Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Online galleries and the democratization of content

I’ve had an idea knocking around the back of my head for a few months or so now, ever since I was in Budapest and discovered the Hungarian National Gallery have their collection online.

Now it’s not a stellar collection, but it’s definitely competent and well curated.

At the same time I’ve been playing both with Pinterest and Omeka - Pinterest as a sort of visual research diary to collect and hold images, and Omeka as tool for assembling collections of material and putting them into context to tell a story.

Of course some items have an intrinsic structure - a scanned diary has a beginning, a middle and an end, just as a set of tax records from the 1700’s have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Others are just a collection of items that be assembled in various different ways to tell different stories with the same content - it's what you do with them that’s important. One fun example is the University of Reading's Collections tumblr page - a happenstance athematic collection of oddities

And then there are sites like Artsy that try to build sites around particular artists for all sorts of reasons - for example their Egon Schiele page provides visitors with Schiele's bio, over 25 of his works, exclusive articles, as well as up-to-date Schiele exhibition listings, and as such provide a service to people interested in the work of an artist or group of artists.

And interestingly is that under all of this is what they call their art genome project trying to evolve a classification model for art.

However, for the purposes of this post, what’s interesting about Artsy is how they have taken and reused content to make a different resource.

For quite a few years now there’s been discussion about digital repatriation - basically gathering together digitised content and representing (or more accurately making them available for re-presentation) as a whole - manuscripts that have been split up can be re-united, cultural material looted during nineteenth century colonial wars can be made available again to the original owners and collections of an artist’s work can be drawn together to show how his or her work and style evolved.

And of course we’re talking about the reuse of digital content, and the need to understand that once something is made available for reuse it can be used in lots of ways, and that you’ve basically lost control of the content.

And of course there’s fear element - make a high resolution image available and there’s nothing to stop someone else copying it and using it make a fridge magnet, and if it’s a popular and attractive item, a bit of money.

Inevitably that will happen, just as easily as people will make things of intellectual value, it’s simply that when you democratize access to content things change ...

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