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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

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Catching up with Europeana v1.0 [pt.1]

Last November, a prototype Europeana launched. Many (perhaps even both) of you will know that the results were mixed: the index itself was successful, at least given its proof-of-concept status, but personalisation features were not optimised and led rapidly a crash as the user sessions racked up. It seems that the solution to this was essentially configuration, but politics meant that more had to be seen to be done and so hardware was thrown at the problem. A couple of weeks later the site was back but under the radar and without the personalisation bit ("My Europeana"), and more recently this too has returned - go and have a play here.

Prototyping done, the bid was assembled to develop a full-blown service, "Europeana v1.0". This bid to the European Commission was successful and just before Easter a kick-off meeting was held at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in the Hague to initiate the project. This is actually but one of a suite a of projects under the EDLFoundation umbrella, all working in the same direction, but I guess you could say it's the one responsible for tying them together.

So how is Europeana shaping up now? Having spent three days finding out I can tell you now that I came back feeling good - and not just because I was heading straight off again on holiday. Day 1 was about travel and (obviously) a long and lovely trip to the Mauritshaus, but it ended with an hour in the company of Sjoerd Siebinga, lead developer on the project, and a session with Jill Cousins, Europeana's director. I went to see Sjoerd because I wanted to find out how Europeana's technical solution would fit with our plans at the Museum of London for a root-and-branch overhaul of our collections online delivery system. I knew that they'd be opening the source code up later this year, and I also knew that in essence what Europeana does is a superset of what we want to do, so I figured, find out if there'll be a good fit and whether there are things I could start to use or plan for now. Laughably, I thought that we might actually be able to help out by testing and developing the code further in a different environment - as if they needed me! I'll save this for another post, but in short Sjoerd took me on a tour of what they use as the core of the system (Solr) and blew me away. There are layers that they have built/will build above and below Solr that make Europeana what it is and may also prove helpful to us, but straight out of the box Solr is, quite simply, the bollocks. I've known of it for ages, but until given a tour of it didn't really grasp how it would work for us. Many, many thanks to Sjoerd for that.

Next I met with Jill for an interview for my research on digital sustainability in museums, where we dug into the roots of Europeana, its vision, key challenges, and of course sustainability (especially in terms of financial and political support). This was fascinating and revealing and added a lot to my understanding of the context of the project's birth and its fit in the historical landsacpe of EC-funded initiatives in digital/digitised cultural heritage. As a research exercise it was a test of my ability to work as an embedded researcher; one who is not just observing the processes of the project but contributing and arguing and necessarily developing opinions of his own. I really don't know how well I did in this regard - I'm not sure how often my attempts to be probing may in fact be leading, or whether my concerns with the project distort the approach I take in interviewing. Equally I don't know if this matters. A debate to expand upon another time, perhaps.

Days 2 and 3 were the kick-off meeting, and I'll put that in another post.

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