From time to time I realise that there is a tidal system at work behind the great institutions of this country and the wider world- it's not just economic cycles, though that's clearly a major factor, but also the social, the technical, and the political. At the moment this seems to be leading to a general resurgence in research into archives, and in particular, public access to them.
In the last week I've seen several completely unrelated demos and discussions of projects that seek to present harmonious, integrated and user friendly interfaces to a wide range of disparate archive assets, and what is striking is the congruence of 'vision' of the user proposition. Timelines! It's all about timelines!
As it goes the BBC has some pretty groovy timelines in service, but by and large these are exquisitly hand crafted pieces of digital interactive animation. The next generation of tools are going to have to give that same slick and accessible interface, but to widely heterogenous assets, sometimes from widely different sources! A timeline of the the next generation will need to provide access, meaningful access, to resources from across a broad federated archive, and include all manner of objects, including text, images, video and even 3d models for manipulation and exploration.
Within the BBC this is beginning to stretch beyond the relatively simple domain of linking web resources, into exploring how we can make the broad sweep of our online offering 'time taggable'. We are also contributing to JISC funded projects exploring how assets from us can be combined with others from archies, libraries and academic collections across the UK can be combined. This project is not universally welcomed- there have been objections to the threat of the BBC archive overwhelming other collections. We recognise these concerns and our current efforts in partnerships are very much focussed on bringing benefit to our fellow partners, and avoiding crowding out others. For one thing, we hope to help pioneer tools and technologies that will be then available to smaller archives for lower cost, because we and other 'big hitters' a
have made the initial research investment for the benefit of all.
For myself I do love a good timeline, but I do fear that the smoothness and accesibility of a graphical user interface is often at the expense of it's flexibility and power. Having said that- Gapminder demonstrates that power, flexibiliuty and beauty can be found together, if a clear idea of the user is maintained.
One last link: check out this Smashing magazine review of top graphical interface examples for Gapminder, BBC History and many more.