Dominic Oldman, IS Development Manager, British Museum
This month the British Museum launched a service known as a Semantic Endpoint that will allow more direct online access to the collection database. Although it is a technical service it will support the creation of new web applications and services accessible to many different audiences.
What is a Semantic Endpoint?
Since 2007, visitors to the British Museum website have been able to search the collection through regular web pages. The Collection Online system has nearly two million objects and is still growing but provides only one way of viewing the information.
So, although people can search the collection using our website, the search interface cannot really meet the needs of all the many different audiences that might use it. The Endpoint allows external IT developers to create their own applications that satisfy particular requirements, and these can be built into other websites and use the Museum’s data in real time – so it never goes out of date.
Why have we done this?
The demand for new digital services and products increases as the Internet grows. Research projects require particular datasets; aggregation projects need data to help make cultural assets more accessible to larger audiences; educational software requires access to up-to-date knowledge, and so on.
Digital services on the Web can only fully develop if the information that underpins them is more freely available. If more organisations release data using the same open standards then more effort can go into creative and innovative uses for it rather than into laborious data collection and cleaning.
Why is it a ‘Semantic Web’ Endpoint?
The Museum’s Endpoint specifically uses a global open standard technology for data storage and retrieval – the Semantic format. This means that developers can potentially bring together data from different cultural organisations (if they adopt the open standard) using a common language, and use it, for example, to study and compare all drawings by the artist Rembrandt held in one, two, three or however many museums and galleries.
The result is applications that are more sustainable and robust, and this means that developers can provide general open source tools that can be downloaded and used by anyone for free.
Also, the ‘semantic’ element of the technology means that it is structured in such a way that allows the discovery of connections and relationship between data from different sources that would be difficult, if not impossible, to discover with traditional technologies. With this, we can improve our understanding and knowledge of objects and events even further.