The Walt Whitman Archive – Warwick 2
2What are its weaknesses? What do you wish it would let you do? What changes would you suggest?
Reader in Digital Humanities, Department of Information Studies; Director, Centre for Digital Humanities – University College London
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 It is genuinely difficult to identify serious weaknesses of the Whitman archive. I might suggest a few relatively minor changes to site design. Some of the content is nested quite deeply within the site and requires several clicks to access it. For example in the Disciples section the user is three clicks away from accessing individual poems. Web log analysis suggests that the more clicks a users is required to make, the less likely they are to use that part of a site.[ref]P. Huntington, D. Nicholas, P. Williams and B. Gunter “Characterising the Health Information Consumer: an Examination of the Health Information Sources used by Digital Television Users,” Libri 52:1 (2002): 16-27[/ref] Thus I would suggest that if at all possible some of the intermediate levels of nesting are removed to allow better access to material.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 I also found it difficult to access the newspaper content, since the page images took a very long time to load, on an average home broadband connection. This will not cause problems for academics using the site on fast campus networks. However it might limit its usefulness and usability of these newspapers for members of the public to high school students who might be accessing them on a slower connection.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 I also had some problems using the search function, or rather understanding the results returned. I typed the words ‘metaphysics’ and ‘books’ into the search box as someone searching for the exact origin of a quotation might do. I would have hoped that the first hit in any general search of the archive might have referred me to published works, but instead it took me to instances of the words in criticism, but it was not clear why this happened, and would, I think be counter intuitive for most users. I then clicked on the top hit of published works, and when I clicked on it, this did indeed take me to Leaves of Grass, but only to the title page. Again this would not be intuitive for users accustomed for example to the functionality of commercial resources such as EEBO who would expect to be taken to the exact hit without a need to use the search function in Firefox to locate it.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 These are technical problems which should be relatively easily corrected. However, I would also like to point out something which while not exactly being a weakness may more correctly be thought of as an opportunity that has not yet been exploited: that is the possibility of involving users more extensively in the Archive’s activities. At present, apart from leaving comments, it is difficult to see how academic users or members of the public interested in Whitman might be able to get involved in the project.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The current model for the Archive seems very much that of conventional publishing whereby the team produces content for its users, in a one-to-many fashion. It may be that this is a deliberate decision on the part of the editors: involving users is not appropriate for every digital project. However, if further content is to be created in future, the Whitman archive may consider taking part in some kind of crowd sourcing project. This is still a somewhat unusual method, but is being used by projects such as Transcribe Bentham at UCL to access crowd sourced transcriptions of page images of manuscripts. The use of crowd sourcing and social networking by memory institutions such as museums, has demonstrated that those outside academia are interested in participating in projects about their heritage and history and it may be that there is a potential new way for the Archive to engage with its user community, and to add further content while doing so.