Why isn’t my museum on Google Earth?

Adele Beeby from the East Midlands asked this question today (March 10, 2009) on the e-List of the Museums Computer Group:

“Hi everyone,  I’m hoping someone can advise me on an issue we’re experiencing with Google Earth.  I’ve been asked to check that our Museums (and Country Parks etc.) appear on Google Earth and noticed that,  for example, Bosworth Battlefield has about 8 different entries – only one of which is in the correct geographical place and only one of which has the correct name  “Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre and Country Park”.

I think the problem stems from the Google Earth entries being fed from various different websites, each using User Generated Content (UGC),  so perhaps mistakes are inevitable? Has anyone else noticed this problem and how have they dealt with it? Thanks in advance!”
Adele Beeby

What a fascinating and topical enquiry! Sadly there’s no immediate remedy, but it raises lots of questions about how we in the museum/culture sector best interact effectively with major information providers like Google. And it’s currently something MCG members have been posting about, in threads about the Digital Britain report, and also Dan Zambonini’s challenge to nominate functions and scope for museum API’s. Dan asked – “if you could have an API in your museum, what would it do, or be for?”

I see these strands as closely related. Google Maps, and more recently Google Earth, have not been using any sort of ‘official’ data source for museum, library, archive and gallery venue info and location data. Most people can see it would be good for Google to be able to deal with one trusted, checked source of info for these useful types of information. I typed ‘Malvern Museum’ into Google Earth and got five different answers about where my local museum is, all info from different sources. Plainly useless. Agreed, one or two ‘reviews’ popped up too, and they were useful in a sense, but the reports were old, uncheckable, and ephemeral in a publishing sense. At the moment, I don’t think web users find this sort of info in any way useable.

So wouldn’t it be great if the Digital Britain report began to sketch out ways that centralised knowledge management could be delegated to one or national museum body, so it could take responsibility for co-ordinating collection of basic data about museums – things like venue info and location. Then Google just talks to one agency and gets the data in one live channel. [Of course – we already have the possible technical means to do this in the form of Culture24 – and that’s no accident, it’s been something the team in Brighton have been keen on for a long, long time…]

Why is centralised knowledge management (in some form or another) important? Everything needs to be paid for, infrastructure needs putting in place and it needs to be comprehensive. The place where info ‘pivots’ is the place to gather it. There’s not a lot of point in the data being generated regionally, one area at a time; a big player like Google wants national coverage, straight away, and it needs to be up-to-date, live and covered by some sort of service level agreement.

I know we all are keen on museums being participative and socially responsive, but the Google Earth example clearly shows why, when factual, unshakeable, reliable location data and core venue info is concerned, a more systematic approach would work best. So I’d suggest the best placed core aggregators of culture venue data should be funders or govt agencies (or their partners like MLA or agencies like Collections Trust). How do we get people to play ball and use the system? I think it should be a rock solid funding requirement for projects and venues that payment only comes after core info is entered into the publicy availalble, free-for-use, uber-database.

A large culture agency that I have worked with in the past still has no central database of projects, or funded venues, or collection objects aquired; I think a Digital Britain strategy needs to get to grips with such information deficits urgently and make cultural data acquisition a strong organisational priority. Just imagine 25,000 journalists turning up in London in 2012 and there being no trustworthy info on hand about our culture and [sporting] heritage…


About Jon Pratty

Human - for now
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