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British Museum launches World Timelines
Compiled by Monica Blake
British Museum launches World Timelines www.line.co.uk
The British Museum is to go online with a Web-based exhibition. World Timelines will unite the British Museum and 12 museums across the UK in a combined online exhibition of artefacts that spans thousands of years of human history (and prehistory – from the Palaeolithic to the present day).
The key challenge was to create a dynamic interface that makes all the artefacts and references easily accessible to the user in ways that stimulate exploration and make the connections intuitive. World Timelines does this with an attractive and effective user interface and a highly capable content delivery system.
Matthew Cock, the British Museum’s project manager for World Timelines, says “World Timelines is the first large-scale online partnership that the British Museum has undertaken. One of the aims of the Web site is that it will help show off our fantastic collections held in museums across Britain to our online visitors from across the world. This will hopefully bring new visitors, both online and to the galleries with a fresh understanding and enthusiasm for their cultural history.
“It has been a great challenge to present timelines on a Web site, but we’re confident that the ‘Timeline Tool’ will provide a gateway into a wealth of information for all those interested in history, whether locally or globally. Good museum Web sites should provide an intuitive and enjoyable experience as well as providing authoritative information, and the ‘Timeline Tool’ allows us to do this.”
Helping the Museum to develop this online exhibition is LINE Communications Group, an experienced content developer in the Museum and Heritage sector, e-learning and digital communications. LINE has worked closely with its technology partner Simulacra to deliver a ground-breaking solution that could change the way museums work together. The site uses Simulacra’s content delivery technology, Harmonise, to take users on virtual journeys that can leap between eras, locations or objects – following chronological, geographical or other themes.
LINE’s Director of Production, Andrew Joly, explains, “From the design aspect this project is all about helping the viewer make relevant relationships between objects, in the quickest and most intuitive way. These relationships can be chronological, thematic or geographical. The point is that the design must make these relationships instantly clear enabling the viewer to use the navigational tools intuitively, then go and explore.”
Tom Scott from Simulacra says that the main technological challenge was the management of many thousands of meta-objects within an architecture that makes them instantly accessible. “To encourage people to pull the information out of the system, according to their own interests and agenda – rather than push it at them according to someone else’s hierarchy – requires a very advanced system that will catalogue, store and deliver anything from the collection on demand and in context. Getting it right, as we believe we have in this project, and the rewards are huge. We have created something that has the potential of making infinitely variable voyages of exploration across time.”