Author Archives: seb

Why are we collecting source code?

(via http://rekall.tumblr.com/post/92033337743)

(via http://rekall.tumblr.com/post/92033337743)

Part of what we continue to work on in parallel to the opening of Cooper Hewitt is capacity building for the museum to collect ‘the present’ – which includes the code that underpins and makes functional much of the ‘designs’ of the modern world. That means all the interactive, networked design ‘objects/works’, not just on screens but also those embedded in products, services and systems. I’m not just interested in this for ‘digital preservation’ reasons, but also to help us come up with new ways to interpret, contextualise and communicate the ‘how and why’ of these objects (and the choices the designers made) to our visitors.

Aaron liked what I wrote to a designer with whom we are working with on collecting some interactive pieces, and thought it made sense to share it in a redacted form. Sometimes it is nice to be asked to be explicit about why the underlying code matters – and so here’s what I wrote.

As the (publicly-funded) national design museum, one of the reasons we are interested in acquiring the underlying code and data is that allows the museum and future scholars and researches to explicitly explore and interrogate the choices and decisions made at the time of a work’s creation in response the the technological constraints of the time, as well as the adjustments made through a work’s creation to make it better respond to the needs of users. In the case of Planetary this is why we acquired the entire Github repository – the versioned codebase.

Approaching your choices of language and platform as ‘materials’ that were shaped by the period in which the work was made, as well as your decisions in the code itself, is extremely useful for interpretation and future scholarship. Nick Monfort & Ian Bogost’s book on the affordances of the Atari 2600 platform, Racing the Beam, is just one example of the kind of scholarship we foresee as being possible when code and data is acquired with works. This sort of exploration – of decisions made, and the technological and social constraints encountered – is key to Cooper Hewitt helping the public to interrogate and understand works in the collection and the work of designers as more than just aesthetic experiences.

Increasingly when we are acquiring interactive works we are also interested in how users used and reacted to them. In these cases we would also consider acquiring user research, user feedback and usage data along with a work – so that future scholars and visitors could understand a work’s success in achieving its stated goals. In terms of product design collections this is often reduced to ‘market and sales performance’ but we feel that in the case of works on the internet there is far more potential opportunity to explore other more complex and nuanced measures of relative ‘success’ that reveal the work that interaction designers and the choices they make.

In respect to [redacted] specifically, it helps visitors understand that you made this work in a particular way when you did because that’s how the technology and access to data was at the time. And that if that it was to remade now in 2014, there might be a multiplicity of new ways to do it now and we can explicitly talk about the differences.

The other reason is that the underlying code and data better enables the museum to preserve these works as part of the Smithsonian’s collection indefinitely in the public trust – and perhaps exhibit them 100 years from now.

Discuss.

Dataclimber explores colors in the Cooper Hewitt collection

Rubén Abad's #museumselfie outside of a museum

Rubén Abad’s #museumselfie outside of a museum

A few weeks ago we became aware of Rubén Abad’s poster which shows all the colours in our collection by decade. We sent a few questions over to Spain to find out more . . .

Q: What were some of the precursors to the color poster? What inspired you?

A: The idea came when I first saw Lev Manovich’s ‘Software Takes Command‘ book cover. When I started looking at the data, another couple of paintings came to my mind. For example, Salvador Dalí’s series about visual perception and ‘pixels’, as in Homage to Rothko (The Dalí Museum). By chance, I attended an exhibition here in Madrid where I discovered ‘Study for Index: Map of the World‘, by Art & Language (MACBA). By the time I came back home, it was clear that I wanted to display color evolution over time using a mosaic.

Q: Did you have any expectation about what the final product would look like? Did the end result surprise you?

A: I didn’t have any preconceived notion. I liked to see how groups of pieces appeared.

Q: What were the challenges of working with the dataset? What were the holes, problems? How could we make it better/easier to work with?

A: Being used to work with data made really easy for me to work with the collection’s dataset, so thanks for releasing it! The only complain I might have is having to parse some fields, like medium, to be able to store the information in a more comfortable format to be queried.

Q: What would you like to do next?

A: I have a network of people and objects in mind, in order to display who has the biggest ‘influence’ in the collection.

Q: If other museums made their data available like this, what might you do with it?

A: I’d like to work on a history of the object project. If we were able to access all the dates and places importants in the object history, we could try to cross all the objects info and maybe, it’s never known, find new hubs where pieces happened to be at the same time and why they were there. Another interesting project would be to find gender inequality among collections, not only when looking at artists/designers, but also with donors and funders and even among representations (iconography). Have this roles changed over the years? Are different depending on countries?

Dataclimber's color poster.

Dataclimber’s color poster.

Pandas, Press, Planetary

It has been a few crazy days since we announced the addition of iPad App, Planetary, to the museum’s collection.

If you haven’t yet read the long essay about what we’ve done, then it is squirrelled away on the Museum’s Object of the Day blog. The short version is that it is the first time that the museum has acquired code, and that code has also been open sourced as a part of the preservation strategy.

Here’s some of the press it has generated so far. We’ll spare you the hundreds of tweets!

Smithsonian Magazine – “How Does a Museum Collect an iPad app for its Collections?

The Verge – “Hello art world: Smithsonian acquires first piece of code for design collection

Blouin ArtInfo – “The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum Redefines Design by Acquiring Its First Code

Slate – “How Does a Design Museum Add Software to Its Collection? There’s an App for That.

cNet – “Bragging rights for iPad app: First code in Smithsonian design museum

Gizmodo – “The Smithsonian Just Added a Chunk of Code to Its Permanent Collection

Tech Crunch – “Cooper-Hewitt Adds The First Piece Of Code To Its Design Collection

AllThingsD – “Your iTunes Collection, Displayed as a Solar System

TUAW – “Smithsonian adds iPad app code to its collection

MemeBurn – “Smithsonian acquires first piece of code for design collection

LA Times – “Planetary, an iPad app, enters collection of Cooper-Hewitt museum

Hyperallergic – “The First Code Acquired by Smithsonian’s Design Museum is Released to the World

Future Insights – “Intergalactic Planetary: Tell us what you think

We’re really happy – not least of all because we can confirm that like the Internet, the press also really love pandas.

And also Fast Company – “To Preserve Digital Design, The Smithsonian Begins Collecting Apps

And another award!

MUSE award-1024

This time we picked up a Gold award from the American Association of Museum’s Media and Technology MUSE awards. We won in the ‘APIs and applications’ category against some stiff competition from some very polished tablet and mobile apps. The category rewards “digital presentations, applications, and mashups that utilize existing data and online resources to transform content into new meaningful tools or experiences.”

Once again it is nice to see recognition, this time from the broader museum sector, for the value of ‘public alpha’ releases.

We won an award

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The annual international gathering that is Museums and the Web has just passed and this year we were lucky enough to win one of the Best of the Web Awards in the Research/Collections category.

We are especially proud of this award because it represents critical evaluation by our peers. And we love that they called out its tone, experimental nature, and its early alpha release. These are exactly the qualities that we believe offer the most to others in the field – something that shiny, polished, and ‘finished’ projects often don’t. What we are doing can (and perhaps, should) be copied by others.

We dedicate the award to Bill Moggridge and we’d like to particularly thank the generosity of curatorial and registration staff in letting us experiment to try re-inventing the collections online paradigm – a task that is far from over.

Congratulations to all the other winners – it is nice to be in such great company!