In order to think broadly about what we can do with PHP to visualize our data and present them in a way that a user can actively interact with them, I examined six different sites or tools built with PHP that either visualize data or allow a user to transform their own data. Since I don’t have any knowledge of PHP, I only used sites that ended with the extension .php and operated under the assumption that these were thus built using PHP code.
Site #1: “Selling the Computer Revolution”
This site was of immediate interest, since it treated a similar material as our own project and even shares many of the ads in our collection. While the site allows you to do many of the things that we would like to do with our own ads, like filter them by company or by object or by time period, it is fairly static, and rather than having all of the available metadata to filter by, it is obviously “curated” and has that feeling as you filter through results. The ads themselves also have to be viewed externally–you can view them as a PDF, but that takes you away from the site.
Site #2: The Poe Museum Collection
I liked the Poe Museums’ search function, and was thinking about how any interface we build would have to balance curation (to show results as they come in) and open exploration. You can browse through multiple images of a single document or artifact within the bibliographic information about the artifact, which is also nice; that would be an important function to have on our site for multi-paged documents or for videos. Yet this comes across as well as an obviously curated collection and does not feel as if it is a “tool” for open exploration.
Site #3: Protein Translation Application
The Protein Translator is a tool, not an exhibition, but is based around user input rather than a curated dataset. Any input can generate an output and doesn’t have to be “defined” to get a meaningful response (other than you can’t insert in a letter that doesn’t correspond to an appropriate nucleotide). I assume that the files that the PHP code has to reference information stored in a database about what amino acids translate into proteins, how to read frames, etc. I think this type of tool is useful to keep in the back of our mind. I’m not sure that we have any kind of input quite as general as this, but a tool like this does beg the question of why users would be coming to our site, and how we would want to make our information accessible not only to people who want to filter through the data but for people who are coming with their own data. For example: what if a user wanted to check an ad of their own for similarities or differences with our own? Or what if they want to ask research questions that aren’t predefined?
Site #4: NYPL @ 100
The NYPL exhibition page offers a great example of a way to facilitate contribution to the project. This particular page shown here hosts a Flash application where users can contribute “squares” to the larger digital quilt on display. I am not sure if users would be able to contribute additional ads to our own database, but if that is the larger goal then it should be a consideration in the overall design of the site. (For example, would we want to have a form where someone could add in their own ads, and then have the code add their information to the database? How would we structure the database to allow for that to happen? Is this even a good thing? What would an approval process be like?) This was also the first example in this set where it was obvious to me that there was another tool embedded in the site–here, a Flash application. This makes me think about some of the cool preliminary results we’ve been getting from various tools. Would we want to design an interface that would accommodate being able to embed these kind of visualizations later on? Or would we want to limit the interface?
This exhibition seems narrative-based, rather than content-based. The content is flat, not interactive, and clicking on any particular image or video reroutes you to a new tab. I think this is a poor example of how we would want to present our data, because they don’t seem to have a “narrative” organization in the way that these historical documents do. Our data are chronologically organized, however, and I wonder if a “timeline” function or ability to filter by time period would be a necessary part of the site design.
Site #6: Civil War at 150
I liked the Civil War 150 online exhibition–it was bright, interesting, and presented a range of multimedia. Unfortunately, most of those multimedia were static, and the links presented to examine the documents rerouted the user to an ugly bibliographic entry on a different site. This exhibition could easily have been printed as-is and sold in a book form. My main question as a result of examining this exhibition is thinking about overall “polished”-ness of the presentation form we take. If our site is more of a tool for open exploration, then I don’t think having a “polished” or “publication-style” finish is as necessary. If, however, we want it to be curated and to present results, we might want to have an eye towards a finished “publication”-esque feel.