It’s been a while since I wrote that last (and, er, first) post on the Museum Platform blog.
The lack of progress in writing anything here is at a total contrast to the breadth and depth of work we’ve been doing on the actual platform itself, and the business and structures that will support it. We have been a bit like the proverbial duck, all calm and serenity and apparent lack of activity on the surface but wild crazy paddling underneath…
We’re going to be better at this going forwards – I want to make sure that we’re talking about what we’re building and why we’re building it, soliciting feedback from the museum sector and working this into our plans as we do so. One of the things we’re very clear about in making this thing is that we want to bring museums along for the ride. No – more than that – we want museums to be steering the truck…
We’re also aware that it’s terribly easy to announce something and set up a spangly new website and domain but then never do anything beyond that. So I’m going to do two things with this post: firstly, I’m going to give an overview of where we’ve got to, both from a technical and a business point of view, and what we’ve been busy doing for the last few months. Secondly, I’m going to commit to blogging (at least) weekly about what we’ve been doing so that anyone interested can drop in here, get a sense of our thinking and – if they’re interested enough – give us some feedback or otherwise get involved.
What we’ve been doing
In no particular order, we have been…
Going through the formal steps of setting up a business
It’s taken a while to tie together all the constituent parts required to set up a new limited company, but we’re finally there! On 27th March 2020, The Museum Platform was officially created. We’re now A Real Thing!
Spending a huge amount of time talking about pricing
Everyone who has ever setup a Software As A Service (SaaS) platform talks about how hard pricing is, and they’re not wrong.
What we realised early on is that TMP isn’t a “normal” SaaS. We don’t want to take a “here’s what you pay, here’s what you get” approach. Museums aren’t that neat and ordered, whether we’re talking about size and scope of collection or in-house technical expertise. We want to make sure we’re offering a solution that actually helps museums – and it became clear early on that “on-boarding” (urgh, such a terrible Americanism…) is really important. We don’t think it fits to have a “click this button, add your credit card details, now you’ve got a website” type approach with the platform – there are just too many factors at play to make this viable with our museum audience.
As part of this, we’re still talking about and working on pricing. We’re talking to museums, other museum related professional groups, museum individuals and more, and continuing to tweak…
Building, building, building
It’d be tough to adequately sum up all the build progress that has gone on since I last posted, but here are some highlights:
We now have a custom built Elastic Search plugin!
This is the engine behind the approach we’re taking with collections on the site. It allows us to query our Elastic Search API and return results – yes, on the front end, but also when authoring content. From an editors point of view, this means you can write a piece of narrative and then “drop in” a collections record. Here’s a quick video capture:
I’ve written a lot about how museum objects shouldn’t just be “over there” on another website, but instead embedded and embeddable throughout everything museums do. The kind of editing you see above is absolutely core to this, and I am VERY excited about where this is going to take us…
We’ve started work on some front-end faceting
JO has been beavering away on the data side of things and has been starting to put together some front end faceting for collections results.
For those that don’t know what “faceting” is – it’s basically advanced search but turned around so that it’s user-focused around an initial keyword query. You start off with a normal, Google-style search term, get some results and then filter them to get more accurate results. Think Amazon search results.
What I like about this (after years trying to convince museums not to do horribly complicated advanced search forms) is that it’s advanced search but made for normal mortals…
We’ve pivoted to the Gutenberg editor
I’ve long been thinking about Gutenberg in the context of our clients over at Thirty8. We’ve favoured our own custom built block editor until now, mainly because we’re doing things with it that Gutenberg just hasn’t been able to cope with.
But recently I’ve been having a really good play with Gutenberg – it’s grown and matured considerably and is clearly the future of WordPress, so we’ve decided it’s solid enough now to support what we want to do on the platform. We’ve re-done our code to support it and are very happy with the results!
So much more…
There’s so much more building going on, and only a limited amount of your attention – so here’s a bulleted list rather than anything in more depth:
- We’ve built in support for Sketchfab within the editor. Museums can now easily drop in their 3D models and tweak advanced settings from within the editing interface
- We’ve got a newsletter builder module almost finished – this enables editors to write rich HTML newsletters within the TMP platform and then pass them up to MailChimp, Mailerlite etc for sending. Re-use text content, links, images from your website!
- We’re nearly finished on a timeline module. Drop your content – exhibitions, blog posts, events, objects, pages – into a beautiful, on-brand, interactive timeline with ease!
- We’re building in intelligent “museum-friendly” options from the ground up. A good example is the “opening times” shortcode which enables easy re-use across the site:
- We’re talking to Pretix about setting up as a reseller – these guys have an amazing ticketing platform which we’re likely to build in shortly – but we’re also building in modules for Eventbrite, as we know it’s a popular solution for many museums
We’ve got clients!
This is probably the most important thing of all. It’s easy to get carried away with the tech and find you’ve got a perfect platform with no-one using it. But – we’ve won our first client and are in conversation with lots of other museums who are really interested in what we’re doing. This is deeply encouraging!
It would seem weird to write anything at all right now without mentioning the extraordinary times we find ourselves in. We’re hugely aware of the enormous and unprecedented impact that CV19 has had – is having – on our incredible, beautiful, amazing museum sector, and our hearts go out to all those affected by what is going on. We’re working hard to develop a set of tools that are genuinely useful to museums going forward. We think digital is going to play a really key part in this journey and want to put as much in the hands of museums as possible. If you’ve got ideas about how we might help, please do get in touch – or as ever join our mailing list where we’ll be keeping everyone updated as we move this exciting project forwards!