The second day of ‘Survive or Thrive’ starts with Andy Neale, Programme Manager for DigitalNZ
Going to cover:
- Getting started and getting stuff done
- Issues and opportunities
- Ongoing development and iteration
- Strategic drivers and reflection
- Things that worked
Andy stresses New Zealand is a different environment to the UK. Thinks small size may be an advantage despite smaller budgets (wonder if there is a lesson here – perhaps trying to do things in the UK at a ‘New Zealand’ scale?)
First pitch to collaborators – didn’t push a ‘national vision’ very hard. Was an invitation to contribute to a ‘Coming Home’ programme which was focussed on content relevant to Armistice Day (World War I). Collaborators asked to signup to a series of 4 projects:
- Search widget
- Remix experience
- Tagging demonstration
Search widget – pull together simple search across relevant material in New Zealand archives etc. and make it possible to embed into any web page. As well as the search widget, built a fuller ‘search’ experience (sounds like based on Solr) – simply a different presentation layer on same service/content as the widget.
As demonstrator of what opening up data enabled they added an API to the material, and used to build a timeline display using timeline tool from MIT (Simile).
Memory Maker – making it possible for users to remix content as a video and submit back to the site – although people were excited by technology, it was making content available that made it possible.
Finally joined Flickr Commons to try out user tagging of content.
These four small projects were laying foundations for something bigger. When building search widget, although focussed on World War I material, asked ‘would you mind us taking everything?’ – and in most cases there was no objection, and there was no extra cost.
Infrastructure built to be scalable and extensible. So move from ‘Coming Home’ to DigitalNZ was a small step – really mainly about presentation because already got content (metadata).
Made a form for ‘collection creation’ – allowed building of a search of a subset of whole collection – based on various criteria – e.g. keyword search. The application then setup a widget that you could paste into your web page and also a pointer to the fuller ‘search page’ for the subcollection. This was used to create the Coming Home subcollection – but also the tool was opened up to anyone – so any member of the public could build their own subcollection, complete with search widget and web page (think this is genius!)
The API that was used to do the timeline mashup described above was documented and opened up to anyone – and people started to build stuff, although Andy feels it is early days for this, and more could be done (and hopes it will be)
Next stage was to start talking about this as a National initiative – but all the pieces were in place.
Timeline for project was:
- May 08 – governance approval for concepts
- July 08 – Began s/w development activity
- Nov 11th 08 – Launch of Coming Home projects (Armistice Day provided and absolute deadline for project!)
- Dec 1st 08 – Launch of full aggregation, custom search and API service
Took a long time to negotiated and discuss before May 2008 – but the Armistice Day deadline focussed minds – had to get agreement and move forward and do something.
There is the ‘vision’ – but Andy says even as programme manager the vision feels like something to secure funding – so the vision used to inform team mission:
Helping people find, share and use New Zealand digital content
This mission was how the team described it – so they had ownership over the concept.
DigitalNZ wasn’t the first initiative to do something similar in New Zealand – so need to say how you are different to these – there is always a lot of History. Andy comparing a previous aggregation in NZ to Europeana – with agreed standards etc. that contributors need to sign up to. DigitalNZ decided not to have standards – they would take what they could get! Important to bring other initiatives and those involved along with you and get their support as far as possible.
DigitalNZ had limited development capacity – so teamed up with vendors – but teamed up with 3 vendors which had expertise overlap to cover:
- User experience design
- Front-end development
- Search infrastructure
Because of overlap between vendors, each could lead in an area, but could backfill in other areas where necessary.
DigitalNZ completely depended on agile development methodology – specifically Scrum – this approach means you deliver real working software every two weeks – which makes it clear to collaborators that you are getting stuff done – they can see real progress.
Knew from the beginning that branding would be an issue – but perhaps underestimated how much of an issue. Andy says all organisations have egos – and also others see them in specific ways. So although the initiative was led by National Library of New Zealand – this is not the up front branding. This means it is more seen as a true collaboration of equals.
Had to make low barriers to entry, as no money for collaborators to take part. One of the things they did is to accept metadata in any format and quality. So that could mean scraping websites etc. Then deal with the issues arising from this later – not make it the collaborators problem – otherwise many simply wouldn’t be able to participate.
In some cases got enthusiastic initial response from partners, but then could get bogged down in local internal discussions. Again the initial Armistice Day deadline meant decisions were made more quickly.
After launch of services, have kept in project mode – Andy says the phrase “business as usual” is unacceptable! So this means still doing 2 week development cycles using same Scrum methodology etc. Need to thing about this as you plan projects on a national scale.
The next step from getting the metadata and search was to look at how to create digital content – digitise content (unavailability of content in digital format is usually the biggest barrier to getting access). Setup ‘Make it Digital’ toolkit – advice for those wanting to digitise, but also includes voting tool for public to suggest material for digitisation.
Took the search widget/search page creation tool and starting to apply to richer content – can launch a new collection instance in 2 hours (although not including graphic design) – wow!
Now also running a Fedora instance to allow hosting of content that hasn’t got anywhere else to live – e.g. for organisations who can’t run their own repository.
Now grappling with:
- The focus of content to be included in DigitalNZ Search – should it start to pull in relevant content from bodies outside NZ?
- The balance of effort between central and distributed tools – focus is more on distributed approach – then local organisations can do marketing etc.
- The balance of effort split between maintenance of existing solutions and development of new solutions – challenged to grow services without any more money
- The availability of resource to fund digitisation consultancy, workshops and events – often what is needed is money but this is not available
What has worked for DigitalNZ?
- Have the team articulate vision
- Start with small exciting projects
- Be clear about your points of difference (to other projects in same space)
- Lower barriers to participation
- Use branding and design to inspire committment – a lot of effort goes into make what they do look good
- Invest time building strong relationships with collaborators
- Have deadlines that can’t be moved
- Once you are in the door you can up-sell the intiative
- Build for reuse and extensibility
- Iterate in small fast cycles – Andy says he can’t recommend this enough – better to do 2 days of requirements analysis and then deliver something, then iterate again
- Have lightweight governance and a team of experts
- Get on with it and refactor in response to change
Q & A
Q: (Jill Griffiths, CERLIM) How many people have responded and engaged with ability to suggest content for digitisation
A: About 100 items have been nominated – and the most popular item has about 600 votes. Also have a weighted scorecard for organisations to help them decide on priorities – one aspect on the scorecard is user demand, which is where this tool is used to inform. Also doing work on microfunding digitisation – e.g. $10k (NZ $)
Q: (?) How did you cope with jealously of big collections (e.g. Turnbull)
A: Not a problem. Building on previous initiatives so many of the concepts not new and already had been agreed – e.g. exposing metadata through other platforms. Education is part of the process.