Metadata open content Web 2.0

DigitalNZ – API access to New Zealand collections launches

One of the best things I saw at the National Digital Forum in Auckland last week was DigitalNZ. Being a Kiwi myself, I am immensely proud that New Zealand has leapt forward and produced a federated collection product that aggregates and then allows access through a web interface and an open API. That it has brought together very disparate partners is also very impressive.

I spoke to the team behind the very choice project who are based at the National Library of New Zealand – Virginia Gow ,Courtney Johnston, Gordon Paynter, Fiona Rigby, Lewis Brown, Andy Neale, Karen Rollitt – who all contributed the following interview.

Tell me about the genesis of DigitalNZ?

Digital New Zealand Ā-Tihi o Aotearoa is an ongoing programme that is in implementation project phase. It emerged as a response to the difficulties many New Zealand public and community organisations faced in making their content visible to New Zealanders amid the swell of international content available on the Web. In 2007 it received four years government funding as a flagship action of the New Zealand Digital Content Strategy, Creating a Digital New Zealand.

The Wave 1 implementation project has been led by National Library but is a very collaborative project. We’ve got representatives from education, culture and heritage, broadcasting, geospatial information, Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry of Māori Development) and the National Digital Forum on our Steering Committee. The project began earlier this year and then really ramped up in June 2009. The project aimed to set up the ongoing infrastructure for the programme and to deliver with exemplars that demonstrate what is possible when there is concerted work to improve access and discovery of New Zealand content.

We’ve taken a test lab approach – we’ve identified and worked on potential solutions to some of the many issues that prevent access, use and discovery of New Zealand digital content. Some of these areas have included licensing, metadata quality, improving access to advice around standards, formats and protocols and the development of a draft framework to help organisations prioritise content for digitisation.

It is important to us that DigitalNZ isn’t seen as ‘just another website’.

We are working with New Zealand organisations, communities and individuals to aggregate their metadata and help make hard to find content available for discovery, use and re-use in unique ways.  We’ve developed three innovative tools that are ‘powered by Digital New Zealand’ and fuelled by the metadata and content from the many different content providers that we’re working with.

DigitalNZ is made up of:

1) A customisable search builder lets people design their own search widget to find the type of New Zealand content they are interested in – be it antique cars, pavlova or moustaches! People can flavour it and embed it on their own blogs and websites. We developed this to show new ways for people to discover and interact with New Zealand content and we especially wanted people to use the tools how and where they wanted. 

2) New Zealanders can craft their own commemoration of the 90th Anniversary of the Armistice using the Memory Maker – a tool that lets people remix film, photographs, objects and audio clips into a short video that can then be saved, shared, and embedded.  This example is helping us show what is possible when you can free the licensing of publicly available content for reuse and remixing. 

3) We’re using ‘API Magic’. We’ve developed an open API that enables developers to connect the metadata that fuels DigitalNZ with other data sources, enabling new digital experiences, knowledge, and understanding.

How did you manage to get each of the content owners to buy in to the project?

By lots and lots of talking, visiting, sharing and blogging!

We started by identifying and contacting a wide range of New Zealand content providers, building also on our existing professional networks and contacts as far as possible because time wasn’t a luxury on this project.

It was hard work because DigitalNZ was a completely abstract concept for many content providers until a few weeks ago. We didn’t even have that snazzy diagram explaining how it all fits together until we had gone live!

[That’s a cool magic hat!]

So we basically just committed ourselves to communicating (and communicating and communicating), being open with our information and honest about what we did and didn’t know each step of the way, and helping people out so it was as easy as possible for them to participate.

Content providers took different amounts of time to reach an ‘ah ha’ moment with us and to realise what this could potentially mean for them – “OK, so you’re like a giant free referral engine to my content” or “So I could basically use your tools to make my own search box for my site”. At the end of the day we aren’t doing this for us!

Face-to-face meetings were the most effective, as it meant we could just chat with people about the issues and problems we are all trying to solve. It was a great way for us to learn about people’s content too.

But we also glued ourselves to our inboxes and set up a private DigitalNZ content blog so content providers could talk directly to each other. The discussion of issues around licensing, for example, was great because it meant we didn’t have to do all the thinking and talking!

The private blog also allowed us to share sneak previews of wireframes and functionality that helped us build a better picture of what we were doing.

In the end we actually got more content providers to take a leap of faith with us than we were able to process in time for launch. There is a real commitment out there to increasing access to and use of New Zealand content. We just convinced people to take it a step further and try something new.

What technologies are you using behind the scenes?

The DigitalNZ Harvesting model is best described by this diagram that our Technical Architect Gordon Paynter has whipped up.

We started out hoping that OAI-PMH would be the best way to harvest. However, very few organisations are set up to do this and it was clear that we had to work on something easier. So we then worked setting up harvesters using XML Sitemaps and also for RSS feeds. The majority of our content contributors are using the XML sitemaps option.

The DigitalNZ system is in 3 parts: a backend, a metadata store and a front end. The backend harvester is written in Java and some legacy PHP (based on the open-source PKP Harvester project). The metadata store is in MySQL, using Solr to power the search. The front end, including the API, the website, widgets and so on, are in Ruby on Rails. The also uses the open source Radiant CMS.

We’ve also set up a DigitalNZ Kete for organisations to upload any content that doesn’t have a home elsewhere on the web. Kete (basket in Māori) is an open source community repository system (built on Ruby on Rails) that we can harvest using OAI-PMH.

One of the great things about Kete is the built-in Creative Commons licensing structure – our ‘technology’ (in the sense of tools) for dealing with the issue of uncertainty around what people can and can’t do with content.

We extended this by adding in the “No known copyright restrictions” statement as well – taking a leaf out of the wonderful Flickr Commons book. A number of Aotearoa People’s Network Libraries are using Kete to gather community treasures and we are including that content in DigitalNZ as it comes online.

The Memory Maker uses the Ideum Editor One which we have sitting on our server in Christchurch, New Zealand.

We’ve worked with three vendors (Boost New Media, 3Months and Codec) and have taken an agile development approach using Scrum. This was very successful way of working and it enabled us to complete our development with in 16 weeks from go to whoa. It was fast, furious and an absolute blast!

The search widget is really great – how are you expecting this to be used?

We think that it is going to be of really useful in education for teachers to use to define project resources or for kids to build into their own online projects. We also see application for libraries, museums and other organisations to use for setting up ‘find more’ options relating to specific exhibitions, topics or events. We’ve also had feedback from some content providers that they are considering it as their primary website search. We’re pretty delighted with that! We also really hope to see some unexpected uses as well.

Tell me something about the Memory Maker?

We think that these guys can tell you about the Memory Maker much better than us!

We ran the ‘Coming Home’ Memory Maker campaign to demonstrate what is possible when content providers ‘free up’ selected public cultural content for people to remix with permission; and used the remix editor to deliver the content to users. We filled the Memory Maker with content relating to celebrations for the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day on 11 November 2008. A number of National Digital Forum partners provided the content and the Auckland War Memorial Museum has been the wonderful host.

We’ve been delighted to watch as schools and other web users make their own commemorative videos out of New Zealand digital content – not by stealing it, but because they know they are allowed to and we made it easy for them.

Our detailed case study of the Memory Maker project describes all of the details and issues we worked with.
We’re hoping to work with others on new remix campaigns in the future.

What sorts of mashups are you hoping other developers will build using the API?

We’ve got a couple already – check out the Widget Gallery for Yahoo Pipes mashups of the DigitalNZ search combined Flickr and also a headlines search of StuffNZ (NZ website of newspapers and online news) over the DigitalNZ metadata.

We don’t have any specific expectations – just excitement about what is possible. We want to be surprised by what people come up with. The whole point of putting the open API out there is to drive others to make new, exciting things with the content that we’ve made available. DigitalNZ wants to share the love!

Go ahead and make us and our content providers happy.

We’re hoping that when people develop new things they’ll let us know so that we can make it available to others through the widget gallery and share it with others.

What other kind of work is DigitalNZ doing?

Another very important aspect of DigitalNZ is that we want to work with NZ organisations to improve understanding and knowledge about how to make their content, easier to find, share and use. One of the issues that we’ve come up against was metadata quality. The search tool has shown that search results can only be as good as the quality of the metadata that goes in. Working with people to improve their metadata will make the API stronger and also the discovery experiences for people.

The Contributors’ section of the site provides guidance on how to participate in DigitalNZ as well as good practice advice on content creation and management. The good practices guide are being developed across all aspects of the digital content lifecycle: through selecting to creating, managing, discovering, using and reusing (including licensing) as well as preservation. We’re interested in hearing from people that might be able to share expertise and perhaps help build up the material on the site.

We’re also working on an advisory service that will provide support and guidance across the spectrum of content creation and management issues that organisations are facing. This will be developed further over 2009 and we hope to include information, training and development, peer support, discussion forums, as well as draw on the knowledge of collective experience and wisdom out there.

Go and take a look at DigitalNZ!

4 replies on “DigitalNZ – API access to New Zealand collections launches”

Being a Dad I particularly enjoyed the classroom video!
Well done DigiNZ – you’ve clearly busted a few boundaries and I admire you for that. Thanks Seb – for putting a nice summary together in one space… Andy Fenton

Thanks for this post. It’s pretty ground breaking and a fresh example to all governments of what can be achieved when you open up your heritage. Curious to see how this project evolves.

This is amazing – and the project took just 16 weeks ! Its encouraging to see an agile and open approach to an online project of this scale. Thanks for posting, Seb.

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