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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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Open Culture 2010 ruminations #2: Europeana, UGC and the API, plus a bit of "what are we here for?"

OK here's a relatively quick one: there was lots of discussion at Open Culture 2010 about user-generated content, and (praise be!) lots about the API. Where I see a gap is in the link between these two.
Some background: Jill Cousins, Europeana's Director, outlined the four objectives that drive project/service/network/dream (take your pick), which go approximately like this:
  1. To Aggregate – bringing everything together in one place, interoperable, rich (or rich enough) and multilingual

  2. To Facilitate – to encourage innovation in digital heritage, to stimulate the digital economy, to bring greater understanding between the people of Europe, to build an amazing network of partners and friends

  3. To Distribute – code, data, content

  4. To Engage – to put the content into forms that engage people, wherever they may be and however they want to use it
Jill pointed out that there are multiple stakeholders with their own agendas, all of whom need serving. They aren’t always in conflict, but it’s our job and Europeana’s job to help to show them how their agendas actually align. We have users (that’s a pretty large and heterogeneous group!), content providers (only slightly less so), policy-makers, ministries, business users.... Having identified the value propositions for these groups it becomes clear where we need to fill some gaps in content, partners, functionality and marketing (the latter really hasn’t started yet).
A key plank in the distribution strategy is the API. For engagement, an emerging social strategy includes opportunities for users to react to and create content themselves, and to channel the content to external social sites (Facebook and the like). Both of these things are too big to go into here, but I think one thing we haven't got covered properly is the overlap between the two. Channeling content to people on 3rd party sites ticks the "distribution" box but whilst that in iteself may be engaging it is not the same as being "social" or facilitating UGC there. If people have to come to our portal to react they simply won't. In other words, our content API has to be accompanied by a UGC API - read and write. Even if the "write" part does nothing more than allow favouriting and tagging it will make it possible to really engage with Europeana from Facebook etc.
What falls out of this is my answer to one of Stefan Gradmann's questions to WP3 (the technical working party). Stefan asked, do we want to recommend that work progresses on authentication/authorization mechanisms (OAuth/OpenID, Shibboleth etc) for the Danube release (July 2011)? My answer is a firm "yes". Until that is sorted out we can't have a "social" API to support Europeana's engagement objective off-site, and if such interaction not possible off-site then we're really not making the most of the "distribution" strand either.

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