• Week 130

    14 April 2015

    I spent Week 130 working with Good, Form & Spectacle on Two Way Street.

    This was a four-day burst of work with George and Frankie to make a tool to explore the British Museum’s collection. We were aided by some early work from Tom Stuart on translating the available dataset – linked data, stored in N-Quads – into something approaching regular JSON that developers could work with.

    George’s Work Diary post about the project has lots more notes, explaining the shape of the project and some of the reasoning behind it. I also really like the explanation on the site’s about page:

    The British Museum is a venerable institution that opened in 1753, and has been a centre of scholarship since then.

    This project is not that. This is a sketch made quickly to explore what it means to navigate a museum catalogue made of over two million records. It’s about skipping around quickly, browsing the metadata as if you were wandering around the museum itself in Bloomsbury, or better yet, fossicking about unattended in the archives.

    It’s a lovely tool to explore and poke, and we had fun making it – by the end, there were loads of URLs just being bounced back and forth in the Slack channel. Look at this!, one of us says, and then look at that! I think that’s a good sign.

    It was interesting to build, too: once we’d wrangled the data out of n-quads, we ended up storing it all in Elasticsearch. There’s no traditional relational datastore in the project at all. I wrote more about that choice, and what it enabled, over at the Good, Form and Spectacle Work Diary in a post called Tools For Counting Things Quickly:

    So often, what we’re doing is counting and listing – usually both at once. Those counts are often predicated on complex criteria – but Elasticsearch’s aggregations make these counts very straightforward, and allows us to bundle many into a single query. For instance, the page that shows what objects were made in Japan, and which also lists which decades matching objects came from, visualises what other facets are most popular, and then enumerates the objects themselves, is just two queries in total – one of which is just used to construct the row of boxes for the decades.

    There’s more in the post if that’s your sort of thing.

    A fun four days, with a great deal of code cranked out and a few interesting interactions too. Heartening, sometimes, what a short sprint with good people can achieve.

    And then, it was all over. Onwards; week 131 sees a return to Selworthy and the transmission of Periton.