So apologies for the brief hiatus: things have been a little hectic, and I have been horribly destracted making some period costume… but I’m back! Stage one of a stage of funding applications that are probably completely hopeless and will ultimately lead to crushing rejection is complete… so now I have a little time to share and I thought I’d do a quick review of a website that’s just started up:

PhotoLondon: Website Review

I recently got a flyer for a new website that has been designed to act as a “gateway to London’s public photograph collections”.

Oooh goody, I thought, lots of photographs of interesting Victorian people, fashion, sites, places, even perhaps some photographs of buildings of interest! Ah. Well… Having checked the publicity carefully, I realised there’s actually very little on this website. Although the five major collections featured contain millions of photographs, only handful (literally) of each have been digitised, so you can’t actually view them on the website. In addition, and perhaps most frustratingly, there aren’t any online catalogues either, so you can’t even search for what you want prior to visiting any of the collections in person.

The only saving grace is a database of 19th century London photographers and companies, which I can see is a really useful resource if you’re interested in that area. However, the website looks like it was designed about five years ago, before the advent of CSS, and it looks pretty ugly when displayed on a high resolution screen. The links to the individual collections on the Home page are chronically small when compared to the mickey-mouse text filling the main page. Having been built by the Museum of London team I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything too fantastic, but this is poor even compared to their website.

Following the links through and looking at a photographic company for which photographs are available online is very easy. However rather than having these photographs at the top of the page, which seems best considering that’s what most people are actually going to be looking for, they are situated at the bottom, under a massive chunk of unreadable text (see this example). And if you only have one or two photographs digitised (and then not to a particularly high resolution), why bother using thumbnails; why not just display the image at full size?

Although they don’t tell you this immediately, you can see that the website is actually an adjunct to the database of 19th century photographers, by David Webb. The work itself is pretty serious and probably very useful, but it seems a shame to hide it behind a website pretending to be something else (the leaflet I received doesn’t even mention the database). It’s particularly unfortunate that the website is so ugly and basic. The leaflet claims that the site caries links to “over 60 public collections which hold images”, but at the time of viewing the links section to the left of the home page wasn’t there. This is a real shame considering that this site is supposed to be a ‘gateway’ or signposting site, and a coherent list of collections would actually be very useful.

ed: I just went to check the website before posting this… and the whole Museum of London Group websites are down!  Seriously, who runs their stuff?

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