Friday, 28 March 2008

Friday fun(ner) bits

Cornelius Holtorf asks, "is Indiana Jones good or bad for archaeology?" in Hero! Real archaeology and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystall Skull".

And on YouTube, the SEO Rapper tells you how it's done.

'The Vision of ORE': the scholarly graph

ORE (a specification for 'Object Reuse and Exchange') is one of those things I always mean to investigate but never quite find time to look into. This post, The Vision of ORE, makes a convincing case for investigating ORE sooner rather than later, as it "tries to map the true nature of contemporary scholarship onto the web" and "attempts to shift the focus from repositories for scholarship to the complex products of scholarship themselves".

This scholarship cannot be contained by web pages or PDFs put into an institutional repository, but rather consists of what the ORE team has termed “aggregates,” or constellations of digital objects that often span many different web servers and repositories. For instance, a contemporary astronomy article might consist of a final published PDF, its metadata (author, title, publication info, etc.), some internal images, and then—here’s the important part—datasets, telescope imagery, charts, several publicly available drafts, and other matter (often held by third parties) that does not end up in the PDF. Similarly, an article in art history might consist of the historian’s text, paintings that were consulted in a museum, low-resolution copies of those paintings that are available online (perhaps a set of photos on Flickr of the referenced paintings), citations to other works, and perhaps an associated slide show.

...

By forging semantic links between pieces entailed in a work of scholarship it keeps those links active and dynamic and allows for humans, as well as machines that wish to make connections, to easily find these related objects. It also allows for a much better preservation path for digital scholarship because repositories can use ORE to get the entirety of a work and its associated constellation rather than grabbing just a single published instantiation of the work.

The implementation of ORE is perhaps less commonsensical for those who do not wish to dive into lots of semantic web terms and markup languages, but put simply, the approach the ORE group has taken is to provide a permanent locator (i.e., a URI, like a web address) that links to what they call a “resource map,” which in turn describes an aggregation.
...
There has been much talk recently of the social graph, the network of human connections that sites like Facebook bring to light and take advantage of. If widely adopted, ORE could help create the scholarly graph, the networked relations of scholars, publications, and resources.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

"Download costs restrict spread of mobile learning"

Report from the BCS, Download costs restrict spread of mobile learning says:

As mobile devices with internet access become more common, the rise of learning on the move is edging closer. Its uptake is, however, still hampered by the cost to download large volumes of data and the multiplicity of browsers.


Well, yes - but when will that be solved? And how?

Reduced download charges will probably be lead by the music industry, who want us to download ringtones and chart songs.

edna on the benefits of metadata repositories for educational resources

Some random doodling about the possibilities of using the functionalities of an OAI repository as an API lead me to information about metadata repositories, harvesting and edna (Education Network Australia, ' Australia's free online network for educators').

In linked document, Harvesting Overview, they state: "In addition, the edna search API is embedded into numerous other websites – providing access to the edna repository and indexes from external websites. The benefit to you is that, by providing your metadata records for harvesting by edna, you increase exposure to your valuable education and training related resources."

It's a good summary of the processes involved in setting up an OAI repository for harvesting and of the benefits for the organisation; including increased visibility of resources, maximising return on investment [ROI] for created resources and associated metadata and benefiting from services such as RSS that can be delivered back to the organisation.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Electronic exhibit templates?

Ideum and the Association of Science-Technology Centers are looking for feedback on "a project that will allow us to develop, test, and disseminate three open source software templates that will allow museum professionals’ to assemble electronic exhibits for the museum floor."

They've put together a survey "to gain insight into the state of electronic exhibits at a variety of museums, to gauge interest in the Open Exhibits software templates, and to better understand museums’ technical expertise and constraints". You can read more at their original blog post or go straight to their survey.

They don't really define an 'electronic exhibit' but perhaps that's part of the exercise. They also say they'll share the results with everyone who took part, which is nice.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

IE8 and web standards

A quick pointer to the Joel on Software piece 'Martian Headsets' on IE 8 and standards:

The IE 8 team is in the process of making a decision that lies perfectly, exactly, precisely on the fault line smack in the middle of two different ways of looking at the world. ... it’s the difference between "idealists" and "realists".

Monday, 10 March 2008

"On creativity"

It's written for designers, but I think it's also extremely relevant to geeks.

Plus, it's a useful article to help me explain to friends why I love what I do - it's a chance to solve interesting problems and to try and do something better every day in a particular environment (they get the bit about working with fantastic content and people straight away).

It also presents a good argument for 'constraints' such as accessibility and standards.

A List Apart, On Creativity:
Creativity is technical and analytical, not expressive (as in self-expression). It is a filter through which perception and output pass, not a receptor or an infusion (as in the case of inspiration). Creativity may require or be enhanced by inspiration, but the two are distinct forces. (These facts are vital in discriminating between appropriate and inappropriate descriptions and applications of creativity.)

Creativity is an inborn capacity for thinking differently than most, seeing differently, and making connections and perceiving relationships others miss. But most importantly, it is the ability to then extrapolate contextually useful ways of employing that data: to create something that meets a specific challenge. By this definition, creativity is merely a tool; it does not convey skill. For a dedicated few, though, this inborn capacity is then further augmented by certain disciplines, including:
  • ongoing curiosity,
  • the desire and habit of looking more deeply into things than others care to,
  • the habit of comparing stimulus with result, and
  • a habit for qualitative discrimination.

...

If you are a designer worth your salt, you know that no design project begins with creativity. Instead, it begins with client- and/or context-specific discovery, and lots of research to help you understand the fundamental nature of the challenges at hand. All designers must guard against the urge to invest in specific creative ideas before becoming intimately familiar with the contextual landscape of a design project.

Linking DSpace and OpenSearch?

Has anyone hooked up Opensearch and a DSpace repository?

We're just about to start using a DSpace repository for collections data - object metadata, media files and metadata and information record (people, places, events, publications) metadata - for selected records from our Mimsy XG collections management system; and I think an OpenSearch service would make the data a lot more findable and possibly a lot more useable.

I really should write it up properly at some stage, but I'm hoping that our repository will have a use beyond providing an OAI-PMH-compliant data source for partnership projects and our own internal requirements.

For example, other people may query the repository to build applications with our data; or use it as a central index of all the records we've published in digital projects over the years, following links to sites in which the object appears. Or it might enable us to try some semantic web-ish things...

I'd be curious to hear about anyone's experience with DSpace/OAI-PMH or OpenSearch for museum collection data, but I'd particularly love to hear from you if you've used them together.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Move your FAQ to Wikipedia?

Mal Booth from the Australian War Memorial (AWM) makes the fascinating suggestion: they should move their entire Encyclopaedia to Wikipedia. Their encyclopaedia seems to function as a fully researched and referenced FAQ with content creation driven by public enquiries, and would probably sit well in Wikipedia.

In Wikipedia and "produsers", Mal says:
"Putting the content up on Wikipedia.org gives it MUCH wider exposure than our website ever can and it therefore has the potential to bring new users to our website that may not even know we exist (via links in to our own web content). With a wikipedia.org user account, we can maintain an appropriate amount of control over the content (more than we have at present over wikipedia content that started as ours, already put up there by others).

Another point is that putting it up on Wikipedia allows us to engage the assistance of various volunteers who'd like to help us, but don't live locally."
He also presents some good suggestions from their web developer, Adam: they should understand and participate in the Wikipedia community, and identify themselves as AWM professionals before importing content. I think they've taken the first step by assessing the suitability of their content for Wikipedia.

It's also an interesting example of an organisation that is willing to 'let go' of their content and allow it to be used and edited outside their institution. Mal's blog is a real find (and I'm not just saying that because it has 'Melbin' (Melbourne) in the title), and I'll be following the progress of their project with interest.

I wonder how issues of trust and authority will play out on their entries: by linking to the relevant Wikipedia entries, the AWM is giving those entries a level of authority they might not otherwise have. They're also placing a great deal of trust in Wikipedia authors.

Mal links to a post by Alex Bruns, Beyond Public Service Broadcasting: Produsage at the ABC and summarises the four preconditions for good user-generated content:
  • the replacement of a hierarchy with a more open participatory structure;
  • recognising the power of the COMMUNITY to distinguish between constructive and destructive contributions;
  • allowing for random (granular, simple) acts of participation (like ratings); and
  • the development of shared rather than owned content that is able to be re-used, re-mixed or mashed up.
Adam's post lists key principles that anyone "looking to develop successful and sustainable participatory media environments" should take into account. These points are defined and expanded on in the original post, which is well worth reading:
  1. Open Participation, Communal Evaluation
  2. Fluid Heterarchy, Ad Hoc Meritocracy
  3. Unfinished Artefacts, Continuing Process
  4. Common Property, Individual Rewards

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Museums as social spaces - the good, the bad, and the (ugly) conversations of others

I've linked to two articles about museums as social spaces or the behaviour of the public in museums; one refers to virtual and the other to physical space but the issues are related.

In museums, social situations, control and trust, Jennifer Trant says:
as soon as you put museum collections in a public place, the public will do what they do .... search logs show us that many look for 'nude' ... and if you let people comment, they will: they will tell you about your typos; they will tell you that their child could have made that painting; and they will argue about the significance of works. they will also tell you things that you might never have known, and you can learn from that. but what happens when two branches of a family choose your museum's site as the venue for a dispute about what was 'true' family history?
She also makes the point that museums "can't demand control" and have to trust that users will respect their content when they allow users to use their collections in the users' personal space.

This is one issue that probably causes a lot of anxiety within museums at the moment. We'll only really find out whether users will respect our content when we let them respond to it. What kind of visitors have the means and self-motivation to comment on, link to pages or display images, or otherwise respond to cultural heritage content?

On another note, is it worse to be disrespected or ignored?

I'm just quoting one more bit from her post before I go on, because I thought it was worth repeating:
"there are a number of different value propositions for distribution of reproductions of works of in their collections. there may still be some great icons that will sell. but in many cases the value of having a collection known may outweighs worries about lost revenue, particularly when the images being released on the public web really aren't large enough to do that much with."

So from visitors respecting content, to visitors respecting other visitors, and perhaps to whether museums respect the visitor experience...

Giles Waterfield relates his experience of the crowded New York MoMA in The crowds swamping museums must be tackled - soon and makes some good points about "the over-population and over-use of the museum space":
"the predominance and ready availability in our society of visual images can mean that apart from the (sometimes over-exposed) icon, works in a gallery risk becoming another form of rapidly-absorbed consumer fodder. ... visitors at many contemporary art museums now often behave similarly, pausing only to take pictures of celebrity works"
This matters because:
"looking at art is a difficult experience, one that has to be learnt and that requires concentration. Little art was created specifically for the museum or gallery, at least until recently, and the museum is not necessarily the best place to appreciate it. If the museum experience becomes one in which the visitor is regularly concerned with negotiating a way through the crowds and avoiding noise, the status of the museum as a vehicle for displaying art becomes highly questionable.

...the series of subtle, intense and inter-linked experiences that are created require an appropriate environment. The Demoiselles may just about survive, but quieter works of art drown and the carefully considered relationships between them disappear when the pressure of visitors means it is hardly possible to concentrate or to view more than one work at a time, if that."


His article is specific to art galleries, and the types of attention, learning and reflection may well be different for art works and social history objects; but the effect of interactions between the space in which the object is seen and of encounters with other visitors is interesting.

In my own experience, I have to force myself to go see blockbuster exhibitions because I dread the crowds - not only can is be really difficult to have a decent look at the art or objects; the sheer number of people means that tempers are shorter and the atmosphere is slightly more 'Oxford Street on a Saturday' than 'quiet temple of contemplation'.

If you give up waiting for a chance to read the captions or panel text over someone else's shoulder, it's easy for objects to appear only as visual entertainment.

Where does Web 2.0 live in your organisation?

Last night Lynda Kelly left a comment that pointed me to her audience research blog and to an interesting discussion on fresh + new back in June last year; which in turn lead me to Organizational Barriers to Using Web 2.0 Tools. This post quoted a 'nonprofit user' who:

...pointed out to me that while she sees that social media tools make it easier for non-technical types to integrate technology into their workflow, at the same time there's an ongoing organizational message that says "Leave the technology stuff to the IT department."


Interestingly, (and this is in part based on my experience in different organisations over the years) sometimes the IT department are given the message "leave the web to the marketing department" or the education department, or to the curators...

Given that social technologies are not, by definition, traditional publications like official 'brand' and venue messages or rigorous academic research, and may not yet have a place in the organisational publication program, what is the practical effect of the ownership of web projects in a cultural heritage organisation?

And what happens if the 'participatory web' falls in an organisational limbo, with no-one able to commission or approve applications or content? More importantly, how can we work around it?

I think this is where some of the frustrations Frankie Roberto expressed come in - different departments have different priorities and working practices and are more or less risk-averse (and have different definitions of 'risk).

(However, I don't think you can underestimate the urge to archive and curate that many museum people feel. That archival urge possibly just goes along with the kinds of personalities that are drawn to work in museums. I have it myself so maybe I'm too sympathetic to it.)

Monday, 3 March 2008

Recommendations for AJAX and accessibility

A new Webcredibles article, AJAX accessibility for websites, highlights some of the potential benefits and disadvantages of AJAX technologies.

The section on recommendations for AJAX and accessibility was particularly useful, and a lot of the advice probably applies to non-traditional browsers such as mobile phone users. Basically:

  • Inform users early in the page that dynamic updates will occur
  • Highlight the areas that have been updated
  • Don't change the focus
  • Offer the option to disable automatic updates
  • Ensure the site works if JavaScript isn't enabled