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...

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Michael Frisch and "A Shared Authority"

Michael Frisch does not yet have a Wikipedia entry to himself, unlike Don Ritchie and Alessandro Portelli, our other favorite oral history rock stars. We really have to get on that one of these days....

Thanks to a recently published book, however, Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, there is a new Wikipedia entry that expounds on the concept clarifies what is meant by the iconic title of Mike's seminal book, A Shared Authority. Mike is quoted under the "Criticisms" section of the Wikipedia page "Shared Historical Authority".

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