Yesterday, the Smithsonian Photography Initiative released 2,000 rare photos to the public on their website. Okay, 2,000 photographs is not that big a deal. But much more interesting is how they released them.
The Smithsonian built into their site several cool ways to search, tag, and group the photos — and share those tags and groups with the larger public. For example, here’s a slide show I built using their "Enter the Frame" interface. It’s not quite Flickr, but it’s a lot better than your typical top-down curated photo exhibit.
The search interface is quite powerful, enabling you to look for photos in their archive by keyword, topic, photographer, year, photographic method, and geographic locale. All of their photos are tagged with keywords entered by their staff, but anyone can suggest other keywords that the staff will review and add to the meta-information about the photo if they think the suggested tags make sense. For example, I suggested adding "swing" as a tag for a picture of Duke Ellington.
If you click on "Enter the Frame" you are taken to another interface where you can search photos by keyword, drag your favorite pics to the bottom of the window, give the sequence a name, and — Poof! — instant slide show. Click "share" and you can send that slideshow to whoever you want. Sweet.
I have already discovered a number of really wonderful photographs from the archives, including several amazing self-portraits done by Nikki S. Lee, an acquaintance of mine.
It would be great to see some of these community-driven tagging and aggregation tools built into the actual museums themselves.
Imagine walking into the Smithsonian and entering a large room with enormous flat screens everywhere. A curator hands you a pointing device that you can use to select from a number of user-submitted and staff-vetted slideshows. At the end of the slideshow, you can rate and comment on it yourself, adding to the meta-data. The main set of monitors in the center might display the most popular slideshows as chosen by the online and physical visitors to the Smithsonian. How fun would that be?