The Walt Whitman Archive – McGonagill 2
2What are its weaknesses? What do you wish it would let you do? What changes would you suggest?
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 1 While I found the basic navigability of the site to be well-designed, I wish that it was easier to discover new things in the database. The obvious place to begin would be the search tool, which is very limited. While more robust features are promised for the future (according to a notice at the top of the page), the current tool falls short of expectations for a database of this size and quality. Discovery of new material depends upon the possibility of encountering random bits of data and the ability to arrange information in new permutations such that new synchronies arise; currently, the Archive is not well configured for such active contact between the reader and the raw data. In addition to random data, an improved search tool would also better allow the user to conduct specific paths of inquiry. For a hypothetical student with an assignment to follow, it can be important to view thematic cross sections rather than vertical stacks of data under folders.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The addition of tagging would help to increase the fluidity of the site. In order to maintain the rigor of its editorship, the Archive might prefer to use tags that are curated by a team rather than a ‘folksonomy’ approach that opens up tag authorship to all users and lets the system grow on its own, minimally governed. The functionality of the search tool might improve, also, by responding to terms that have demonstrated relevance to users rather than random syntax in content.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Navigation between pages on the Archive is smooth and intuitive; however, it could benefit form the implementation of same-page navigation tools. Many of the pages on the site feature very long texts, which require excessive scrolling and are difficult to read in a non-linear fashion. A hyperlinked table of contents at the top might be a first step, but many of the long critical articles do not have obvious breaking points and would not divide naturally into a table. Eventually, it would be good to see a more sophisticated tool for navigating through content on the same page—as it is, a database that deliberately embraces the fluidity of digital forms traps the reader in a format that is ironically dependent upon rigid sequence and imitated print forms. Reducing this rigidity would greatly improve the user experience.
I’m intrigued by your comment that “it can be important to view thematic cross sections rather than vertical stacks of data.” Could you elaborate on what you mean by “thematic cross sections”? Do you have an idea of what this would look like so that you could help the rest of us visualize what these thematic search results would be? Is there another website out there–either academic or non-academic–that provides these thematic search results? Citing that could provide an interesting point of reference.
You make a good point that using folksonomy or crowd sourcing to tag the Whitman Archive might not be the best idea–given that the Archive is trying (and succeeding!) to preserve its image as a critical scholarly edition–but that curating a set of tags internally would be very helpful.
You make an interesting point about the aesthetic and the functionality of scrolling. Frames have fallen out of favor as navigation tools–unless we want to party like it’s 1996!–but you do raise a good point about the potential of getting lost in a long, scrolling page.
You make an interesting point about the aesthetic and the functionality of scrolling. Frames have fallen out of favor as navigation tools–unless we want to party like it’s 1996!–but you do raise a good point about the potential of getting lost in a long, scrolling page
I agree completely about the inadequacy of the search. In fact, it is discussed in the last paragraph of my response to the final question. That being said, I am more optimistic than ever before that we will see significant progress soon on the search front. We are currently experimenting with eXist, and the preliminary results are promising.
We have long imagined that our laborious mark-up of texts would result in users being able to find and collocate texts from everywhere on the Archive according to complex sets of criteria. But we’re a long way from realizing the full grandeur of our dreams.
It’s always possible to handle user generated content as they do in the museum world, and allow people to tag things but display them in a section of the site, or in such a way, using fonts or colours that indicates that these are not editorial. Users seem, in our experience, to find this perfectly comprehensible.
Yes, this is a fascinating idea, and very eloquently expressed. Do you have any ideas about what such a thing much look like? In early full text resources search result hits were used to expand paragraphs and provide higlighting on words. Could that work again?