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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

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Conference ketchup

Well it's been a pretty busy time. After many years of avoiding presenting at conferences, following a number of crappy performances in '99, I bit the bullets kindly shot at me by Ross and Jill and opened my cakehole to several hundred unfortunate captives, first at the UK Museums on the Web conference in Leicester, and then at the EDL plenary conference in the Hague. And I'm truly grateful to both Ross and Jill for the opportunity to do this: it's very flattering, humbling, really, that they felt I'd have something worth saying to such informed and inquisitive audiences.

In the end, nervous anticipation gave way to the onrush of time and once I was up there in front of faces familiar and not I felt a more at ease than I would have expected. Having listened to the recordings, well, there were a lot more "ums" and "errs" than ideal, but hey, I didn't forget too many things and I kept pretty close to time, which is a big improvement on my earlier debacles.

So what was I talking about? In Leicester, I talked about Europeana. It was not meant to be an overview as such (that's not really my role), but an account of my involvement and interest, focussing on my hopes for the project and, of course, the role that APIs play in that. During Q&As and coffee breaks I had a lot of really useful feedback to my question: what is stopping many more UK museums from getting involved in the project? On the whole these revolved around the burden and mechanics of providing data, which was pretty much as I suspected. It's made me more determined to do what I can to simplify these processes, but also to ensure that the pay-off to partners is as high as it can be and as well understood as possible. Perhaps we have the furthest to go to achieve the latter.

At the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in the Hague I had an even shorter slot, which was fine by me, as part of a panel whose other members were intimidatingly illustrious. The subject of the conference was "Users expect the interoperable", and this particular session had two panels discussing interoperability in relation to archives and museums, respectively. I took part in the latter panel. I still don't know if I actually said anything, really, because I had little in the way of conclusions to offer: I just teased out some ways in which I thought "interoperability" questions pertained to APIs in a museum context. I also looked at a few examples from the world of semantic enrichment - a strange choice, perhaps, but made because there are really no proper museum APIs to compare to, and in order to show that a lack of standardisation in that area is no barrier to those APIs (Calais, Hakia, and Yahoo! Term Extractor) being useful. Simplicity gets you a long way, as does the use of existing data formats (e.g. DC or microformats). These also fit well with the other drum I was banging, the services that EDL could offer to contributors and third parties for enriching content. So, a kind of bitty talk but at least it was brief!

On Tuesday the conference wrapped up (and I do want to talk a lot more about it ASAP, because apart from anything else the first prototype was shown off and it's COOL!). I attended a hurried meeting of WP1 and Harry Verweyen presented his paper on the business model. I think he's done a great job, although this is so far outside my area of comptence I scarcely dare comment. He'd also done a lot of work integrating some of my suggestions into the plan, and it became still clearer to me how much of this hangs off the success of the semantic web tech part of the project.

Both conferences were really rewarding in their own ways and I'll try to offer some proper notes from them as soon as I find my feet again.

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