An emerging consortium of partners dedicated to generic, not specific projects
Bamboo, the Mellon Foundation supported project, has reached its third milestone at the Tucson, AZ workshop, when it announced that it will create a development consortium for digital humanities tools and products. At the workshop was also discussed how specific technical specifications and products can improve the work of the 21st century humanities scholar.
A very competitive set of high tech humanities projects were represented at the workshop and their leaders have presented an array of staggering possibilities for improving the work of the future historians, archeologists, linguists, and critical scholars (See some examples from the Tools and Content section). The next step, discussed at the workshop, was the creation of a development consortium. This will be critical component of the future Bamboo project and it raised a number of important issues. The most important issue is how the structure of the consortium will be designed and implemented. Although there is an emerging model, which proposes a hierarchy of partners and clients, the former being selected to work with an executive board steered by University of Chicago and UC Berkley, the ultimate version of the consortium is far from having been fleshed out.
The most sensitive seems to be the manner in which will be selected the institutional champions (“partners”) that will support and enhance the mission of the project. The natural question that has emerged in the minds of many participants is how these partners will become than promoters of their individual and pre-existing projects. Although the fact that some of these champions will have their own projects to take care of and further develop within the consortium is natural and expected, it cannot be completely ignored that many of these projects could be too specific to support the more ambitious goal of the project, which is to create a set of interoperable standards and services for as many present and future humanities scholarship projects as possible. Furthermore, there was and still is a feeling in the air that the way in which these partners will be recruited and promoted in champion positions is not very well spelled out.
In my opinion, any further discussion for selecting the partners should define the mechanisms through which they are required to commit to development work that complies with principles and user needs that cater to the large user community and not just their own individual needs. These requirements should be openly and clearly spelled out. They should set a threshold of specificity, clearly rooted in current examples and easily understandable future goals.
In addition, the future contribution of the partners should be mandated to revolve around tools and content that are as interoperable and generic as possible. It is especially important not to have partners working on specific digitization or tool development projects that will satisfy one constituency, one institution or worse, one scholar or group of scholars, one time. The selection process should also be carefully tuned to avoid funding partners who are engrossed in archival, data mining, content analysis or artifact digitization of very narrowly defined collections, which offer little cross project pollination. For example, we need partners that think broad, are interested in platforms and infrastructures that allow modular extensions, plug in architectures, and scalable deployment. Service oriented, open source architectures with a solid online presence should take precedence, standards setting and federation capabilities should be vigorously encouraged. Only those content analytic, computational linguistics, data mining, or content management projects that aim to serve a class of future and present scholarly activities should be entrusted with a partnership role. Existing projects that have a specific goal should be recruited as partners only in so far as they commit to a broader set of future development activities.
I Think also believes that the process of selecting the broadest, most generic project should utilize a method of project selection and evaluation that takes the cue from the many community planning or voting available out there. We need to set up an open, transparent marketplace where projects should be examined, discussed and voted on by the Bamboo participants.
A possibility would be to set up a digg-like engine or younoodle like site, with capabilities for voting and commenting, that will allow the community to examine and rate the projects. Or maybe, we need something like a prediction market, where the Bamboo members could bet on the future chances of success of various projects proposed by the members. The rating/voting/buy in procedure should be conducted in view of the ability of the projects to promote cross disciplinary, standard setting, extensible and scalable applications.
The criteria for discussion and evaluation should take into account these factors:
- The intrinsic value of the project
- The extensibility, scalability and generalizability of the tools it proposes
- The degree to which it is rooted in general principles of usability and in the broadest usability practices
- Its ability to interoperate with similar projects and architectures
- A demonstrated ability to import and export content with most existing content management tools
- An ability to create widely recognized metadata
- An ability to allow operatibility in a variety of situations, platforms and subject matters
What does the Bamboo community think about these ideas?