In 2010, the Dordrechts Museum launched their new website as part of a total rebranding of the museum. The goal was to invest more into its relationship with regular visitors, and to offer them, and new visitors, a more interactive experience.
With these targets in mind, we, Joy Group, developed their new website.
Drupal provides a great platform for building complex websites and integrates very well with web services. We chose Drupal 6 (over Drupal 7) principally for its stability at the time that we were developing the website.
The museum has about 30,000 pieces of art in total. Only a selection of these can be seen at any one time at the museum in Dordrecht, but visitors to the online museum are able to access all 30,000 pieces.
With so many pieces available on the website, visitors have to be able to find the art they want to see. To help with this, we have created some custom functionality that we call "DNA," - an advanced algorithm that builds a profile from data collected from registered users when they browse the website.
How it works
When visitors register on the website, they are guided through a quick four-step wizard that will begin the process of building their unique DNA. For example: what do visitors like, what do they dislike, do they mark a piece of art as a favorite, or do they leave a comment?
From these behaviors, the algorithm is able to provide tips and recommend current and new pieces of art, thereby encouraging visitors to continue browsing or to come back for another visit.
Much like an online community, and much like visitors to the actual museum, registered users can engage in discussions or ask questions about the artwork they view on the website. These active discussions or questions are shown on the visitor's account page.
Visitors may also highlight a specific detail from a piece of art, and start a discussion or ask a question about it.
Other CMS elements
Aside from the custom-built algorithm, the website features other elements which can be fully managed by the Drupal CMS: artists, works of art, exhibitions, team members, news, and much more.
All in all, this makes the museum website a very powerful and flexible online experience.
The site launched at the end of November 2010 and contained almost all the public facing elements. During the next few months, we integrated all the interactive elements and further refined the DNA algorithm.
The structure behind the front end of the website is mainly Panels and Views, with appropriate styling. Custom templates were required for some sections, such as the user area.
In all, we use 29 content types, ranging from "Wizard Questions & Answers" and standard "News Items" to "Recommendations and Artwork Detail Selections". To enhance the interactive and organic nature of the website, there's a lot of cross-referencing going on between all these content types. For example, a question about a particular piece of art might generate a need to pull in information related to the artist, a collection, an exhibition, other related pieces, etc. Additional information related to other users who have posted relevant questions (and answers) are also referenced so we can display how many questions there are and who posted them.
All in all, it is a complex mix of content, references and (custom) output linked together to provide a special and unique user experience.
User experience and visual layout
Every project, of course, has challenges. Beside the technical challenges we faced, which we describe a bit below, the whole user experience was a challenge to pull together. Modeling certain sections, such as the fully-customized user section, to the visual concept was not easy. We found we could not configure the default Drupal user system to meet our needs, so we had to develop major new sections and workflows to attain the desired outcome.
One element in particular that proved difficult was configuring the registration and wizard sections to work as "modal windows". Modal windows present pages as normal, but the system has to pull the information from the modal window and not from the active background page. User registration with validation was particularly challenging in this respect and it took a lot of effort to make it efficient and cross-browser compatible.
A major part of the build process involved importing artwork and artists from various electronic formats. One main dataset was stored in Adlib (http://www.adlibsoft.com), which has an XML export format.
Another dataset came from an old CMS in the form of Waxtrapp (http://www.waxtrapp.com) exports. As the name suggests, this custom CMS "trapped" its data in a kind of XML with non-standard formats that contained duplicate content, making a smooth import difficult and complex to achieve.
Another community aspect of the website is the option to create or access an account from inside the (physical) museum on an iPod. Museum visitors can rent an iPod and create a website account using a JSON web service. Their activity in the museum also has an impact on their DNA. These DNA changes are saved to their "DNA chain" on the website.
The website, in this case, provides the main database for storing user profiles and settings, which then can be accessed or set by external systems.
For this project, several patches were submitted to Webform Conditional (http://drupal.org/node/1093334) and Content Profile modules.
For this project we enlisted three developers and one project manager. The design was provided by another organization.
One developer focused on the theming; another worked on the structure and custom functions; while the third focused on web services and the "DNA" algorithms. For the first month, we worked on the basic theming and structure; the next two and a half months were spent on advanced features and user interactive elements.