This week on YALSA blog, I wrote about Touch Van Gogh. This app from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which was recently expanded to include three additional paintings, offers users a chance to explore Van Gogh’s works in depth and to learn more about his techniques, his time period, and the canvases that he used. The app is a lot of fun for fans of both art and history; I would definitely recommend checking it out. You can read my full review over on YALSA blog.
Between 1935 and 1945, the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information commissioned thousands of photographs by a number of well-known and highly skilled photographers. These photographs document life throughout the United States during the Great Depression and World War II. Currently held and maintained by the Library of Congress, these photographs are now available online via the Yale Photogrammar. This website not only provides access to them, but also offers unique ways to search through the images and visualize the locations they document.
Users who wish to search through the 170,000 images included on the website will be pleased with the search features that are included on the site. In addition to a simple keyword search of the full text associated with each of the images, users also have access to advanced search features that make it possible to search through the collection by the name of the photographer who took the picture, lot number, classification tag, location, or date. Search results show a thumbnail of the images retrieved together with their titles, dates, and the name of the photographer who took them. Clicking on an image will take the user to a page with a larger version of the image, the full metadata for the image, and thumbnails of other, similar images.
The site also offers users the ability to navigate through the images geographically. Two different maps show the photographs organized by either county or by photographer (as seen in the image below). From either map, users can limit their results either using the dropdown menu to limit the visualization to only images from a single photographer or by using the slider to visualize only images from specific years. The maps only visualize about 90,000 of the images, since the rest do not have geographic information associated with them. However, despite this limitation, they provide an interesting way of viewing the images in relation to one another.
The creators of the Yale Photogrammar are also interested in finding new ways to visualize this collection and have therefore included a Labs section on the site. This area of the site, which will have more tools added to it in the future, visualizes the metadata associated with the images in the Metadata Dashboard section (currently only for California, but with more states under development) and offers a tree map of the classification system that Paul Vanderbilt developed for the photos in 1942.
Whether you are a history buff, a scholar, or a photographer, this site will offer endless hours of fascination as you explore not only the images but the relationships between them. It is already an impressive effort and the promised future developments will only make it more impressive.
Wikipedia is a great resource for learning new facts, settling disputes about trivial knowledge, and even kickstarting research projects, but many users would agree that its interface isn’t up to the standards of many modern websites. WikiWand aims to solve this issue by rearranging the great content that has made Wikipedia so popular in a new, more engaging and attractive manner. This browser extension, which is available for Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, completely updates the look of Wikipedia entries, pulling photos to the forefront where available and eliminating some of the extraneous information found in the side and top menus in Wikipedia. While these aesthetic touches are nice, perhaps the most useful aspect of WikiWand is that it also moves all of the article navigation and section headings to a persistent side menu that is visible no matter where you are on the page. Making it much easier to navigate within articles, particularly those that are quite lengthy, without having to scroll to the top to find the article outline. WikiWand also uses a responsive format that rearranges and resizes the content to optimize it for the size of your screen or browser window. While I did encounter a few minor layout issues caused by this approach, it will be an improvement over the the current standard Wikipedia layout for users with some devices. Users will also likely appreciate the slideshows that WikiWand automatically generates for each article’s images. The top menu on each WikiWand page also makes it easy to navigate to entries on the same topic in different languages and to search Wikipedia for other information.
Though WikiWand does offer a nice, clean layout for Wikipedia articles, its reach does not extend beyond this to other content. While there is a dropdown menu that provides links to edit an entry, to view the history of an article, or to visit the article’s talk page, all of these link users to the standard Wikipedia site without this improved look and feel. Similarly, if you click links to Wikimedia Commons content, these pages will open in a new window and appear in the standard Wikimedia format. My one complaint about WikiWand is that I find it unfortunate that it somewhat hides the editing option. Given that many Wikipedia users don’t realize that anyone can contribute to Wikipedia even in its current format, further burying the editing function may lead to even more confusion and a loss of potential contributors. Overall, even with its limited scope and the way that it obscures some of Wikipedia’s functionality, I think WikiWand is a nice tool for those who find the current look of Wikipedia off-putting.
While at Wikimania, I learned about an interesting new tool that takes advantage of Wikipedia content to make it easy to create timelines with ease. Currently in beta, Histropedia allows users to search for anything they want to add to their timeline in the included search bar. If it is in Wikipedia, it will pop up. Any entry that has a plus sign next to it can be added to the timeline with a single click. If an entry doesn’t have a plus sign, it just means that dates are not available for that entry. In that event, users can add their own date information, at which point the entry is available to be added to their timeline and any future Histropedia user’s timeline. I found that it took me only minutes to create a timeline of famous artists that was both professional looking and dynamic. Even if your selected entry can be added with one click, you can still opt to customize the information associated with it, including editing the dates and selecting from all of the images included in the Wikipedia article.
Once you are happy with your timeline, you can share it via a URL or embed it on another website. Viewers of your timeline will be able to click on individual entries to activate the pop-out reader, which includes the full Wikipedia entry as well as tabs that display Twitter content on the topic, as well as related books, films, music, and videos. While I like the integration of the Wikipedia entries, I did find myself wishing that users had the option to opt out of the other tabs in the reader since they may not be appropriate in all situations, particularly all educational settings. However, despite this limitation (which I hope may be addressed in future releases), I think Histropedia is a nice way of creating and sharing educational timelines on a wide range of topics. One other note: to facilitate the sharing side of this equation, all Histropedia timelines are a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 license, which is important to note, both if you want to use an existing timeline and as you create your own timelines using the platform. If you think this sounds like an interesting tool, check out the video below to see how it works.
Another project that was discussed during Wikimania 2014 is the GLAMwiki Toolset. Developed by Europeana, in collaboration with Wikimedia UK, Wikimedia Nederland, Wikimedia Switzerland, and Wikimedia France, this toolset aims to simplify the process of uploading large sets of digital assets, particularly by galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAMs). Using these tools, GLAMs can bulk upload digital files with their own metadata associated with each of the items.
Though it only officially launched earlier this summer, over 300,000 files have already been uploaded using the GLAMwiki Toolset. Beyond that, it has also helped to make the files that are uploaded with it available to Wikipedia articles in a wide range of languages. It is not only a great way to improve the content that is available on Wikipedia, but also drives traffic to the institutions that have uploaded their content. If you work with a GLAM institution that has considered uploading your digital assets to Wikimedia Commons, this Toolset is well worth taking a look at.
Early this month, I had the opportunity to attend Wikimania 2014 in London, England. Spanning five days, the conference included a hackathon, preconference workshops, and over 200 presentations and had a total of more than 2,000 attendees. While the entire event was very interesting (and warrants more exploration given that many videos are available online), one area that I think may be of particular interest and use for readers is the education preconference. Over the course of two days, the event focused on empowering educators to find new ways to use Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects in the classroom. We heard from a number of experts who have used Wikipedia as part of college level courses, ranging from foreign language teachers who use Wikipedia for translation projects to professors who focused instead on having students create Wikipedia articles and immerse themselves in the Wikimedia community over the course of an entire semester. On the first day, much of the focus was on the Wikipedia Ambassador program, which encourages Wikipedia enthusiasts who are students, professors, librarians, or staff at colleges and universities to act as “ambassadors” to provide support and encouragement for those interested in using Wikipedia in the classroom. The program has had some success in England, where a few ambassadors have been active at universities and have helped professors to find new ways to use Wikipedia as a teaching tool.
The second day started with Wikipedia editing training for those who have not used the platform (which I did not attend, so I can’t comment on it) followed by an afternoon devoted to presentations by educators already using Wikipedia in a variety of ways (including one educator who uses Wikipedia to create open access teaching materials in the sciences). The session ended with an opportunity for attendees to work on designing a curriculum that incorporated Wikipedia in a subject area of their choice.
The event provided a lot of inspiration and ideas about new ways to work with Wikipedia in the classroom, but beyond this abstract inspiration, it also offered many concrete resources. In particular, presenters introduced us to some great resources that are available on the Wikipedia Education Program portal. If you are interested in using Wikipedia for education, I would recommend looking at their resources page and in particular the case studies that they have prepared. They are guaranteed to give you new ideas about how to use Wikipedia in the classroom and excite you about the possibilities that the platform offers.
This week on the YALSA Blog, I introduce readers to the Heyday app. Those of you who have trouble making time to keep a daily journal will want to check this one out. Heyday takes a task that many people want to do but don’t quite manage to and makes it automatic using the data that you already collect on your mobile device. You can check out my full description of the app over on the YALSA Blog.