Museum stocks Web with history

HistoryWired

With more than 3 million artifacts and a mere 750,000 square feet of exhibit space, the National Museum of American History turned to the Web and partnered with an online investment site to share more of its collection with the public.

The result, being unveiled today in Washington, D.C., is HistoryWired (historywired.si.edu), billed as a virtual tour of a few of the museum's favorite things. The 450 initial offerings, selected by museum curators, include famous, unusual and everyday items.

The partnership between the museum and SmartMoney.com began about 18 months ago after Judy Gradwohl, the museum's Web director, visited the company's Web site.

Believing the company's financial tool had potential for gathering and displaying the museum's collection online, she sent an e-mail to the company's help desk. Martin Wattenberg, SmartMoney.com's director of research and development, said it took about six months for the company to design the program and Web site while the museum prepared displays and descriptions for the content.

The site will be constantly reshaped by visitor input, according to a museum press release. As each object is explored, visitors will be asked to rate the display they are currently visiting on a scale of 1 to 10. As an object's rating increases, its square will receive more space on the site's grid, the release said.

SmartMoney.com's donation, valued at $500,000, was a chance to "showcase our technology in places other than financial analysis," Wattenberg said. And, in the process of launching HistoryWired, the company developed code to refine its stock search engine.

The way HistoryWired is set up, Wattenberg explained, "It's very easy to sift through hundreds of objects" as users narrow their search criteria. And later this year, using the exact same code, Wattenberg said his company will offer users "a very narrow slider" to sort precise categories of stocks.

Melinda Machado, the museum's director of public affairs, said most of the museum's Web sites pair with special exhibitions, but HistoryWired will enable people to virtually view artifacts that are too big or too fragile to be on display, such as the space suit worn by David Vetter. Vetter, who died in 1984, suffered from Severe Combined Immunodeficiency and was portrayed by John Travolta in the 1976 TV movie "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble."

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