Digital Lives, British Library

Digital Lives, British Library

Unfortunately, I couldn't be in London for the first conference of the Digital Lives program at the British Library. But, I was able to "give a talk" there, using Second Life. Sadly, it was at the very end of their long day, I was in a virtual world jumping all over the place like a spaz, and the people over there were rushed out at the end, but, maybe that's a positive.

Jeremy John (the first curator of digital manuscripts at the Library) asked me to talk about institutions and long-term relationships with online service providers... Here's what he asked me to think about:
A key thing is the possibility of longterm relationships for online service providers and libraries and repositories; or at least agreements that might stipulate what happens if OSP enters difficulties (eg digital objects offered to the national library first etc). Could legal metadata be somehow incorporated into the tagging: eg participants tag that they are willing for their content to go to the library under x, y, z conditions... Etc.

Thought I'd dump my notes out here...


about me
  • web for 12 years
  • designer
  • created a program called The Commons on Flickr, a way for institutions to share their public photography archives
  • working on this has opened my eyes to the cultural heritage sector - yay!

in the business of forever
  • stewardship, protection, longevity
  • The Commons is about putting a copy of a photograph into an existing online community and see what happens
  • the golden copy is always held by the institutions in this model
  • different direction from where Jerome was coming from before, yet, Flickr is sometimes perceived like a "virtual world", so the same questions about it's preservation exist

sustainable enterprise?
  • not sure anyone quite knows what a sustainable web enterprise is at the moment
  • Clay Shirky [Here Comes Everybody] - That business models are simply shifting from one type to one other type isn't the right approach... more like new models are emerging all the time [See Russell's interesting post on this. Let's head back to The Enlightenment!]
  • struggle between wanting to give things away, and earn money
  • how can institutions exploit this environment?

transitory benefits
  • maybe a long term approach to relationships with web enterprises isn't the best approach
  • perhaps it's about short-term affinity that becomes something larger than the platform that created it
  • increased access overall anywhere addresses the mission

collecting context
  • this idea is not new, for libraries particularly
  • the reading room has always been a place for people to ask for and share information
  • Helena Zinkham (acting chief of LOC P&P) thinks of Flickr as a Virtual Reading Room

13,000,000 Flickr hits count
  • LOC photostream
  • must be good for something! is meaningful

new experts revealed
  • develop relationships with these people? that exist apart from whichever application you met them through?
  • virtual membership?

useful information
  • the dialogue itself is an artifact
  • difficult to capture in an isolated way, since it's all about connections
  • conversations are really, really hard to parse - you have to read them
  • communities are hard to grow, you have to be present
  • There is a community on Flickr that's developed around the Commons, where Flickr members are actively doing what they call "sub-curation" of photographs in the collections - I'd love to see that work turn into a physical exhibition somewhere!

actual catalogue updates
  • LOC has built their own tools to absorb all the conversations that happen on Flickr, and cherry-pick things that are true, or need more research, then manual updates are made...
  • "good" information is transformed into institutional knowledge by experts within the institution
  • "ambient context" like tags, are being explored to see where controlled vocabularies and messy people tags collide, some Commons members (PW & Brooklyn) have actually reabsorbed tags added on Flickr to provide more pivots on content on their own sites

retain a sense of the "rare"
  • if you give away everything for free, where's the value?
  • think about the line between what's ok to share freely and when people should be OK with paying
  • look for other models, not just one-off payments for goods, but other, smaller, more regular methods?

don't give everything away
  • but "don't be stingy"
  • but, individuals are starting to give everything away - see Tracking Transcience - Hasan Elahi
  • perhaps lobby Creative Commons for a new type of license? "CC Preserve" ?
  • allow citizen archivists and collectors to contribute content & context to you

sustainable enterprise?
  • successful businesses are about diversity anyway
  • network effects - one benefit of the network for digital artifacts is that they don't have be stored in one building, one museum.
  • small pieces, not monoliths
  • proliferation is crucial with digital - LOCKSS
  • perhaps a long-term agreement isn't what should be sought, but look to the places where the people are, and go there
  • symbiosis?