THE pace of change seems to be nowhere greater than on the Internet and in an effort to keep up with the Joneses – or perhaps in this case with the Gateses – the Museum’s website has recently undergone a thorough facelift.
Since the Museum’s first foray onto the Internet just over two years ago, the development of the World Wide Web has been huge, not just in terms of the number of users connected and the volume of information available, but in the sophistication of presentation and design that is now attainable in web pages.
When ‘The Measurers’ – the Museum’s first ‘virtual exhibition’ – was mounted on the web, it was just about possible to control which paragraphs of text the pictures would fall between. The advent of tables with invisible borders and frames with cells of precisely definable sizes has overcome these limitations. With only a small dose of know-how, carefully laid-out pages can now be created in the confidence that they will display properly on a variety of different web browsers.
The speed of access to far-away places on the web has also increased dramatically over recent months, due largely to the provision of a high-speed underwater link to America, with the result that it is now practicable to draw more heavily on graphical material than was previously advisable, opening up further possibilities for exhibition design.
The Museum’s website currently boasts four substantial ‘on-line exhibitions’. The newest – an electronic catalogue of the recent Cameras exhibition – is referred to on page 2; perhaps the most elegant and the one which, through its use of close-up details of a portrait in the Museum’s collection, demonstrates the value of this type of presentation more than any other, is the virtual version of the last-but-one special exhibition: ‘The Noble Dane: Images of Tycho Brahe’.
These exhibitions, together with material in the ‘features’ section and ‘image library’, mean that over 400 different objects from the Museum’s collection are already illustrated on the website. The most recent changes to the site, although at this stage still largely cosmetic, open up the way for further developments. Chief among them will be the provision of a ‘collections database’, eventually providing systematic catalogue information about all the objects in the collection, but beginning with the early mathematical instruments.