On online encyclopedias

Have online publishers taken the ability to update online content too far? The fact that we can is interpreted as we should, but it’s an uneasy assumption. Many haven’t handled it well.

A lack of archiving and identifying change over time is the obvious problem, though it’s not obvious to users – and that’s central to the problem itself. But perhaps more problematic is the sustainability of trying to maintain a large corpus that presents an authoritative view when that view is subject to change.

What kind of product could be built that dispensed with the notion of updating content? What about bringing back the traditional cpublishing model of multiple editions of a book over time. Each edition still stands; early editions present what we thought then, newer editions are what we thought later. The progression in thinking is there for people to see, as is the current view.

Quick links

Random collection this week…

From the Guardian’s culture professionals group, 10 tips for developing and mastering digital products in the arts – simple, concise rules to remember.

And plenty of digital humanities links: Tim Hitchcock on small histories versus grand narratives in Sources, Empathy and Politics in History from Below.

Practical tools for data analysis, visualization, and working with social media data by Lev Manovich. (Not that I’ve looked at them all, but I might one day.)

Finally, prompted by this tweet and the following dicussion (namely the ‘L’ appearing in the Māori content)…


… I’m reading about New Zealand’s third space between Māori and Pākeha cultures in Paul Meredith’s paper Hybridity in the Third Space: Rethinking Bi-cultural Politics in Aotearoa/New Zealand (PDF, 32KB).

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Update: another take on the ten rules, this time in relation to project management: Ten  rules  for  humanities  scholars  new  to  project  management by Bethany Nowviskie (@nowviskie)

Quick links

Emily Bell posting on the shaping of news as platforms take distribution: The Rise of Mobile and Social News – and What it Means for Journalism.

Meanwhile in old journalism, the fate of copyright in the Fairfax archive: Peter Lloyd’s Fairfax archives row: Photographers cry foul over library at centre of alleged digitisation fraud.

Do what you’re good at

Ill-formed and probably ill-informed, but as a sector have we all started doing too many things and lost our focus on what we each do and should be doing well? I’m thinking about organisations that spend time figuring out social media and how to drive engagement or user interaction, and collections that focus on telling their story and the story of their collection items. In the long-run how important are these activities when compared to putting the same staff time and money back into developing systems that allow others to do that on their behalf?

I talked to someone recently who noted that a lot of the activity related to WW1 commemoration at the moment couldn’t happen if it weren’t for the organisations that collected the documentary evidence of the war. Those organisations had a focus: to collect and make available documentary heritage. Because of that, other organisations and people have been able to access and build stories on top of the collection. The source organisation hasn’t had to.

My point isn’t that organisations should never tell stories or engage in social media. Those activities are good for raising profile, and good for staff morale. But should it detract from the central focus? In these times of fiscal restraint (read: less money), I’d argue no. We need to get back to basics and focus on our core areas of expertise and make the systems as good as they can be for allowing others to build on our work.

Be clear about your focus. Be clear about how people can use your content, and make it easy for them to do so. Let them share it for you and find ways of tracking that re-use. By all means be users and sharers of you own content, but not if it detracts from your core purpose. Pare your work back to what you can achieve and achieve it to the highest possible standard.

Quick update with a quote from Global Audiences, Zero Visitors: How to measure the success of museums’ online publishing (my emphasis in bold, and acknowledging that I’m taking it out of context):

When so much content is offered, and so little of it seems to attract readers, the goal of museums joining the online publishing game should not be to reach the largest audience, but rather, to create platforms that expand research and the production of knowledge that builds on the museum’s mission statement and expands it, regardless of how many hits it generates—a difficult leap to make, especially in terms of the way museums represent their activity and receive funding.