Complex web application project gets cost-effective solution
The merger of three New Zealand archives into Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision was a massive opportunity to give Kiwis access to our audiovisual treasures. But building the required web application on a tight budget was also a major challenge.
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Ngā Taonga is New Zealand’s moving image and sound archive, formed when Film, Radio NZ and TVNZ archives merged. Its purpose is to collect, share and care for our audiovisual taonga: films, documentaries, TV, radio, ads, computer games, props, movie posters and more.
The merger meant the Archive needed a new unified website.
“Boost helped us with a vision for the site, a strategy to get there, and planning and reporting that ensured we delivered on time and on budget.”
Diane Pivac, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision product owner
Budget was tight but the scope was large. The Archive needed a web application that would bring together three separate collections, a corporate site that catered to a range of audiences, and a new Content Management System (CMS). Our solution? Build a clear vision together, use Agile processes to make the vision a reality in prioritised stages and adopt open source tools.
“Boost helped us with a vision for the site, a strategy to get there, and planning and reporting that ensured we delivered on time and on budget,” says Diane Pivac, the Ngā Taonga product owner for the work.
Combining complex data from distributed sources
Ngā Taonga needed their treasures to be available in a single place. But the existing collections covered different types of resource, used different metadata structures to describe these resources and stored them in different databases. All up, the assets numbered over 250,000. Migrating them to a single system was going to take for ever.
Moreover, users needed to be able to:
- search for specific resources
- filter and facet search results
- and get resource listing pages that let them collect, share and learn more about each resource.
So even if Ngā Taonga had their resources in a single system they still needed a web application that would make them easy to find and work with. Luckily Boost knew a tool that solved both the migration and search issues. It’s called Supplejack and we know it well because we built it.
Supplejack can pull together any structured information. It indexes the information for easy searching, lets you share it via an API and comes with a reusable search and display website. It’s also open source.
Award-winning site brings Ngā Taonga back for more
Ngā Taonga knew about Supplejack because Boost used it when we designed and developed the Archive’s award-winning Anzac website. Built to showcase New Zealand and Australian WWI film, audio and visual records, Anzac Sights & Sounds offered an immersive digital storytelling experience that encouraged exploration and brought history to life.
“Anzac Sights and Sounds has been great,” Diane says. “It’s small and self-contained and perfectly formed…it’s been incredibly successful.”
Agile helps you get just what you want
On previous projects Ngā Taonga had invested most of their budget on upfront planning. With the Anzac site they saw how our Agile approach ensured they got more of a return on their investment, sooner. We were able to deliver more value and less risk by prioritising the Archive’s requirements and delivering them in stages.
“Boost’s process means I agree to features as they are built instead of taking delivery at the end of the project, only to find I’m stuck with bits I don’t like or that don’t work as I want them to.”
Our success with the Anzac site and our Supplejack expertise made a compelling combination. Ngā Taonga had found their development partner for this make-or-break project.
“Boost’s process means I agree to features as they are built instead of taking delivery at the end of the project, only to find I’m stuck with bits that don’t work as I want.”
Working directly with developers delivers results
Collaboration is at the heart of Boost’s Agile approach. The Product Owner becomes part of the team. Diane and Ngā Taonga Digital Programme Developer Ellen Pullar came into Boost for daily stand ups (one advantage of being based in Wellington). This direct involvement with the developers made all the difference.
“It’s so much more satisfying. The more involved I am, the more I understand the project. The process makes me interrogate what I’m doing and why I’m doing it – to think from the users’ perspective,” said Diane.
“It’s so much more satisfying. The more involved I am, the more I understand the project.”
The work was satisfying for the Boost developers too.
“It was really fun,” says Gus Motizuki. “They’re great Product Owners, very responsive and open to feedback and suggestions.”
He especially liked getting the chance to deliver lots of value in a short time.
“It was great to be able to use the open source version of Supplejack along with a Rails application to deliver the features they wanted.”
Collaboration starts at the beginning
Boost worked with Ngā Taonga from the outset, using creative activities and exercises to help them form their project vision. This gave them the chance to crystallise their thoughts on the outcomes they wanted to achieve.
“Boost has been phenomenal at communicating with us. They’ve also really understood what we need…they will ask us questions until they’re sure that they’ve got it.” says Diane.
“They’ve helped us to define our audience, to think about what our audiences want, how they’ll find material.”
“Boost has been phenomenal at communicating with us.”
Helping target audiences easily access the Archive
A big challenge was to design and develop a credible corporate site that professional researchers could easily use while also appealing to a wider audience with an interest in our film, radio and TV treasures. In order to meet the Archive’s educational goals this especially included younger users.
“We had to find a company who could work with us to make this material palatable to a modern audience, particularly a young audience because we recognise the education potential of the website,” she said. “Boost was incredible at helping us to make the website look alive, make it look current.”
To meet the goals of these audiences, we created a site that:
- is responsive and designed for mobile first
- is image-rich and uses strong colours
- makes it easy to share resources via social media
- makes it easy to request more information about resources
- embeds those resources that are available digitally up-front on their listing pages
- has a search tool that is simple and intuitive while also providing powerful advanced search options for researchers.
“Boost was incredible at helping us to make the website look alive, make it look current.”
One-stop development shop keeps it simple
Because Boost offers full-stack development services we could design, develop, test, release, support, monitor and secure the web application we built for Ngā Taonga. And not relying on other teams or agencies meant we could do this efficiently and cost-effectively. On top of that, as a DevOps environment we can optimise the hardware to the software. This gives the Archive maximum impact for their investment.
Getting better all the time
Along with the maintenance contract we have in place, Ngā Taonga have regularly come back to us to enhance their site.
They knew the importance of keeping content fresh. To keep their audience coming back for more they updated the site regularly using Refinery, the open source Ruby on Rails CMS we’d implemented for them. Wanting to take this to the next level they asked to develop an online exhibition template. A clever way of taking advantage of their inside knowledge of the collection, this let them create curated sets of items.
It’s been a great success. Online shows like Sellebration, which collected nearly 100 year’s worth of Kiwi commercials, have featured on national news, getting the Archive’s resources in front of whole new audience.
Celebrating te reo treasures with bilingual web content
Next they came to us wanting a fully bilingual exhibition template. Exhibition pages had to default to te reo—including all navigation, button labels and breadcrumbs—and make it easy for users to switch between languages.
“We underestimated the technical complexity of the task, but working with Boost and our team of translators we were able to produce a 100% bilingual exhibition,” says Diane.
She’s particularly pleased with how straightforward the back-end template is.
“We are delighted with the outcome,” she says.
A win for all New Zealanders
When it comes to New Zealand’s sound and vision archives, we showed that three does go into one.
The end result is a rich resource for all sorts of things: school projects, academic research, documentaries, podcasts and multimedia artworks. It’s a treasure trove of classic Kiwi film, television and radio content, and it’s great fun just browsing through our history, letting it unfold before our eyes and ears, remembering how we used to look and sound.
“The collection is for all New Zealanders,” says Diane.
Like to pick our brains about what we learnt on this project? Contact James on +64 4 939 0062 or [email protected] to find out more.