Three ways you can help with ‘In their own words: collecting experiences of the First World War’ (and a CENDARI project update)

Somehow it’s a month since I posted about my CENDARI research project (in Moving forward: modelling and indexing WWI battalions) on this site. That probably reflects the rhythm of the project – less trying to work out what I want to do and more getting on with doing it. A draft post I started last month simply said, ‘A lot of battalions were involved in World War One’. I’ll do a retrospective post soon, and here’s a quick summary of on-going work.

First, a quick recap. My project has two goals – one, to collect a personal narrative for each battalion in the Allied armies of the First World War; two, to create a service that would allow someone to ask ‘where was a specific battalion at a specific time?’. Together, they help address a common situation for people new to WWI history who might ask something like ‘I know my great-uncle was in the 27th Australian battalion in March 1916, where would he have been and what would he have experienced?’.

I’ve been working on streamlining and simplifying the public-facing task of collecting a personal narrative for each battalion, and have written a blog post, Help collect soldiers’ experiences of WWI in their own words, that reduces it to three steps:

  1. Take one of the diaries, letters and memoirs listed on the Collaborative Collections wiki, and
  2. Match its author with a specific regiment or battalion.
  3. Send in the results via this form.

If you know of a local history society, family historian or anyone else who might be interested in helping, please send them along to this post: Help collect soldiers’ experiences of WWI in their own words.

Work on specifying the relevant data structures to support a look-up service to answer questions about a specific units location and activities at a specific time largely moved to the wiki:

You can see the infobox structures in progress by flipping from the talk to the Template tabs. You’ll need to request an account to join in but more views, sample data and edge cases would be really welcome.

Populating the list of battalions and other units has been a huge task in itself, partly because very few cultural institutions have definitive lists of units they can (or want to) share, but it’s necessary to support both core goals. I’ve been fortunate to have help (see ‘Thanks and recent contributions’ on ‘How you can help‘) but the task is on-going so get in touch if you can help!

So there are three different ways you can help with ‘In their own words: collecting experiences of the First World War’:

Finally, last week I was in New Zealand to give a keynote on this work at the National Digital Forum. The video for ‘Collaborative collections through a participatory commons‘ is online, so you can catch up on the background for my project if you’ve got 40 minutes or so to spare. Should you be in Dublin, I’m giving a talk on ‘A pilot with public participation in historical research: linking lived experiences of the First World War’ at the Trinity Long Room Hub today (thus the poster).

And if you’ve made it this far, perhaps you’d like to apply for a CENDARI Visiting Research Fellowships 2015 yourself?

Quick and dirty Digital Humanities Australasia notes: day 2

What better way to fill in stopover time in Abu Dhabi than continuing to post my notes from DHA2012? [Though I finished off the post and re-posted once I was back home.] These are my very rough notes from day 2 of the inaugural Australasian Association for Digital Humanities conference (see also Quick and dirty Digital Humanities Australasia notes: day 1 and Slow and still dirty Digital Humanities Australasia notes: day 3). In the interests of speed I’ll share my notes and worry about my own interpretations later.

Keynote panel, ‘Big Digital Humanities?’

Day 2 was introduced by Craig Bellamy, and began with a keynote panel with Peter Robinson, Harold Short and John Unsworth, chaired by Hugh Craig. [See also Snurb’s liveblogs for Robinson, Short and Unsworth.] Robinson asked ‘what constitutes success for the digital humanities?’ and further, what does the visible successes of digital humanities mask? He said it’s harder for scholars to do high quality research with digital methods now than it was 20 years ago. But the answer isn’t more digital humanists, it’s having the ingredients to allow anyone to build bridges… He called for a new generation of tools and methods to support the scholarship that people want to do: ‘It should be as easy to make a digital edition (of a document/book) as it is to make a Facebook page’, it shouldn’t require collaboration with a digital humanist. To allow data made by one person to be made available to others, all digital scholarship should be made available under a Creative Commons licence (publishers can’t publish it now if it’s under a non-commercial licence), and digital humanities data should be structured and enriched with metadata and made available for re-use with other tools. The model for sustainability depends on anyone and everyone being able to access data.

Harold Short talked about big (or at least unescapable) data and the ‘Svensson challenge’ – rather than trying to work out how to take advantage of infrastructure created by and for the sciences, use your imagination to figure out what’s needed for the arts and humanities. He called for a focus on infrastructure and content rather than ‘data’.

John Unsworth reminded us that digital humanities is a certain kind of work in the humanities that uses computational methods as its research methods. It’s not just using digital materials, though it does require large collections of data – it also requires a sense of how how the tools work.

What is the digital humanities?

Very different versions of ‘digital humanities’ emerged through the panel and subsequent discussion, leaving me wondering how they related to the different evolutionary paths of digital history and digital literature studies mentioned the day before. Meanwhile, on the back channel (from the tweets that are to hand), I wondered if a two-tier model of digital humanities was emerging – one that uses traditional methods with digital content (DH lite?); another that disrupts traditional methods and values. Though thinking about it now, the ‘tsunami’ of data mentioned is disruptive in its own right, regardless of the intentional choices one makes about research practices (which might have been what Alan Liu meant when he asked about ‘seamless’ and ‘seamful’ views of the world)…. On twitter, other people (@mikejonesmelb, @bestqualitycrab, @1n9r1d) wondered if the panel’s interpretation of ‘big’ data was gendered, generational, sectoral, or any other combination of factors (including as the messiness and variability of historical data compared to literature) and whether it could have been about ‘disciplinary breadth and inclusiveness‘ rather than scale.

Data morning session

The first speaker was Toby Burrows on ‘Using Linked Data to Build Large‐Scale e‐Research Environments for the Humanities’. [Update: he’s shared his slides and paper online and see also Snurb’s liveblog.] Continuing some of the themes from the morning keynote panel, he said that the humanities has already been washed away in the digital deluge, the proliferation of digital stuff is beyond the capacity of individual researchers. It’s difficult to answer complex humanities questions only using search with this ‘industrialised’ humanities data, but large-scale digital libraries and collections offer very little support for functions other than search. There’s very little connection between data that researchers are amassing and what institutions are amassing.

He’s also been looking at historians/humanists research practices [and selfishly I was glad to see many parallels with my own early findings]. The tools may be digital rather than paper and scissors, but historians are still annotating and excerpting as they always have. The ‘sharing’ part of their work has changed the most – it’s easier to share, and they can share at an earlier stage if they choose to do that, but not a lot has changed at the personal level.

Burrows said applying applying linked data approach to manuscript research would go a long way to addressing the complexity of the field. For example, using global URIs for manuscripts and parts; separating names and concepts from descriptive information; and using linked data functions to relate scholarly activities (annotations, excerpts, representations etc) to manuscript descriptions, objects and publications. Linked data can provide a layer of entities that sits between research activities and descriptions/collections/publications, which avoids conflating the entities and the source material. Multiple naming schemes are necessary for describing entities and relationships – there’s no single authoritative vocabulary. It’s a permanent work in progress, with no definitive or final structure. Entities need to include individuals as well as categories, with a network graph showing relatedness and the evidence for that relatedness as the basic structure.

He suggested a focus on organising knowledge, not collections, whether objects or texts. Collaborative activities should be based around this knowledge, using tools that work with linked data entities. This raised the issue of contested ground and the application of labels and meaning to data: your ‘discovery’ is my ‘invasion’. This makes citizen humanities problematic – who gets to describe, assign, link, and what does that mean for scholarly authority?

My notes aren’t clear but I think Burrows said these ideas were based on analysis of medieval manuscript research, which Jane Hunter had also worked on, and they were looking towards the architecture for HuNI. It was encouraging to see an approach to linked data so grounded in the complexity of historians research practices and data, and is yet another reason I’m looking forward to following HuNI’s progress – I think it will have valuable lessons for linked data projects in the rest of the world. [These slides from the Linked Open Data workshop in Melbourne a few weeks later show the academic workflow HuNI plans to support and some of the issues they’ll have to tackle.]

The second speaker was the University of Sydney’s Stephen Hayes on ‘how linked is linked enough?’. [See also Snurb’s liveblog.] He’s looking at projects through a linked data lens, trying to assess how much further projects need to go to comfortably claim to be linked data. He talked about the issues projects encountered trying to get to be 5 star Linked Data.

He looked at projects like the Dictionary of Sydney, which expresses data as RDF as well in a public-facing HTML interface and comes close to winning 5 stars. It is a demonstration of the fact that once data is expressed in one form, it can be easily expressed in another form – stable entities can be recombined to form new structures. The project is powered by Heurist, a tool for managing a wide range of research data. The History of Balinese Painting could not find other institutions that exposed Balinese collection data in programmable form so they could link to them (presumably a common problem for early adopters but at least it helps solve the ‘chicken or the egg’ problem that dogs linked data in cultural heritage and the humanities). The sites URLs don’t return useful metadata but they do try to refer to image URLs so it’s ‘sorta persistent’. He gave it a rating of 3.5 stars. Other projects mentioned (also built on Heurist?) were the Charles Harpur Critical Archive, rated at 3.5 stars and Virtual Zagora, rated at 3 stars.

The paper was an interesting discussion of the team work required to get the full 5 stars of linked data, and the trade-offs in developing functions for structured data (e.g. implementing schema.org’s painting markup versus focussing on the quality of the human-facing pages); reassuring curators about how much data would be released and what would be kept back; developing ontologies throughout a project or in advance and the overhead in mapping other projects concepts to their own version of Dublin Core.

The final paper in the session was ‘As Curious An Entity: Building Digital Resources from Context, Records and Data’ by Michael Jones and Antonina Lewis (abstract). [See also Snurb’s liveblog.] They said that improving the visibility of relationships between entities enriches archives, as does improving relationships between people. The title quote in full is ‘as curious an entity as bullshit writ on silk’ – if the parameters, variables and sources of data are removed from material, then it’s just bullshit written on silk. Visualisations remove sources, complexity and ‘relative context’, and would be richer if they could express changes in data over time and space. They asked how one would know that information presented in a visualisation is accurate if it doesn’t cite sources? You must seek and reference original material to support context layers.

They presented an overview of the Saulwick Archive project (Saulwick ran polls for the Fairfax newspapers for years) and the Australian Women’s Register, discussed common issues faced in digital humanities, and the role of linked data and human relationships in building digital resources. They discussed the value of maintaining relationships between archives and donors after the transfer of material, and the need to establish data management plans to make provision for raw data and authoritative versions of related contextual material, and to retain data to make sense of the archives in the future. The Australian Women’s Register includes content written for the site and links out to the archival repositories and libraries where the records are held. In a lovely phrase, they described records as the ‘evidential heart’ for the context and data layers. They also noted that the keynote overlooked non-academic re-use of digital resources, but it’s another argument for making data available where possible.

Digital histories session

The first paper was ‘Community Connections: The Renaissance of Local History’ by Lisa Murray. Murray discussed the ‘three Cs’ needed for local history: connectivity, community, collaboration.

Is the process of geo-referencing forcing historians to be more specific about when or where things happened? Are people going from the thematic to the particular? Is it exciting for local historians to see how things fit into state or national narratives? Digital history has enormous potential for local and family history and to represent complicated relationships within a community and how they’ve changed over time. Digital history doesn’t have to be article-centric – it enables new forms of presentation. Historians have to acknowledge that Wikipedia is aligned to historians’ processes. Local history is strongly represented on Wikipedia. The Dictionary of Sydney provides a universal framework for accessing Sydney’s history.

The democratisation of historical production is exciting but raises it challenges for public understandings of how history undertaken and represented. Are some histories privileged? Making History (a project by Museum Victoria and Monash University) encourages the use of online resources but does that privilege digitised sources, and will others be neglected? Are easily accessible sources privileged, and does that change what history is written? What about community collections or vast state archives that aren’t digitised?

History research methodologies are changing – Google etc is shaping how research is undertaken; the ubiquity of keyword searching reinforces the primacy of names. She noted the impact of family historians on how archives prioritise work. It’s not just about finding sources – to produce good history you need to analyse the sources. Professional historians are no longer the privileged producers of knowledge. History can be parochial, inclusive, but it can also lack sense of historical perspective, context. Digital history production amplifies tensions between popular history and academic history [and presumably between amateur and academic historians?].

Apparently primary school students study more local history than university students do. Local and community history is produced by broad spectrum of community but relatively few academic historians are participating. There’s a risk of favouring quirky facts over significance and context. Unless history is more widely taught, local history will be tarred with same brush as antiquarians. History is not only about narrative and context… Historians need to embrace the renaissance of local and community history.

In the questions there was some discussion of the implications of Sydney’s city archives being moved to a more inconvenient physical location. The justification is that it’s available through Ancestry but that removes it from all context [and I guess raises all the issues of serendipity etc in digital vs physical access to archives].

The next speaker was Tim Sherratt on ‘Inside the bureaucracy of White Australia’. His slides are online and his abstract is on the Invisible Australians site. The Invisible Australians project is trying to answer the question of what the White Australia policy looked like to a non-white Australian.  He talked about how digital technology can help explore the practice of exclusion as legislation and administrative processes were gradually elaborated. Chinese Australians who left Australia and wanted to return had to prove both their identity and their right to land to convince officials they could return: ‘every non-white resident was potentially a prohibited immigrant just waiting to be exposed’. He used topic modelling on file titles from archival series and was able to see which documents related to the White Australia policy. This is a change from working through hierarchical structures of archives to working directly through the content of archives. This provides a better picture of what hasn’t survived, what’s missing and would have many other exciting uses. [His post on Topic modelling in the archives explains it better than my summary would.]

The final paper was Paul Turnbull on ‘Pancake history’. He noted that in e-research there’s a difference between what you can use in teaching and what makes people nervous in the research domain. He finds it ironic that professional advancement for historians is tied to writing about doing history rather than doing history. He talked about the need to engage with disciplinary colleagues who don’t engage with digital humanities, and issues around historians taking digital history seriously.

Sherratt’s talk inspired discussion of funding small-scale as well as large-scale infrastructure, possibly through crowdfunding. Turnbull also suggested ‘seeding ideas and sharing small apps is the way to go’.

[Note from when I originally posted this: I don’t know when my flight is going to be called, so I’ll hit publish now and keep working until I board – there’s lots more to fit in for day 2! In the afternoon I went to the ‘Digital History’ session. I’ll tidy up when I’m in the UK as I think blogger is doing weird LTR things because it may be expecting Arabic.]

See also Slow and still dirty Digital Humanities Australasia notes: day 3.

Notes on ‘User Generated Content’ session, Open Culture Conference 2010

My notes from the ‘user generated content’ parallel track on first day of the Open Culture 2010 conference. The session started with brief presentations by panellists, then group discussions at various tables on questions suggested by the organisers. These notes are quite rough, and of course any mistakes are mine. I haven’t had a chance to look for the speakers’ slides yet so inevitably some bits are missing, and I can only report the discussion at the table I was at in the break-out session. I’ve also blogged my notes from the plenary session of the Open Culture 2010 conference.

User-generated content session, Open Culture, Europeana – the benefits and challenges of UGC.
Kevin Sumption, User-generated content, a MUST DO for cultural institutions
His background – originally a curator of computer sciences. One of first projects he worked on at Powerhouse was D*Hub which presented design collections from V&A, Brooklyn Museum and Powerhouse Museum – it was for curators but also for general public with an interest in design. Been the source of innovation. Editorial crowd-sourcing approach and social tagging, about 8 years ago.

Two years ago he moved to National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory, Greenwich. One of the first things they did was get involved with Flickr Commons – get historic photographs into public domain, get people involved in tagging. c1000 records in there. General public have been able to identify some images as Adam Villiers images – specialists help provide attribution for the photographer. Only for tens of records of the 000s but was a good introduction to power of UGC.

Building hybrid exhibition experiences – astronomy photographer of the year – competition on Flickr with real world exhibition for the winners of the competition. ‘Blog’ with 2000 amateur astronomers, 50 posts a day. Through power of Flickr has become a significant competition and brand in two years.

Joined citizen science consortia. Galaxy Zoo. Brainchild of Oxford – getting public engaged with real science online. Solar Stormwatch c 3000 people analysing and using the data. Many people who get involved gave up science in high school… but people are getting re-engaged with science *and* making meaningful contributions.

Old Weather – helping solve real-world problems with crowdsourcing. Launched two months ago.
Passion for UGC is based around where projects can join very carefully considered consortia, bringing historical datasets with real scientific problems. Can bring large interested public to the project. Many of the public are reconnecting with historical subject matter or sciences.

Judith Bensa-Moortgat, Nationaal Archief, Netherlands, Images for the Future project
Photo collection of more than 1 million photos. Images for the future project aims to save audio-visual heritage through digitisation and conservation of 1.2 million photos.

Once digitised, they optimise by adding metadata and context. Have own documentalists who can add metadata, but it would take years to go through it all. So decided to try using online community to help enrich photo collections. Using existing platforms like Wikipedia, Flickr, Open Street map, they aim to retrieve contextual info generated by the communities.  They donated political portraits to Wikimedia Commons and within three weeks more than half had been linked to relevant articles.

Their experiences with Flickr Commons – they joined in 2008. Main goal was to see if community would enrich their photos with comments and tags. In two weeks, they had 400,000 page views for 400 photos, including peaks when on Dutch TV news. In six months, they had 800 photos with over 1 million views. In Oct 2010, they are averaging 100,000 page views a month; 3 million overall.

But what about comments etc? Divided them into categories of comments [with percentage of overall contributions]:

  • factual info about location, period, people 5%; 
  • link to other sources eg Wikipedia 5%; 
  • personal stories/memories (e.g. someone in image was recognised); 
  • moral discussions; 
  • aesthetical discussions; 
  • translations.

The first two are most important for them.
13,000 tags in many languages (unique tags or total?).
10% of the contributed UGC was useful for contextualisation; tags ensure accessibility [discoverability?] on the web; increased (international) visibility. [Obviously the figures will vary for different projects, depending on what the original intent of the project was]

The issues she’d like to discuss are – copyright, moderation, platforms, community.

Mette Bom, 1001 Stories about Denmark
Story of the day is one of the 1001 stories. It’s a website about the history and culture of Denmark. The stories have themes, are connected to a timeline.  Started with 50 themes, 180 expert writers writing the 1001 stories, now it’s up to the public to comment and write their own stories. Broad definition of what heritage is – from oldest settlement to the ‘porn street’ – they wanted to expand the definition of heritage.

Target audiences – tourists going to those places; local dedicated experts who have knowledge to contribute. Wanted to take Danish heritage out of museums.

They’ve created the main website, mobile apps, widget for other sites, web service.  Launched in May 2010.  20,000 monthly users. 147 new places added, 1500 pictures added.

Main challenges – how to keep users coming back? 85% new, 15% repeat visitors (ok as aimed at tourists but would like more comments). How to keep press interested and get media coverage? Had a good buzz at the start cos of the celebrities. How to define participation? Is it enough to just be a visitor?

Johan Oomen, Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Vrij Uni Amsterdam. Participatory Heritage: the case of the Waisda? video labelling game.
They’re using game mechanisms to get people to help them catalogue content. [sounds familiar!]
‘In the end, the crowd still rules’.
. Tagging is a good way to facilitate time-based annotation [i.e. tag what’s on the screen at different times]

Goal of game is consensus between players. Best example in heritage is steve.museum; much of the thinking about using tagging as a game came from Games with a Purpose (gwap.com).  Basic rule – players score points when their tag exactly matches the tag entered by another within 10 seconds. Other scoring mechanisms.  Lots of channels with images continuously playing.

Linking it to twitter – shout out to friends to come join them playing.  Generating traffic – one of the main challenges. Altruistic message ‘help the archive’ ‘improve access to collections’ came out of research with users on messages that worked. Worked with existing communities.

Results, first six months – 44,362 pageviews. 340,000 tags to 604 items, 42,068 unique tags.
Matches – 42% of tags entered more than 2 times. Also looked at vocab (GTAA, Cornetto), 1/3 words were valid Dutch words, but only a few part of thesauruses.  Tags evaluated by documentalists. Documentary film 85% – tags were useful; for reality series (with less semantic density) tags less useful.

Now looking at how to present tags on the catalogue Powerhouse Museum style.  Experimenting with visualising terms, tag clouds when terms represented, also makes it easy to navigate within the video – would have been difficult to do with professional metadata.  Looking at ‘tag gardening’ – invite people to go back to their tags and click to confirm – e.g. show images with particular tags, get more points for doing it.

Future work – tag matching – synonyms and more specific terms – will get more points for more specific terms.

Panel overview by Costis Dallas, research fellow at Athena, assistant professor at Panteion University, Athens.
He wants to add a different dimension – user-generated content as it becomes an object for memory organisations. New body of resources emerging through these communication practices.
Also, we don’t have a historiography anymore; memory resides in personal information devices.  Mashups, changes in information forms, complex composed information on social networks – these raise new problems for collecting – structural, legal, preservation in context, layered composition.  What do we need to do now in order to be able to make use of digital technologies in appropriate, meaningful ways in the future? New kinds of content, participatory curation are challenges for preservation.

Group discussion (breakout tables)
Discussion about how to attract users. [It wasn’t defined whether it was how to attract specifically users who’ll contribute content or just generally grow the audience and therefore grow the number of content creators within the usual proportions of levels of participation e.g. Nielsen, Forrester; I would also have liked to discussed how to encourage particular kinds of contributions, or to build architectures of participation that provided positive feedback to encourage deeper levels of participation.]

Discussion and conclusions included – go with the strengths of your collections e.g. if one particular audience or content-attracting theme emerges, go with it.  Norway has a national portal where people can add content. They held lots of workshops for possible content creators; made contact with specialist organisations [from which you can take the lesson that UGC doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and that it helps to invest time and resources into enabling participants and soliciting content].  Recording living history.  Physical presence in gallery, at events, is important.  Go where audiences already are; use existing platforms.

Discussion about moderation included – once you have comments, how are they integrated back into collections and digital asset management systems?  What do you do about incorrect UGC displayed on a page?  Not an issue if you separate UGC from museum/authoritative content in the interface design.  In the discussion it turned out that Europeana doesn’t have a definition of ‘moderation’.  IMO, it should include community management, including acknowledging and thanking people for contributions (or rather, moderation is a subset of community management).  It also includes approving or reviewing and publishing content, dealing with corrections suggested by contributors, dealing with incorrect or offensive UGC, adding improved metadata back to collections repositories.

User-generated content and trust – British Library apparently has ‘trusted communities’ on their audio content – academic communities (by domain name?) and ‘everyone else’.  Let other people report content to help weed out bad content.

Then we got onto a really interesting discussion of which country or culture’s version of ‘offensive’ would be used in moderating content.  Having worked in the UK and the Netherlands, I know that what’s considered a really rude swear word and what’s common vocabulary is quite different in each country… but would there be any content left if you considered the lowest common standards for each country?  [Though thinking about it later, people manage to watch films and TV and popular music from other countries so I guess they can deal with different standards when it’s in context.]  To take an extreme content example, a Nazi uniform as memorabilia is illegal in Germany (IIRC) but in the UK it’s a fancy dress outfit for a member of the royal family.

Panel reporting back from various table discussions
Kevin’s report – discussion varied but similar themes across the two tables. One – focus on the call to action, why should people participate, what’s the motivation? How to encourage people to participate? Competitions suggested as one solution, media interest (especially sustained). Notion of core group who’ll energise others. Small groups of highly motivated individuals and groups who can act as catalysts [how to recruit, reward, retain]. Use social media to help launch project.

1001 Danish Stories promotional video effectively showed how easy the process of contributing content was,  and that it doesn’t have to to be perfect (the video includes celebrities working the camera [and also being a bit daggy, which I later realised was quite powerful – they weren’t cool and aloof]).
Giving users something back – it’s not a one-way process. Recognition is important. Immediacy too – if participating in a project, people want to see their contributions acknowledged quickly. Long approval processes lose people.
Removal of content – when different social, political backgrounds with different notions of censorship.

Mette’s report – how to get users to contribute – answers mostly to take away the boundaries, give the users more credit than we otherwise tend to. We always think users will mess things up and experts will be embarrassed by user content but not the case. In 1001 they had experts correcting other experts. Trust users more, involve experts, ask users what they want. Show you appreciate users, have a dialouge, create community. Make it a part of life and environment of users. Find out who your users are.

Second group – how Europeana can use the content provided in all its forms. Could build web services to present content from different places, linking between different applications.
How to set up goals for user activity – didn’t get a lot of answers but one possibility is to start and see how users contribute as you go along. [I also think you shouldn’t be experimenting with UGC without some goal in mind – how else will you know if your experiment succeeded?  It also focusses your interaction and interface design and gives the user some parameters (much more useful than an intimidating blank page)].

Judith’s report (including our table) – motivation and moderation in relation to Europeana – challenging as Europeana are not the owners of the material; also dealing with multilingual collections. Culturally-specific offensive comments. Definition and expectations of Europeana moderation. Resources need if Europeana does the moderation.
Incentives for moderation – improving data, idealism, helping with translations – people like to help translate.

Johan’s report – rewards are important – place users in social charts or give them a feeling of contributing to larger thing; tap into existing community; translate physical world into digital analogue.
Institutional policy – need a clear strategy for e.g. how to integrate the knowledge into the catalogue. Provide training for staff on working with users and online tools. There’s value in employing community managers to give people feedback when they leave content.
Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk for annotations…
Doing the projects isn’t only of benefit in enriching metadata but also for giving insight into users – discover audiences with particular interests.

Costis commenting – if Europeana only has thumbnails and metadata, is it a missed opportunity to get UGC on more detailed content?

Is Europeana highbrow compared to other platforms like Flickr, FB, so would people be afraid to contribute? [probably – there must be design patterns for encouraging participation from audiences on museum sites, but we’re still figuring out what they are]
Business model for crowdsourcing – producing multilingual resources is perfect case for Europeana.

Open to the floor for questions… Importance of local communities, getting out there, using libraries to train people. Local newspapers, connecting to existing communities.

Notes from Europeana’s Open Culture Conference 2010

The Open Culture 2010 conference was held in Amsterdam on October 14 – 15. These are my notes from the first day (I couldn’t stay for the second day). As always, they’re a bit rough, and any mistakes are mine. I haven’t had a chance to look for the speakers’ slides yet so inevitably some bits are missing.  If you’re in a hurry, the quote of the day was from Ian Davis: “the goal is not to build a web of data. The goal is to enrich lives through access to information”.

The morning was MCd by Costis Dallas and there was a welcome and introduction from the chair of the Europeana Foundation before Jill Cousins (Europeana Foundation) provided an overview of Europeana. I’m sure the figures will be available online, but in summary, they’ve made good progress in getting from a prototype in 2008 to an operational service in 2010. [Though I have written down that they had 1 million visits in 2010, which is a lot less than a lot of the national museums in the UK though obviously they’ve had longer to establish a brand and a large percentage of their stats are probably in the ‘visit us’ areas rather than collections areas.]

Europeana is a super-aggregator, but doesn’t show the role of the national or thematic aggregators or portals as providers/collections of content. They’re looking to get away from a one-way model to the point where they can get data back out into different places (via APIs etc). They want to move away from being a single destination site to putting information where the user is, to continue their work on advocacy, open source code etc.

Jill discussed various trends, including the idea of an increased understanding that access to culture is the foundation for a creative economy. She mentioned a Kenneth Gilbraith [?] quote on spending more on culture in recession as that’s where creative solutions come from [does anyone know the reference?]. Also, in a time of Increasing nationationalism, Europeana provided an example to combat it with example of trans-Euro cooperation and culture. Finally, customer needs are changing as visitors move from passive recipients to active participants in online culture.

Europeana [or the talk?] will follow four paths – aggregration, distribution, facilitation, engagement.

  • Aggregation – build the trusted source for European digital cultural material. Source curated content, linked data, data enrichment, multilinguality, persistent identifiers. 13 million objects but 18-20thC dominance; only 2% of material is audio-visual [?]. Looking towards publishing metadata as linked open data, to make Europeana and cultural heritage work on the web, e.g. of tagging content with controlled vocabularies – Vikings as tagged by Irish and Norwegian people – from ‘pillagers’ to ‘loving fathers’. They can map between these vocabularies with linked data.
  • Distribution – make the material available to the user wherever they are, whenever they want it. Portals, APIs, widgets, partnerships, getting information into existing school systems.
  • Facilitate innovation in cultural heritage. Knowledge sharing (linked data), IPR business models, policy – advocacy and public domain, data provider agreements. If you write code based on their open sourced applications, they’d love you to commit any code back into Europeana. Also, look at Europeana labs.
  • Engagement – create dialogue and participation. [These slides went quickly, I couldn’t keep up]. Examples of the Great War Archive into Europe [?]. Showing the European connection – Art Nouveau works across Europe.

The next talk was Liam Wyatt on ‘Peace love and metadata’, based in part on his experience at the British Museum, where he volunteered for a month to coordinate the relationship between Wikipedia as representative of the open web [might have mistyped that, it seems quite a mantle to claim] and the BM as representatiave of [missed it]. The goal was to build a proactive relationship of mutual benefit without requiring change in policies or practices of either. [A nice bit of realism because IMO both sides of the museum/Wikipedia relationship are resistant to change and attached firmly to parts of their current models that are in conflict with the other conglomeration.]

The project resulted in 100 new Wikipedia articles, mostly based on the BM/BBC A History of the World in 100 Objects project (AHOW). [Would love to know how many articles were improved as a result too]. They also ran a ‘backstage pass’ day where Wikipedians come on site, meet with curators, backstage tour, then they sit down and create/update entries. There were also one-on-one collaborators – hooking up Wikipedians and curators/museums with e.g. photos of objects requested.

It’s all about improving content, focussing on personal relationshiips, leveraging the communities; it didn’t focus on residents (his own work), none of them are content donation projects, every institution has different needs but can do some version of this.

[I’m curious about why it’s about bringing Wikipedians into museums and not turning museum people into Wikipedians but I guess that’s a whole different project and may be result from the personal relationships anyway.]

Unknown risks are accounted for and overestimated. Unknown rewards are not accounted for and underestimated. [Quoted for truth, and I think this struck a chord with the audience.]

Reasons he’s heard for restricting digital access… Most common ‘preserving the integrity of the collection’ but sounds like need to approve content so can approve of usages. As a result he’s seen convoluted copyright claims – it’s easy tool to use to retain control.

Derivative works. Commercial use. Different types of free – freedom to use, freedom to study and apply knowledge gained; freedom to make and redistribute copies; [something else].

There are only three applicable licences for Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a non-commercial organisation, but don’t accept any non-commercially licenced content as ‘it would restrict the freedom of people downstream to re-use the content in innovative ways’. [but this rules out much museum content, whether rightly or not, and with varying sources from legal requirements to preference. Licence wars (see the open source movement) are boring, but the public would have access to more museum content on Wikipedia if that restriction was negotiable. Whether that would outweight the possible ‘downstream’ benefit is an interesting question.]

Liam asked the audience, do you have a volunteer project in your institution? do you have an e-volunteer program? Well, you do already, you just don’t know it. It’s a matter of whether you want to engage with them back. You don’t have to, and it might be messy.

Wikipedia is not a social network. It is a social construction – it requires a community to exist but socialising is not the goal. Wikipedia is not user generated content. Wikipedia is community curated works. Curated, not only generated. Things can be edited or deleted as well as added [which is always a difficulty for museums thinking about relying on Wikipedia content in the long term, especially as the ‘significance’ of various objects can be a contested issue.]

Happy datasets are all alike; every unhappy dataset is unhappy in its own way. A good test of data is that it works well with others – technically or legally.

According to Liam, Europeana is the 21st century of the gallery painting – it’s a thumbnail gallery but it could be so much more if the content was technically and legally able to be re-used, integrated.
Data already has enough restrictions already e.g. copyright, donor restrictions. but if it comes without restrictions, its a shame to add them. ‘Leave the gate as you found it’.

‘We’re doing the same thing for the same reason for the same people in the same medium, let’s do it together.’

The next sessions were ‘tasters’ of the three thematic tracks of the second part of the day – linked data, user-generated content, and risks and rewards. This was a great idea because I felt like I wasn’t totally missing out on the other sessions.

Ian Davis from Talis talked about ‘linked open culture’ as a preview of the linked data track. How to take practices learned from linked data and apply them to open culture sector. We’re always looking for ways to exchange info, communicate more effecively. We’re no longer limited by the physicality of information. ‘The semantic web fundamentally changes how information, machines and people are connected together’. The semantic web and its powerful network effects are enabling a radical transformation away from islands of data. One question is, does preservation require protection, isolation, or to copy it as widely as possible?

Conjecture 1 – data outlasts code. MARC stays forever, code changes. This implies that open data is more important than open source.
Conjecture 2 – structured data is more valuable than unstructured. Therefore we should seek to structure our data well.
Conjecture 3 – most of the value in our data will be unexpected and unintended. Therefore we should engineer for serendipity.

‘Provide and enable’ – UK National Archives phrase. Provide things you’re good at – use unique expertise and knowledge [missed bits]… enable as many people as possible to use it – licence data for re-use, give important things identifiers, link widely.

‘The goal is not to build a web of data. The goal is to enrich lives through access to information.’
[I think this is my new motto – it sums it up so perfectly. Yes, we carry on about the technology, but only so we can get it built – it’s the means to an end, not the end itself. It’s not about applying acronyms to content, it’s about making content more meaningful, retaining its connection to its source and original context, making the terms of use clear and accessible, making it easy to re-use, encouraging people to make applications and websites with it, blah blah blah – but it’s all so that more people can have more meaningful relationships with their contemporary and historical worlds.]

Kevin Sumption from the National Maritime Museum presented on the user-generated content track. A look ahead – the cultural sector and new models… User-generated content (UGC) is a broad description for content created by end users rather than traditional publishers. Museums have been active in photo-sharing, social tagging, wikipedia editing.

Crowdsourcing e.g. – reCAPTCHA [digitising books, one registration form at a time]. His team was inspired by the approach, created a project called ‘Old Weather’ – people review logs of WWI British ships to transcribe the content, especially meterological data. This fills in a gap in the meterological dataset for 1914 – 1918, allows weather in the period to be modelled, contributes to understanding of global weather patterns.

Also working with Oxford Uni, Rutherford Institute, Zooniverse – solar stormwatch – solar weather forecast. The museum is working with research institutions to provide data to solve real-world problems. [Museums can bring audiences to these projects, re-ignite interest in science, you can sit at home or on the train and make real contributions to on-going research – how cool is that?]

Community collecting. e.g. mass observation project 1937 – relaunched now and you can train to become an observer. You get a brief e.g. families on holidays.

BBC WW2 People’s War – archive of WWII memories. [check it out]

RunCoCO – tools for people to set up community-lead, generated projects.

Community-lead research – a bit more contentious – e.g. Guardian and MPs expenses. Putting data in hands of public, trusting them to generate content. [Though if you’re just getting people to help filter up interesting content for review by trusted sources, it’s not that risky].

The final thematic track preview was by Charles Oppenheim from Loughborough University, on the risks and rewards of placing metadata and content on the web. Legal context – authorisation of copyright holder is required for [various acts including putting it on the web] unless… it’s out of copyright, have explicit permission from rights holder (not implied licence just cos it’s online), permission has been granted under licensing scheme, work has been created by a member of staff or under contract with IP assigned.

Issues with cultural objects – media rich content – multiple layers of rights, multiple rights holders, multiple permissions often required. Who owns what rights? Different media industries have different traditions about giving permission. Orphan works.

Possible non-legal ramifiations of IPR infringements – loss of trust with rights holders/creators; loss of trust with public; damage to reputation/bad press; breach of contract (funding bodies or licensors); additional fees/costs; takedown of content or entire service.

Help is at hand – Strategic Content Alliance toolkit [online].

Copyright less to do with law than with risk management – assess risks and work out how will minimise them.

Risks beyond IPR – defamation; liability for provision of inaccurate information; illegal materials e.g. pornography, pro-terrorism, violent materials, racist materials, Holocaust denial; data protection/privacy breaches; accidental disclosure of confidential information.

High risk – anything you make money from; copying anything that is in copyright and is commercially availabe.
Low risk – orphan works of low commercial value – letters, diaries, amateur photographs, films, recordings known by less known people.
Zero risk stuff.
Risks on the other side of the coin [aka excuses for not putting stuff up]

‘Museums meet the 21st century’ – OpenTech 2010 talk

These are my notes for the talk I gave at OpenTech 2010 on the subject of ‘Museums meet the 21st Century’. Some of it was based on the paper I wrote for Museums and the Web 2010 about the ‘Cosmic Collections’ mashup competition, but it also gave me a chance to reflect on bigger questions: so we’ve got some APIs and we’re working on structured, open data – now what? Writing the talk helped me crystallise two thoughts that had been floating around my mind. One, that while “the coolest thing to do with your data will be thought of by someone else”, that doesn’t mean they’ll know how to build it – developers are a vital link between museum APIs, linked data, etc and the general public; two, that we really need either aggregated datasets or data using shared standards to get the network effect that will enable the benefits of machine-readable museum data. The network effect would also make it easier to bridge gaps in collections, reuniting objects held in different institutions. I’ve copied my text below, slides are embedded at the bottom if you’d rather just look at the pictures. I had some brilliant questions from the audience and afterwards, I hope I was able to do them justice. OpenTech itself was a brilliant day full of friendly, inspiring people – if you can possibly go next year then do!

Museums meet the 21st century.
Open Tech, London, September 11, 2010

Hi, I’m Mia, I work for the Science Museum, but I’m mostly here in a personal capacity…

Alternative titles for this talk included: ’18th century institution WLTM 21st century for mutual benefit, good times’; ‘the Age of Enlightenment meets the Age of Participation’. The common theme behind them is that museums are old, slow-moving institutions with their roots in a different era.

Why am I here?

The proposal I submitted for this was ‘Museums collaborating with the public – new opportunities for engagement?’, which was something of a straw man, because I really want the answer to be ‘yes, new opportunities for engagement’. But I didn’t just mean any ‘public’, I meant specifically a public made up of people like you. I want to help museums open up data so more people can access it in more forms, but most people can’t just have a bit of a tinker and create a mashup. “The coolest thing to do with your data will be thought of by someone else” – but that doesn’t mean they’ll know how to build it. Audiences out there need people like you to make websites and mobile apps and other ways for them to access museum content – developers are a vital link in the connection between museum data and the general public.

So there’s that kind of help – helping the general public get into our data; and there’s another kind of help – helping museums get their data out. For the first, I think I mostly just want you to know that there’s data out there, and that we’d love you to do stuff with it.

The second is a request for help working on things that matter. Linkable, open data seems like a no-brainer, but museums need some help getting there.

Museums struggle with the why, with the how, and increasingly with the “we are reducing our opening hours, you have to be kidding me”.

Chicken and the egg

Which comes first – museums get together and release interesting data in a usable form under a useful licence and developers use it to make cool things, or developers knock on the doors of museums saying ‘we want to make cool things with your data’ and museums get it sorted?

At the moment it’s a bit of both, but the efforts of people in museums aren’t always aligned with the requests from developers, and developers’ requests don’t always get sent to someone who’ll know what to do with it.

So I’m here to talk about some stuff that’s going on already and ask for a reality check – is this an idea worth pursuing? And if it is, then what next?
If there’s no demand for it, it won’t happen. Nick Poole, Chief Executive, Collections Trust, said on the Museums Computer Group email discussion list: “most museum people I speak to tend not to prioritise aggregation and open interoperability because there is not yet a clear use case for it, nor are there enough aggregators with enough critical mass to justify it.”

But first, an example…

An experiment – Cosmic Collections, the first museum mashup competition

The Cosmic Collections project was based on a simple idea – what if a museum gave people the ability to make their own collection website for the general public? Way back in December 2008 I discovered that the Science Museum was planning an exhibition on astronomy and culture, to be called ‘Cosmos & Culture’. They had limited time and resources to produce a site to support the exhibition and risked creating ‘just another exhibition microsite’. I went to the curator, Alison Boyle, with a proposal – what if we provided access to the machine-readable exhibition content that was already being gathered internally, and threw it open to the public to make websites with it? And what if we motivated them to enter by offering competition prizes? Competition participants could win a prize and kudos, and museum audiences might get a much more interesting, innovative site. Astronomy is one of the few areas where the amateur can still make valued scientific contributions, so the idea was a good match for museum mission, exhibition content, technical context, and hopefully developers – but was that enough?

The project gave me a chance to investigate some specific questions. At the time, there were lots of calls from some quarters for museums to produce APIs for each project, but there was also doubt about whether anyone would actually use a museum API, whether we could justify an investment in APIs and machine-readable data. And can you really crowdsource the creation of collections interfaces? The Cosmic Collections competition was a way of finding out.

Lessons? An API isn’t a magic bullet, you still need to support the dev community, and encourage non-technical people to find ways to play with it. But the project was definitely worth doing, even if just for the fact that it was done and the world didn’t end. Plus, the results were good, and it reinforced the value of working with geeks. [It also got positive coverage in the technical press. Who wouldn’t be happy to hear ‘the museum itself has become an example of technological innovation’ or that it was ‘bringing museums out into the open as places of innovation’?]

Back to the chicken and the egg – linking museums

So, back to the chicken and the egg… Progress is being made, but it gets bogged down in discussions about how exactly to get data online. Museums have enough trouble getting the suppliers they work with to produce code that meets accessibility standards, let alone beautifully structured, re-usable open data.

One of the reasons open, structured data is so attractive to museum technologists is that we know we can never build interfaces to meet the needs of every type of audience. Machine-readable data should allow people with particular needs to create something that supports their own requirements or combines their data with ours to make lovely new things.

Explore with us – tell museums what you need

So if you’re someone who wants to build something, I want to hear from you about what standards you’re already working with, which formats work best for you…

To an extent that’s just moving the problem further down the line, because I’ve discovered that when you ask people what data standards they want to use, and they tell you it turns out they’re all different… but at least progress is being made.

Dragons we have faced

I think museums are getting to the point where they can live with the 80% in the interest of actually getting stuff done.

Museums need to get over the idea that linkable data must be perfect – perfectly clean data, perfectly mapped to perfect vocabularies and perfectly delivered through perfect standards. Museums are used to mapping data from their collections management systems for a known end-use, they’ve struggled with open-ended requirements for unknown future uses.

The idea that aggregated data must be able to do everything that data provided at source can do has held us back. Aggregated data doesn’t need to be able to do everything – sometimes discoverability is enough, as long as you can get back to the source if you need the rest of the data. Sometimes it’s enough to be able to link to someone else’s record that you’ve discovered.

Museum data and the network effect

One reason I’m here (despite the fact that public speaking is terrifying) is a vision of the network effect that could apply when we have open museum data.

We could re-unite objects across time and place and people, connecting visitors and objects, regardless of owing institution or what type of object or information it is. We could create highlight collections by mining data across museums, using the links people are making between our collections. We can help people tell their local stories as well as the stories about big subject and world histories. Shared data standards should reduce learning curve for people using our data which would hopefully increase re-use.

Mismatches between museums and tech – reasons to be patient

So that’s all very exciting, but since I’ve also learnt that talking about something creates expectations, here are some reasons to be patient with museums, and tolerant when we fail to get it right the first time…

IT is not a priority for most museums, keeping our objects secure and in one piece is, as is getting some of them on display in ways that make sense to our audiences.

Museums are slow. We’ll be talking about stuff for a long time before it happens, because we have limited resources and risk-averse institutions. Museum project management is designed for large infrastructure projects, moving hundreds of delicate objects around while major architectural builds go on. It’s difficult to find space for agility and experimentation within that.

Nancy Proctor from the Smithsonian said this week: “[Museum] work is more constrained than a general developer” – it must be of the highest quality; for everybody – public good requires relevance and service for all, and because museums are in the ‘forever business’ it must be sustainable.

How you can make a difference

Museums are slowly adapting to the participation models of social media. You can help museums create (backend) architectures of participation. Here are some places where you can join in conversations with museum technologists:

Museums Computer Group – events, mailing list http://museumscomputergroup.org.uk/ #ukmcg @ukmcg

Linking Museums – meetups, practical examples, experimenting with machine-readable data http://museum-api.pbworks.com/

Space Time Camp – Nov 4/5, #spacetimecamp

‘Museums and the Web’ conference papers online provide a good overview of current work in the sector http://www.archimuse.com/conferences/mw.html

So that‘s all fun, but to conclude – this is all about getting museums to the point where the technology just works, data flows like water and our energy is focussed on the compelling stories museums can tell with the public. If you want to work on things that matter – museums matter, and they belong to all of us – we should all be able to tell stories with and through museums.

Thank you for listening

Keep in touch at @mia_out or http://openobjects.org.uk/

Linking museums: machine-readable data in cultural heritage – meetup in London July 7

Somehow I’ve ended up organising an (very informal) event about ‘Linking museums: machine-readable data in cultural heritage’ on Wednesday, July 7, at a pub near Liverpool St Station. I have no real idea what to expect, but I’d love some feisty sceptics to show up and challenge people to make all these geeky acronyms work in the real museum world.

As I posted to the MCG list: “A very informal meetup to discuss ‘Linking museums: machine-readable data in cultural heritage’ is happening next Wednesday. I’m hoping for a good mix of people with different levels of experience and different perspectives on the issue of publishing data that can be re-used outside the institution that created it. … please do pass this on to others who may be interested. If you would like to come but can’t get down to that London, please feel free to send me your questions and comments (or beer money).”

The basic details are: July 7, 2010, Shooting Star pub, London. 7:30 – 10pm-ish. More information is available at http://museum-api.pbworks.com/July-2010-meetup and you can let me know you’re coming or register your interest.

In more detail…

Why?
I’m trying to cut through the chicken and egg problem – as a museum technologist, I can work towards getting machine-readable data available, but I’m not sure which formats and what data would be most useful for developers who might use it. Without a critical mass of take-up for any one type, the benefits of any one data source are more limited for developers. But museums seem to want a sense of where the critical mass is going to be so they can build for that. How do we cut through this and come up with a sensible roadmap?

Who?
You! If you’re interested in using museum data in mashups but find it difficult to get started or find the data available isn’t easily usable; if you have data you want to publish; if you work in a museum and have a
data publication problem you’d like help in solving; if you are a cheerleader for your favourite acronym…

Put another way, this event is for you if you’re interested in publishing and sharing data about their museums and collections through technologies such as linked data and microformats.

It’ll be pretty informal! I’m not sure how much we can get done but it’d be nice to put faces to names, and maybe start some discussions around the various problems that could be solved and tools that could be
created with machine-readable data in cultural heritage.

Some thoughts on linked data and the Science Museum – comments?

I’ve been meaning to finish this for ages so I could post it, but then I realised it’s more use in public in imperfect form than in private, so here goes – my thoughts on linked data, APIs and the Science Museum on the ‘Museums and the machine-processable web‘ wiki. I’m still trying to find time to finish documenting my thoughts, and I’ve already had several useful comments that mean I’ll need to update it, but I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, etc.

Tim Berners-Lee at TED on ‘database hugging’ and linked data

This TED talk by Tim Berners-Lee: The next Web of open, linked data is worth watching if you’ve been ‘wondering whatever happened to the semantic web?’, or what this ‘linked data’ is about all.

I’ve put some notes below – I was transcribing it for myself and thought I might as well share it. It’s only a selection of the talk and I haven’t tidied it because they’re not my words to edit.

Why is linked data important?

Making the world run better by making this data available. If you know about some data in some government department you often find that, these people, they’re very tempted to keep it, to hug your database, you don’t want to let it go until you’ve made a beautiful website for it. … Who am I to say “don’t make a website…” make a beautiful website, but first, give us the unadulterated data. Give us the raw data now.

You have no idea, the number of excuses people come up with to hang onto their data and not give it to you, even though you’ve paid for it.

Communicating science over the web… the people who are going to solve those are scientists, they have half-formed ideas in their head, but a lot of the state of knowledge of the human race at the moment is in database, currently not sharing. Alzheimer’s scientists … the power of being able ask questions which bridge across different disciplines is really a complete sea-change, it’s very, very important. Scientists are totally stymied at the moment, the power of the data that other scientists have collected is locked up, and we need to get it unlocked so we can tackle those huge problems. if I go on like this you’ll think [all data from] huge institutions but it’s not. [Social networking is data.]

Linked data is about people doing their bit to produce their bit, and it all connecting. That’s how linked data works. … You do your bit, everybody else does theirs. You may not have much data yourself, to put on there, but you know to demand it.

It’s not just about the number of places where data comes. It’s about connecting it together. When you connect it together you get this power… out of it. It’ll only really pay off when everybody else has done it. It’s called Linked Data, I want you to make it, I want you to demand it.