Some initial thoughts from my DH summer & One Week | One Tool

I’ve been calling this past few months my “DH Summer” (or #DHsummer for those of you who follow me on Twitter), because of so many events and experiences that I lined up in the field of Digital Humanities.  First, I attended DHSI, an intensive week-long DH Institute at the University of Victoria, where I studied GIS (mapping software).  Next, I traveled to London for THATCamp London and DH2010 at King’s College, London.  And, now, finally, I’m at my capstone DH event, working on the One Week | One Tool development team at George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media.

At each of these events I’ve learned some new aspect of DH work.  At DHSI I learned a specific piece of software to aid in a project to complement my dissertation research.  While at the events in London I broadened my view of the DH field to include the concerns of scholars from all over the world, and including those whose institutional models and conditions are quite different from my own.  Additionally, I began thinking more broadly about larger-scale project-based DH work, especially the challenges of using crowd-sourced data and development.  All of this, has, in some fashion prepared me for the work I’m doing at One Week | One Tool, as has my recent small-scale development work from my new position at Chapman University.

Today was our first intense day at OW|OT meetings, where we were “talked at” by the lead developers of the Omeka and Zotero Projects.  Jeremy Boggs started us off by giving us an overview of Project Management principles.  It was a lot to absorb in such a small space of time, with concepts like BaseCamp/37 Signals, Trac, Github, version control, and the like bandied about.  He discussed testing procedures and the merits of an active user community for solving problems.  All of Jeremy’s talk was helpful to me, as someone who’s barely getting her foot wet in the field of project management.

Trevor Owens then discussed his work with Zotero, specifically focusing on the outreach necessary in creating a community of users for a tool. He explained that he’s become an ombudsman for Zotero rather than an evangelist (he leaves the evangelism to the user communities).  My rough-ish summaries of his main points:

-Outreach should be ever-present & part of the planning process (not at the end of things)

-Value proposition: Your users need to see the to see the utility of your tool immediately, in 5 minutes or less.  Build in gratification points.

-Leverage existing communities: i.e. Zotero used babblezilla community for translation, building community through targeted email, etc.. Look for forums where potential users are already gathered.

-Focus proselytizing on those who will teach others to use tool, not just users.

-Look reputable by whatever means necessary. Build trust through the polish of the site & the brand.

After our meetings and some discussion, we moved on to brainstorming about the tool that we’ll be creating together this week.  The brainstorming brought out numerous provocative ideas.  Most of them reasonable, but some were obviously beyond the scope of what we could tackle given our short timeframe.  Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this discussion was the breadth of the ideas.  To me, all of them sounded plausible (and even necessary).  With our list I could well imagine a year of DH where every week there was a Tool created.  And even then we couldn’t have developed them all.

However, tomorrow will be the day of decision.  We’ve been tasked with selecting “our” tool by noon.  I suspect that it might take a bit longer and that some team members will feel disappointed when their idea isn’t selected.  Perhaps it will even be me who’s disappointed…which is a concern given that I will be promoting this product over the next year.  I want it to be something that I can care passionately about(!).  But I also want it to be something that we can agree on as a group.  I’m hoping that it can be both.  So….stay tuned to find out what happens!

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3 Responses to Some initial thoughts from my DH summer & One Week | One Tool

  1. Candace Nast says:

    Thanks for sharing this Jana. It certainly has been a summer of DH. Maybe the projects that don’t get built in oneweek can be shared somewhere (with notes) for people who might be looking for a project. Good luck to the team this week and I hope no one is too disappointed.

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