Tuesday 23 August 2011


It's a little old now, but when I first saw it, this announcement of start-up grants for web technology projects in the universities, museums, libraries and archives by the National Endowment for the Humanities filled me with envy. Here's a random sampling of some of the successful projects:

Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts -- Minneapolis, MN
HD 51490, Enhancing the Humanities Through Innovation: The Extended Collection Project
Katherine Milton, Project Director
Outright: $25,000
To support: Development of a pilot program for training docents in using digital tours and resources.

Museum of the City of New York -- New York, NY
HD 51480, Improving Digital Record Annotation Capabilities with Open sourced Ontologies and Crowd sourced Workers
Lacy Schutz, Project Director
Outright: $50,000
To support: The development of methods and tools to facilitate the description of digitized primary sources by combining "crowdsourcing" tactics with linked open data and semantic Web technologies.

New York Public Library -- New York, NY
HD 51427, MOVER [a Multimodal Open Source Variorum eBook Reader]
Doug Reside, Project Director
Outright: $50,000
To support: The development of a prototype mobile application to allow users to study multimedia variorum editions of musical theater plays.

It's the development of prototypes that particularly intrigues me. At work this year we've been able to first prototype and then 'productionise' (terrible word) a system that will be publicly released shortly, and the ability to quickly add, test, tweak or drop functionality and features was a god-send. Prototypes also dramatically reduce the risk of failure - they give everyone time to figure out where the true value in a product really lies, something that's not always obvious at the beginning of a large web project (you'd like to think that's not the case, but I've found it often is).

Inevitably, my usual final line: I wish there was this kind of support for test projects in New Zealand. But a final, final line - I wonder if there's a condition attached to these grants that the 'learnings' (another terrible word) and code from these products and prototypes has to be released back into the community?

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