Vesica Blog Taking museums and art collections to the cloud

October 1, 2014

Vesica iOS App for iPhone and iPad now available

The Vesica mobile app for the iOS platform (both iPhone and iPad) went live last week..

As with the Android app, the mobile app allows you to connect to your Vesica account and view your pieces and collections. We’ve also added several enhancements to both Android and iOS apps and introduced some caching to help load the data upfront for a faster experience.

You can download the app via the App Store. More details on https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vesica/id914323181?mt=8.

The app has been tested on a variety of devices. If you come across any bugs, issues or have any suggestions, please post them here or drop us a line on [email protected]

 

June 24, 2014

Barcodes, books and more…

This week’s update to Vesica has introduced some new functionality that will not only substantially improve your experience, but it should help you track new types of objects (books) and start using barcodes within Vesica. Here’s a highlight of what’s new this week:

  • Barcodes. Every piece in your account now has a unique barcode. You can print this barcode when printing the piece and track the item as needed. Your collection can be searched via the barcode and looks like this:


  • Documenting books. You’ll now see  a Books tab allowing you to document books in the system. You can track and enter everything about the book, from authors to editions to ISBN numbers. Here’s a screenshot of what the Books tab has:

    books and new layout

  • A wider, better interface. Most Vesica users spend 90% of the time on the piece editing screen. So we’ve widened it to allow you to have more space. Plus, you’ll see your confirmation messages overlaid and will always be able to view the barcode and default image, making it easier to identify the object you are working on.

We’d love to hear from you if there’s something more you’d like to see.

May 13, 2014

Vesica Mobile App for Android

This weekend we released the Vesica Mobile app for the Android Platform.

The first version of our mobile app allows you to connect to your Vesica account and view your pieces and collections. Subsequent releases in the coming days will allow you to search your collection, followed eventually by allowing you to add new pieces to your account from your phone / tablet.

You can download the app on the Google Play store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=ws.vesica.

The app has been tested on a variety of devices. If you come across any bugs, issues or have any suggestions, please post them here or drop us a line on [email protected]

 

April 8, 2014

What’s new in Vesica this month?

Filed under: Museums & Exhibitions,News — Tags: , , , — Nausheen Al Sheikh @ 7:25 pm

Lots of stuff. March and April have seen several new features and additional functionality. Here’s a summary of what you can expect to help you manage your collections:

  1. Multiple dimension records. You can now add multiple dimension records for each piece. Add dimensions, with packaging, with a frame, or however you wish. You’ll just see a + button in the Dimensions section on the Document tab when editing  a piece / object.
  2. In addition to adding historic transactions in the Finance section on the Manage tab, you can now create expense records and valuation records to note down any piece specific expenses and formal valuations.
  3. Re-order you piece interface as needed. If you want to enter artist information first, simply move the artist section to the top. You can reorder your entire interface – then just press the save interface button (which is the left-most of the 3 on your piece editing screen) – and that will update the layout across your account. Remember, this will update the interface for all users on your account. Two screenshots below to show you what you could do:

    This
    before
    becomes
    after

  4. YouTube and Vimeo videos. Instead of uploading video files, on your video upload screen you now just paste a YouTube or Vimeo URL and stream that video inside Vesica.

There’s several other small tweaks which should improve your overall experience, including some compatibility issues with IE11.

March 6, 2014

Sneak Preview of the Vesica Mobile App

Filed under: News,Technology,Upcoming Features — Tags: , , , , , , — Nausheen Al Sheikh @ 3:17 pm

The Vesica mobile app is in the final stages of testing. We intend to roll out across Android, iOS and Windows Phone 8 in quick session in the coming weeks. Before we get there, I thought a preview a preview about the technology behind the application and some visuals might be useful for those looking forward to it.

What to expect

The first release of the mobile app will only allow you to browse objects and collections in your Vesica account. Subsequent releases will allow you to update objects, add images and videos and with mobile device cameras – but how quickly we’ll roll that out depends on the popularity of the app. We’re also considering having a free and paid version – the latter allowing you to do more than just view your collections.

The technology

The Vesica mobile app is built with HTML5, JQuery Mobile and PhoneGap. This will mean that we can deliver a consistent experience across all 3 major platforms that the app supports – iOS (for iPhone / iPad), Android and Windows Phone 8. We’ll roll the app out on Android, followed by iOS and then Windows Phone 8. This should happen in quick succession and all 3 platforms will be supported by the end of the first quarter in 2014.

The preview

Here are some screenshots to give you a flavour for what to expect. These images come from s

mobile-fusion

iphone-dashboard iphone-pieces

shortcut-menu-panel

December 13, 2013

Vesica is here in White

Vesica White Theme

And just in time for Christmas. With this past Thursday’s major release, along with other things, Vesica is now available in a white theme. Yes, for those of you who have been waiting for this day, as promised, it’s here in December 2013.

Of course, if you like the default black theme, you don’t have to switch. But if you really want to, have a look under “Settings”, and you’ll see “Themes”. Just click on that and you’ll be presented with the theme selection page. Pick you theme and press submit – and see things change.

Along with the new white theme, we’ve introduced continuous scrolling across all the screens. So you will no longer have to click on the page to see more objects – just keep scrolling and more results will keep loading on your pieces screen.

There have been many other optimisation updates across the platform, including  major upgrade to JQuery and JQuery UI fix some compatibility issues with IE11.

This will be our final feature release for 2013. Early 2014 will see us release some great features and functionality, including our beta mobile apps, Drupal and WordPress modules, image libraries, workflow management and more.

Stay tuned, and on behalf of the team at Vesica, Season’s Greetings and Happy New Year!

October 21, 2013

Managing Bibliographical Records with Vesica

Filed under: News,Upcoming Features,Using Vesica — Asif N @ 7:15 am

This weekend’s release adds Bibliography management to Vesica – a feature requested by several of our users over the last few months. The feature allows you to manage over 30 different types of bibliographical records and associate them with a certain piece and any text you enter for that particular piece in the system. Like the rest of the application, it’s a breeze to use. The following screenshots will guide you through the usage.

For starters, you will see a new tab on the piece / object page. The tab looks like most of the other tabs in the application, listing any existing records and allowing you to edit and delete them with the pencil and trash can icons, respectively. The + button allows you to add a record.

Bibliography tab

On clicking the + button, you will be prompted with a dropdown allowing you to choose the type of bibliographical record. You can add over 30 different types and the screenshot below should you give you a flavour of the options available.

add-dropdown

Once you add a record, it will appear in your Research tab. You can actually link bibliographical records to the text you add whilst documenting an object. Where this is applicable, you will see a new button on your text editor for Bibliography as shown below.

button-on-editor

Clicking on the button will bring up all the bibliographical records stored against this piece. You can then click on the one you want to insert into the editor. You can insert the association with the cord anywhere by clicking on the location with the mouse to your cursor active before pressing the Bibliography button.

choose biblio

Once inserted, you will see the record number as shown below.

biblio-referenced

That’s it, nice and simple.

October 5, 2013

Vesica is Now Available in French and Turkish

Filed under: News,Using Vesica — Asif N @ 4:16 pm

We’ve launched support for 2 new languages in Vesica today – French and Turkish.

Not only can you now set your language from within Settings > Edit User settings, but you can now also select your default language when creating a new account.

September 30, 2013

113 New Currencies Added to Vesica

Filed under: Museums & Exhibitions,News — Asif N @ 1:54 pm

With today’s update, Vesica now supports the creation of financial transactions and records in 113 new currencies in addition to EUR, GBP and USD. The new currencies are another step towards expanding Vesica into a multi-lingual platform for museums and private collectors across the globe and will be followed by versions of Vesica in multiple languages in the near future.

If you see a currency we’ve missed, please get in touch and we’ll add it.

September 25, 2013

New Payment System, Security Enhancements and more…

Last weekend the team worked late to complete the final stage of platform and infrastructure upgrades for Vesica – this effectively moves the software on to our new architecture, along with a shiny, new payment system and sets the stage for upcoming feature enhancements and the new API.

We’re very excited about this upgrade – whilst most of the changes affect the way things work behind the scenes, you’ll see this resulting in feature releases on a regular basis as we’ve also switched our development cycle to implement the Scrum framework. Among other things, this release features:

  • The new payment system – you’ll receive an email about how to go by updating your subscription details so you can move over smoothly. Don’t worry, we’ll give you plenty of time to login and update your payment details and we won’t be deleting any accounts that expire instantaneously, so you’ll have plenty of time.
  • We’ve temporarily disabled Spanish translations – these will become available again in a few days along with a handful of other languages. Spanish translation is back.
  • Changes to Piece search and display. We’ve added additional information to the pieces screen – this is to support the option to sort results by different views (coming soon in a future release).
  • Various security updates around media management

This is a great time to consider switching to Vesica – with new enhancements and substantial savings, this is the right time move your museum or private collection into Vesica.

August 13, 2013

New Features and more…

The Vesica blog’s had a quiet summer, but our team has been busy. We’ll be rolling out the last of our major architectural releases this year, followed by an array of new features and functionality. First things first, the release of September 1, 2013 will  see, among other things, the following:

1. We’ll be dropping support for CDWA Lite and XML imports. There has been very little uptake on this in the last 12 months, so we’ve decided to spend the time enhancing the CSV Import and expanding the new Vesica API.

2. Another reminder to all IE 8 users, we’ll be disabling IE 8 support in this release. Please upgrade to Chrome, FireFox or IE 9. If you need help with this, please contact support.

3.  We’ll have a new payment system in this release, so you’ll need to login update your subscription details. The new system is far more flexible and powerful, and once you’ve done this, we’ll automatically cancel your old subscription. You’ll have 15 extra days to renew your subscription before we remove any data, and we’ll be in touch again to remind you if you forget to update the information.

4. Numerous other changes, which include shuffling and adding small fields, based on feedback from our community of users.

This new release will set the stage for rapid releases. In addition to the list below, we’ll  be sharing designs for the mobile Vesica app (for iPhone / iPad, Android and Windows Phone 8) with users who are interested. If you’d like to see designs and give us some feedback, please get in touch with Andrew Cropper on [email protected]

What else is coming this year and in the first quarter of 2014 (and most likely in the order listed):

1. Bibliography management
2. Cataloging Piece / Object accessories
3. More comprehensive dimension(s) management (with packaging, for instance)
4. Object level user permissions
5. Multiple Search views
6. Custom fields – this is where you get to create your own fields and extend the database

If you’re really keen to see a feature and it’s not on the list above, please get in touch with us.

June 18, 2013

6 Survival Tips for Museums

With gloomy news for museums coming out last year (http://bit.ly/LJPoem) and earlier this year (http://bit.ly/133arCC) along with some of our local museums (http://www.churchfarmhousemuseum.co.uk/) shutting down, I figured it’s time to put together a basic survival guide for museums – a how to, if you will, of conserving the funds you already have and perhaps getting the most out of them. Whilst some might say you have to work in a museum to give advice, I would challenge that, primarily because this is mostly common sense.

1. DO Fire your Social Media Manager

That’s right, if you have one (you almost certainly don’t need one), the first thing you should do is let him/her/them go.  Social media adds nothing to a museum or its image and over the years I have seen lots of talk in support of social media but ZERO results. It promises the engagement of a rather unproductive crowd which doesn’t really deliver anything. No one has been able to prove that spending £50,000 a year on a qualified social media marketing professional has generated even  half of that in visitor or store revenue – time to accept that social media is just about bloating our egos, not about running  a museum or a business. I’m waiting for someone to furnish evidence to change my opinion on this – so if you have some concrete numbers, please do share them.

2. DO Adopt the Cloud

Yes, you do not need to pay for client machines, servers, Microsoft office or a collections management system upfront. The world has come a long way, you need to evolve too. Try Google Apps (http://www.google.com/enterprise/apps/business/) or Microsoft Office 365 (http://office365.com) – you’ll be blown away by how much you can save. For Collections Management, try something like Vesica – https://vesica.ws/forms/sign-up/ (and here’s my only sales pitch to you). See how much you would save by switching – https://vesica.ws/savings-calculator/. You’ll probably only spend a 10th of what you pay for traditional software and hardware – seriously – if banks can switch to the cloud, museums have no excuse.

3. DO Accept Free Help

I’ve seen this happen so many times – museums don’t have money or resources, they’re shutting down, but they’ll only accept cash in the form of help? What’s going on here? Beggars can’t be choosers – and money is generally earned (even donations are) – so whether you get free software, scanning equipment, space or volunteers – the goal should be to save the museum’s assets, not to run it the way you think is right, which brings me to my next point.

4. DO Care about the Museum, not Just your Career

Yes, please. When others see that you genuinely care about the museum and precious items it houses, people will give you money and help. All too often I’ve seen that nobody cares about making improvements – so if you could save £100k a year by doing 1 and 2 above – you should do it. Just because the Social Media manager is your friend does not mean you should bankrupt the museum and just because helping the museum save £50k a year by adopting the cloud will mean some planning and thinking more than you’d like to, doesn’t mean you should waste the £50k. Remember that if your vendors see you are dedicated, they will do all they can to help too.  And don’t say that you boosted Facebook fans by 5,000 by building a great Social Media Strategy – it means nothing to a struggling museum.

5. DON’T build an iPhone App

Or an Android or Windows App. Seriously – unless you can accomplish something with the app like increasing visitor footfall, increasing store sales and or just make the world a better place, don’t do it to build your CV with project management skills. Visitors who are interested in visiting the museum don’t want to do it with an iPhone App -an iPhone App can add nothing ground-breaking to a museum experience or do something to help it survive – save your cash and put it where it matters – in conservation or education or whatever your museum’s goal is. Same question as social media – when was the last time a museum built a mobile app that actually could be quantified into something positive for the museum? Never (not yet, anyway) – the iPhone demographic is just wrong for most museums.

6. DO Engage your Audience

Now that you’ve saved a ton of money – send some invitations to your local community and give them a guided tour of your museum. Inspire the community to share, conserve and participate. The power of heritage can be captivating when seen and felt in person, and real human contact does and will ALWAYS offer your visitor the real experience a museum should. This kind of engagement will create real value for your museum that social media or digitization never can. I can only tell you, for instance, that you can see as many detailed photos of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul that you want to, but no picture will ever have that impact that causes you to go ‘wow’ when you stand below that dome in person. That is priceless and people will come back for it.

May 7, 2013

New API, Browser Support and More…

Filed under: Technology,Upcoming Features — Asif N @ 2:22 pm

2012 was the year that Vesica got a major infrastructure upgrade – 2013 is the year that the Vesica application will see major updates and upgrades.

The earliest of these will be the release of the new Vesica API in early May 2013. The new, RESTful API will be made available in different phases, first allowing primarily only GET requests, followed by PUT, POST and DELETE requests a few weeks later. Those using the existing, XML based API should look to switch over at the soonest as the existing API will eventually be faded out in December, 2013. The new API offers improved performance and flexibility and provides access to much more detail than the existing one. More information on this in the coming week along with a URL to the documentation.

We’re also rolling out a major architectural upgrade to the application on June 1, which will be followed by several new feature releases, including the log awaited bibliography / research tab, media sharing and more. The June 1 release will also see us fading support for IE 7 (and soon to follow, IE 8). IE 9 and IE 10 offer improved functionality, but the recommended browsers are IE 10 and any of the last 3 releases of Google Chrome or Firefox. Whilst you will be able to sign-in with older versions of Chrome and Firefox, please note that after June 1 you will no longer be able to sign-in to Vesica with IE 7 and on September 1, we will also retire any support for IE 8. This is because we would rather support development of newer features instead of compatibility with legacy browsers.

As always, if you have any questions, please comment here or get in touch with the support team at https://vesica.ws/support/.

————— Subsequent update —————-

The new API was rolled out in May as planned and documentation is now available on https://vesica.ws/developers/.

IE7 is no longer supported.

We’ll keep the blog up-to-date with further new releases (watch this space)!.

 

March 23, 2013

Simplifying JQuery Dialogs

Filed under: Tech Talk — Tags: , , , , , , — Asif N @ 12:08 am

Working on a web application that uses multiple JQuery dialogs?

You’re probably sick of rendering dialog boxes with JQuery’s .dialog() function and all of its parameters.

So here’s a tiny little function that you can include in your AJAX application at the top level via a <script></script> tag, and then simply call each time you need to render a dialog. So you can effectively accomplish what you need to do in one line instead of 10.

The function below requires multiple parameters:

  1. target_class – This is the name of the class you want the dialog rendered in. It doesn’t have to exist in the DOM, the function will create it.
  2. title – The title of your dialog
  3. width – The width of the dialog
  4. height – the height of the dialog
  5. load_file – An external file or view that you want to load inside your dialog
  6. buttons – A JavaScript array containing all the buttons your dialog needs. This array should contain a button id and button text, and can be formatted as:
    buttons[0]['id'] = ‘save’ ;
    buttons[0]['id'] = ‘Save this Content’ ;
    buttons[1]['id'] = ‘default_cancel’ ;
    buttons[2]['id'] = ‘button3′ ;
    buttons[2]['text'] = ‘A 3rd Button’ ; 

As shown above, you can add as many buttons as you want using an array.  The function also created a default cancel button that will close and destroy the dialog if you pass the id ‘default_cancel’ to it.

Note that once you have the dialog rendered, you can use more JavaScript driven by the ID of each button to decide what happens when that ID gets clicked. This should ideally go in a JS file tied to the view or page you load into the load_file parameter of the function.

There are several ways to to tweak and improve the function depending on what you are rendering your dialogs for,  so please feel free to make any changes and / or share your thoughts. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

 

February 16, 2013

Using Vesica’s Interactive Timeline

Released in December 2012, the Vesica Timeline allows all Vesica users to see the pieces in their account on an interactive map. Getting your existing collections to appear on the map will require you to define the location of your object in the History / Provenance section in the About tab when editing a piece. Once you’ve defined the location, you can get the map co-ordinates of that location to map the object. The video below gives you a basic demonstration of how to do this:

Once you’ve added the co-ordinates, you can simply browse to your timeline by going to Charts > Timeline. In History / Provenance section, you can also add the date created, which will make sure the object only appears on the map on the selected date. The below video gives you a short glimpse of what the timeline looks like.

January 21, 2013

Tech Talk: URL Hashing and JQuery UI Tabs

Whilst Vesica uses JQuery, what’s discussed in this article is not used in Vesica, but in a similar application we helped build at the  NHS (National Health Service) which borrows from the Vesica interface.

The application in question is a single page application, so virtually everything is done via AJAX. The URL receives different parameters via a URL hash, which updates different sections of the page DOM or accesses different parts of the interface, including JQuery UI tabs. These single page, multiple hash URLs can be called via a bookmark URL, or will trigger on a url change in the browser. What’s important to note here is that in an application like this, when you submit data, all you really need to do is change the URL – your hashing managing JavaScript should do the rest for you (in terms of routing your data to the server side, not actual processing). I’ll also show you some JavaScript to deal with JQuery UI tabs after your page loads as working with hashing will disable the default URL behaviour that allows you to call tabs via the URL.

Requirements

If it’s not self-explanatory, you need the following to accomplish this:

  • JQuery - http://jquery.com/download/
  • JQuery UI - http://jqueryui.com/
  • JQuery Hashchange plugin from Ben Alman - http://github.com/cowboy/jquery-hashchange/raw/v1.3/jquery.ba-hashchange.js and http://benalman.com/projects/jquery-hashchange-plugin/
Please load the JavaScript libraries in your page (preferably in the header) in the order listed.

How it works

Here is what we need to cover:

  1. Someone either loads a URL in their browser which is part of your single page application (this could be via a bookmarked URL or by simply typing or pasting in the address bar), in which case you simply need to pick up the URL, process, and update the page.
  2. Someone performs an action that will change the URL of your application – which should either update a database or update the page, or whatever it is supposed to do in your application.
The JQuery Haschange plugin will only help you accomplish number 2. Number 1 is simple JavaScript / JQuery.
So how does your application know that the URL in the browser has changed after the #? With the following code.

So if your existing URL looked like http://example.com/#Page1 and you changed it to http://example.com/#Page2 with an <a href> or a <button>, would see the alert box above. Note that if you wanted to to alert something anyway, you would simply put that code outside the $(window).hashchange() function.

This is the easy bit – now for how you would pick up different parts of your URL, splice them up and send them to your scripts as needed to process, and then perhaps load a JQuery UI tab on your page.

Assumptions

Let’s clarify what we have in our example.

We are trying to load a different type of product based on a type parameter, followed by an ID, followed by a bunch of parameters that style the image and options that get displayed for the product.

So, if you were using PHP and building your URL query string, it might look a bit like:

http://example.com/product.php?type=bottle&id=3426&colour=green

If you wanted to load a particular JQuery tab on this page that had the id ‘dimensions’, your URL would become:

http://example.com/product.php?type=bottle&id=3426&colour=green/#dimensions

When the page loaded, JQuery UI would know you want to load the dimensions tab and it would simply make it active.

But using the $(window).hashchange() function above will break this default JQuery UI functionality.

So, our goal, given our single page application, is to be able to reload a certain part of our page based on a URL that looks like the following:

http://example.com/index.php#product/type=bottle&id=3426&colour=green/dimensions

The way to read the above your URL is: Give me the product page with bottle No. 3426 in the colour green and display the dimensions tab on the product page. You could change any of the values above to process different data – so you could have product, category or generic types of pages, hundreds of different products and hundreds of different colours.

Sounds simple enough. This would be accomplished with the following code, and please note, as mentioned above, that to trigger this change for bookmarked URLs or those pasted in the browser you can enter this code outside the $(window).hashchange() function in a <script type=”text/JavaScript”></script> tag directly in index.php (where index.php is the file that runs your single page application) or create a another JavaScript file and include it in your index.php file via the <script> tag. To trigger it with a button click or <a href> change, please wrap it inside the $(window).hash function as shown below. Technically, you can wrap all this code in a function and call that on $(window).hashchange() being executed.

The above code now gives you access to to all the different parts of the URL hash, and will do so every time it changes. All you need to do now is use the $.ajax() function in JQuery to process this data, get the results back, and set the active tab as shown below:

That’s it, that code should pick up any changes to the URL and process them according to the code above.

As this is JQuery, remember to wrap all of the above code in $(function(){ {); as shown below. I’ve also added the code above outside the hashchange function so you can see how to setup the default page handler as well as trigger it off when the page URL changes.

I’ve stated before that you can (and probably should) write a function to do the above so you don’t have to reproduce your code twice – but this should give you an idea of how to handle hash changes and process them.

January 18, 2013

Introducing Vesica Tech Talk

After a quiet holiday blogging season, we have a bit of a twist and some regular updates planned for the Vesica blog, including a new section called Tech Talk.

Tech Talk will be discussing some web based technical implementations that we at Vesica have used in the application and in exteral projects (our team gets to work on several external projects that are modeled after or integrate with Vesica in a variety of industries) – small snippets of code or technical advice that could save you (or your technical team) hours or days if you’re building something similar.

In addition, we’ll be rolling out some videos (not in the Tech Talk but the Using Vesica and Upcoming Features Sections) to demo some of the existing functionality, new functionality (that was released over Christmas and has just recently made it to the features page – https://vesica.ws/features/timeline/), and upcoming functionality like the Research and Bibliography tab.

The first Tech Talk article (coming this Monday) will discuss some JQuery implementations adapted from Vesica for use by one of the applications for the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, the interface for which was inspired by Vesica (and we helped design and build it).

November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving from Vesica – Report Printing

On Thanksgiving day last week we released several improvements across the Vesica platform, along with an initial version of the report printer which allows you the ability to sort and filter your collections by any of the parameters stored in Vesica, then decide what you want to print about each one of them. Whilst a more comprehensive version down the road will allow you to build queries on your Vesica database (so, for instance, you might want to generate a view of your collection that shows you everything you have loaned out to museum X and that is insured by company Y with beneficiary Z and has a payout value of $250,000 – well, you’ll be able to build such a report, save it and re-run it at the click of  a button), the current report printing functionality allows you to build reports on top of the existing advanced search functionality.

The ability to dissect and print various parts of information about multiple pieces has been a long requested feature from many different clients – so I’m happy to say that we’re there. This year will also see us release 2 more major features – including the research / bibliography tab and the redeveloped interactive maps timeline on mapquest.

See the video demoing the new report printing functionality below or on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_hBWCgcwWM.

October 8, 2012

The Vesica Google Maps Timeline

Vesica’s Google Maps Timeline was set to be launched next Monday – October 15, 2012. We just setup some final tests today and have been very excited about the launch – it would basically give a museum dedicated HistoryPin type functionality (coupled with Vesica’s extensive search and filter tools) – but Google seems to have changed its licensing for Google Maps in the last few months that we have been developing.

Under the new licensing terms, we simply cannot offer Google Maps inside Vesica to our clients without a substantial investment on behalf of each museum that uses Vesica – but this substantial investment will drastically increase our standard pricing of £0.05 per object in a collection, which does not make it feasible. This is a rather major difference in Google’s pricing policy for the Google Maps API – which was free just a few months ago for a specific amount of usage.

We’re now working on integrating Vesica with either MapQuest or BingMaps to bring make the enhanced timeline a part of Vesica along with the two other major updates for this year (the report building tool and the Drupal API).

In the mean time, we will make publicly available a basic version of Vesica’s Google Maps timeline to give you a brief preview of what the functionality does next week. Customers who when prefer to use the Google Maps timeline can have that activated in their accounts for a fixed annual fee in addition to the standard £0.05 per object fee.

If, however, you wouldn’t like to spend extra and can wait a few weeks for a free interactive, map-driven timeline – subscribe to this blog to stay up-to-date.

In the meantime, if you are interested in deploying Google Maps in your organisation or museum with your collections management software fully integrated, please get in touch with us by commenting on this article, calling +44 2081338050 or emailing our sales team at [email protected]

September 15, 2012

Getting art collection reports the way you want them

One of the updates scheduled for the last quarter of 2012 in Vesica is a report building tool. Unlike other software where you can generate pre-defined reports, this reporting tool will allow you to print whatever you want on a report.

The report builder will benefit immensely from Vesica’s already powerful search and filter functionality. As it stands, you basically filter, search and drill down in your collection to view objects / pieces by a variety of different parameters – and you get to define and choose these parameters. In the current system, though, you are unable to choose what information about the searched and filtered objects you would like to print on a report. This information is pre-defined and, as such, may not be very useful to all departments in a museum.

But that’s what will change. You will be able to choose what information you want to include on a searched report of objects and pieces, just like you can choose what information you would like to print when creating a detailed object report.

So, illustrated with an example, your current search and filter interface might look like this:

Filter Options

Once you press Search, you’ll get the filtered results. On pressing the print icon on the top right, you’ll be presented with a pop-up allowing you to choose the information you would like to print about each object on the report, as shown below:

Report Printing Options

Choose and press print or export to word – that’s pretty much all you will need to do to create any report you require. This feature is currently in development and is scheduled for release in November. If you have any suggestions or anything particular you’d like to see implemented along with the report builder, please don’t hesitate to comment and share your thoughts.

August 27, 2012

Why we went with the .WS TLD

Last week I had a conversation with a friend and a colleague who really could not understand the reason we run Vesica on the .ws TLD. As a global museum based business, he was adamant that we can and only should use .COM. This has, of course, come up in the past – but no one has expressed such strong feelings. In fact, publications that have written about Vesica have actually attempted to explain why we use .ws, but I figured it’s time for an official version.

Let’s start with a bit of information of TLDs, which is the last part of the domain name as we know it. So, this could be .com, .co.uk, .fr, .uk.com, .net, etc. etc. TLD stands for Top Level Domain. TLDs come in different types, but the common types are:

gTLD – this is a generic TLD and does not tie you down to a specific country or a sponsor. Common ones you are most familiar with are .com, .net and .org.

ccTLD – this is a country specific TLD and also comes in an internationalized variety (this distinction is not necessary here). Examples of such domains include .co.uk, .fr, .es, .br, .us and so on so forth.

sTLD – These are sponsored TLDs. An example of this is .museum. Try http://icom.musuem, for instance.

So what really is the difference? A TLD helps identify the domain name. So you know that a .co.uk means the website belongs to the UK. You know a .museum means the website is a museum or is something related to one.

From a practical standpoint, this can have marketing and SEO level ramifications (and any other level if you are used to blowing things out of proportion). You can argue that from a marketing standpoint, the TLD can be very important. .COM or .NET almost always imply a larger, more dominating internet presence – it’s just how most people have been programmed to react to TLDs. If you are in marketing, this is a big issue. My personal view – it’s really quite important – but its importance depends on what the website in question really does. Most marketing people actually forget to address that more important issue.

Technically, the wrong extension can make or break your efforts. To market any application, it is probably good to have ccTLDs to market in a specific market. This is because Google will always consider a .co.uk extension as a more relevant result on google.co.uk than it will a .com or .fr extension. So it’s not just about the marketing anymore, but the wrong extension might mean the difference between you getting found or not via search engines online.

But what if you run a website or application online that is really not country specific – like Vesica. Sure, we might want to market to different countries and for that we could setup either subdomains like fr.vesica.ws or get domains like vesica.fr, but at the end of the day, the primary language is English and the application itself is always delivered on the vesica.ws domain.

The key to not getting lost on the internet is to get a generic TLD. gTLDs are considered somewhat internationalized, meaning that unless you specifically tell Google to prioritize their searches to one specific country, they are considered equal for all (unless your content really focuses on a geographic location). This is by no means a detailed and comprehensive answer (and there is a lot to this discussion that I am happy to go into should it tickle someone’s fancy) – but it is this particular issue that restricts you to the following TLDS:

  • .COM – this is undoubtedly the globally recognized and popular TLD
  • .NET – The second best, whatever it technically means (that’s irrelevant)
  • .ORG
  • .BIZ
  • .MOBI
  • There are a few more that qualify, and .WS is one of these

Now for answering the real question – why did we choose .WS? Because it is considered a gTLD and was available.

How is .WS a generic name when it is supposed to be a ccTLD for Western Samoa? Well, because an American company bought the rights to rebrand it as .WebSite and for all technical purposes, google considers .WS to be a gTLD. Unlike other gTLDs like .mobi or .tel .asia, .WS (WebSite) does not limit us to a specific medium (like a mobile device or phone) or a specific location (like Europe or Asia).

It simply means WebSite. Whilst it’s not as catchy as .com or .net, it technically can and does serve the same purpose. It’s clear from the Vesica website that we are a website and company based in London – and it’s really quite short and easy to remember.

Are there any other technical issues that can occur if you use such domains? Perhaps – especially if the infrastructure that resolves NS records for your TLD is sitting in a small island nation that doesn’t have the technical knowledge or infrastructure to support global traffic. Luckily, .WS nameservers resolve from all over the world, including the United States and the UK – see http://www.iana.org/domains/root/db/ws.html. This is primarily due to the rebranding initiative of Global Domains International. In a worst case scenario where such a spread of infrastructure is not available for your TLD, switching domain names if one does go down isn’t all that difficult as long as you own a few – and a company like Vesica that serves its customers primarily via the internet always has a plan in place to deploy such a backup within hours, if not minutes.

August 10, 2012

Summer @ Vesica

It’s been a busy summer at Vesica – we’re hard at work making some major architectural changes to the application to sustain the ongoing growth – many of our customers (and we’ve surpassed 200 this month!) will start to see the benefits of these changes in the ongoing months in the form of increased speed and faster reponse times when uploading data, images, audio and video files along with rapid development of additional features and functionality.

We have an updated list of new features and functionality that will be posted to the coming soon page (https://vesica.ws/features/coming-soon/) next week, so if you’ve been waiting for bibliography and research features along with some advanced file sharing and management, stay put, because it’s all in the mix.

In the mean time, if you’ve been following the news in the museum industry of budget cuts across the board, now is as good a time as any to tell your local museum about Vesica. It well help them with hundreds of thousands of dollars in a few years. What more, using a cloud based solution like Vesica can mean that museums can protect the jobs that matter and spend money where it is necessary (i.e., on conservation) as opposed to maintaining IT.

See http://www.museumsassociation.org/campaigns/01072012-ma-2012-cuts-survey for more details – we’ll have more on these discussions in the coming weeks.

July 10, 2012

Secure Galleries and More Coming this Week

The update scheduled for later this week adds the of first of what will be many phases towards making Vesica galleries for individual accounts secure.

Users will be able to enable their galleries with a pass code. This means that anyone visiting your gallery will need to enter this pass code before they can gain access to the gallery. Future gallery updates will see this feature allowing you to add an additional level of security at the object / piece level. You can then choose to add individual pass codes for each piece in your account when and if you wish to include it in your gallery.

You will also be able to add the weight of an object in the system (where applicable). This option will be available in the Document tab under the Dimensions and Weight section (previously known as Dimensions).

Additional updates will follow soon, along with the release of Vesica in several other languages (see the post about Vesica being released in Spanish last month). To stay up to date with the latest developments and the innovative new functions we are developing to better manage and document museum collections, please see our features one on https://vesica.ws/features/coming-soon/.

June 21, 2012

The Evolution of Technology & the Structured Human Mind

This article deals with technology, the human mind and business in and around a museum environment. Of course, the discussion is probably true in virtually all other sectors and industries, but Vesica doesn’t deal with those. Nonetheless, the attempt is to make the article structured whilst trying to deal with issues of users (or human beings) adapting back to the organic nature of the human mind.

When computers became mainstream, we had to get used to thinking in terms of using a mouse and a keyboard to interface with them. It’s not how we interface with things or other human beings in general – we touch them, talk to them, feel them and more. In addition to that, as the technology evolved, the human mind had to adapt to concepts like directories and folders in a digital environment. Of course, the very concept of organizing data in files and folders is a structured one, but there wasn’t always a structured approach to physically interface with these files and folders, until the advent of computers. Yes, you could reference them to find them, but that helps you locate and then perhaps interface however you want (as in open the folders and read, or tear them, or fold them, you get my drift). To make the concept clear, it is useful to have structured data, but the evolution of technology should, and generally does, allow us to interface with structured data in an organic, unstructured fashion.

I think, those are, to a great extent, the two levels of evolution at which the technologies we interact with, operate:-

1. Evolution of data structure for better indexing, searching and finding.
2. Evolution of technology to develop organic and unstructured interfaces to access structured data, which, in it’s structured format, can be rigid and unrealistic.

The Lotico London Semantic Web Group (http://www.meetup.com/LondonSWGroup/) had what I imagine was a great meetup on a related subject in March – which I was unable to attend – but the idea of organized vs organic meta data is actually quite similar to this discussion.

Let me provide some more evidence to suggest that this is how technology evolves, and then make the argument, that in an effort to understand and grasp structure, we, as users, fail to utilize the benefits of better, more organic interfaces, and that’s not because we are opposed to them, but because we have had to work so hard to grasp the structured concept, that we have a hard time letting go of it, in many cases, for sentimental reasons.

Let’s look at the example of mobile phones. For several years now, we’ve been able to get email on our phones. If you’ve owned a Blackberry, a Palm One / Treo, or any other QWERTY enabled email phone without a touch screen, you’ve most certainly sat there in frustration waiting for the email to open and then having to continuously click (or scroll, depending on the phone) down until you get to the part of the email you are really interested in? That’s structured data (the email content) that you have to access in a structured manner (top-down by scrolling down 1 click / roll at a time). In the non digital world, if you were reading a letter on a piece of paper, you could simply look at and read directly the part you are interested in – that’s the organic way. It may be unstructured, but it’s the organic way – that’s how we do things as human beings (even though, for arguments sake, you might have to read the whole thing top-down to make sense of it).

That’s why technology evolves, and mobile phones evolved into touchscreen becoming the dominating force. Why? It’s still a structured approach (after all you still have to scroll top-down), but it’s far more organic because you can control how much you scroll and how quickly you scroll (going slightly off topic here, but QWERTY keyboards are far from dead – touchscreen only solves our interfacing to access problem, not interfacing to enter data more efficiently). In a manner of speaking, you can decide how to get to your data, and if this part is done right, how it’s structured becomes completely irrelevant, because if you could always interface with access what you want the way you want it, you wouldn’t care about it. There are many more similar examples of technology evolution, but that’s why you have software architects. That’s also why you have architects for buildings and houses. You just know what you want, how to get it to it is the architect’s problem.

Let’s bring this same set of concepts around to museum collections, software and relational databases. Until very recently, most museum software hasn’t exactly evolved to become more user friendly. The focus has been primarily on structure (and interestingly enough, there’s no agreement on what this should be like, because there really is no right or wrong),  to the extent that a lot of museum collection software even looks like the boring, gray interface of a typical relational database. Users are expected to define their own database structure on one screen, and then use another screen to access this data. So, the typical museum software will allow you to create various record types for object genre, loans, conservation priorities, etc. Once you have these defined, you can then create an object and call this record to associate it with that object. So, effectively, museum collection software technology hasn’t particularly evolved in terms of organic, unstructured or ‘user-friendly’ access or interfaces – it’s only evolved to the point of structured data.

This is a problem, because when museums now come across evolved interfaces built on top of structured data, they tend to think the structured data is missing. Our minds have become programmed to think and access the data in a structured manner, which takes long, requires more organisation and can become quite tedious. On the other hand, think of an unstructured approach, where as you are documenting an object in your collection, you can simply enter the genre, loan information, or conservation priority as you need to, without having to open another window or keep track of any reference numbers. You’ll be able to complete the task at hand, and then later go on to manage the structured data, reuse it against another object, or do with it as you please. In essence, the data itself is still structured, you still create a separate genre or loan record and that gets associated with your object, but you don’t have to create the 2 separately. You can, but you don’t have to, because you shouldn’t have to. Just like you should be able to scroll down to the bottom of an email without clicking on the down button 20 times, you should be able to enter data associated to an object and it should automatically create the other records as part of the process, rather than you having to create those records separately.

The reason why many have a hard time grasping this approach is because it is simply not common in traditional museum software. Interfaces have never evolved, and only recently, with the push of the web and the cloud have software companies been forced to push the limits of user interfaces to access and manage data. So, when you’re using a collections management system, objects in your collection are the primary point of reference, not your loan records, not your conservation priorities, and not your insurance policies. Everything else relates to the collections and objects, and should tie in organically.

The reason for writing this article is because in a recent training session with a museum for Vesica, some trainees actually thought that type or loan records could not be re-used or associated with multiple objects simply because we were not creating them separately. The point is, that you shouldn’t have to, but an interface that forces you to do so has not evolved to become very useful or user friendly.

Think of this in terms of a blog – when you build a tag cloud or tag your posts, do you actually go ahead and define tags separately each time before you start writing a post? No, you actually just type in the tags on the same screen on which you write your blog article – the system and the interface both know what you have already used and allow you to reuse these tags as and where needed. You can go ahead and edit these separately, but creating and managing a list of tags independently of blog articles is, at best, unnecessary.

I am sure there are some interface developers who would like to further stress the importance a good interface, and yet we’ll have others who think that the interface should be just as structured as the data. But the thing to keep in mind is that a good interface deals with the way one would naturally want to access, view and manage data. If you have been programmed to only see things structurally over many years, it is very difficult to imagine a world in which an unstructured interface will work for structured data. Why would you even need such an interface?

Why don’t you use google and find out how useful the ability to access data in this fashion is? For the average user, you just enter text, which google runs against structured, indexed data to retrieve results. It works, and it works better than you having to define 10 parameters in your search query to get the same result.

As human beings and users, we must learn to think and use things freely, without the restriction of structure – that’s how we can maximize knowledge and its impact. As software architects, we must help bridge the gap between the 2. Easy to use does not mean easy to build or unstructured, it generally means well-designed.

June 19, 2012

Vesica now available in Spanish

Good news –  Vesica is today available in Spanish (along with English). Following on from the previous post by Asif N about Vesica as a multi-lingual platform, the interface of the application is now available in Spanish. This is the first step in the journey to internationalization and rolling out Vesica as a multi-lingual application.

As a user, you can set your own preferred language at the account level. This means that whilst you can use Vesica in Spanish, other users who access the account can still choose to see the application in English.

Switching to Spanish is a simple, 3-step process.

1. Once your signed-in to your Vesica account, go to Settings (see screenshot below).

Settings

2. In settings click on the Edit User Section.

User Settings

3. On the left hand panel titled user settings, the last option allows you to choose your language. Make the appropriate choice and press submit – and you’re done.

Choose Language

The system will now keep track of your preferred language each time you sign-in to the same account.

Have more questions? Please comment or raise a support ticket from within your Vesica account.

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