Tate player. Underwhelming.

The Tate launched their BT Tate Player (no disguising the sponsorship there, then) a week ago. I have to say, I’m disappointed. When I first heard that they were going to be doing this I got really excited about the potential, but the finally-launched-product is pretty much a nothingness.

Not to say that the content isn’t great – it’s fabulous being able to watch a video of Howard Hodgkin talking about his stuff and I suppose the tabbed view of Gilbert and George adds certain dimensions that you wouldn’t get otherwise – being able to link to pictures and other related material is a no-brainer which works alright.

BT Tate PlayerThe thing that’s missing is any sense of community engagement, at all, anywhere. No comments, no rating systems, no discussions. In fact if I was being really mean (which I am when it’s lunchtime and I’m hungry) I’d say that the branding of a “player” implies something which does a collective something. This is just a page of videos linking into a Flash player. Strictly it isn’t “technology from BT” but “a web page including some HTML and a bit of Flash”. There’s some RSS in there, but hey, not exactly ground-breaking.

I’m not knocking the idea. It’s fantastic to see a gallery or museum doing video online (although at the Dana Centre we’ve been doing it for a fair time now using our, ahem, “Dana Centre Player”…) – it’s obviously the road ahead and it’s fantastic to see real artists talking about their work. In this way it does a good job at getting great content out to users. What I find annoying more than anything else about this is the amount of missed potential. It isn’t bad, but it just could be sooooo much better with ~really~ not much more work.

Interestingly I thought the same thing about the Tate Carousel – a “visual interface with Tate’s collection” (I won’t be sarcastic right now about what a “non-visual” interface into this particular collection would be..). It was almost really interesting, but then just wasn’t – it doesn’t actually do anything at all…

Following the launch of the “player”, Director of Tate Media, Will Gompertz said:

“..it’s an exciting project with limitless potential and we’re delighted to be able to share with a broader audience the original audiovisual content of the Tate Archive.

So at least Mr Gompertz recognises that there is further potential in the project. With any luck this potential will be realised quickly and we’ll see phase II with some really nice community stuff going on, some tagging, embedding options, YouTube crossover, ratings, etc.

Right. I’m off to lunch before I start ranting at something else.

4 thoughts on “Tate player. Underwhelming.”

  1. Good points, but working for museums myself seeing a project like this is really hopeful. Let´s wait and see how it develops. The search function is also really bad. What do you think of a site like Ted.com? They have all the social options, but I am not sure how many people actually respond there. Or is it difficult to compare the two? Keeping it ´clean´ could also be a strategic move, so not just 2.0 savy people end up using the player. For a lot of people, even young people, interaction is still not common, and could even be a nuisance. I bet they have their reasons to leave it out.

    I hope you had a good lunch.

  2. Hey Juha. In essence I agree – it’s good content and nice to see museums doing *anything* at all with video. But it makes me itch that it could have been better thought out and presented. It feels lazy to me just plopping all that content on one page and apparently not thinking about what could have been.

    I really like ted.com. You’re right, though, in that I haven’t used the social stuff on it. Although I focussed on that in my post, it’s more the general lack of care rather than the lack of “social tool focus” which struck me.

    The obvious thing would have been to stick the lot on YouTube and let *them* deal with the social aspect (and vast quantities more traffic) so that the Tate could spend time and money getting the implementation on their own site right. But I’m betting a whole bunch of rights issues somehow got in the way…

  3. Hi Mike, I’m one of the ‘inventors’ of the technology used in Tate’s Carousel and I just bumped into your blog while surfing around for good/bad/indifferent comments to swell my ego or help me learn from my mistakes.
    Anyway, as you’d expect, I don’t agree that the Carousel does nothing. It is actually doing behind-the-scenes profiling based on your interactions with it to skew the random presentation of fresh images towards those which share metadata with items you’ve added to your favourites, or sought more info on.
    So if you use Carousel you should see that the ‘flavour’ or ‘atmosphere’ of the set of images drifts in one direction or another.
    It is deliberate that this is behind the scenes – we don’t want viewers to know (or worry about) what the metadata is, or whether they’re in a ‘post 1945 sculptural’ mood today.
    But maybe we’ve hidden its function too well, so people think it is just showing random images ad infinitum (which, actually, is what it will do if you don’t interact with it at all).
    Anyway, if you have time try it again, twice, and pretend you have different likes / dislikes for those two sessions. You should see that the kinds of things displayed become noticeably different.
    For example, try picking sculpture in one session and portraits in another.
    It works for me…but then I would say that wouldn’t I?
    Cheers, Richard

  4. Hey Richard, thanks for commenting and sorry it’s taken me a while to get back to you. Small matter of a new second child taking up all my time 🙂

    Knowing what you’ve told me, I just spent some more time on the Carousel. It does make more sense, but I think you’re missing a trick not telling people what it actually does. I agree the user experience should be easy, but making the cleverness too buried is – as you say – probably hiding a very clever light under a bushel.

    I’m interested too in why you chose Java? I have a personal hatred of it but grudgingly accept that it does some stuff which nothing else can do, but I can’t really see why this couldn’t have been done in Flash?




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