Friday, 15 April 2011
Tasty new stuff from the Tate
I've been having a play this week with the Tate's beta collection site, Art & Artists.
I'm liking the way the Tate have built in lots of powerful search tools, while also making the browse experience enjoyable. The thumbnails on the homepage, for example, are generated from the items with the most views, meaning the most popular collections items appear (and allowing for sudden peaks of interest to be recorded and communicated to site visitors) (and, yes, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you want to be picky about it).
The Artists tab is also ordered by Views. It has the nice option to let you order artists by number of works in the collection, which is how I discovered that there are nearly 42,000 items by JMW Turner - which seems astounding.
The above screenshot shows the homepage of the site with all the initial facets expanded. Facets and metadata currently play quite a large role in my life, and I appreciate how the Tate has tucked them away. They're there for the power user, but hidden from the casual browser. I do find some of the facets odd. For example, you can split artists by gender, and I can't think of a use case for that (apart from doing a comparison of number of works in the collection by men and women). Nationality and time period might be more informative here (but then, of course, how do you deal with someone born in Italy who worked in Belgium and France and died in England, or who painted between 1888 and 1934?).
Individual item pages have a simple and roomy display, and once again you can also hide and expand more filters/links/facets. I quite like the stepped approach taken towards the subject descriptions.
Some collection items have multiple views - a basic info page, a detailed catalogue entry, and another page titled 'summary' but which is more like 'interesting context-rich short essay'. The Tate has traded off keeping the first page simple and focused on the image with the chance that people might not click through to the following pages for even more, even richer information (and god knows we're all about even more information).
As this is a beta release, I'm expecting incremental changes and the addition of more functionality over time. In particular, all forms of user engagement and social media integration (from Facebook like buttons to commenting) are currently missing, and I betcha they'll start to dribble out.