A Mobile History of the World in 100 Objects

Jan 25
Posted on January 25, 2011 10:00 in Events, Projects

Last weekend was HistoryHackDay and unlike CultureHackDay the week before I decided to make something this time and participate besides enjoying the free food and beer. My hack can be found here but read on for a bit of an explanation.

I’ve been a fan of the BBC & British Museum’s podcast “A History of the World in 100 Objects”. I’ve listened to a few of their episodes admiring the objects on the BBC site or Wikipedia, but I eventually gave up as I realised I wanted to see the actual objects instead.

I was disappointed that there wasn’t a good iPhone/Android/Web App for someone to enjoy the audio/transcripts when they were actually at the British Museum. I would have loved to walk through the museum, be guided by the list of 100 objects and listen to the podcasts.

Sadly all the data on the 100 objects was spread out over Wikipedia, the BBC site, and the British Museum, so I had to start off scraping as much data from all the sites as I could. Once I had this I was able to quickly create a mobile app using jQuery Mobile.

Working with jQuery Mobile was a breeze. I’ve never done much mobile web development but it was very easy to make a nice looking site in a very short time. I think I spent about 2 hours making it all work nicely and then maybe another hour to add some nice extras like the header and the in-page audio playback (might have nicked some code from HuffDuffer).

The result is a fully working mobile site that actually also looks quite nice in most other browsers. It’s also one of my most complete hacks. I didn’t feel like I needed to spend 5 more weeks “finishing it up” before I could deploy it. Instead it’s live now.

There have been a lot of feature requests but to be fair unless someone wants to reimburse me for my time I’m probably not going to be able to do so. Therefore I’ve put all of the code on GitHub for others to use. Maybe, who knows, the British Museum might be able to use this to make their own mobile version.

  • http://shkspr.mobi/ TerenceEden

    Had a play with it – I think it’s excellent. I tried it on a few browsers and it seemed to work quite well. As ever, there’s some scope for making it work better with obscure browser XYZ.

    As I said to you on Twitter, this kind of mobile website would be perfectly paired with a QR code.
    Imagine you’re standing in front of one of these objects. You can read the little card with a single paragraph of text, or….
    Scan the QR code – listen to the podcast / read the transcript / tweet your feelings / share on facebook….

    I will grab the source code and have a play. I think it’s a wonderful project which any museum would be proud to deploy.


    • http://blog.cristianobetta.com Cristiano Betta

      Tnx for the kind words. I know it’s a bit flaky in non-A listed browsers but that’s just a question of building a separate site for browsers that jQuery Mobile doesn’t support.

      I talked to a guy from the BM at HistoryHackDay and he was excited to show it to their team but I haven’t heard anything so far.

    • Victuallers

      I’d add a link to the app from at least the wikipedia 100 Objects talk page. Actually the 100 objects Wikipedia page does bring all this together in one article. Anyway nice to see wikipedia seeing new uses

    • http://blog.cristianobetta.com Cristiano Betta

      Coo. Tnx.

      To be fair the wikipedia article doesn’t provide all the info as easily accessible as this does when you’re on the road. I used the article as one of my sources for this app but I also had to scrape the BBC and BM sites for transcripts, locations, etc.

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