Creative Spaces – Social Media and Museums

[Update] I’ve had some more thoughts on Creative Spaces. Feel free to follow this post with my first follow-up.

The National Museums Online Learning Project “Creative Spaces” is a social media project that links 9 major UK museums and galleries. Currently in beta, participating institutions include the Natural History Museum, The V&A, British Museum, Tate, National Portrait Gallery, Sir John Soane’s Museum, Royal Armouries, The Wallace Collection and the Imperial War Museum.

Explore the beta of  Creative Spaces.


Creative Spaces encourages visitor interaction:

The site allows you to search all the collections at once, tag and store items in notebooks and groups, and upload your own images, videos and notes to share creative inspiration with others. This is a nonprofit, public sector project, and it’s the first time that national museums have collaborated in this way.

Visitors can create a Creative Spaces account and make “notebooks” of their favourite objects by browsing the federated collections of the nine museums, and clicking “Save to” next to the object description. I was able to, for example, create a Notebook which I called “Iron Age goodies” and quickly add a few objects to it. Objects can be tagged, which is nice. If you don’t want to add an item to a group, you can simply add it to your favourites, perhaps to add to a notebook later.

One of the nice things about Creative Spaces notebooks is the ability to add your own content. 


This is the important bit for me. The ability to augment the museum-supplied content with my own photos, videos, links etc from my own visits is just lovely. A quick (but important) look in the site’s Terms & Conditions reveals that all copyright of contributed material remains with the creator, so no worries there. I will certainly contribute some of the photos and videos that I’ve taken, and I hope that many others do too. A nice touch is that your notebook page contains a social bookmarking widget allowing you or visitors to your notebook to easily add it to their bookmarking/social service of choice.

Groups allow people to join special interest groups which can be public, public but with a membership approval process, or private. Anyone can create a group. It will be interesting to see how these are used, but at the time of writing it seems as if every group wants me to request an invitation to join, regardless if membership is open or not. But still, this is a beta, so I’m sure it will take a while to iron those bugs out (as a web developer myself, I know how tricky this can be).

The site also contains videos produced by participating museums, so you can also see ‘official’ videos on different themes.

Creative Spaces has a huge amount of potential, and it’s one of the few recent developments in the heritage sector that genuinely excites me. It has potential to allow people to interact with museums in a central place, and share the experiences they had during their visit. The federated search opens up the collections, and can even help to plan a visit, or conduct research from a distance. The notebook functionality can even be used to add links if users prefer to post content to their own sites. It’s a really good idea.

Where could there be improvements? Having only used the site for a short while, here are a few suggestions:

  • Incorporate OpenID. I have so many accounts with websites, I don’t really want yet another username/password combination!
  • Create an advanced search form. Searching for Iron Age objects was hard.
  • Give me a nice URL for my page ( I’d like, for example.
  • Create a feed of status updates – it seems as if only the latest one is displayed.
  • Let us know if Museum staff will interact back with us. Or is the site going to be just for visitors to interact with each other? Will our content be accessioned back into the collections databases in any way?
  • Can I have an RSS feed for my notebook please 🙂
  • It would be great to allow other users to add tags to my notebook entries.

I also think that it is a great idea to provide this kind of experience for many museums in one place. Too many duplicate sites will mean too much dilution. I hope that other museums can come on board and add their collections as funding permits.

All in all, it’s a great idea, well executed for a first version. It heralds a further change in the way that museums are perceived, opening them up, making them less stuffy, and allowing us mortals to engage and interact with their collections (and each other). All we need now is for the Creative Spaces website (when they are ready) to be widely publicised, as every social networking site needs an audience.

I for one will be participating. See you on there.

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5 Responses to Creative Spaces – Social Media and Museums

  1. Frankie Roberto 4 March, 2009 at 9:50 am #

    I don’t get it. What’s the point of the service? What need is it fulfilling?

    Looks just like yet another multi-institution lightbox application to me.

    ‘Creative Spaces’ – meh.

  2. Tom Goskar 4 March, 2009 at 10:24 am #

    Hi Frankie,

    When Flickr came about, for example, it arose not from a need per se, but from an idea. Not everything needs to fix something, or fill a void. I’m in no way involved with Creative Spaces, and I think that it’s a great idea/experiment.

    I like the idea of a space where museum fans can go online after (or even during) a visit to collect items of interest together and contribute their own experiences.

    I like the Tumblr-esque experience of the notebook where videos, photos, links, audio, etc can be added. I’m all in to the idea of people interacting with museum/gallery objects and spaces. It could be fascinating to see how people experience them. It could be useful for museums to see what people are doing and saying.

    Like it or leave it, I suppose 😉

  3. Tom Goskar 4 March, 2009 at 10:25 am #

    …although I think that what the site is all about, and why people will want to use it could be improved upon.

  4. Tom Goskar 4 March, 2009 at 10:31 am #

    This might do it:

    “Interact with museums and galleries. Upload your own experiences. Search the collections of 9 museums. Connect with like-minded people. Expand your visit online.”

  5. Mike Ellis 4 March, 2009 at 11:42 am #

    Hi Tom. I’m with Frankie here – my thoughts are on my blog: