Monday, April 21, 2008

Flickr Machine Tags Revisited

Over the weekend we added the ability to browse by different fields in accessCeramics. While this isn't really that hard of a problem, technologically speaking, it became clear that flickr machine tags couldn't handle this very well.

It came down to this. To get a list of the different values the images had for glaze, for example, we would have to do the following:

  • Make an API call to get a list of images in the collection

  • For each image, make an API call to get the list of tags & machine tags

  • Cycle through each set of tags and perform a regular expression match to find the 'glaze' machine tag, and store that value in a PHP array

  • Put the array in order, and print the results.

Or, if the metadata was in a local database like MySQL, we would have to:

  • Make an SQL query to the database, and process & print the results

In addition, the API doesn't support partial or truncated machine tag searches. For example, if I wanted to search for 'sculpture', I wouldn't get 'figurative sculpture' as part of my results set. This would require our users to be overly precise with their searches, which just isn't ideal design.

Because of situations like this, we decided to migrate the metadata to a MySQL database. We'll still include machine tag generation in Flickr as part of the process, in the event that API methods are added in the future. But storing all metadata in a local DB will greatly enhance the site's functionality and speed, especially as it grows to the volume we hope it will.

When this project began, we were hoping Flickr would be the database layer. To a certain extent it still is, but it just doesn't offer the same flexibility as a fairly simple MySQL database. It's still a cool idea, and hopefully Flickr will make some enhancements in the way machine tags are used and queried. With some of the recent chatter about an academic Flickr, hopefully the conversation that will move Flickr in that direction has begun.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

NITLE Summit

I gave a poster session on accessCeramics at the NITLE Summit in San Francisco last week and had lots of interest from folks in the liberal arts community. Since we didn't have internet access in the poster room, I put together a few screen shots to show off a few different views of the system.

One of the things I wanted to demonstrate was the ability to view the collection inside and outside of Flickr. I also wanted to show off the machine tags concept. People were pretty impressed that you could do a controlled vocabulary inside of Flickr. I also threw in a few shots of PicLens to demonstrate the flexibility of the Flickr platform.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Why the numerous cataloging fields?

I've had several inquiries as to why we have such specific cataloging(metadata) fields for the ceramic images. It does take a little extra time and thought to add information to those fields, but the reason is a good one. Once we get the search field operational, we are hoping that this more detailed cataloging will shorten the amount of time that an instructor will have to search a site and will also return a more specific set of hits. If a professor wants to show some really good and varied examples of objects that are coil built, he/she does not have to search the entire site for said examples. Or a professor might want to show what ceramic artists are doing with installations. Typing one of the cataloging choices available in any of the metadata fields into the search field will produce the desired results. Watch for this "search" feature and others as we continue to develop the accessCeramics site.