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Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

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Copenhagen, Museum of


Spild af Tif, Copenhagen


Innovative | Experimental

Why is an experiment in providing a Web analogue to the Museum of Copenhagen’s shifting epistemological and museological praxis that frames the city itself as the object of its gaze.

In doing so it embraces a visual and navigational approach that is an expression of the vibrant diversity of the city, and assumes as a matter of course user input and involvement, social media insertion and extension, throughout a site that spans and encompasses the diverse activities of a city museum that is also undergoing a huge program of archaeological excavations.

The site is also a window on an on-going experimental approach to the collections and user contributed content, which is in turn embodied in the museum’s massive multi-user multi-touch street-level portal called the WALL – cf.

(This portal is the subject of a conference mini-workshop cf.

The Website is framed by a web-based analogue to the 2D/3D “cityscape” user interface of the WALL portal.  The Flash header banner presents a 360-degree cityscape navigable by mouse direction, emulating the multi-touch interface of the WALL, and allows the user to drill down into mouse-over cityscape content, navigate to the database entry, attach their own comments, and share the content in their social media networks. The Flash cityscape also throws random image thumbnails up into the cityscape from the media database that is shared with the WALL, and these are also jumping off points for exploration of the city.

Any content drill-down page offers multiple jumping off points to explore the media database that is shared by both web and physical sites:

In the example opposite ( ), which is a click-through from a mouse-over object in the Flash cityscape banner, material from either the same place (Norrebro) time period (1960-70) or theme/tag (Faellesskab, Konflikt, Modstand) can be explored via the orange links; material can be selected from the same album in the picture strip above; a new browsing query can be started from the yellow FIND BILLEDER tab on the right, where you can select a new place, time, and theme; advanced search queries can be entered in the text box top right, and so on. All these functions emulate and indeed extend the functionality of the street portal.


Similarly, on both street and Web sites the user can add their comments to any piece of media, and they appear instantly in the other site. The Web version of this functionality, with greater fluidity of keyboard use compared to the large touch-screen keyboards of the street site, has encouraged greater dialogue between users about the media objects of the collection.

In this example ( ) there is an exchange going on between users, one of which used to live on the 3rd floor of no. 15 in the depicted street from 1950 to 1972. Users share recollections of the location of a pawnshop in the street.


This is of course also the case with user-uploaded content. In this example, a user (pedersendk ) has uploaded a photo of a child tied to a lamppost in one of the larger squares of central Copenhagen in the 1950s.

Dialogue with other users flows down the page ( media/19207), with comments on how this would not be acceptable today and reflecting on the uploader’s own explanation. (The comments in Danish explain how the user was visiting a relative in the city, and didn’t like to be inside the apartment or holding on to his parents while in the street, as he was used to playing unrestrained in the countryside where he lived. So in order for his parents to go shopping, they came up with this solution, explaining to worried passers-by, that he needed the fresh air because of his whooping cough.) As there were no examples of this particular form of “childcare” in the collection, the museum entered the discussion and asked the user to send the original image to the museum to be scanned and ingested into the archival collection.

Other user exchanges are with the museum staff. Some comments are corrections or supplements to descriptions of museum uploads, like in this instance where a user points out that while the building on the right is called the toll stall, it never really functioned like that, but was build as a guard room.

 Users are of course able to register and upload their own imagery - either on the Website itself or at the WALL portal, and this functionality has resulted in around 2,500 new media objects since the site opened early last year.

Once registered, the “My KBH” function (“My Copenhagen”) gives users access to all their uploads in an album, along with a record of their comments, and the images they have favorited – from which they can follow the user link to explore new uploads by their favorite uploaders.

As well as enabling text comments, the WALL interface allows users to record video comments in situ and attach them to media objects, and the real-time database synching between the Website server and the WALL server allows the two sites to feed each other – any comment or upload in one site appears instantly in the other.

 User uploads are another way of them commenting on collection material.  Example: the contemporary images taken by a homeless Copenhagener documenting his life and whereabouts in the city with a disposable camera comment on and broaden and deepen the museum-collection’s century-old documentary photography of shelters:

 In conclusion, a small city museum Website has embarked on an ambitious and innovative experiment, where it integrates the design and functioning of the site with a large-scale multi-user installation in the midst of the city that is the object of its focus, and initiates multiple dialogues between the two platforms, and between the museum and its users.

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