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Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Leuven that aside...

I'm not quite sure where to go with a pun of profound lameness even by my own pitiful standards, but I'm giving it a Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike licence in case anyone can make it pay. Not holding my breath.

Anyway, to the point: bloody hell, railways! Well there are other points, but just wanted to get that off my chest. To Beligium by Eurostar is lovely, unless there's a strike. Eurostar to their credit did all they could to help, moving me onto a later train in the not-quite-certainty that it would get past Lille. They also told my hotel I'd be late. I got there, well, the right side of dawn but the wrong side of midnight. And travelling back I had the more day-to-day joy of British trains being titsup. Not forgetting Junior puking on the journey to the train before all of that. I must have offended St Christopher or something.

But the travel trauma was all worthwhile. The meeting itself was really good and I would love to return to Leuven, it's a beautiful and tranquil place. Imagine a city centre so quiet at rush hour that most of the traffic consists of parent cycling next to their infants on the way to school.

My take-homes from the meeting were many. Here are some.
  • There seem still to be divergent thoughts on whether there will be a record page, although I think it's looking very likely (as seen in the maquette). This means different things for different types of institution and material. Where the original DO on the institution's website is more than an image of moderate size, the visitor will have a motivation to leave Europeana and visit the original. For films and audio this will be clearcut. For assets where the surrogate is in any case an image, they may be less likely to leave. Perhaps this depends upon the size of the largest image that Europeana will show. It does bring home, however, how vital it will be to demonstrate to content contributors that there will be superb reporting of usage of their material on that site.

  • linked to the previous point, if EDL hosts only image surrogates (and occasional small derivatives of multimedia?), it keeps its costs down and traffic to institutions high, but we must keep in mind quality control of the originals hosted elsewhere - what will be acceptable standards for different formats, and how do we control this when they're actually never ingested?

  • a drawback to the plan of ingesting only thumbnails is that for institutions with no existing online presence this is not very helpful. Perhaps EDL should offer a premium service, or one for limited numbers of surrogates per institution, where they can offer to hold a full size image/media asset and display this in a modified details/record page. I'm very keen on this, as a means to attract the participation of tiny museums by, essentially, offering to get them online for the first time. The current model presupposes that every partner is already online - we need a 180 degree turn on this. It's also possibly a modest source of revenue.

  • EDLLocal is obviously the plan to encourage the participation of the minnows at the moment, and I need to find out more about this. Nevertheless, if it still presupposes a web destination outside of Europeana for all DOs it's not enough, IMHO. We need to see just how low we can set the barrier to participation, and how big we can make the reward. Rather than requiring a URL for each DO, it would be better to be able to take whatever a contributor can give - a DVD of images and a spreadsheet of metadata, say - and offer them

    • fuller record pages on Europeana

    • API access and code fragments for dropping onto a blog or whatever

  • I like the idea of using a wiki for UGC related to objects. It has the advantages of being

    • cheap and out of the box

    • very easy to create new pages

    • EDL GUIDs/DOIs usable for page names

    • microformat/POSH friendly?

    • familiar to many

    • clearly distinct from the "authorised" content

  • The new home page that Jon Purday showed looks like progress. The concept is a good step, the graphical side isn't finished but getting there

  • There was plenty to read and discuss about reorganising EDL for the next phase of the project, the build of version 1.0 (first we have to launch a series of prototypes). It's too early to talk about this.

  • We worked on the vision and mission, which was quite fun and threw into relief some differing ideas of what the whole thing is about. Personally I like for a vision something like: Europeana.eu: culture and heritage, connected and shared. It's short, it emphasises both the connections being made between knowledge and the sharing of this with people.

  • Money is tight, realistically EDL will be relying on a subsidy of some sort for a good while to come, but there may be some good commercial opportunities. These needn't conflict with either the ownership of the source data and digital assets by contributors, nor the public service/public good ethos. The semantic graph derived from the combined dataset will belong to EDL, and this could be very marketable. I have to work up ideas here, I have OpenCalais in mind as some sort of model.
One other outcome was that the cabbie who finally got me home solved a UFO mystery I'd been intrigued by for a few months. One evening last autumn I watched a string of lights for about ten minutes as they emerged over the horizon and slowly rose through the clouds. Either it was something fast but a long way off - I was thinking shed-loads of planes from one of the Suffolk airbases - or actually as slow as they appeared and nearby. Turned out they were the latter - a whole load of candles floating under balloons, released from Gosfield School to confuse those who Don't Even Want To Believe But Are Intrigued By The Lights

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