Story | Scan The World

Decentralising for a more open future

08 August, 2019

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On 6th September 2019, Scan the World released the first in a series of updates to its website. This blog post will explore what direction we are taking with the initiative.

Over the past five years, Scan the World has become a catalyst in the development of digital archives and democratised 3D technologies. Contributions to the initiative are not made by a single person (me!), but now through an ecosystem of passionate individuals and museums working together to openly share their heritage and collections with the world.

As the market of 3D fabrication continues to advance, the global perception and understanding of 3D technologies is rapidly maturing beyond applications such as virtual and augmented reality. From this, and with the production of 3D digital assets becoming more commonplace, we must occasionally nudge ourselves in the right direction to ensure we keep growing and delivering to a high level.

With a large network of passionate individuals finding a home on Scan the World we decided to speak with our contributors, users and partners to help shape the future of the platform. In this post I will explain why and how we plan to deliver these changes.

At Scan the World we aim to inspire, inform and push the boundaries of the role democratised 3D technologies can have in the GLAM (Galleries, Libaries, Archives and Museums) and heritage industries as well as being an open space for a global community. The feedback we received echoed these forward thinking ideologies of purposefulness, inclusiveness, freedom and sustainibility, which have now become our core values.

The death of the archive

In essence, these terms are what Scan the World stands for. In practice we found that the website lacked inclusivity and the objects felt suffocated, bound to the structure of a traditional archive. For me, the term ‘archive’ has become an unattractive word loaded with dated connotations; to many, archives have become the gatekeepers of the world’s knowledge, held ransom under lock-and-key and only those who have the academic responsibility are granted access to it.

With this existential dread realised, we decided to return to our original intentions of openness and sharing. We have started with revising our homepage:


We wanted the homepage to be the launchpad for a user’s journey into the collection, accessible any time as you explore through the community’s stories, collections, tutorials and 3D printable objects. You are greeted with an endless scroll of all 15,500+ artefacts which can filtered with a simple search; currently you can filter the objects by artist, institution or title, though this will become an extended search to navigate objects by type, material, provenance, and so on.

Below the search you can find a more functional map view. Powered by Openmaps, this feature will be developed over the next few months to ensure a more immersive experience all whilst making sure every object is easy to find.

We have also introduced a new column to the right of the page, which is where you will find project updates and featured objects and community members, bringing in user stories and tutorials for a curated selection of information.

A path to decentralisation

After many conversations with our community, we came to a conclusion that a traditional digital archive doesn’t address certain key issues of accessibility, ownership and metadata. We found that institutions are not harnessing the full power of the digital and the democratised connectivity of the internet within their collections, so we decided to attempt something new!

Scan the World is starting its journey into decentralisation, creating a new framework for digital cultural collections. Over the course of the next year, we will be building a decentralised ecosystem that encourages and empowers the community to build and give context to the content. An object on Scan the World doesn’t, and shouldn’t, have one specific owner; an object is made by the scanner, the 3D designer, the maker, curator, remixer, researcher, and so on (let alone the physical object’s original artist, instution where it is housed and its provenance!) We believe that every object tells a story, and by becoming decentralised we enable the community to build a more thriving platform of living objects.

The object is the nucleus of the narrative, with all contributors and original owners of it given equal ownership according to their part in the object’s story. We still have a long way to go with this, but we hope it will raise some interesting debates into open ownership of digital artefacts for the purpose of reconnecting to a common understanding of global heritage, addressing digital colonialism, identity, accessibility and education.

In line with our views of openness and transparency, we have released our models into the open domain under comprehensible Creative Commons licenses. Our front end is accessible via. Github and all of our photogrammetric scan data will be released very soon.

We hope this gives you some insight into where we are planning to go with Scan the World. As always, the content will remain free and all work we do with museums are free of charge. Vive La OpenGLAM!

On Github:

On Wikimedia:

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