Let's push things forward – V&A and British Library beta collections search

The V&A and the British Library have both recently released beta sites for their collections searches.  I'd mentioned the V&A's beta collections search in passing elsewhere, but basically it's great to see such a nicely designed interface – it's already a delight to use and has a simplicity that usually only comes from lots of hard work – and I love that the team were able to publish it as a beta.  Congratulations to all involved!

(I'm thinking about faceted browsing for the Science Museum collections, and it's interesting to see which fields the V&A have included in the 'Explore related objects' panel (example).  I'd be interested to see any usability research on whether users prefer 'inline' links to explore related objects (e.g. in the 'tombstone data' bit to the right of the image) or for the links to appear in a distinct area, as on this site. )

I'm not sure how long it's been live, but the British Library beta catalogue search features a useful 'Refine My Results' panel on the right-hand side of the search results page.

There's also a 'workspace', where items and queries can be saved and managed.  I think there's a unique purpose for users of the BL search that most sites with 'save your items' functions don't have – you can request items directly from your workspace in advance for delivery when next in the library.  My friendly local British Library regular says the ability to save searches between sessions is immensely useful.  You can also export to delicious, Connotea, RefWorks or EndNote, so your data is transportable, though unfortunately when I tested my notes on an item weren't also exported.  I don't have a BL login so I haven't been able to play with their tagging system.

They've included a link to a survey, which is a useful way to get feedback from their users.

Both beta sites are already useful, and I look forward to seeing how they develop.

What's the point of museum collections online?

Earlier this week I posted on our developer blog to ask 'what’s your number one question about presenting museum collections online?'.

Merel van der Vaart (@MerelVaart on twitter), who has just finished an internship with the Science Museum's climate change content team, posed an interesting question in response:

"I'm still struggling to decide what the value of online access is. Not  that I think it's bad, but how exactly is it good?"

I tend to think that everyone knows the benefits of online collections – providing access to museum objects and the knowledge around them, to start with – so it's actually a really good question: why are we putting collections online?  Who does it benefit?  Are the benefits clear to others in the museum, and to our audiences?

I can think lots of answers, but the exercise of stopping and examining my automatic response was really useful.  I'm still thinking about the presentation on selling your ideas because  it's made me realise the importance of having answers to questions we'd forgotten might be questions.

Top ten tips for selling your IT project

I'm spending two days in Manchester for the JISC event, Rapid Innovation in Development. I've already had some interesting, inspiring and useful conversations and I'm looking forward to tomorrow (and more importantly, getting some quality programming time to try them out).

The event has a focus on helping developers effectively market their projects or ideas to wider audiences (aka 'normal people'). With that in mind, here are my notes from Alice Gugan's talk on her 'top ten tips for selling your project'.

She pointed out that it's not exhaustive but does list the key tips to focus on.

  1. Focus on your audience. Who they are, their interests, their technical level. If you're talking to a journalist, talk to who they're writing for.
  2. USP – what is yours? How does your project really change the lives of your audience? This is your main message. What makes your project stand out?
  3. Short and snappy sub-points. Not too many, make sure they lead logically on from your main message.
  4. Be confident. Be sure of your ground, be believable, be enthusiastic.
  5. Project your voice!
  6. Engage eye contact with your interviewer – if you have to scan your notes, still try to make eye contact with the audience.
  7. No gimmicks! They can be great but they won't necessarily make people remember what your project was about.
  8. No jargon! It's often a barrier to your audience. This includes acronyms.
  9. Practice, practice, practice. But keep it fresh, enthusiastic and believable.
  10. Test it on a stranger and adjust according to their reactions.

All good points! Based on years of geek conversations across several domains, I'd suggest making your pitch into a story about the engaging/useful/inexpensive/secure (etc, you get the picture) experience someone has while using your product. You can always bring out the technical details and features list later – once you've got people interested.

It's often hard to step back from the detailed perspective and remember how to talk about your project who haven't been living with it daily, but if you can't do that it's hard to make the best of your work by sharing it with a wider audience.

Focusing on your audience can be tricky – it's easier for pitches than more general presentations, but working out how to address audiences with different levels of technical or sector knowledge can be tricky. Maybe that's why I like user stories as pitches – it makes you step back from the acronomic** detail and think about what really makes your idea unique.

** Yeah, I made that up, but it's a nice cross between acronyms, macro and moronic.

[Update: thanks to Paul Walk for Alice's surname.

Also, I've found myself thinking about the event quite a bit since Friday – both in terms of the tips for presenting technical projects to non-technical staff, and generally in terms of the useful tips and inspiring ideas I picked up in conversation with other attendees.  Congratulations to all concerned for a great event!]