Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Is "Digital" Dead?

It occurred to me while I was working on the project "Oral History in the Digital Age", that I wonder what the inevitable post-digital age will be characterized by... I'm wondering if at some point we'll be able to stop putting the word "digital" in front of everything and just call it "the work we're doing now". This stems from a question I've had for several months now: what does "digital" really mean? Despite it's flagrant use as modifier for all sorts of things, I think it just means we use computers, which is such a given at this point in history that we hardly need to make a note of it. I'm starting to think it might be time to reign in that term, and make sure that our enthusiasm for the potential that computers bring to us (and the potential of web-based social connectivity) does not get confused with what our actual work is.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sorting the Laundry and “CVS”

“CVS” is an abbreviation we have used previously for that cross-referencing ability provided in Interclipper and other database browse/search environments. CVS stands for “chinese, vegetable, spicy” and we use this as an example of how an index (or indexes), in this case a book of recipes, needs to be flexible and mulch-dimensional to optimize users browsing power.  In a recipe book, you would never ask "is the recipe Chinese OR vegetable OR spicy?" These represent different lenses through which you can organize many recipes, i.e., ethnicity, ingredient type, novel qualities of the food. But they are not mutually exclusive.

We often use CVS as shorthand for “multi-dimensional indexing”. It simply means that terms and groups of terms are organized in a coding framework/map that allows for different facets to be visuallized--not washed out by a single hierarchy or the alphabet.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Timecode Metadata

Timecode metadata are the critical link in the between textual content and audio or video in digital environments. Different architectures for timecode deployment have evolved independently in the creation of digital oral history collections, and all help to significantly increase digital accessibility. With many models now on the table it is an appropriate time to take inventory of what approaches are available, closely evaluate the relationship between these models, understand the range or textual data they are linked to, and elucidate the current “state of the art” to find common ground for future developments. 

Timecodes are being put to use in two broad ways: 1.) as transcription timecodes, enhancing full text transcriptions with a cross-reference to time points in the source audio or video, and 2.) as audio or video file metadata enhancing a longer audio or video file, or A/V timecodes. Within A/V timecodes two basic models are emerging, one that uses timecodes pointing to a single point in time in the digital file, allowing the user to play forward from that point. (We might call these indexing point timecodes.)  In another model, (which we might call passage timecodes), timecodes are defined as inpoints and outpoints giving meaningful content within a longer digital file its own begining, middle and ending. 

The latter model of defining passage timecodes can take place in database environments where the in/out points are just references that move the listener digitally (hypertextually) to the passage of interest. In other contexts, practitioners manage oral histories by hard-editing passages permanently, thus creating segments or clips from the full length digital source file.   

All timecode deployments require choices to be made--regarding the frequency of transcription or indexing point timecodes, or the length and comprehensiveness of passages timecodes. No standards have been set as to how these choices are made and there are strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches. I hope to have the opportunity to compare notes with others using the various models, determine the trades-offs between models, establish what can and cannot be standardized, and allow digital oral history stewards to proceed with future investments in software more informed.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Video and Archive Retrieval Models # 3

Today I met with the program manager of a local arts organization that has a SAMMA video digitization system. SAMMA is now part of Front Porch Digital, and they now have a host of products and services. Prominently featured on their website is a cloud solution for storing all the digital video... looks progressive, but expensive!

Probably the most frightening and sobering thing I learned about digitizing with a SAMMA system today is that you can generate terabytes of data in a matter of days. Thus, not only is content management of digital video a critical concern--assuring he content is readily accessible withing and across tapes. There is a formidable challenge of how to deal with the uncompressed media once your work starts flowing. Do the costs of storage and raw data management ultimately dwarf the cost of digitization when you work with such a high end system?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Video and Archive Retrieval Models # 2

Today, Mike, Melanie and I ventured over to the Center for Documentary Media at the University at Buffalo. We wanted to learn more about Final Cut Pro and Avid, and think about ways in which their expanding metadata capacities might approach the database capabilities of Interclipper. In the process, we talked a lot about two types of Adobe Software: Bridge and Lightroom.

Both software come bundled with various Adobe Suites and both are heavily oriented toward photo management. As a follow up I checked out some random Youtube videos and eventually came to some put out by Adobe themselves--by their Evangelists & Experts. Short of going to, this is a good place to look for quick tutorials on Adobe products (and some are produced by lynda).

One video stated that Lightroom uses a database whereas Bridge does not... I'll need to look into that. The most important thing I gathered from Lightroom is that you can make groupings without actually moving stuff around. This is really the key concept we're looking for in multi-media software. We have to be able to be able to "put" stuff in categories, without really putting them anywhere.

Bridge and Lightroom really caught my attention for photo management. But the search remains for management software that helps get video under control...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Decision Making as the Essence of Preservation, Curation, and Dissemination of Oral History

Escaping "The Digital Mortgage"

In discussions about storage, preservation, and archiving of digital video of oral histories, Doug Boyd frequently refers to the “Digital Mortgage”.  The digital mortgage is a catch-all concept meant to emphasize long-term the commitment associated with oral histories recorded on digital media. One major challenge with digital video is that equipment is used, marketed, and continues to be developed not for archival purposes but rather for production purposes. Thus oral historians and others using these media for full-length audio/video documentation must become defacto archivists, with no feasible workflow models available in academia, commercial practice, nor in film and television production.  Whereas archiving digital audio is a little easier to get a handle on, we still see professional contexts where unused raw media has transitioned only from the literal cutting room floor to a virtual cutting room floor.  Although “best practice” strategies may be recommended for video, can even well-funded collection stewards sustain these methods uniformly across holdings? Although consistency in archival quality is nice, as Boyd points out that "perfect" may be "the enemy of good enough."  Reality begs that different material within a collection be treated differently and the risk of loss should be considered on the collection and even the tape level, rather than a model that calls for a blank check into the vastly unknown and uncharted digital video future. Before signing anything, get a grip on what you have first so you can then make good choices about their value.

This is an adaptation of an abstract I drafted but never submitted anywhere, although some of the ideas emerge in our forthcoming essay in the Oral History Review, "Digital Curation through Information Cartography: A commentary on oral history in the digital age from a content management vantage point" (Lambert and Frisch, 2013)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Video and Archive Retrieval Models # 1

Melanie and I wanted to have an understanding of what the pros to do retrieve archival and recent footage for news broadcasts. We went to WIVB TV Channel 4 here in Buffalo and talked to chief photographer Mike Mombrea and learned a few things..

  • They use special software add-ons that are part of the AVID editing program (iNews, Interplay). 
  • In the software, they can search the titles of clips (or slugs) from past programs but also by the scripts associated with those clips.
  • The reporters develop the scripts in tandem with the editors, artfully sequencing video and audio as well as the newscasters' scripts.
  • Full, uncompressed video does not go back far for retrieval--on the order of days. A lot is archived on Beta tape and more recently on DVD (BlueRay) disk. They can retrieve footage from the network (CBS) as well, which downloads in real time to their local drives.
Some overall impressions include the fact that chronology rules the day as the major organizational for a 24-hour news cycle operation as this... makes sense! If you know when something specifically was broadcast , it's easy to find. The set up is not for the average citizen (or even the newspeople) just to browse around in to find something interesting. Bringing the exploration concept to news footage will be one of our challenges in our new project with the Buffalo Broadcasters Association.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Indexes as Evaluative Tools

When I began my Ph.D studies, my graduate advisor gave me a valuable piece of advice: you will not have the time or energy to pursue every good idea you have. This is not only solid life advice regarding personal time management but holds very true for "oral history in the digital age". Not every recorded oral history is destined to make it into a PBS documentary--most won't. With a good index, or sometimes just a decent inventory, one can make choices about what material is strongest and where, when, why and how it should be put to use in any of the increasing multi-media avenues available. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Meaning Mapping for Ballparks, not Bulls eyes

In a number of our projects, we have had difficulty training our clients and partners NOT to get too specific by trying to imagine every possible future user while creating the controlled vocabularies and multi-dimensional indexes. (When we did this on an early project we ended up with an “out-of-control” controlled vocabulary.) The but the indexing process is not about naming things, rather sorting them into a collection of baskets of meaning we create. The structure of baskets can grow, change, expand or contract over time (an "iterative" process) and provide a lot of retrieval power and more than ample browsing power.

A misleading concept that Google reinforces in the digital age is the idea that accessing multi-media is about hitting bulls eyes or getting home runs. But one of the most underrated features of Google is not its powerful secret engine for retrieval that we will never understand, but the way it now leverages 10+ years of our “near misses”.  Google’s correlative database gives us a quick list of potential things we meant, but, like many others users, have misspelled or mis-Googled and eventually found. Even Google knows that searches are actually less about searching, and more about matching meaning to users’ desires. "Browsing" is still a mode of operating on the web and "Googling" is something different--more specific. We remember and embrace the promise of the web as a place to explore and browse...
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