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Artwork Catalogues on the Web

There was an interesting article in the Irish Times today, by Gemma Tipton, about the emerging effort to make online catalogues of the artworks exhibited in various galleries around the world. The article focuses on Google’s Google Art Project. In 2011 I developed one such system, Vinyl Matt’s Gallery Access for the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Vinyl Matt worked on the multimedia content. Let’s compare this with Google’s system.

One drawback of Google’s site is that the centralisation of the data imposes a uniform data structure and presentation that all galleries must use. This might not be ideal for some galleries, and it means that the galleries aren’t necessarily free to reuse their database in different modes of presentation in the future. Our software was developed from the ground upwards for IMMA, and is flexible and independent.

Another drawback is the user interface. Our main objective is to make the artworks accessible to people who are unable to visit the gallery. So we make the user interface as simple as possible providing only the catalogue information and location information about the artworks, and a photo or panorama of each piece. Each artwork, room, group and wing has a unique URL, allowing the site to be indexed and the pages linked to and resused in imaginitive ways by other websites. Google’s site is unnecessarily slow to load and hard to read, it’s not good for those with older hardware or slower internet access. It’s not good for those who enjoy the traditional, HTML 1.0 paradigm of structured text paragraphs and images, with hyperlinks. Google’s UI special effects do nothing but distract from the real content.

A failing of the web that has long been apparent is that the same information is repeated on different websites. When this happens, it’s hard to amend the information, to find an authoritative source for it, and the quality is often poor. Google’s proposal could cause a conflict with galleries that already have their own artwork catalogue. It is right that those galleries should maintain a unique URL ( Uniform Resource Locator ) to provide the public with only one authoritative and accurate information source about each of the artworks for which they are responsible. Our software supports this model by providing the galleries with their own independent database and website.