Vesica Blog Taking museums and art collections to the cloud

May 23, 2012

Some Thoughts on Museum Websites and Open Source CMS

Let me preface this article by saying that I have been working in the web space since 1997. It has been in a variety of different sectors and domains, from universities and education to a variety of businesses, and now, museums, culture and art.

We have recently started work on some museum websites along with Vesica integration. As always, the question of whether or not to use an Open Source CMS was an important one, and whilst the goal of this article is not take you through the process we took our client through – it is to help share some thoughts and perhaps give museums an evaluation framework, if you will, of the pros and cons of going open source, especially given the variety out there.

Over the years, I have worked with a variety of open source Content Management Systems. Today, the popular ones that we would look to work with are WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. There are others in the mix, like Expression Engine, DotNetNuke, etc. – here’s a good place to confuse yourself - http://www.opensourcecms.com/scripts/show.php?catid=1&category=CMS%20/%20Portals - but we’ll keep it simple. There are also licensed CMS options available (like SiteCore) from established companies. Then there is the option to build a bespoke system.

First things first, launching a website on an open source system is not always cheaper than a bespoke one. This can be the case because some companies (like us, for instance), have been building custom portals for years. We have code we can reuse – code that our programmers are very comfortable with, code that our teams can customize and extend much faster than they could Drupal or Joomla, so going that route would probably be cheaper upfront for many.

But this option will tie you down to the company that builds your website and CMS for you. Even if they are willing to give you the source code when and if you decide to take your website to another vendor or bring it in-house, there is very little chance that one developer will ever have good things to say about proprietary code written by another developer – so they will probably advise you to scrap it and start from scratch. Bad advice, in many cases, but common practice.

So, before we go on to evaluate our open source CMS’, let’s rule out bespoke and commercial CMS because that will tie you in to one vendor, unless you are willing to scrap everything, and it may not be cost effective for you, or the dependency on one vendor just does not make you comfortable.

Now to our discussion about Open Source CMS. I tend to think of museums as communities and institutions – so the website should reflect as such. There are a great many technical comparisons out there between the 3 CMS systems mentioned above. From arguments ranging to WordPress is not a CMS to how complex Drupal is getting – they are all subjectively justified. But looking at the out of the box functionality and extend-ability of all of the above – for me – Drupal is the clear winner. It’s extensive eCommerce integration with Ubercart, it’s extremely powerful user / membership management functionality, the templating system, views and blocks, along with the ability to extend it with abundantly available modules (and the ability to build your own) makes it a clear winner to build community and member driven sites.

So, should you choose Drupal as the open source CMS for your website? Here is how to decide:

  • Will you ever bring your website in-house? Is that an option you would like to have? If so, Drupal will make a good fit. WordPress and Joomla will too, actually.
  • Do you want your website to be extendable at a reasonable price? Drupal is your answer. With all the modules available, you or your vendor can get away without writing much php or database level code, deploying new functionality faster. Whilst Drupal development rates may be higher than other CMS systems, it’s generally faster to build and deploy more maintainable code.
  • A website is a relatively open development project – meaning that you might want to do a variety of things with it. Whilst visitor or collections management software focuses on one thing, your website needs to always evolve and engage a wide audience. It needs to be flexible and easily amendable and manageable. There are only so many ways you can do things in Drupal- it is flexible, but it gives the developer a framework to work with, which can make a website less dependent on any 1 developer. WordPress or Joomla, in my view, don’t have the framework elements of Drupal.
  • User / Member management. For me, this, along with Drupal’s permissions management makes it a system very well suited to the museum industry.
  • Ubercart. This is a beast of an eCommerce project – extremely flexible and powerful, it is the best way to approach ecommerce in an online community environment.
  • There is already some momentum behind Drupal for museums. There are some modules available for software products that are specific to the museum industry. Vesica will be on that list soon.
  • Without making this any longer than necessary – rich featureset, powerful functionality, extendibility, and a framework that allows for consistent developers across multiple development teams.

However. Not all is good in the world of Drupal. It’s a mature product, with thousands of lines of abstract code to accommodate the wishes and desires of a wide array of developers, which makes it very flexible, but tedious at the same time. It also needs to be optimised to run as fast as WordPress would, for instance, but then that’s the cost of picking a more powerful engine to drive your site on – it does consume more resources.

Of course, Drupal isn’t right for all websites. It may be too complex where the requirements are as simple as a standalone blog, an online shop or a photo gallery. But when you want the right mix with scalability and flexibility- I believe – Drupal is one the most viable, free, open-source options available.

May 17, 2012

Museums and the Cloud: Common Questions

Here’s a list of common questions (and brief answers) that museums and private collectors with sizable collections tend to ask when considering Vesica. If you have more questions you would like added to the list or require more in-depth answers, please comment or get in touch.

Is the cloud reliable / how often would the application go down?

The cloud is reliable – very reliable. In fact, it is probably almost always going to be more reliable than any software application you deploy in-house. Sure, there are outages, but they are rare. Cloud providers like Vesica backup your data several times in the day too – so even if there are unanticipated circumstances, the application and data can almost always be brought back. Let’s put it into perspective, the cloud is as reliable as Amazon, Google, Microsoft Hotmail / Azure / Office 365 are. If you use any of their services, you are already using the cloud.

Will we really save any money?

Yes, a lot of money. Simply put, if you adopt a cloud solution, especially one like Vesica for Collections management (or any other, for that matter), you don’t have to pay to purchase, maintain and upgrade servers. You don’t have to pay IT staff to setup and maintain these machines or networks. You don’t need to get into or get involved with complicated licensing or long term contracts for desktop software. This applies to virtually ALL cloud applications. Vesica can help museums save 30-60% of their existing cost for collections management systems deployed in-house. It also offers you a lot of added functionality out-of-the-box, like portability via an API, with zero additional costs or modules.

Do we need to backup our data? If so, what are our options?

Do you backup your hotmail or gmail email? If you don’t, you don’t need to back up your cloud applications either.

However, if you’re still getting comfortable with the idea of moving into the cloud, most applications will allow you some kind of an XML or JSON formatted backup which can be exported into other databases or software applications in the same industry.  You can get a JSON formatted backup of your data (or use the API) with Vesica. You can even download all your media separately – we’re considering wrapping it all up together to let you get a compressed backup file, but for clients in excess of 100GB, many don’t have any way to open those files, so it’s best to import the XML / JSON backup into another application.

To put things into perspective, most people using Windows 7 cannot open a file larger than 4GB – compressed or not.

How do cloud providers like Vesica backup their data?

Different providers have different policies, but everyone backs up regularly – it’s part of being a service provider. Incremental backups are and can be deployed across multiple sites along with full data backups at several locations. It’s really quite safe and cost effective and feasible due to the economies of scale involved.

Will the price ever go up?

For most cloud providers, this is unlikely (at least in the near future), unless the way the tech industry works changes drastically or the US Dollar, sterling or dare I say, Euro, collapses.

Can we enter information in foreign languages?

Yes. MOST cloud applications support UTF-8 encoding which has built-in support for foreign languages. That should include everything from Arabic to Hebrew to Mandarin.

Do we need to involve IT?

Typically, no. Because for most cloud applications, all you need is a computer / phone / tablet pc with an internet connection.

How does cloud or web-based software work with our website?

Most cloud applications, by their nature of being delivered as a service, come with Application Programming Interfaces, which effectively allow you to integrate them with other applications, similar to how you would a desktop based database that you had access to (although many of these might require you to purchase additional add-ons to web enable them). Using this Application Programming Interface, you can extract information that sits in your cloud based application and display it any which way you want on your website. It’s not complicated, but it does require the ability to develop websites. Many cloud software providers also have modules available for third party CMS’ which your website may use – that effectively means you’ll be up and running with a few clicks. Vesica, for instance, will have a Drupal module that can seamlessly integrate your collections with your website later this year.

How can we get data in and out of cloud based collections software?

You can generally extract all the data as XML or JSON. Depending on the nature of the application and what you store, it may be feasible for you to get CSV files or download all your media as 1 compressed file.

As a museum, what opportunities does switching to the cloud present us with?

Many. The cloud allows you to save money and focus your efforts on what you do, whether that’s conserving, preserving, educating or engaging your community without having to worry about technical staff, technical problems, upgrades, downtime or any technology driven financial inconsistencies.  It takes a slightly different mindset to adopt the cloud, but for museums that do, it is a liberating experience.

May 14, 2012

Pricing Museum Collections Software per Object

In the last few weeks, I’ve been asked on more than one occasion about what it is that lead us to pricing Vesica per piece / object in a museum’s collection. It’s true that this is a rather unorthodox  pricing model, not just in the museum / art collection sector, but for Software-as-a-Service solutions across all industries.

If you look at any SaaS or cloud based solution, the pricing is a combination of storage, a unit of some relevant measure (be it number of projects, number of domains, number of sites, etc.), and number of users. There’s a reason why many of these applications are priced this way – it’s generally due to the way public / private clouds are typically priced. For example, if you have a look at Amazon EC2 or S3 pricing, Microsoft Azure Pricing, or Heroku’s pricing model, it might begin to make some sense. These pricing modules are generally wrapped into some kind of algorithm based on the number of users and projects, etc. that the application might provide to a typical user to then come up with SaaS pricing, which the consumer pays.

To me, really, most of that is gibberish that is not always relevant to the user. Why, as the consumer of a B2B application, should I be bothered about things like storage in Gigabytes, or the number of users when it does not directly correspond with my business? A larger number of users does not always translate to increased revenue for businesses, certainly not in sectors like museums and heritage, where volunteerism reigns supreme.

So, for Vesica, we decided that our pricing has to be relevant. A museum’s collection is its heart and soul. If the collection is growing, it’s a good sign – the museum might generate revenue with the new addition to their collection over time. Perhaps the museum also has funds if it is acquiring. In any case, it’s a relevant measure for a museum, just like number of projects would be for a web development agency or number of companies would be for an accounting business.

When speaking with curators or museum directors, it is extremely difficult to strike a common cord if you start talking Gigabyes, Terabytes and number of users. It’s worse, if you sell desktop based museum software, and you have to work in the type of hardware you would need, along with setting up networks and what not.

We wanted to make Vesica simple and relevant – and I think we’ve done that.

Not only is the pricing relevant, it will save over 90% of the museums 30% or more when compared with any other solution in the market with similar functionality. The fact that we’ve grown to almost 150 customers in over 30 countries since the Vesica platform was launched just over a year ago is a testament to that.

Would you like to see Collections Management Software priced differently? Let’s hear your thoughts.

April 26, 2012

When Museums Pay for Free Consulting

The short answer is always. And they pay more than they would have than if they paid upfront.

Following on from my last article “Museum Technology: Adopt and Adapt” which discussed how museums need to use technology to become more efficient in today’s economy, this article will address another simple concept that applies in business, but which many museums seem to overlook, with disastrous results.

First of all – there is no such thing as free consulting – someone is paying for it – if it’s not the museum, it is the person rendering those services. The concept of volunteerism has been stretched to its extremes in this industry, especially in the UK, where people are expected to work in institutions with no or little compensation for years, and it doesn’t do anyone much good. It leads to the type of attitude discussed in this article: “What would you save? Museums or Libraries?“, and when it is taken to its extremes and professional consultants are ask to volunteer their services, in the end, the museum will pay for it, and pay more – much more.

Take, for instance, the case of a museum in London that we recently engaged with. It’s a wonderful museum and has some great medieval treasures, but they are managed rather inefficiently, especially when it comes to spending on technology and infrastructure. A few years ago, when the museum was looking to invest in IT, instead of hiring a professional for advice, they went to someone who volunteered from the local hospital’s IT department. Now, that may have seemed like a great idea at the time – not paying a professional some money to gather the requirements and recommend exactly what the museum needs. Instead, this free consultation led the museum into being tied with a paid contract with the hospital, which now provides IT support to the museum, maintains their website and a custom-built collections management system – when they can. Exciting, no? What’s more, for a small collection, they are paying extravagant sums of money. Let’s put things into context, they could save about £35,000 a year if they used a service like Vesica. What, then, you wonder, could a small museum do with £35,000 a year for 5 more years if only they didn’t go for the free consultation at the beginning. That’s the price you pay for a free consultation.

Then there is the arts centre in Central London. Run by a trust, volunteers and 2 employees, this trust approached a private college in the area for advice on what to procure for setting up a website and email. Again, this was a case of getting free advice, which was a good option as recommended by those working for free (the volunteers and the trustees). The college insisted that the arts centre must buy and manage their own servers. Yes, their own servers for 5 email accounts and 7 page website. After recommending spending £15,000 and helping the arts centre procure the hardware, the college was unable to support them because their IT personnel were busy, and the centre would have to pay for IT staff’s time to get everything set up. This advice was wrong from the outset and it cost the arts centre at least £10,000 in wasted spending, which came from a grant they got to promote and support the arts locally.

These are just 2 examples of the countless ones in and around the UK – the fact is that when someone is giving you free advice, they will advise you to their benefit, which will not be in the benefit of the museum, and will cost more than an initial consultation fee.

In other words, good advice is not free. You can’t get everything volunteered, and you shouldn’t have to.

Aim for professionalism instead of volunteerism every time and all who are involved will benefit.

April 18, 2012

Google Maps and Interactive Cultural Experiences

CS Fine Arts Center Interactive Google Map

The next version of the Vesica Interactive Timeline will feature a fully searchable, interactive timeline built on Google Maps. Whilst work has been ongoing to integrate the Google Maps API with Vesica along with other features, we recently had the opportunity to build a simple integration for the Introducing America exhibition at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

For users looking forward to enhancements to the newer timeline feature in Vesica – this is what it will be based on. You’ll be able to select a period and visualize your images in a map, then zoom in to interact with them. You will eventually also be able to further filter the data on this map like you can when you’re searching for pieces / objects in your account. So, in theory, you could ask the map to visualize for you all the objects in your collection between 1820 and 1880, then choose to look at just textiles, and then zoom in to the Far East region and see what you may have in your collections from China on the map.

Once complete, museums will also be able to port the map out to an external website using the API – which can add a new dimension of interactivity to museum websites.

The map for the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center can be viewed here.

April 11, 2012

Museum Technology: Adopt and Adapt

Filed under: Museums & Exhibitions,Technology — Tags: , , , , — Asif N @ 12:55 pm

In last month’s post “What would you save? Museums or Libraries?” I said I would talk about basic tips and ideas to help make museums efficient. These will range from a variety of topics, ranging from technology to operational efficiency to marketing. But we’ll start with technology – as it’s really quite a simple one.

As the title of the post says, museums, like most well run businesses, need to adopt and adapt to technologies instead of creating because technology itself is not a core part of their business model. What do I really mean by this? I mean that museums should, for instance, adopt the cloud, adapt to a business model that supports cloud technologies and saves them millions each year instead of investing (or rather expending) a ton of cash on procuring hardware and software that will need to be replaced in a couple of years. If a European bank is comfortable making the move to the cloud, museums can and should rest peacefully about their fears of security. After all, museums do not carry the same level of sensitive data that banks do, despite whatever irrational, unrealistic arguments might exist against that statement. Even if those arguments are to be entertained, most cloud or SaaS providers have gone through PCI compliance at some point, which means the risk is negligible.

Back to the topic at hand, museums are not in the business of technology. They should, therefore, stop spending resources and money on trying to develop technologies and instead work with existing providers and businesses in the marketplace to further technologies useful to them and reduce costs. This is really quite a simple principle and applies to all businesses in general. Take Vesica, for instance. Just because we are a software company that employs developers doesn’t mean we should start building accounting software to manage our financials. Instead, the efficient and business-wise thing to do would be to use accounting software built by another provider specializing in accounting software, preferably cloud / web based, so that, among other things, it is updated automatically with the latest regulation and laws necessary for the accounting function of the business to run smoothly. We could certainly venture into building our own accounting software, but to what end – that’s not our expertise and would be an inefficient use of available development resources.

Similarly, a museum with limited resources should focus on what its goal is and what it is good at – be it delivering an engaging user experience, conservation and preservation of history, education; whatever that goal is – instead of trying to pioneer new technology. If museums, both large and small, stopped consuming resources on trying to pioneer technologies and instead used what is available efficiently and tried to scale it, many of them can save thousands or millions of dollars each year – sadly, though, for many, expending budgets is about satisfying the ego, not bettering the cause of the institution.

Of course, I say this in an environment where research has led to less clarification. More and more organisations and businesses get involved with museums each year, and each of these proposes their own meta data or management standard, rules and methodologies to better run museums and manage collections, or innovative ways to engage with visitors. Whilst discussion and research is necessary to develop viable solutions, much of the discussion is theoretical and generally does not lead to substantial benefits to museums.

At the end of the day, the motto of this post is to say that the museum should focus on buying and using technology that is useful and delivers value for money. Being state-of-the-art, new, cool or wanting to own the latest hardware from Dell and Microsoft is just not reason enough to be wasting money in the 21st century. That’s what the dot-com bubble of the 1990s was for and persistent pursuit of such unwarranted goals will only lead to the shutting down of museums, albeit for no good reason.

 

April 2, 2012

Director / Trustee Recruitment Event – April 26, 2012

Filed under: Museums & Exhibitions,Technology — Asif N @ 10:06 pm

At Vesica, our team is realising some of the most complex technology challenges facing museums of all sizes. From taking collections into the Cloud, automating virtual exhibitions, allowing user engagement with collections via the web, to offering museums a seamless, new way to manage collections software licensing – the work we do is helping shape the future. As we continue to grow, we’re looking to add more experience and leadership talent to our Board of Directors.

In addition to our own Board, we are also looking to recruit Trustees for the Board of the new Global Association for the Advancement of Museum Technologies Initiative. So, if you’ve either got a background in museums / collections management or a strong desire to be involved in this sector along with real commercial acumen, and want to help shape the future of technology for museum, art and heritage collections, now is the chance to get involved.

Want to hear more? Come along to our Meetup / Event to hear more about the GAAMT Initiative and the leading-edge work we’re doing, network with members of our existing Board, see if this is for you and generally have a good time. The event takes place at our office on Underwood Street in London on Thursday, April 26, 2012 @ 6:30pm.

RSVP here.

March 12, 2012

What would you save? Museums or Libraries?

Filed under: Education,Museums & Exhibitions,News — Tags: , , , , , — Asif N @ 12:19 pm

At our last Museum Professionals MeetUp in London, an interesting question not only sparked a great discussion, but it has inspired me to share some thoughts – many of those based on our discussion. The question, in effect was:

“With government funding cuts across the UK, many libraries and museums are already closing their doors. What would you like to save, your local library or museum?”

It’s a very relevant question – but I don’t necessarily think it is the right way to approach the subject. Like small businesses, I think many museums and libraries have a rather bad attitude towards financial aid – just like small business believes it is entitled to public funding and money that the government should set aside for them, museums and libraries have also become increasingly reliant on such free money. Granted, museums and libraries make substantial (if not great) contributions to the intellectual, cultural and dare I say spiritual development of society, so they are actually entitled to social investment from public funds, but a big problem with both museums and libraries is the lack of guidance on how to invest this money effectively rather than just spending it.

The more project managers, curators and consultants I meet from the museum industry, the more I think that museums need guidance on how to maximize the money they spend. Just like big business has learnt to adopt cost efficient technologies and processes, museums must do the same. In addition to aiming for increased spending, museums MUST, in these difficult times, also look for ways to reduce existing expenditure.

The trouble is, neither museums nor libraries do that – the results, at least, are not visible in the UK. I’ve often also felt the same, self-destructive sentiment from museum and library employees:

“We’re already paid so little for what we do, so we don’t feel the need to drive change or change the way we work – we’d rather see the institution shut down.”

Whilst that is a paraphrase of the same sentiment from multiple individuals, it is a disturbing thought. Many of these people claim to have joined museums and libraries because of their love and passion for the arts and literary work, so this sentiment is disturbing at best.

Many museums, both large and small, can save hundreds of thousands of pounds each year by simply streamlining their processes, removing bureaucracy, spending money where it should be spent and utilising technology effectively. Management consulting has a saying: “Expensive is almost always cheaper” – and it is, in the long run. Museum employees have this attitude because of their years of volunteering – museums have this attitude because they don’t know anything other than volunteering!

I believe that we can save both our museums and our libraries. In fact, if the government and libraries put their head together (and maybe spoke to me or one of my colleagues, for instance), I don’t see any reason why libraries can’t compete with Amazon and why museums need to waste more money in times when museum revenues are falling.

Whilst I will discuss measures to help museums and libraries survive over the coming months, I think it’s only important to say that both museums and libraries MUST evolve, not just to engage visitors and readers, but to upgrade, make efficient and streamline their operational models.

February 20, 2012

What makes Vesica a unique Collections Management Database?

Amidst all the buzz and feedback about Vesica this year, one question has come up a couple of times. This question is primarily posed by those who’ve been through the features list but have not yet created a trial account to see how Vesica works. Others, who have used it, have been kind enough to answer this question for us. You guessed it – the question is the title of this post – “What makes Vesica a unique collections management database?”

Rather than give you a breakdown of how Vesica is different (or better – and you’ll find a comparison chart link at the bottom of the article to this effect), I’ll briefly discuss one simple thing that sets Vesica apart from the competition. Aside from the obvious benefits of a SaaS application – which I discussed in a previous article here – and unlike all other databases or collection management applications in the market, Vesica is unique because it was built with a unique approach. Unlike other applications, Vesica is not just an interface added on top of a database – it is engineered to deliver a user experience. We didn’t really want to create just another Collections Management Database – that’s boring (and a white and depressing dull gray colour) – we wanted to make managing collections a fun, beautiful and enjoyable experience. Of course, on the back-end, we deliver this with a robust database in a world-class data centre (solar powered, mind you), but our interface is built from scratch – a beautiful, synchronised medley of user interface gadgets that will make using collections management software a good experience.

Not only is our interface unique and bespoke, we’ve developed a system that allows us to push the boundaries in terms of innovation. Others rely on, in many cases, open source software and applications, which means that they are restricted with features and functionality allowed within the frameworks they work with, or they would lose the support of such frameworks or open source software.

As one of our clients puts it – “Vesica is really pretty, intuitive and easy to use – unlike other collections management databases.” This is true in fact as much as it is in spirit – Vesica is not just a collections management database – it is so much more and it is always evolving to help museums, collectors and heritage organisations better document and manage their collections.

For more information on what makes Vesica unique, see our feature comparison chart.

 

January 27, 2012

Why SaaS is good for Museums?

I’ve been asked this question 4 times this month already – and the simple answer is that museums, like all other organisations, should focus on what they do – not on software maintenance.

Of course, there is always some context to such questions, so here is some perspective. Typically, many museums, when they ask such a question, think about external funding from governmental organisations to start digitising their collections and feel that they may not be able to get funding to rent a SaaS application to document, archive and digitise their collections. Whilst that may be true in some cases, it is 2012 and such funders and funding organisations need to get with the plan. If they want museums to get more mileage for their money, in majority of the cases, SaaS makes perfect sense – financially and technologically. In my experience, it is simply a matter of communicating this to the funding organisation. At the end of the day, funders want museums to get the most from their investment, not to acquire something that they own and which will become redundant in a short period of time and may require expensive maintenance.

By choosing SaaS to document their collections, museums are, in essence, hiring an external company to build, operate and maintain a system for them — letting the provider make the investments in equipment and software, as well as staff needed to operate the software and related hardware. SaaS vendors like Vesica will deploy, maintain, update, and optimise your collection management applications, along with providing the infrastructure required to run them, while you maintain complete control over your applications and data.

Why should a museum choose a SaaS model? To enhance the user experience, gain remote access, attain service guarantees, achieve compliance, and off-load the many IT responsibilities that aren’t core components of their operation. Spreading infrastructure, development, maintenance, and future innovation costs across a broad base of users and museums means that you can access tools available to large museums tools that would otherwise be out of reach. SaaS essentially allows museums to take advantage of the “pay as you go” model, freeing more time, money and resources for productive tasks. Finally, SaaS applications can be be affordable for smaller museums too. Unlike typical software, SaaS applications require little or no investment and do not tie museums in to long term commitments.

Blackbaud, a SaaS provider of fundraising / CRM software for charities and nonprofits, has a wonderful whitepaper on the benefits of SaaS. To sum up the 7 big benefits Blackbaud mentions:

  • Little or no upfront investment
  • Reliable cost forecasting – affordable and fixed subscription fee model
  • No extras needed – no need to purchase new or proprietary software or hardware
  • Up-to-date technology – SaaS vendors keep your applications up-to-date – it’s how they keep your business, year on year
  • Security and reliability – SaaS vendors maintain compliant, secure, sophisticated and high-capacity infrastructure which becomes available to you without any extra cost
  • Remote access – as long as you there is an internet connection, your staff can access the service
  • Scalability – SaaS apps are flexible and and can help you grow quickly, typically with a few clicks or a phone call – without having to buy additional expensive hardware or software

Still have questions? Our team is here to help – so comment away!

December 22, 2011

Export Object Data to Microsoft Word

Documenting your collection just became more flexible – with Vesica, you can now print different parts or all of the information about an object to a Word document. It’s a fully-formatted export, and once all the information is in Microsoft Word, you can edit to your heart’s content. From the ability to do further research work, print and file hard copies, collaborate on objects at meetings, or simply export information about a piece into Word to customize and print out labels for exhibitions – in terms of formatting, editing and presenting your data, this new feature lets you do what you need in a tool so many of us have become accustomed to using.

Printing an object to MS Word is easy – you will do exactly what you’ve been doing to print your object information – except now on the window that allows you to choose which sections to print, in addition to a “Print” button you will also see a “Print to Word” button. Just click on this and you’ll be prompted to download the details of your object as a Word document – simple!

Here is a sample link to an object’s data extracted from Vesica as a Microsoft Word document.

» Download Sample

November 25, 2011

Vesica charts get drill down functionality

Filed under: News,Using Vesica — Tags: , , , , , — Asif N @ 3:29 pm

Vesica users today will be able to drill down from Vesica charts into detailed data about their collections. This functionality makes interacting with your collections easier, faster and more intuitive. Where as before you could just visualize your collection via the pie charts and would have to search independently to get the list of objects that made up the chart, you can now simply click on the appropriate slice of the pie in the chart, once to slide it out, and a second time to click through to get a list of objects that make up the statistic.

Let’s show you how it works. Below is a pie chart of all the artists who have work listed in the account we’re looking at. You’ll also note in the chart that we’ve clicked on Vincent Van Gogh once, so his piece of the pie has slid out.

Pie Charts - Drill Down Functionality

 If you clicked on the Van Gogh piece of the pie again, you’ll go to a page that will list all 61 objects in your account which have Van Gogh tagged as the artist.

Van Gogh in Vesica

The drill down functionality has been applied to all 7 charts in Vesica.

November 22, 2011

Preview: Interactive Timeline

Filed under: Education,Technology,Upcoming Features,Using Vesica — Asif N @ 1:28 pm

Further to the email some of our users would have received, we will this week start rolling out the Interactive Timeline to several accounts, with others to follow in the next week or so.

The Interactive Timeline Feature is another way to visualize and interact with your collection on a timeline and map. Whilst you will see a simplified but functional version of the timeline in your Vesica Dashboard, in the future there will be a more visitor interactive version of the timeline deployed on all Vesica galleries with a view to making the galleries a more engaging, interactive and educational tool for museums.

The Interactive Timeline in Vesica is inspired by the Helibrunn Timeline developed by the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Using the Timeline is easy – you simply select the appropriate period and the map reloads. Hovering over each region will show you the number and types of objects available from that period in the region. Clicking on any of the displayed results will bring up details of the objects.

We’ll be publishing more details on the planned enhancement of the Vesica Timeline in the near future – in the mean time, here is a screenshot of what many of you will start seeing in your Dashboard under the “Charts” link on the menu.

 Vesica Timeline

November 8, 2011

The Vesica Partner Program

The Vesica Partner Program was launched earlier this week and is now accepting applications.

Ideal for professionals and companies who work with the museum, heritage, art or cultural sector, the Vesica Partner Program offers a host of benefits to Partners, including:

  • Additional, on-going revenue

  • PR Opportunities

  • Participation in our Webinars and at Customer Events

  • And much, much more…

Vesica is a pay as you go, cloud-based collection management software application for museums, collectors and heritage organisations. With unlimited storage, CDWA Compliant data feeds, streaming audio and video, charts and other interactive educational and marketing tools, Vesica offers museums and heritage organisations a SaaS option, enabling  them to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in IT and licensing fees in addition to gaining operational efficiency and increasing revenue streams.

To become a partner, apply today at http://vesica.ws/partners/.

October 31, 2011

Are Mobile Apps for Museums Overrated?

Are Mobile Apps for Museums Overrated?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

The last year or so has seen a dramatic increase in all the talk about mobile apps, not just across the museum and heritage industry, but for all major sectors. From banking apps to games to photo management, from useful apps like the TFL Live London Underground Updates to the completely worthless ones like SimStapler, mobile apps are in. But are they really adding any value to someone’s experience on a mobile device, or do many companies invest in building an app simply because someone else (who is possibly competition) is doing it?

As with all things technology, building, buying or investing in something just because another company is doing it is probably the worst way to justify expending your resources. But marketing gurus, who drive much of the social media, interactive and website / mobile website policies in business and non-profit industries, will probably have you believe otherwise. For many of them, having a FaceBook app is vital to ‘staying competitive ‘- a mobile app is not different. But who can blame them – spending and job titles have to be justified if they are to stay in work year after year – but this article is not about the marketing aspect.

So museums can invest in a variety of different mobile apps – and most of the talk that you’ll see on LinkedIn groups, for instance, is all about trying to engage the visitor (without actually defining the visitor interestingly enough). But if we were to work back and look at mobile applications as tools and investments, the following questions need to be answered:

  • Will a mobile app increase visitor footfall, enhance visitor experience or keep visitors engaged with the museum longer (let’s stick measurable results here, not prophesized effects)?
  • Will the mobile app add to museum revenues in any way?
  • Will the mobile app save the museum any money in the long run?
  • Will the mobile app increase the museum’s operational efficiency or boost employee morale?
  • Will the mobile app add anything along adding to the knowledge and education of the public in line with the museum’s aims and goals?

Of course, it’s probably important to decide WHAT the mobile app will do before you go by evaluating these factors – but at the very least, a decision to develop a mobile application must, in my view, be subject to a YES for at least 2 of the above questions.

So, can mobile applications actually accomplish any of the above?

Whilst it may seem very promising from a visitor engagement standpoint, my personal view is that a mobile app will have little or no effect for most museums. For science and technology museums that target and engage a younger audience, by all means, yes – for others, I don’t think so. Most likely (and please quote statistics if they are available otherwise), the typical museum goer is actually irritated with smart phones, and at best, only uses it for email or the GPS (if they can).

That’s not to say that a well built museum app cannot serve an educational purpose – but even then, it really depends on potential visitors to show enough dedication to view the museum’s collection on a small screen – that requires quite a high level of tolerance, even with today’s technology.

I believe the real use of mobile applications lies in helping museums becoming more efficient and helping make the life of museum employees easier. Mobile apps, whether they are for phones and tablets, can assist curatorial staff or art historians in constantly managing and updating collection related data, without having to log into a PC or particular piece of software. This can be especially useful, if combined with the photography and scanning / inventory management related functionality available in today’s smartphones.

At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong here – it’s all just a matter of how each person approaches the subject of  mobile apps for museums. My general view is that customer / visitor facing apps for museums are overrated, and will, in all likelihood, not produce a good return on investment.

But we’d love to hear other views, so please share yours.

September 28, 2011

Annotate and Crop Images in Vesica

With the update this week, you can now annotate and crop images inside Vesica. This has been a popular feature request and after much consideration (and testing), we’re glad to announce that you can do this in the browser whilst using Vesica, so you don’t have to use your image editing software to crop or annotate images.

Cropping and annotating with Vesica is easy – next to each image in the “Images” tab when editing a piece, you’ll now see 5 buttons. The third button allows you to crop, the 4th to annotate, as shown below.

Crop and Annotate

When Cropping an image, Vesica automatically saves the cropped version as an additional image, in case you need to retain both the original and the cropped versions. Cropping is really quite simple and intuitive – you select the part of the image you want to crop and press the “Crop” button – Vesica does the rest.


Cropping with Vesica

Annotations in Vesica are stored as additional layers on top of the image, which means your original image remains unchanged. When you view the image in your account, annotations appear as you hover over the image (as shown below). Annotations are not shown in the online galleries within Vesica or on external sites if the image is displayed via an API.

Annotate
Annotating with Vesica

It’s really all quite simple and as always, the best way to get a hang of it is to start using it! Please feel free to post any feedback or questions, or contact support if you need assistance with the above features.

September 16, 2011

Short Courses in October 2011 – Ottoman Textiles

Filed under: Education — Asif N @ 4:36 pm

Continuing the educational pursuit of traditional arts, we will be offering the 2 following short courses next month (October, 2011) in London, UK.

To book, please call +44 (0) 20 8133 8050.

 

August 19, 2011

Update: Streaming Video, Audio and Search Report Printing

Filed under: News,Technology — Tags: , , , , — Asif N @ 5:03 pm

As mentioned in Tuesday’s preview of today’s update, Vesica now supports audio and video streaming via HTML5 across a variety of browsers and formats. Here’s a brief overview of today’s updates.

» Audio / Video with HTML5

The audio and video integration simply adds on top of your existing piece and collection pages. You’ll see audio and video tabs across the top when you add / edit a piece or collection as shown in the screenshot below:

audio video tabs

Adding and streaming videos is also really simple. Just click on the + button as shown below to add a video or audio file, and simply click on the file name to start streaming it. You can also change the file name / description, or download it.

video tab - vesica

You are currently able to upload the following formats:

Audio: MP3, OGG, WAV and WMA
Video: MP4, AVI, MOV, OGG / OGV amd WMV

» Icons

You’ll also notice the use of the pencil and trash can icon in the above screenshots. In this release, we’ve rolled out icons for all common functions, including editing, deleing, saving and printing.

» Printing

In addition to being able to print detailed reports about a particular piece or object in Vesica, you can now pring reports about listings of pieces filtered by virtually any of the parameters. You can do this by running an advanced search report on your main piece listing page. Simply select from the criteria you need and once the results appear, click on the print icon. The screenshots below will show you how easy it is.

1. Click on Advanced Search to bring up the search dialog, choose your criteria and press the Search button.

2. Once your search results appear, just press the Print button to print the results. It’s simple!

Today’s update brings us a step closer towards making Vesica a collection management platform that supports media of all types for museums and collectors.

There’s more to come on additonal planned features – visit http://vesica.ws/features/ for more details or subscribe to our rss feed.

August 16, 2011

Preview of this Week’s Update

It’s Tuesday afternoon and we’re happy to announce that the release scheduled for later this week (Friday) will not only add some new features, but will grow the application functionality in terms of compatibility and add something in terms of easier navigation and user experience. The team has been hard at work implementing some of the feature requests from Q2 of 2011 and we’ve been planning a list of features and functionality to add to the platform for later this year. So, let’s get started wth what’s coming:

Streaming Video with HTML5

That’s right, you’ll now be able to upload video files in various formats and stream (or download) them from within your Vesica account. You’ll be able to associate these video files with pieces and collections. To start off with, we’ll initially be supporting a maximum file size upload of 1 GB in the following formats: AVI, MOV, WMV, OGG/OGV and MP4. Over time you’ll see more improvement to the video management platform, including the ability to control quality and embed video elsewhere (with or without the API). The best part about streaming video via HTML5 – we can support all modern desktop browsers and most mobile devices, including the iPad / iPhone and Android based phones and tablet PCs. In terms of browser support, you’ll need IE9, FF4+ or the latest version of Chrome / Safari / Opera to stream the files. You can always download and view the files on your desktop as needed.

Audio Streaming Compatibility

In July we added the ability to stream audio files (for your museum / exhibition guides, etc.). We’ve now made some changes to the audio platform, the result of which is that you can upload any of the formats we supported previously, and they’ll play in all of the modern browsers, irrespective of the format. Previously, you were unable to play OGG files in IE 9 and MP3 files in FireFox – this compatibility issue will be resolved with the update.

Interface Changes

Yes, we’re finally adding some dropdowns for easier access to the many settings / configuration pages, the support ticketing system and the FAQs. In addition to that, we’ll be deploying some icons for the buttons you see on the site (like save, edit, print etc.)  to free up more space for your content.

A Word on Data Standards

The technical team has also been evaluating various data standards that are in use by museums across the world. Whilst there are no formal dates, in addition to allowing you to export your Vesica data using the Vesica API, we are also planning on making feeds of your collections and related details available in some of the other formats, like the Categories for the Description of Works of Art (CDWA) Lite by The Getty (http://getty.edu). Watch this space for more details on the subject if you’re interested in ‘open’ data for museums.

August 7, 2011

V&A’s Jameel Prize 2011 is weak

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) happens to be one of my favoured larger London museums, but that’s not going to save this year’s Jameel prize. Whilst the Jameel Family and the Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives (ALJCI) have done very well to raise awareness about Islamic Art and Craft (including their substantial donation for the Jameel Gallery at the V&A), the Jameel Prize 2011 is money wasted – something that would be better spent on preserving some of the traditional Islamic craft, or for that matter, helping feed people in the Horn of Africa.

Whilst it is no secret that I don’t really like contemporary or modern art, some of the quality of work shortlisted this year is just bad – and that’s the best thing I can say about it. Such contemporary art, when claimed that it is inspired by the traditions of Islamic craft and design, is simply insulting to those master craftsman who created some of the worlds most stunning textiles, calligraphy and architecture at the height of the Islamic Empire.

Contemporary artists sometimes fail to realize that the very basics of Islamic Art are about beauty, and I’m afraid that some of the works at this exhibition were far from being beautiful. Aisha Khalid’s ‘Name, Class and Subject’ , Hadieh Shafie’s ’22500′ paper scroll works or Soddy Sharifi’s ‘Frolicking Women’ are among the works included in the exhibition, and these suffer from the classic case of deficient contemporary art – don’t focus on making it beautiful, but write a fancy description about it. In fact, if you read the description provided for the works, some of them are plain wrong. Of Hadieh Shafie’s work, for instance, the V&A states that therein ‘the notion of meditative process, repetition and time  as found in Islamic art, craft and architecture is a constant element’. That’s actually quite inaccurate. Nothing about the Hadieh’s pieces in the exhibition represents this as it is done in Islamic Art. The application of the Breath of the Compassionate (or other such pattern) is representative of this meditative process and repetition, paper scrolls of varying sizes are not. Whilst I am not saying that the work is bad, it does not deserve any praise for its reference to a contemporary form of Islamic Art.

The exhibition wasn’t all bad, though. Some of the pieces were good – Aisha Khalid’s Kashmiri Shawl and Bita Ghezelayagh’s ‘Felt Memories’ tunic were some of the pieces that really stood out. Perhaps they were the least abstract of the lot and let their beauty and quality of work do the talking, which is what you would expect from a good work of art.

But don’t take my word for it – the exhibition runs until 25 September 2011. More information is available on http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/j/jameel-prize-2011-shortlist/.

July 28, 2011

Why Preserving Heritage is Paramount

Filed under: For Art's Sake — Asif N @ 2:23 pm

Stonehenge - British HeritageI’m often asked why it is that when I speak about preserving heritage or about possibilities with Vesica, I speak with such passion. The short answer is because I feel passionately about it. That’s difficult at times for some of my corporate friends (old and new) to understand, because during my career as a corporate employee, I was anything but passionate. I never really thought that being a great accountant or writing good software to help deliver some of the salaries that C level executives received was important (despite all the nonsense about corporate social responsibility they fed us), but I believe that saving our history and heritage is. If we, as a species, or as citizens of this planet, forget where we came from, we will never be able to assess the importance or morality of where we are headed.

And because I believe in preservation of heritage and history, at Vesica, our goal has been to make use of technology to help with this, directly or indirectly – and almost everything we do in terms of adding to the Vesica application is driven towards fulfilling this goal. So, why is it really all that important to save our heritage?

At the most basic level, so we can be grateful. Grateful for the things we have today; appreciative of how hard it must have been for those before us to make do without all that we have today; and aware of what we would need to recreate all that history has given us and taught us if we were to lose any of the so addictive dependencies (like technology) we have developed in the last century.

Unfortunately, despite the existence of museums, cultural and heritage organisations, this is already happening today. The number of things we take for granted today is virtually infinite. Take technology, for instance. As a software company, it is very easy to take the availability of computers, servers, the internet and application frameworks for granted. 25 years ago, none of this existed. 50 years ago, this was probably unfathomable. Does anyone ever stop to thank the genius’ of mathematics and science for what we have today – I doubt that the majority of people involved in this industry do.

Take this example to other trades – like sculpting or painting or carving or weaving or embroidery or farming or hunting. Some of the methods and techniques used in these skills are actually extinct. Others are endangered.

There is a reason why textiles and shawls weaved in India, Pakistan and Kashmir which are sold for less than £30 to some London dealers are sold in galleries here for over £1,500. This kind of trade has a good and a horrific side, but it is ultimately doing nothing to save skills like twill tapestry or embroidery from, say, the Hazara region. Let’s take a step back to analyze the leap in price from £30 to £1,500. Someone here appreciates that these hand-made textiles are truly invaluable – in them lies the skill and the effort that you won’t find in the £10 shawls that come out of China or the industrialized parts of the sub-continent. In a couple of decades, reverse engineering these few pieces may be the only way to learn these skills – and until we recognize the importance of this quality and the skill, we will not learn to appreciate our heritage and will perhaps feel that we’ve seriously lost out when China is just not able to manufacture and cater to the needs of the ever-growing human population.

Another example of lost knowledge, which more people may be familiar with, is at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The Moors figured out how to get water to run uphill in this palace in the 15th century. How easy do you think it is to do that today without an electric motor?

Some may ask why we need to save these skills. Let’s be honest, the things we make today suffer from extremely poor craftsmanship, low quality, synthetic materials and a serious lack of inherent value – and that’s because many of the things are cheap and are not formed with the labour of the craftman’s love. Do you seriously think that the works of Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollock will last 600 years like the works of Michelangelo or Da Vinci. I doubt if they will, and truth be told, the works of Michelangelo and Da Vinci are probably far more valuable historically than Picasso or Pollock. Not that the latter don’t form part of Spanish and American heritage, respectively, but I think if we were to omit them from history, we probably wouldn’t lose much, in terms of skill or knowledge.

What we preserve is what we will be known by – and the skills, monuments and works that formulate mankind’s achievements and chart its progress over time must be documented and preserved. It’s not just a matter of the human legacy; it is a matter of progress and survival.

That’s why it is sometimes sad to see how much money is spent on modern exhibits that add no value or aesthetic beauty to the world, but simply focus on sales. The pursuit of such values and the lack of appreciation and effort toward preserving heritage and traditional arts leads me to believe that we may one day end up in the land of Idiocracy, not knowing where we came from, how we did or do things, or what we need to do any more. It’s a scary thought (or a comical one, if you’re a cynic), but it only serves us that saving our heritage is, in fact, paramount to our survival.

Vesica now available on Google’s Chrome Web Store

Filed under: News,Technology — Tags: , , , , , — vesica-press-releases @ 11:00 am

Vesica is today available on Google’s Chrome Web Store, which allows you to install apps within the Chrome browser for easy access. Install the app today by visiting https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/acdplfpagmdnkcaekeeklfdiphcpnnep. The Vesica app is available free to all users.

July 23, 2011

Stream your Audio Guides in Vesica

We’re very excited today about launching the audio management and streaming feature in Vesica. It’s an additional step towards making Vesica an all inclusive collection management application for museums and heritage organisations. In the next few weeks, video support will also be added.

After some planning, we decided to implement audio support in Vesica using HTML5. Whilst this has some limitations, in the long run, we believe it will be of great benefit to our customers. Using HTML5 to playback audio means that  you may face some compatibility issues with certain file types in certain browsers but it will allow you to stream audio on Apple iPad and other Google Android and Windows 7 powered PCs. For instance, Mozilla FireFox does not support streaming MP3s, but Chrome, Safari and IE9 do (even mobile versions of Chrome and Safari do). For more details on compatibility with streaming, please see this FAQ. Of course, you can always download your audio files to play them back on your Mac or PC.

Audio files in Vesica can be associated with a particular object or a collection. Just like all other tabs on your piece or collection management screens, you’ll also see an ‘Audio’ tab. Here’s what it will look like:

Audio in Vesica

Audio file formats currently supported are MP3, WAV, WMA and OGG.

Audio files will tie in with the Vesica ecosystem, allowing you to re-use the guides in online exhibitions as needed.

July 13, 2011

Vesica API (beta) Available Today

Filed under: News,Technology — Tags: , , , — vesica-press-releases @ 2:11 pm

A beta version of the Vesica API is available today.

As one of the most requested features, the Vesica API allows you to add, view and manage your objects and collections by sending various parameters via the “POST” method. In return, the API sends XML based on the received parameters. The Vesica API can be used to export data from your Vesica account or to display information on your website or other in other applications.

The API is being developed actively and will be updated from time to time, as we add additional functionality to it.

To get started, see the API documention for developers on http://vesica.ws/developers/.

July 5, 2011

Vesica is now available on AppDirect

Filed under: News,Technology — Tags: , , , , — vesica-press-releases @ 5:28 pm

July 1, 2011 – Vesica is now available via the AppDirect marketplace.

AppDirect is a free web-based application which allows you to use and manage web-based applications from anywhere in one simple and secure site. It’s also a marketplace that provides the latest web-based applications. It really is based on the concept of simplifying the use of software on the internet, so we’re glad to be a part of it.

“The integration with AppDirect is another step towards increasing the global awareness of Vesica,” says Asif Nawaz, Founder and Chief Software Architect at Vesica. “With AppDirect’s single sign-on functionality, museums and other art, heritage and cultural organisations can now fully benefit from the use and pricing structure of SaaS applications without the hassle of  managing cross application usernames, passwords and security controls.”

Vesica is the first art collection related application on AppDirect.

Already use AppDirect? Sign-up for Vesica on https://www.appdirect.com/apps/552.

For further information, please contact the Vesica office on +44 (0) 20 8133 8050 or press@vesica.ws.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »
Home    •    Blog    •    Contact Us    •    Developers    •    Education    •    Partners    •    About    •    Help & Support    •    News    •    Privacy Policy    •    Terms of Use