Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Colours of a tag

Friday, May 14th, 2010

I’ve been expanding upon the experiments I presented at VALA earlier this year where I built a search by colour application for the National Library of Australia. Out of curiosity I built the same search by colour application using approximately 35,000 images from Flickr Commons.

Since building these applications I’ve been wondering, do certain topics (or tags) also relate to a colour? Does a search for Paris return the colourful images your imagination expects? Are images tagged with red really red?

With a bit of help from the Flickr API, I’ve built an application that queries the 50 most interesting Flickr Commons images for a particular tag, and displays the colours of these images. It also attempts to create a definitive colour for the tag by averaging the colours out.

As you explore the tags more & more you tend to find that most tags return an average muddy brown colour. I suspect this is partly to do with many of the images being black & white & skewing the process.

It’s really interesting to explore a few different subjects and seeing what results appear.


Can we find an colour gamut for a format?

Cities and countries

Do different cities or countries have different colours associated with them?


Do objects have particular colours associated with them? Take a bridge. Why do bridges exist? They exist to allow us to go over a river or a valley. With that logic we should expect photos tagged with bridge to have a reasonably large amount of green or blue in the image.

Sure enough, we get quite a few images with green and blue in them.


Of course colours are a natural subject to test.





Have a go

Feel free to explore the application and find some interesting results. The URL is totally hackable if the tag you want to test isn’t part of the initial tag cloud.

Gallipoli Twitter

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

For the past few months I’ve been following a blog set up by the Australian War Memorial where they are recreating the diary of Herbert Vincent Reynolds by posting the entires from his diary on the days they were written. Herbert Vincent Reynolds enlisted in the First World War with the 4th Field Ambulance and went on to serve at Gallipoli.

One thing I’ve noticed about reading the blog posts is how similar they are to Twitter posts. Many of the entries are very short and the manner in which they are written is typical of what you would find in a tweet. I went back through the diary entries to analyse their content and measure the number of characters in each entry. The average number of characters per diary entry between 2nd Feb 1915 and 21st April 1915 was 342 characters. The longest diary entry so far has been 4066 characters long, but many of the entries are less than 250 characters, and really are just short snippets of information about the events of the day. They aren’t beautifully written entries.

Reading through the diary I’m convinced that if Herbert Vincent Reynolds had access to Twitter back in 1915, he would have used it to post his diary entries. The similarities in the writing styles and structure in the methods of communication nearly a hundred years apart is uncanny. It’s also interesting to note that the Australian War Memorial is using their Twitter feed to promote the diaries.

Everything I know about cataloguing I learned from watching James Bond

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

At VALA2010 I did a presentation titled ‘Everything I know about cataloguing I learned from watching James Bond’. What I was trying to explore was the notion of how searching for objects is changing. We are now so used to full text search for books, journals and newspapers that the traditional forms of metadata, such at title, author and date have become secondary research items.

For other collection formats like images or audio recordings, this traditional metadata is still the main method of discovering items. What I wanted to look at was the concept of a full text search for images. To do this I carried out some experiments in facial recognition and colour analysis over the photographic collection of the National Library of Australia.

Here are the slides of my presentation and a link to the search by colour application I developed as part of my research.

Common Ground

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

I’m really excited to be playing a small part in the upcoming Common Ground meet up to be held on the 2nd-3rd October 2009. Common Ground is a global meet up celebrating the Commons on Flickr to be held by as many of the institutions in the Commons as possible. The institutions will be projecting images from the Commons onto their buildings at night. In keeping with the community based spirit of Flickr & The Commons, the images have all been chosen by the public.

I’ve cast my vote on the images I would like to see and will head to Sydney to the Powerhouse Museum to sit with friends and watch the slideshow. On the night I’ll be giving a brief presentation on some of the work I’ve been doing using The Commons.  On Sunday 4th October, I’ll be giving a presentation with Paula Bray at the Powerhouse Museums Talks After Noon, where I’ll talk about what Flickr Commons means to me, show some of the things I’ve done with it and most importantly discuss the power of the community.

Come along, it will be a great night.

How libraries can learn from Twitter

Friday, May 29th, 2009

This morning an interesting Tweet arrived on a subject that I’ve been thinking about quite a lot lately:

there seem to be more people using twitter apps than twitter web. What is twitter doing wrong?

In April 2008, ReadWriteWeb carried out a study How We Tweet: The Definitive List of the Top Twitter Clients that showed that only 56% of Twitter users used the web interface. My gut feeling tells me that that figure is lower now, given the growth of use of devices like the iPhone. 

This is a perfectly valid question to be asking in the context of a traditional website. But Twitter isn’t a website, it’s more than that, it’s a service like email. You are not restricted to interacting with your email via one particular method. Likewise, by building upon Twitter using their API’s you are not restricted to using their service in the one and only way that you can, you have choice in how you interact with their service. The important thing isn’t the website, it is the service. could basically become a one page website and as long as the API’s were maintained the service would continue as normal for much of the twitter community. The user has a variety of choices in interacting with the service based upon their personal preferences. They can choose the relevant application based upon interface they like and the features they are going to use.

Flickr, despite having a far greater number of API’s available, hasn’t followed the same path as Twitter. Most people still interact with Flickr via the standard web interface. This is mostly due to their terms of use which forbids people replicating the user experience of Flickr:

Use Flickr APIs for any application that replicates or attempts to replace the essential user experience of

Rev Dan Catt who up until recently worked at Flickr said:

I’ve often joked that I could probably get more stuff done working with the Flickr API outside of Flickr than inside.

 So to answer the question, I really don’t think Twitter is doing anything wrong, they are doing everything right.

What can Libraries learn from what Twitter and to a lesser degree Flickr, are doing? Can we start to think about our catalogue (or other core services) not as a website, but as a service. The website version of the catalogue may just be one aspect of the delivery mechanism for the information we wish to distribute. Why can’t we look at providing our services to our users in any way they wish to be able to interact with them?

Why can’t we provide specialised access to our catalogues to specific user groups, so they (or anyone) can create:

  • a simplified interface for high school users without all the complex features they don’t use
  • allow an historical society to create an application based upon their needs
  • an complex view of the catalogue for academics or librarians
  • a visual or geographic based search
  • a social network based around the catalogue

Institutions like the Brooklyn Museum and collaborative efforts such as DigitalNZ are providing their content to developers to do exactly this sort of thing. It’s very early days still and it will be interesting to see what starts to develop.

Let’s start thinking about interacting with the service, not the website.