Monthly Archives: November 2011

Museums on the Web 2011

At the end of this year’s Museums on the Web conference at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) we were asked what our “key takeaways” from the day were. The presentations and discussions covered a wide range of interesting topics but I was most impressed with the work going on in the area of public engagement with creating and using digital resources; and the emphasis of the importance of user-centred design processes in enabling this.

365.162: Imperial War Museum

Mark O’Neill from the Government Data Service opened proceedings with a keynote speech highighting the challenges of improving user experience for the use of digital resources; particularly important given the commitment to “digital by default” for government services.

An interesting comparison was suggested: how are museums different from Ikea? Comparing a search across the Ikea website and a museum website (which will remain namless!) for an object, “vase” it was clear which one of these had a more seamless user experience: the commercial website was designed around the needs of users to easily achieve their goals (in this instance find a vase for sale) whilst the museum website lagged somewhat behind, its interface designed around the institution’s own internal language, not welcoming outsiders.

Subsequent speakers gave presentations on participatory projects initiated by their institutions. The Pallant House Gallery‘s  Outside In project provides a platform for artists with disabilities to display their work, uploading images of it via a web interface developed in an iterative manner during workshops with the artists themselves. The next stage is to develop a mobile app which removes further boundaries to involvement: direct upload via mobile involves fewer cognitive steps as images can be selected directly from the device that created them.

Tom Grinsted from the Imperial War Museum and Claire Ross from UCL department of Digital Humanities described an IWM project in development to make use of visitors’ commentaries of museum objects: Social Interpretation — bringing the levels of engagement and interaction that users experience with social media to the museum environment. The project is being run using an agile methodology at all stages: design, development and management to ensure that the outputs are produced iteratively and thoroughly tested with users at every stage. The project aims to develop interfaces to allow visitors to add their commentaries and interpretations via kiosk in the museum and web and mobile outside.

Another exciting participatory project run by the IWM is Lives of the Great War: using public involvement to recreate the stories behind those who served and died in the First World War. It aims to support this by providing direct access to the various information resources, currently dispersed across the web, some behind paywalls. It is also hoped that the data generated will be released under a “CC0” licence (the most permissive Creative Commons licence) and be archived permanently.

Interestingly, the IWM were shown to be pioneers in crowdsourcing: their earliest request for objects and memorabilia from the Great War took part at the war’s end in the form of a leaflet included with ration books!

Issues surrounding crowdsourcing received attention: namely questions of moderation of content and authority. Some basic moderation can be handled technically (e.g. via filters to remove swearing) but the community itself can also be a useful moderation tool (as it is currently on the Guardian website). Data release under Creative Commons licences (particularly “CC0”) can be more problematic in some areas than others, e.g. the performing arts.

Other presentations covered some very interesting areas I haven’t discussed here, including planning and measuring your digital strategy, refining your metadata and demonstrations of some very innovative software; it will be worth checking the MCG website for links to the presentation slides.

Overall I was impressed with the level of innovation — and collaboration —  in the sector; something I’m sure the digital humanities as a closely related area could learn from and share in.

DDH Internal Research Seminar: Tablet apps, or the future of Digital Scholarly Editions

At yesterday’s (23 November) Internal Research Seminar, Elena Pierazzo and Miguel Vieira presented Tablet apps, or the future of Digital Scholarly Editions, a preview of the paper that they will give tomorrow at the study-day “The Future of the Book“.

The paper discussed those opportunities that tablet device could offer for the digital publication of scholarly editions. This work stemmed from Patricia Searl’s MA dissertation, who completed her Digital Humanities MA at DDH last year.

The main issue arises from the apparent lack of use of digital scholarly editions published on the web. The speakers found particularly worrying the fact that these editions are never part of undergraduate syllabi, even though they usually offer high quality scholarly texts with free, open access.

Tablet devices are user-friendly, portable and create a stronger sense of ownership compared to websites. This makes for an experience closer to reading from a book, but would it be true for digital scholarly editions? Would it work for editions that need sophisticated ways of presenting historical evidence and editorial work? The presenters believe that the eBook model would probably not be sufficient, but the “App” paradigm might.

 

Enhanced eBooks already exploit this idea by introducing a highly interactive, almost ludic component to the digital edition. Nonetheless, none of these apps have been connected to scholarly work so far. The speakers noticed, for example, how it is impossible to find an editor of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land enhanced eBook (see image).

Finally, the paper also discussed those issues that would be familiar to any smartphone or tablet user, such as cross-device compatibility, keeping up-to-date with new OSs and heavily controlled app “markets”. These issues influence the true user reach, but first of all complicate development quite substantially (even more than, for example, dealing with cross-browser issues).

The paper was followed by a lively discussion. There was general agreement that scholarly editing should get involved in tablet computing; the best way of doing so, however, is yet to be fully understood and provides fertile ground for an exciting new research area.

The DDH Internal Research Seminar series aims at giving a space to DDH staff to present their research and discuss them in an informal environment.

Digital Epigraphy panel at BES AGM

I was just at the British Epigraphy Society‘s annual meeting and AGM in Senate House today, and I spoke in a short panel on “Virtual Epigraphy”. The three presentations were designed as short reports on digital projects, and were squeezed in just before the afternoon coffee break.

Dr Karen Radner (UCL) spoke about the State Archives of Assyria online, one of the core datasets of the the Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus (ORACC) database which aggregates some 20 collections of Cuneiform language inscriptions. Karen talked about the scale of the project, the value of aggregating multiple datasets in a single interface, and the power of search tools for mastering a very large corpus, especially lemmatized text search which enables the comparison of words across texts in different forms, dialects, etc. She also stressed the importance of established standards and open source technologies for building a corpus of this scale.

Professor Silvia Orlandi (La Sapienza, Rome) began with a bit of history of the EAGLE (Electronic Archive of Greek and Latin Epigraphy) federation, and then illustrated the value of a database that gives detailed contextual and supporting information as well as searchable text, using her database of inscription from Italia, EDR. She finished by talking about the next phase of work on EDR, which will involve harnessing the power of the Internet to create a massively collaborative community of Roman epigraphers (on the model of the Papyri.info for papyri) to contribute bibliography, photographs, improved readings, or even new texts.

I then spoke pretty briefly (I didn’t want to be the man standing between a room full of epigraphers and their hot coffee) about the planned Inscriptions of Libya platform that I’m helping to put together (with Hafed Walda and Charlotte Roueché here at King’s, and other colleagues in Bologna, Macerata and Paris). InsLib will bring together IRT, the forthcoming IRCyr, an in-progress IGCyr, and the Ostraka from Bu Ngem (available in XML at Papyri.info), in a single search and browse interface that will address issues of authority, versioning, surfacing old readings and apparatus criticus and (hopefully one day) an implementation of the SoSOL software for collaborative editing and improvement of these texts.