Archives for the Future

We’re at Communia and hearing about some very innovative memory institutions and archives. Yeah, yeah. The word archives puts everyone to sleep, but here are three projects that should perk you up.


Images for the Future

Images for the Future is a joint project funded by the Dutch government to digitize nearly 3 million photos, 140,000 hours of audio, and 150,000 hours of video & film. With a budget of €175m, there’s a lot of financial muscle behind this effort. But why such hefty funding?

So far, 1.5 petabyte of audio and visual data are being added a year. That’s 1, 500, 000 gigabytes. Yeah, nearly as much data as held in all US academic libraries!

The Images for the Future consortium won the bid by pushing for an economic, rather than cultural, argument for digitization. They crunched numbers on the return on investment to the government, tax payers, and even downstream entrepreneurs.

Despite all the ambition, Images for the Future is running into an archivist’s dilemma. Their mission is to optimize the availability of Dutch audiovisual heritage. But on the other hand, they’re obligated to payback the investment, plus navigate a myriad of external rights. That’s why they’re experimenting with new business models. They’ve created a YouTube channel, Flickr groups, partnership with Europeana, and are tinkering with new visualization tech like 3D cinema and desktop touch screens. A lot of their material is licensed under a Creative Commons license, yet they’re still sorting out how to sell footage and generate revenue from clicks, like portals paying out €1.85 per view.

It reminds me of a comment overheard today: digital preservation is easy to do, as long as you have money forever.

Open Images

Open Images is a spanking new project tackling the above problem while fostering participatory culture. Digital archives are exciting insofar as people are DOING stuff with the material, and not letting the expensive data bit-rot. So Open Images is encouraging the reuse and remix of their collection. They’re open as can be — deploying an open CMS called MMBase, open video codec (ogg theora), the HTML5 <video> tag, and open API (OAI-PMH, Atom feeds). All the content is cleared for creative reusel: CC BY-SA is preferred, and they’re interlinking with Wikimedia Commons to mutually enhance usability and scope.

However, Open Images doesn’t offered high-resolution content. Rather, only “internet quality” material is available, with the thought that high-res will later be exploited to generate revenue.

It’s an apt vehicle to explore new business models around open images and an experimental bunch behind it. Check out their slides to learn more.


European Film Gateway

European Film Gateway (EFG) is an EU-funded project to collect footage from film archives held in 14 countries. It kicked off in Sept. 2008 and will offer a full-fledged website in 2010. It builds off a previous archive, or MIDAS, with 270,000 works. But the biggest obstacle MIDAS encountered was how can users actually WATCH the films?

Enter the EFG.

It’s a free, central point of access for federated film collections across Europe. EFG is building interoperability of digital content and metadata, and it delivers content to Europeana, a growing library resource of European cultural works and metadata. The goal of the collection is to connect film archive material and link it to other bibliographic information. For example, irun a search for Film X, you’ll find out it was made by director Y. That takes you to biographic info about the director, maybe on Wikipedia.

There are copyright issues, of course. It’s hard for EFG to sort through multiple authors and rights holders. Often, the participating archives don’t own the rights nor are those rights properly documented. There’s a huge issue with orphaned works, not to mention the fact that the film medium has only been around since 1895, so copyright protection hasn’t expired on much of the content.

Conclusion: there’s a lot of innovating and large-scale projects to get Europe’s cultural heritage online. But hurdles undoubtedly mar the way. Fortunately, the Communia network is proposing some policy recommendations that will hopefully remove some roadblocks. The policies will be submitted in a few months time. In the meanwhile, check out the Communia website to learn more about the discussions and get involved.

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