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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Culture24 and System Simulation Limited

The Culture24 website (previously 24 Hour Museum) has been guiding online audiences to the rich diversity of UK cultural heritage since 1999 - a long time in web years!  From humble beginnings when only a few hundred venues were in the system, the site now boasts one of the most comprehensive data sets of its kind in the UK, and is packed with places to go, listings, resources and more. Its mix of lively editorial, comprehensive venue details, daily listings and resources and has established itself as a unique and important online promotional tool for the whole sector.

Culture24 HomepageCulture24 Homepage

The site acts as a guide to all UK museums, galleries and heritage sites. You can browse content by themes such as Art, History & Heritage or Science & Nature and you can drill down into more specialist subjects such as Archaeology, Military, Sculpture, Medicine and Craft to name just a few. There are landing pages for each of the home nations, plus all the English regions, as well as postcode searching and (Google) map browsing.

Example of a Regional Landing pageExample of a Regional Landing page

During its ten year history the site has gone from strength to strength with now over 4,300 venues in the system and a readership of more than 200,000 visitors every month (from google analytics). Each Venue on the database can keep its own information up to date using a free online system called Direct Data Entry (DDE) and over 2,000 are active participants, regularly uploading their events, exhibitions and resources.

Example of a typical Venue Record Example of a Venue Record

The Culture24 website provides a high profile doorway through which online audiences can find and explore UK culture. The editorial focuses on telling the stories behind the museums - interviews, curator’s choices, reviews, previews and news. There are features that pull together the bigger picture on a subject, be it Anthony Gormley sculptures, Pre-Raphaelite collections or Alice in Wonderland artifacts. 

Example of a Themed Landing Page - Literature & MusicExample of a Themed Landing Page - Literature & Music

The Culture24 site is all about connecting people to culture using the Internet – the places to go, the exhibitions, stories, events and resources. Over the years the site has established a strong journalistic foundation as a training ground for new talent and has an award winning reputation as a good read. Daily news updates keep the site fresh and relevant and a network of partnerships ensures it is always amongst the first to break new stories and champion the sector’s successes.

The site was the original brainchild of UK Culture Secretary Chris Smith and Loyd Grossman, the first chairman. Their original vision for was a ‘national virtual museum’, an easy-to-use portal that would lead people through to individual museums’ websites and collections. This goal was achieved several years ago and it has now gone on to develop its remit to draw people in and give them the excitement of discovering something they didn't previously know about - and might never have thought they'd be interested in.

The sites development has taken an iterative and agile approach to web design and Culture24 have developed its own inhouse experitse shaping the site’s innovative use of subject taxonomies and tagging. User profiling was key to informing the site redesign in 2008/09 and rebranding from the 24 Hour Museum. In addtion, regular user surveys are carried out to better understand how and why the site is being used by its audience.

Culture24 has grown up with the Internet and changed to meet the needs of shifting user behaviour and needs.  It has continually evolved and developed to embrace new online technologies as they have come on stream and has led the sector in its use of RSS syndication. Since 2003 content has been widely syndicated to aggregators such as NewsNow and Google News, as well as being picked up by hundreds of blogs each month.  Culture24 was an early adopter of Twitter in 2008 and now has over 3,500 followers.

In January 2010 Culture24 decided it was time to begin sharing its data via a range of feeds to let it do its own thing on the web. They wanted to see how other people – partners, publishers, public – make use of it. Most of all, They believe that by sharing it as openly as they can, more people will get a chance to see it and appreciate the richness and magic of the UK’s fabulous cultural venues.

Culture24 data is available to share in three formats – RSS, SOAP and OAI-PMH. They are starting off with three different levels of data access – open, redacted and full – some levels are free and some need licensing. The data consists of geolocated, subject-tagged and sometimes curriculum-tagged information about the cultural venues in their database.

Culture24 is run from a small office in Brighton UK by a staff team of eleven, plus freelancers, interns and volunteers. Everyone has their own skills ranging from professional journalism, twitter and social networking expertise to blogging and fundraising. They are a registered charity and governed by a board of trustees chaired by leading UK cultural consulant John Newbigin. Trustees include individuals from: Channel4, Parliament, South Bank Centre, Blackberry, Tourism South East and IDEO. 


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