OU Digipedia Bid – Any Comments?

On Thursday, I get to go down to the JISC offices to pitch our “vision” for the Digipedia website based on a submission earlier this year to the Strategic Content Alliance: Digipedia from Prototype to Pilot Service invitation to tender.

The pitching will be competitive, so there’s all the more reason to post the application we made to see how well it sits with members of the community who might be expected to use it…

Outline Project Description

The Digipedia pilot will be a web resource containing authoritative information on the digital content lifecycle that will be the focus of a community of practice for policy makers and practitioners in the field.

We propose an architecture for Digipedia that combines lightly-coupled authoring, publishing and community features within an integrated, editorially controlled platform. We will structure content so that it is portable and republishable using RSS/Atom, ensuring that content is widely visible and laying a sustainable foundation for the future. We will demonstrate how the content can be reaggregated into a wide variety of thematic views and incorporate innovative tools to improve browsing and searching of information. Audience surgeries will be used to ensure that developments meet the needs of project sponsors.

We will use experience gained elsewhere (Open University projects, WriteToReply, JISCPress) to design a web resource that encourages user-generated contributions. We will engage with SCA sponsors and other stakeholders to foster the community, and provide branded opportunities for organisational contributions that will pave the way for sustainable content.

We will conclude the project by investigating avenues for the long-term sustainability of Digipedia.

The Open University, as a major publisher of digital content in the not-for-profit sector, is well placed to contribute to the Digipedia community of practice. The project team believes that we have the requisite experience with consultation and community platforms and with the development of online communities to develop a successful pilot service for Digipedia.

Proposed work
The Digipedia pilot will be a web resource containing authoritative information on the digital content lifecycle that will be the focus of a community of practice for policy makers and practitioners in the field. The Open University, as a major publisher and licensee of digital content in the not-for-profit sector, has a wealth of institutional knowledge that the investigators can draw on and is well placed to contribute to this community.

We propose an architecture that combines lightly-coupled authoring, publishing and community features within an integrated, editorially controlled platform. Loose coupling means that content authored in one location can be published in a variety of other, independent locations, and complemented with additional community functions. Tight integration means that the user is presented with an apparently seamless user experience even though the user interface may be drawing on content from multiple independent sources.

During an initial project phase, we will convert prototype Digipedia content to the Atom/RSS syndication format. Using our own networks, those of our sponsors, partner members of the Strategic Content Alliance (SCA) and the existing Digipedia contributors and users, as well as consultants, we will map out the anticipated user community. For example, we are keen to use UKOLN whose cross-sectoral expertise, which spans the HE/FE and cultural heritage communities in particular, could be used to identify key stakeholders in the community engagement.

At a preliminary workshop we will use the original Digipedia content to demonstrate to partners how syndicated content may be republished in environments as diverse as Ning, Netvibes and WordPress, as well as on custom websites, and how it can be reaggregated into a wide variety of thematic views. Participants will include representatives from Strategic Content Alliance sponsors, other experts and users from at least the sectors identified in the call: cultural heritage, education and research, health and public sector broadcasting. We will also involve experts from the OU Library and OU Learning & Teaching Solutions who can bring with them our institutional experience of managing digital content at scale. The user surgeries will also be used to explore authoring environments and the local publishing requirements of individual SCA members insofar as they relate to the generation of content relevant to Digipedia. These large surgeries may be supplemented by more focused smaller expert group meetings and site visits.

Based on preliminary workshop feedback, expert consultant advice and on our prior experience of consultation and community platforms such as JISCPress and WriteToReply , we will then customise an instance of the openly licensed WordPress Multi User (WPMU) appropriate for the Digipedia pilot service using openly licensed plug-ins and where necessary developing new open source ones.

The platform will be able to publish content ingested via syndication feeds, provide a discovery service and preview facility for relevant content hosted on partner and other third party sites as well as delivering content authored on the platform itself. WPMU’s support for custom themes supports the creation of separate areas of the site or partner hosted WordPress installations to be branded as required. In this way, Digipedia can provide a centrally branded presence capable of drawing on locally hosted content or content from federated partner sites.

Editorially controlled subject categories and tags will be used to create aggregations of content that can be browsed in a faceted manner. Facets might include sector based classification, national provenance and asset types. User tags and ratings, and potentially semantic tags, will also be used to structure content views. Pathway browsing of sequential or otherwise ordered resources will also be supported.

To encourage the widest possible reuse of Digipedia material, content will also be made available via standards based Atom syndication feeds. We will incorporate innovative tools to improve browsing and searching of information, particularly opening up the possibility of user-generated navigation through the information resources.

Drawing on experience gained from developing the WriteToReply and JISCPress consultation platforms (both of which use WPMU), Open University projects such as iSpot, and the design and support of online resource based courses, we will design a web resource that encourages user-generated contributions and fosters a sense of online community. We will engage with SCA sponsors and other stakeholders to foster this community, and provide branded opportunities for organisational contributions that will pave the way for sustainable content.

Whilst the final set of community features will evolve through consultation with stakeholders, we anticipate the platform will:
• support topic based forums and news feeds
• distinguish between moderated and unmoderated content
• offer a user tagging system
• offer branded content from content partner organisations
• support user-generated navigation, for example by concept-mapping.

Whenever possible we will seek to incorporate existing tools to achieve good functionality for limited development cost. For example, these might include concept mapping tools such as OU Compendium or Cohere which will allow users to contribute their own sense making in topic areas, or simple user list making to create sets of, or pathways through, Digipedia resources.

Traditional dissemination models are often based on attendance at particular conferences or workshops, and the publication of a final project report. As part of our dissemination plan, we aim to deliver a workshop on using Digipedia at a relevant digital preservation event, and a presentation about the technical architecture of the site. It is possible that we will use consultants retained for other parts of the project who are known to and trusted by the corresponding communities to deliver such presentations on our behalf. We will also engage with relevant conference backchannels on realtime social networks such as Twitter to promote Digipedia, as well as raising its profile through commenting, where appropriate, on news and blog articles identified through web alerts. We also fully expect to talk about our work on Digipedia in other contexts, such as at JISC Developer events. We will tag our social media communications so we can track our dissemination efforts.

It is our intention that as many aspects as possible of the project will take place in public channels including a project blog and, where appropriate, through public, commentable consultation documents hosted on JISCPress or WriteToReply, allowing SCA partners as well as the wider community watch the project evolve and even participate. Stakeholders such as JISC Programme Managers and SCA partners will be actively encouraged to offer feedback and participate in iterative testing of the project as well as full participation in face-to-face surgeries. A private channel will also be made available between the project team and SCA partners to allow for a full and frank exchange of views on any matters deemed too sensitive for public airing.

General feedback will be solicited throughout the project via the project blog and Twitter. User stories will be gathered early in the project and refined throughout based on feedback and testing.

Growing Digipedia
Developing a sustainable and thriving community of practice around a web resource is fraught with challenges but far from insurmountable.

A prime requirement is seeding with high-quality authoritative resources that are widely discoverable and able to draw traffic to the site from search engines and by linking from partner organisations. Digipedia starts from a good position with established content and sponsor support from major players in the area.
One strategy for moving from passive consumption to active engagement is to encourage contributions by techniques such as rewarding contribution by visible reputation. In the case of Digipedia, contributors are likely to often be acting both as an individual and as a member of an organisation., Branding or badging contributions as coming from a named member of named organisation provides a mechanism for individuals to enter the community with established reputation; organisations can asked to vouch for expertise of their staff who can then participate in Digipedia at high reputation levels without requiring high levels of participation.

We intend to draw on expertise gained through working on iSpot , a social network that encourages members of the public to upload their observations of wildlife to public website where other community members can comment and help with identification. iSpot has separate reputation ratings for ‘sociability’ and for expertise. Expertise is earned by identifying a plant or animal, as well as having identifications confirmed by other users and by recognised experts. As well as individual reputation, expert users can be badged as members of a natural history society for reciprocal benefit; experts who contribute to the community generate exposure for their organisation. In the case of Digipedia, users might similarly gain two sorts of reputation – social and expertise. Experts could be seeded. Experts could operate on behalf of sponsors by badging, returning an incentive to institutions and their staff to participate.

Providing an ongoing service
During the project duration we will maintain availability to some form of Digipedia service to ensure that it remains a known destination for the user community. Content originally sourced from the Digipedia prototype will be migrated to the new environment as required. The pilot service will be deployed as a platform configuration using WordPress Multi-User (WPMU). WPMU is available as an open source codebase and is used widely in government as well as on other JISC projects (e.g. JISCPress, ArchivePress). By adopting such a platform, service maintainers will be able to draw on support from system administrators and developers from across the JISC and public sector community and contribute expertise back to it.

Editorial Control
We believe that for long-term sustainability of Digipedia there should be a shift towards a hybrid resource which contains both assured high-quality resources that are the end product of an editorial or moderated process, and post-moderated user-generated contributions. Where content is being republished from partners sites through syndication feeds, the selection of those feeds and maintenance of any filters applied to them will be the responsibility of a Digipedia editor. The post-moderation route might simply take the form of allowing any contributions with a mechanism for an expert to later approve them, and using distinctive colour clues so that users can distinguish between moderated and unmoderated contributions. [Examples Citizendium , Encyclopedia of Life ]

One model for long term sustainability would be for SCA partners maintain their own content for their own purposes, and Digipedia to aggregate relevant content from those partners using syndication feeds or custom search queries; community ranking of resources would also provide an element of crowdsourced editorial control.

A technical requirement is that any host system will need to support different permission levels for users to distinguish users with editorial permissions from other users; Digipedia is likely to require greater flexibility than the traditional administrator and user levels.

We have budgeted for some paid moderation and editorial oversight for Digipedia. However, we will need early consultation with project sponsors to establish the best way of delivering moderation and/or editorial input for Digipedia during the pilot year and further consultation on achievable long-term activities. Reputation enabled permissions may also have a part to play.

Developing a sustainability plan
Providing for the long term sustainability of Digipedia is undoubtedly a major challenge. There are three aspects to this: technical, social and financial.

The web is a fast-moving environment, with capabilities and expectations changing rapidly. There is a tension between providing innovative features and rolling out a robust service. We will seek to develop technical work using widely available standards and technologies. Further we will develop an architecture that cleanly separates content into reusable forms. This provides two levels of sustainability: the Digipedia pilot will be maintainable over the short to medium term, and a fall-back is always available of export and reincorporation into another site.

The social aspects of sustainability involve the creation of a dynamic community of practice; this is required to ensure that material remains current and pertinent. We discuss what above our approach to this will be during the project. The experienced gained and the views of project sponsors and other stakeholders will be used to inform our forward plan for community building.

The financial requirements for sustainability must also be addressed. The range of possibilities for income is large but also uncertain. A viable plan also depends strongly on the cost basis which in turn depends on the level of input required to build and sustain a community. We will seek to minimise cost; for example our feed-based approach can provide currency for minimal cost. However, there are no easy answers to sustainability, and the project team will approach this with an open mind, taking note of other experiences in this area, particularly the case studies captured by the JISC/Ithaka sustainability reports , and seeking the views of sponsors and possible future partners.

Any plan will include a minimal cost archive solution that will ensure that Digipedia content is preserved even if the community fails to achieve long-term sustainability.

Deliverables
The main deliverable will be the pilot Digipedia web resource, including content from the prototype and additional contributed resources. This will include the functional features requested:
• an efficient browse mechanism
• good search capabilities
• user ranking of entries
• item sharing via RSS or other mechanisms
• an FAQ system
• easy to use methods for adding new material of different types ranging from short comment to substantial case studies
• rich media entries to include audio, video and animation.

We will also include additional features to encourage and support a community of practice; the set of features included will evolve through consultation with stakeholders.

We will provide top-level documentation of the technical infrastructure, including a breakdown of tools used and indicating alternative provision where known. This will be complemented by the support documentation below.

We will provide clear concise support documentation sufficient to allow the service to be handed over as a running concern.

We will conduct audience surgeries to engage with users of Digipedia and other stakeholders (discussed above). We have budgeted for three such surgeries, but it may be preferable to hold two large scale events and several smaller consultations with experts. We will take advice from the JISC project manager and joint working group.

We will produce a sustainability plan that reviews options for medium to long term sustainability of Digipedia

We will produce a dissemination plan to indicate how we will engage with SCA sponsors and the wider Digipedia audience to stimulate the growth of the user community.

Mandated project deliverables such as the formal project report will be published at the end of the project along with interim progress reports as and when appropriate.

We will maintain a project blog throughout the project to document project activities, and where appropriate post open consultation documents to solicit feedback from the community.

Any comments, please feel free to post them below – or email me direct…

[We got as far as pitching – slides from the pitch here]

2 comments

  1. Owen Stephens

    This gives me a good idea of how you are going to approach the project, but I think it could do more in terms of the ‘why’?

    I wonder whether something that describes why this is important, and what the benefits are (and who will benefit) would be useful?

    Also feel that some more detail on what the “digital content lifecycle” is would help clarify the aims of the project?

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