As a veteran of vociferous (and sometimes cantankerous) discussions about subject headings and object classifications and subclassification, I know how tough it can be to settle on a taxonomy that works, enabling a true "Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum" approach to content, which is perfectly appropriate for a web portal. I only wonder whether something like this could be tried with success in the US. Are we too diverse regionally and culturally for this approach to accessing culture? I would argue to the contrary. A project like this to link together resources from the 50 states would be a boon for domestic vacationers and international travelers alike.
The UK's portal to museums, archives, heritage sites and art venues is this year's Museums and the Web recipient of the Archimuse "Longest Lived" award. First launched in 1999, the site is a true grand-dame in internet years, but with a 2009 makeover and an enthusiastic embrace of RSS, Twitter and open-crawling, Culture 24 is certainly "up" with the times. On its surface, this website appears to be essentially journalistic. Each landing page features an image-and-article layout reminiscent of a local news source. The site's genius lies in its iterative subject taxonomy and use of tags to allow visitors to *explore *its content from every possible angle. (See the sitemap for a full taxonomy.) To provide an example, Culture 24's home page offers a subject menu including "Places to Go," "Art," "History and Heritage," "Science and Nature," "Spliced," "Teachers," and "Sector Info," Clicking on "History and Heritage" reveals a new menu which includes, "Archeaology," "War and Conflict," Transport," "Work and Daily Life," "Literature and Music," "Historic Buildings," "Time," and for a limited time only, "World Cup 2010." Social historian that I am, I'm moved to click on "Work and Daily Life." My choices don't stop here! Now I'm offered, "Industrial Heritage," "Rural Heritage," "Childhood and Education," "Family History," "Royalty," "Faith and Belief," and "Race and Ethnicity." Only at this level can I dig down no further. But even then, if I'm not moved to click on the content offered here, I can click on "Spliced" and see everything categorized by "Objects," "Words," "Sounds," "Pictures" and "Online."
As a historian, I offer one persistent critique of Culture 24. It seems to lack an archive of its content and it sadly does not appear in the Internet Archive. A site like this could be a rich resource for British cultural historians, and yet, its embrace of the "here and now" culture of the internet essentially limits its utility to scholars in the future. Aside from maintaining a geographically-mapped database of cultural institutions, update-able by individual institutional representatives, this site does not embrace its own record, preferring to update itself endlessly in a cycle of process-nullifying renewal.
~ Adina Langer