Interview with Product Manager, Alex Hoffman on the Future of Digital Galleries

Since its inception in 2001 eMuseum, has helped renowned institutions around the world grow and engage audiences by integrating with The Museum System (TMS) to deliver content and images to websites, intranet, digital galleries, and information kiosks. The launch of the newest version of eMuseum in the spring of 2019 will continue the evolution of digital galleries, providing ample opportunity to showcase collection information and integrate data in a style that is uniquely tailored to the needs of each institution.

Alex Hoffman, eMuseum Product Manager, joined us for a discussion on the forthcoming iteration of the program – exciting new features, game-changing utility applications, and how the ideas for some of the most interesting updates have come from eMuseum users themselves.

Alex Hoffman, eMuseum Product Manager

Alex Hoffman, eMuseum Product Manager, Gallery Systems

What changes in the museum field led to this version of eMuseum?

It’s really a combination of three things that I think culminate to form each version of eMuseum – not just changes in the museum field, but advancements in web technology and standards, as well as general expectations of what a digital gallery or online collection should be. In the previous version of the program, we added several more ways to group, search, and refine content, which in turn gave TMS ways of controlling how an online collection is viewed, and provides visitors with the flexibility to explore and find what they’re looking for. The newest version of eMuseum builds on those previous concepts and more: whether the ideas are coming from the museum field, like making it easier to tell stories and design content based on themes, or whether they’re advancements in web technology, such as strict accessibility compatibility, privacy settings, and data inter-operability.

How do you decide what goes into each version of eMuseum?

I’m frequently asked this question, and am always proud to say that many of the decisions come from eMuseum’s community of users themselves. Between releases, we typically implement around two hundred customizations to the core product for clients, and many of them are requested more than once. Those are the ideas that really stand out to us as something that would be useful for a larger group of eMuseum users. We’re never able to get all the features we want into each new release, but we never forget about them either. There’s always a rolling list to add to the next version, and it’s growing all the time. It’s part of what excites us – to always be working on the next big thing.

eMuseum museum web publishing

Can you tell us some of the new features you’re most excited about?

I’m really excited about all of the new features! I should probably start by saying that we identify work in eMuseum as “features” and “improvements.” To be a feature, it has to be completely new, so there are about a dozen of them, whereas there are about 200 improvements, and another hundred or so general “cleanup” tasks that make their way into this newest version.

One of the features I think everyone will notice immediately is the “Quick Style Options.” We’ve added a number of configuration choices that allow eMuseum administrators to restyle and restructure the display of content for individual areas and modules in a site, so you can have objects with a completely different look and feel – from people, to exhibitions, to bibliography, digital galleries, or collections. It can give a different view of content, and help guide visitors in a particular narrative.

I’m also excited about a feature we’re calling “Virtual Groups,” which provides a new way of grouping content. This version of eMuseum will also feature improved “New Media Management,” which allows admins to control the security and downloadability of all image sizes and media types in general, including audio, video, and documents. We’ve also made extensive improvements to the creation and configuration of reports through the eMuseum User Interface. You can create as many as you’d like, assign them to different user roles, and in many cases structure the reports yourself using the new report template system. You can also now configure a CSV export from eMuseum.

What previous features have clients found most useful?

“My Collections” is a very popular feature that allows visitors to create their own collections. It’s almost like a playlist for works online: you can have as many collections as you want, add records to them, share them, and even generate reports. There are a number of interesting use cases for it, since it’s a great way of grouping records. It’s been notably popular with both students and teachers.

My Collections feature in eMuseum.

The Frick Collection demonstrates the My Collections feature in eMuseum.

Over the last few years I think one of the most popular features has been the persistent canonical URLs – a feature that isn’t immediately apparent to visitors. It’s really important to be able to copy and share a URL, but it also plays a huge part in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), allowing search engines like Google or Bing to easily crawl each page on your eMuseum site, massively increasing the exposure to all collection content, and also making it extremely easy to use social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or to simply email a link to someone.

What are some creative and interesting ways clients have used eMuseum?

Whenever I talk about eMuseum, I always say that it’s “a highly-customizable web toolkit,” and what that means is that what eMuseum looks like, or feels like, can be tailored to fit each collection – each vision – differently. It’s really exciting when one of our clients comes to us with an idea for how to use eMuseum in their digital galleries that we’ve never thought of before. One example, which has become a popular customization request, is the display of search results plotted on a Google Map. Google Maps have been used in eMuseum for many different types of collections, like a natural history museum plotting specimen locations or collections spread throughout entire cities – it adds a nice layer of interactivity for the user.

Collection objects on a Google map

Collection objects are plotted on a Google map to provide visitors with added visual and locational context on the Danish Arts Foundation website.

How will clients be able to grow their workflows or expand projects with the new version of eMuseum?

With this release, we are providing a utility application called “Prism.” Prism connects directly to TMS, reads all of the available data, and allows the eMuseum administrator to control exactly what data is pushed to each module in eMuseum. One of the core concepts behind eMuseum is the ability to use TMS as the content management system for your online collection. You enter data once, and you can use it everywhere. And the ability to precisely control which data and media are published to eMuseum will be even easier with Prism.

Right now eMuseum users typically publish data once every night, but with Prism you can do it much more frequently, maybe once every hour, or even allow Prism to watch for changes made in TMS and instantly push them out to your digital galleries, depending on your collection type. That’s where Prism really gives you the ability to control what data gets pushed to which destinations.

Do you have any predictions regarding the future of digital galleries? Are there any important changes you see coming?

In 2011, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on one of the first Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI) projects, which were built on rich, scholarly research and were woven together with technology to create new ways of exploring and interacting with collection content online. In the last few years, concepts from those and other innovative online collections and projects have been making their way into the mainstream. A website that used to be ahead of its time is now the norm – it’s what’s expected of an online collection. I think that trend is going to continue: we’ll see these types of really special projects that highlight great collections and research crop up, and then those concepts will be used to help build the next generation of online collections.

To learn more about the newest version of eMuseum, contact us today.