High Art and Big Data: Maintaining Rijksmuseum’s Searchability through Elasticsearch
A picture is worth a thousand data fields
Q42 designs web applications in the Netherlands. One of the company’s recent high-profile projects is the design of the new website for the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. This world-renowned museum hosts a massive collection of art and artifacts telling the story of 800 years of Dutch history, from the Middle Ages to present day. The celebrated collection includes works from Vermeer and Rembrandt, among many other great artists.
“Search was very important on this project because the Rijksmuseum has a large collection of art with complex information about each piece,” explains Jasper Kaizer, Technical Project Lead and Account Manager at Q42. “The website needed a powerful yet user-friendly tool to navigate the collection.”
The search function for the previous the Rijksmuseum website was based on Solr. Since Q42 was able to start from scratch on the new website, they chose Elasticsearch over Solr because of its high performance and flexibility.
Making 500,000 works of art searchable
Out of a collection of 500,000 works of art, the Rijksmuseum can only physically display around 8,000 at a time. The website, and specifically the searchability within the site, are essential to providing the people of the Netherlands access to these cultural resources.
“People know about the famous pieces at the museum, but they do not know what else is available,” says Kaizer. “With Elasticsearch, we are able to provide a fast and rich search experience, empowering users to explore the collection. Providing a rich search experience
translates into a rich educational experience for the users.”
The information that can be searched is more complex than one might expect for a piece of art. The documents are quite large, with as many as 70 fields of data for just one painting. The previous website did not offer this depth of searchability.
Because of the website’s success, the Rijksmuseum continues to make more art available online. The amount of content has doubled in the last 1.5 years since the new site went live. Kaizer says Elasticsearch scales to handle this growth so easily that scalability is a non-issue.
Delivering results in under 100 milliseconds
Search performance is another important capability that impacts the user experience.
“Our goal was to have every Elasticsearch call under 100 milliseconds, and we are meeting that goal,” adds Michiel Post, Senior Software Engineer at Q42.
For the Rijksmuseum website, Elasticsearch provides more than search, however. Because of the website’s high traffic – 30,000 visitors per day – Q42 designed the web architecture to store and serve all web pages from Elasticsearch. In this case, Elasticsearch is being used as a very fast “content-serving repository” for complex web pages. This enhances site performance, not only for search, but also for the delivery of all content and web pages.
“We have to make sure the website is very fast, especially in terms of content retrieval and page load times,” Kaizer says. “Elasticsearch helps us achieve exactly that.”
Attracting visitors by creating a connection
Rijksstudio is a new, interactive feature that has helped drive popularity of the website. Site visitors can use Rijksstudio to create their own online collections of their favorite the Rijksmuseum art. Elasticsearch is a key part of this feature because it allows users to quickly and accurately search, explore and discover works of art. Users can collect their favorite art or images and share them with friends. They can even utilize parts of images to make their own creations.
Rijksstudio makes the high-performance search delivered by Elasticsearch even more important. Because it is an interactive experience, query speed is critical; slow queries would give users a bad experience. Elasticsearch’s reliable, fast performance has helped with the success and popularity of this feature.
“Rijksstudio makes the website more interactive, brings culture closer to the public and gives the art more personal meaning Kaizer says. “More than 150,000 people have created Rijksstudio accounts, which is impressive for a museum website.”
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