Archive innovator Vlogbase offers struggling museums an isolation lifeline

Image: Vlogbase founders Luke Stephenson (L) and Andy Surtees

Innovative technology firm Vlogbase is looking for two partners in the sector with whom it can share ground-breaking technology during coronavirus lockdown.

Working with the Teesside company could connect closed institutions with audiences in exciting new ways – and may not even cost them a penny.

Following the enforced closure of the nation’s museums and galleries last month, Vlogbase was left in the same precarious predicament as many independent businesses. “Our thoughts quickly turned to what good we could do while isolated that would also help everyone else,” explains Andy Surtees, co-founder of Vlogbase.

The company operates a web service that allows users to search audio and video by an individual word, phrase, or visual object; using AI to transcribe and “watch” the material.

Prior to launching last autumn, Vlogbase worked with various cultural institutions to fine tune its AI-powered offering. Since then, the firm has also been trying to plot a financial path to deliver these solutions in the most affordable way for potential partners.

This began by exploring potential fee waivers from Google for the use of its servers and has now led the company to apply for grants which, if successful, could enable them to work with museums for free.

“Right now, we’re in a position to start work with two organisations,” Surtees explains. “They’ll need a fairly large collection of digital media – at least in the hundreds of hours. We can tailor everything to their unique situation so that they get a ground-breaking exhibition online for free, the public get to engage with culture again and in a new way, and we get a better understanding of the uses of the technology we’ve created.

“When this is all over, we could can open similar exhibitions in physical space, with big screens and speakers. I’m sure I’m not the only person looking forward to going to a reopening party or two.”

Unlocking the unprecedented

“Any size of organisation can utilise the tool, with the software being fully scalable and possessing the capacity to extract up to 120 languages.”

Find out more about how Vlogbase was established and what its game-changing technology could mean for the sector.

“We already had a few things in development for museums and archives – some of them are optimised for in-person viewing that we can repurpose for the web, and others are future products that we can speed up with some modifications,” Surtees adds.

The former stems from a collaboration with Nick John Williams, creator of ‘The Living Archive’, an interactive archive tool that takes advantage of Vlogbase’s existing artificial intelligence capabilities.

In 2019, The Living Archive was exhibited at The Middlesbrough Art Weekender, where it enabled audiences to search archives for a theme or word which was then immediately presented via a multi-screen documentary of relevant audio-visual media.

This trial, Vlogbase’s founders believe, evidenced the possibilities of their artificial intelligence technology to engage audiences with audio-visual archives in entirely new ways.

Applying this to an online environment would give museums and archives the ability to “open a whole new type of exhibition while their buildings are closed”, according to Surtees.

The other strand of its work which the firm believes could be of use to the cultural sector during this unprecedented period is a platform dubbed ‘Spotify for archives’. Vlogbase believes now would be the perfect time for museums and archives to start making their collections accessible online.

“I’m sure many cultural institutions would love to provide as much benefit to the public as they can during this time,” Surtees notes. “We’d like to do all we can to help.”

The tool enables researchers to sign up for an account that grants them access to any participating museum’s uploaded archives. Every piece of data remains the uploader’s property but each time it is accessed generates a small “kickback” for the owner – a potential new income stream that could prove invaluable at this time.

Organisations interested in participating can email Andy Surtees at [email protected]