The Future of Archives is Participatory: Archives as Platform, or A New Mission for Archives

This is the talk I gave this morning—by phone rather than in person because of the Lufthansa pilots’ strike—at the Offene Archive 2.1 conference in Stuttgart. It’s also similar to the talk I gave in Oslo a few weeks ago at the #arkividag conference. While I also made a recording of it as a backup, since I have it all more or less written out I thought I would post it here too. (I’ve inserted a few images from my presentation but not all the transitional slides or ones that are just repeating things in the text or showing screenshots.) There are some interesting ideas in it, I think, and I’m sure some readers will have comments and additional food for thought. Please remember, it’s a talk, not a journal article. The intent is to give people some big ideas to think about. So I might as well do that here on the blog as well!

UPDATE: If you’d prefer to listen rather than read, the recording I made of me reading the talk over the slides is now available at I was reading very slowly and carefully, so I think I sound a bit like a robot, but it’s available if you’d rather listen and see all the slides as they were presented.


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Archives & Flickr: Still our favorite for sharing photos, or have we moved on to newer platforms?

Via the brilliant Roger Ebert on Twitter, I just saw this article from Gizmodo: “How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet.” It’s a fascinating read about what happened after Yahoo acquired Flickr. (Warning: it contains quite a few curse words. You have been warned.)

Reading it made me wonder how things are going over at the Flickr Commons. Are there are any participants in that who can comment on whether resources seemed to have been pulled from that service? Is it looking like the future is stable? (Remember, you can comment anonymously if you feel you need to.)

And if Flickr isn’t the cool shiny toy it once was (and it certainly is not), are archives moving to something else to share images? Pinterest is addicting, and I love what the Archives of American Art is doing there, but it doesn’t have all the features of Flickr. Is Flickr still the go-to site for archives to share images, or have we moved on to something else? Facebook, perhaps? Or do you use both?


Links from MAC talk on participatory archives

If you were among the lucky (?) people in the audience today, here, as promised, are the links to the sites I mentioned in my talk. If you are one of the millions of people who were not there, these are the sites I mentioned as examples of participatory archives. I know there are a great many others, so I apologize if  I left out one of your favorites. I’m happy that there is an overabundance of riches when it comes to choosing examples on this topic. (At least examples that meet the criteria I use.) I’ll probably be posting my slides to SlideShare soon, or I may post them here on the blog so I can add the explanatory text that would help make some of them comprehensible. (Here’s a post about the talk I gave on this topic at the 2011 SAA Annual Meeting.)

Here are the links: Continue reading “Links from MAC talk on participatory archives”

The new book is now available: A Different Kind of Web

It’s been a long time in the works, but my new book is now available for purchase from the SAA Bookstore (SAA Member price $49.95; everyone else $69.95). I say “my book” because I conceived the idea and lined up many many smart people to contribute. Don’t believe me? Here’s the table of contents:

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Winners: Best Use of Crowdsourcing for Description

Next, the spot light turns to the winners of the Best Archives on the Web awards in the category Best Use of Crowdsourcing for Description. This is the definition of the category:

Whether through Flickr, wikis, blogs or allowing users to comment on descriptions in their online catalogs, many archives are starting to harness the power of their regular researchers as well as experts around the world to help augment or create descriptions for their collections. This award will recognize crowdsourcing efforts that have resulted in a significant exchange of information for the institution.

The judges selected one winner and singled out one nominee to receive an Honorable Mention. And they are . . .

Winner: Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid (Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision)

The description of the project from the nomination statement:

“To explore the impact and success criteria of social tagging in the audiovisual heritage domain, a large-scale video labeling pilot, Waisda?, was launched in March 2009. The goal of Waisda? (which translates to ‘What’s That?’) is to collect user tags that can help bridge the semantic gap, to collect time-related metadata, and to offer people a new way of interacting with television programs, thus creating a connection with the television archive. Waisda? is the world’s first operational video labeling game in the cultural heritage field.

Waisda? invites players to tag what they see and hear. They receive points for a tag if it matches one their opponent has entered within a time frame of ten seconds. The underlying assumption, based on the ‘Games with a Purpose’ by Luis von Ahn, is that tags are most probably valid if there’s mutual agreement. Waisda? introduced three innovations: Using gaming as method to annotate television heritage, actively seeking collaboration with communities connected to the content, and using curated vocabularies as a means to integrate tags with professional annotations.

From the launch in March 2009 to November 2009 (period of the evaluation, the website is still operational, see the WebScience paper by Oomen et al. for more information), over 340,000 tags were added, of which 40.3% consists of matching tags (added by different players within the ten second time frame. In total, 42,068 unique tags have been added.

Waisda? was executed by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision and KRO Broadcasting (Dutch public broadcasting organization). The Business Web & Media Group of VU University Amsterdam performed additional research on topics such as game play and tag quality. (They carry out research in light of their involvement in the PrestoPRIME European research project.) The software company Q42 built the application.”

Waisada? received a lot of love from the panel of judges: “Looking through the site I just wished that I knew Dutch, so that I could play. In some ways it reminded me of the Google Image Labeler game, but its application to video content was novel. Based on the nomination form and the accompanying papers, it appears that the data gathered through the game has in some cases been very useful to enhance the description of the videos. I also appreciated the work that the project team had gone through to market the site to their desired audience, including their use of social tools such as Twitter.” The rigor of the evaluation and documentation, as well as the sheer fun of the project, were key in helping snag the win for Waisda?. Also, it’s not every nomination that gets this response from a judge: “I also very much enjoyed watching the Dutch reality show about the farmer.”

Resources in English:
– Background on the game and an English summary of the evaluation can be found on the Images for the Future blog.
– Also, two papers on Waisda? were presented at the WebScience conference this year in Raleigh, N.C..

Honorable Mention: PhotosNormandie on Flickr

Longtime readers may remember that I wrote about the PhotosNoramandie Flickr group back in April 2009. Then, as now, the group exists because of the volunteer efforts of two people with the talent and the interest to make it possible-Patrick Peccatte and Michel Le Querrec-and because of the flexible and popular platform that Flickr provides. The purpose of PhotosNormandie is simple–to make archival images of the Allied invasion of Normandy more easily discoverable by more users and to attempt to correct and supplement their existing metadata. The fact that this takes place entirely outside the archival context makes it both more interesting and perhaps more threatening. Patrick and Michel represent no archives, but rather the kind of passionate amateurs who choose to devote their time to advancing knowledge about archival materials. The lack of a connection back to the original archival collections troubled the judges, but they noted that “this project does a lot of things right– in particular harnesses an existing community and tech infrastructure rather than trying to reinvent the wheel or try to get people to a website where they wouldn’t regularly go.”

And so, congratulations to our two notable European examples of using crowdsourcing for description!

Long overdue round-up from around the Web

I’ve got a big backlog of things for a “round-up” post, so this will be both long and brief at the same time.

    • Previous “Best Archives on the Web” award winner, “A View to Hugh” has launched a new feature–a series of essays commissioned to accompany the regular blog posts about the work of Hugh Morton. Another innovative approach from the smart people at UNC-Chapel Hill.
    • The New York Times has a nice story about Carl Malamud’s crowd-supported digitization of NARA’s videos (which I covered here). Nice to see his efforts getting more recognition!
    • The Brooklyn Museum is taking a different approach to releasing descriptive information on the Web–open it all up, without review but provide a rating of how accurate it is. Read the whole story for yourself, it’s a great idea. (And yes, they’ve been allowing visitors to add comments to the catalog descriptions for quite a while now too.)
    • Following up on his post of a few months ago (“Tragedy of the (Flickr) Commons?“), Roy Tennant is eating his words in a new short post, “Mea Culpa: The Flickr Commons Lives.”
    • Speaking of Flickr, the images from the Documerica collection that the National Archives has posted on Flickr is getting a lot of well-deserved attention, most notably from in “The ’70s Photos That Made Us Want to Save Earth.”
    • In case you missed it on the listservs, the Denver Public Library has set up a Flickr group to share images of photographs that were stolen by James Lyman Brubaker and recovered by the FBI but have yet to find their true homes. See the group and learn more at:
    • The EAC-CPF schemas have been released. If you don’t understand why that’s important, do some reading up here.
    • You can now register for the Association of Canadian Archivists’ annual meeting, to be held June 9 – 12 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I’ll be teaching a day-long workshop on (what else?) the use of Web 2.0 tools by archives. Hope I won’t be the only American attending!
    • The Jewish Women’s Archive has launched a groovy new tool, “On the Map,” a user-generated map documenting the physical landmarks of Jewish women’s history.

I’m sure I have more, but that seems like a long enough post for now. If you really want to keep up, you might want to subscribe to my Twitter feed. As I say in my little Twitter bio, I follow over 500 people so you don’t have to!

How should NARA support user contributions to enhance description of collections?

Note, that’s not “Should NARA support user contributions,” it’s “How should NARA support user contributions.” The time has come for our National Archives to start drawing on the collective wisdom and energy of the Web to enhance its online descriptions. The question is, how should that best take place?

In considering this question, I was reminded of a previous post about how the “space” in which interaction takes places affects the quality/quantity of interaction. Building on that discussion, I can see several possible ways to proceed (although I’m sure there are others).

First, allowing users to add tags, comments, and additional information to the catalog records in ARC or to other descriptive information on the NARA site. Questions immediately arise about the level of moderation this would entail, both to avoid information with no value and potentially offensive information. Does the question of moderation arise if only tags are permitted? I think it would, although it certainly might involve less time. I would be surprised if NARA would allow users to post information on their site (even if the information were clearly differentiated from NARA-provided data) if it did not go through a moderation process, wouldn’t you? This also requires that users add their information within the current descriptive structure (Record groups, series, file units, etc. and as well to the the records for people and organizations). So this option is essentially allowing users to annotate and supplement NARA’s information within NARA’s current descriptive products.

A second option would be creating a separate space, still controlled and moderated by NARA, dedicated to collecting user-provided information along the lines of The National Archives (UK)’s Your Archives wiki. The advantage of this option is that it clearly separates user-provided information from “official” information, and also allows the user community more freedom in how it structures the information it provides (at least in the wiki model, users can add pages, etc.). In such a model there might be a greater reliance on the kind of community policing one sees in Wikipedia, where inaccurate information is identified and deleted by the community of interest for the topic. Clearly this kind of site would also have to be monitored or moderated. And, of course, it wouldn’t have to take the form Your Archives does, of one large resource that is sub-divided. Smaller topical “spaces” could be established, perhaps around areas that have an active community of interest (or for which information is particularly needed).

Another option would be to directly solicit the participation of researchers in the description of materials. If a researcher is working with a given group of records, there’s a good chance he or she may know more about the materials than the description reveals. Why not provide them with a template for providing descriptive information (and guidance about what information to provide) and let them take a crack at adding more to the description provided? Yes, of course, all of it would have to reviewed and some of it might be worthless, but there are many highly skilled researchers who might be able to provide either relatively complete descriptions or at least valuable supplementary material. NARA may even have developed its own online tutorials for its staff about how to write descriptions, which could be easily reworked as a tool to train researcher volunteers.

I don’t know about the viability of this idea, but I’ll throw it out there anyway. As a way of possibly mitigating “frivolous” tags, comments, and notes in Option #1, provide a “space” that’s dedicated to adding personal or creative content to collection descriptions. A place where people can essentially have tools to remix or annotate NARA’s content any way they want. (Yes, again, within the terms NARA would have to establish to ensure people weren’t creating offensive products.) But think about the potential for that one–galleries, exhibits, videos, performances? If it actually took off it could even the kind of thing where notable examples were highlighted on a regular basis. And, while we’re at it, why not actually make this area a larger playing field and have it also draw from the collections of the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress? That’s an idea, isn’t it?

But I wandered away from the issue of description. Still, providing an area for “play” might help keep the “serious” area more serious. Just a thought. Similarly, providing designated “discussion spaces” (in either of the first two options) might provide a channel for debate or information exchange other than the comments on the descriptive information.

In the comments on the earlier post I referred to above people also discussed the need to consider collaborative sites that the archives doesn’t control, created by communities of interest–either scholarly or not. “Partnering with a community, in a neutral space, as power equals” as one wise commenter put it. I feel as though I’m once again wandering away from the topic of user contributions to descriptions, but not entirely. Communities might be more inclined to share their knowledge in a space where they are “power equals.”

So, I’ve provided you with a range of options, from small steps that have already been implemented elsewhere to possibilities that might not yet exist anywhere. Can you add any other possibilities for harnessing the wisdom of NARA’s users? Which of the ideas above do you think has the most promise?

Poll results: A lot of support for institutional use of social media

Following up on the poll question I asked on Sunday, it turns out a lot of you who use social media on behalf of your institution get fairly good support for it. The poll asked the question “When do you engage with social media (blogs, Twitter, FB, Flickr, etc.) on behalf of your archives?” With a total of 66 votes as of today, here are the results:

  • All outside of work hours (1 vote)
  • Entirely within work hours (15 votes)
  • Both–more outside than in (19 votes)
  • Both–more inside than out (31)
  • I expected that the “both” categories would be the big winners, and they were, but I was a bit surprised (and pleased) to see “entirely within work hours” get as many votes as it did. Most people who commented followed up about it being a mix–they found it easier or more appropriate to do some tasks inside of work hours and some outside. Of course, at least in my experience, that’s how a lot of the rest of our work is too. But still, good to see that most people are at least doing more of this work on company time than not!

    New poll question: when do you find the time to do social media for your archives?

    I’m involved in a couple of other project rights now which is (as you may have noticed) cutting into my blogging time here. This is a temporary situation, have no fear. But, someone raised a question in one of those venues that I think all of you might be able to help answer. When do you find the time to engage in social media for your archives?

    This brings up a question I have been wondering about. Blogging/FBing/Twittering archivists: are they composing and publishing during working hours, or are these projects they engage in outside of work? The archivists I’ve spoken to in person all do so outside of the office even when the account is officially sanctioned. Any thoughts?

    Vote in the poll below (and add a comment too, if you want to explain your answer), sharing whether you participate in social media on behalf of your archives within working hours, after hours, or both.

    Where do you find the time?

    When do you engage with social media (blogs, Twitter, FB, Flickr, etc.) on behalf of your archives?

    All outside of work hours
    Entirely within work hours
    Both–more outside than in
    Both–more inside than out
    Current Results

    It’s official: U.S. National Archives now part of the Flickr Commons

    Just saw a reference to this on Twitter, with a link to this post on the indicommons blog:

    Welcome the U.S. National Archives to the Commons!

    New to the Commons today ‘but with months of uploads to contribute’ is the U.S. National Archives. Thanks to President Franklin Roosevelt’s foresightedness and the Archives’ persistence in the difficult job of selecting from the vast quantity of material produced by the U.S. Government every year that portion which will be ‘of continuing value’, the U.S. National Archives’ Commons collection is already almost 4,000 images strong.

    And what a collection it is–“ nearly 500 photographs by the great Civil War photographer Mathew Brady; a wide-ranging selection of photographs from the Environmental Protection Agency’s 1970s photography project DOCUMERICA, organized by photographer; 220 photographs, made available today, by the incomparable Ansel Adams; and so much more. […]

    I thought this was in the works so it’s nice to see that it’s finally been formalized.