve three back-projected screens, a touch screen and/or blue-toothed mobile phone with an accelerometer (you’re missing the point Dave - my head is in my hands) - Minority Report on a shoe-string.
Based on the MiNiBar in Amsterdam, where you have a key to your own fridge, create an installation where you have key to a locked cabinet and people are only allowed to explore the particular contents of their chosen cabinet.
Yes, I think I’ve been affected.
- The world of APIs and data aggregation wont stop tomorrow - disparate sources are being published somewhere as one
- You can’t create communities, they already exist
- The world wide web is the social network
The museums of Montreal
Museums & the Web 2008 has been a lively, interesting conference. As I'm still digesting all the knowledge from the many sessions, I'd like to talk how about how it all started: with a tour of the city's museums. This was a great day and I wish all the talks could be delivered from familiar surroundings, as staff talk about their projects in such a relaxed, off-the-cuff way and can actually show you the galleries that they're so proud of. Of course, with museums represented here from all over the world, Powerpoint has to suffice most of the time.
The first stop on the tour was the McCord Museum, which is a museum of Canadian history in downtown Montreal. They started by talking us through the new personalisation features on their web-site, coming under the banner of My McCord. These allow users to choose their favourite works, to tag them, annotate them (including annotating areas of images) and more.
These are features we've been considering for Rhagor, so it was also useful to see another implementation of this critiqued by experts in the Crit Room yesterday. It's a difficult thing to get right from a usability point of view, but the most compelling reason to do it is that it isn't an end in itself. If a user can register on your site and get access to new features, the possibilities extend to exhibitions and events that haven't even been planned yet.
They were also doing some interesting work with tagging. One of the problems of tagging is actually getting users motivated to go in add a bunch of tags to your collection. They achieved this through an interactive game which pitted taggers against other taggers (or the computer), the aim being to enter keywords that matched the other play. I wondered how the competitive nature of the game would affect the type of tags that users submitted, but it seems to work, and the difference in uptake between this and traditional tagging was a huge argument in its favour.
The next stop on the tour was the Science Centre. The highlight was a fantastic interactive lab where children put together short news items on topics such as genetic engineering or drugs in sport. They not only get to engage in a science debate, but they're simultaneously learning the basics of video editing, presenting their own news items and about how the media shows different sides of an argument. Really intuitive software too - impressive.
The final stop was the Canadian Centre for Architecture, where they talked us through their new collections management system and how they've made it work for them. The basic system is The Museum System, or TMS, and this was a piece of software I kept hearing about this week. I'll be mentioning TMS and an open-source solutions called OpenCollection in a later entry.
Designing with Teens
Designing for Young Children