The symfony framework behind the scenes at museum installations

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Wednesday, June 2, 2010 from 3:45 – 4:30pm in Steel


The symfony framework is a full-stack web framework for PHP. It's great for building websites, but you might be surprised where else it comes in handy. David Brewer shows how Second Story uses symfony to build custom content management and delivery systems powering interactive installations ranging from collections of Disney memorabilia to maps plotting every monument at Gettysburg.


Most museums share these traits:

  1. They have “stuff”.
  2. They want to share their “stuff” with the public.

Beyond that, the similarities seem to end. The “stuff” may be physical objects—anything from quilts to machine guns to postage stamps—or it may be abstract concepts such as genres of music. It may be painstakingly organized and catalogued or a jumbled mess. It may be in spreadsheets, word processor documents, ancient in-house database systems, or expensive third-party museum collection management systems… or only a twinkle in a curator’s eye.

Second Story builds custom interactive installations for museums and other cultural institutions. Before we can focus on presenting the content, we have to figure out how to normalize existing content, create and maintain new content, and deliver the content for consumption by whatever presentation technology we plan to use. Fortunately for us, many tools that are designed to solve these problems on the Web are also very suitable for delivering content to kiosks, interactive tables, or more exotic interactive installations.

We have chosen to use the symfony framework. Symfony is a full-stack web framework for PHP. One of its features is a powerful system for creating administrative interfaces based on your database model. This system is easy enough to create useful admin tools almost immediately using only yaml-based config files, while remaining flexible enough to allow for significant customization when necessary.

In this session, I provide a high-level overview of symfony and the symfony admin generator in the context of museum installations. Throughout the session I’ll use real-world examples of kiosks and interactive tables we’ve created for museums such as the Walt Disney Family Museum, the GRAMMY Museum, and the Gettysburg National Park Museum and Visitor Center. I’ll cover the following topics:

  1. The often messy world of museum content, and how symfony helps us unify and normalize disparate content sources
  2. Creating custom admin tools with the symfony admin generator
  3. Using symfony to create RESTful web services which can deliver content to your presentation layer in a variety of formats

This session will assume some familiarity with object-oriented programming in PHP5, but will be light on code. The focus will be on what the framework can do for you rather than implementation details.

Speaking experience