Monthly Archives: October 2014

Bots of collections / Bots of conviction

I’m interested in the potential of Bots, specifically Twitter bots, to mobilise cultural collections by moving them into spaces where people already are. My first bot, @TroveNewsBot not only tweets random newspaper articles from Trove, it responds to other users, and interacts with the current news headlines. You can read more here and here.

In recent months @TroveNewsBot has been joined by a number of other collection bots, most tweeting random items. Steve Lubar has argued that these random selections help expose the constructed nature of collections:

The museumbot calls attention to the necessity of making choices. The vast difference between its random choice and what I see in the museum points out that the choices have been made. 

But can bots do more? Mark Sample, digital humanist and bot maker extraordinaire, recently wrote an essay that explored the possibilities of protest bots or ‘bots of conviction’:

protest bots take a stand. Society being what it is, this stance will likely be unpopular, perhaps even unnerving. Just as the most affecting protest songs made their audiences feel uncomfortable, bots of conviction challenge us to consider our own complicity in the wrongs of the world

My one venture in the to realm of protest bots is the rather tame @OperationBot (and its companion webapp). But I’d like to do more.

At THATCamp I’d like to discuss the possibilities of bots, and to think about ways we might respond to Mark Sample’s call for bots of conviction.

Instant cooperative editing of a Wikipedia article – so what’s new?

A quick, last-minute proposal for a ‘play’ session, just to engage some expertise and find out how ‘quick’ cooperative work is (and how good the Wikipedia engine is).

Wikipedia is the pre-eminent example of a wiki – software providing a place for co-operative development of content on a given subject – writing it and changing it. In this session we would

1) select a Wikipedia article to edit

2) individuals or ad hoc groups edit that article (at this point separately i.e. save rather than publish)

3) compare our edits

It would be interesting to see how people combine their expertise in a (non-competitive) way to edit something quickly. The first challenge of this game would be in selecting a suitable article – presumably one for which at least one participant has expert knowledge. Given that ‘camp’ participants in general are self-selected for interest both in humanities and in technology the available fields will be many. Though even this natural assumption of a good starting point could be dumped if we feel like it. But contributions to the development / changes to the article should be made by everyone, not just the main subject-matter expert(s) (if any have been identified).

NB. Should also discuss if time that fact that we would not in fact be replicating the collaborative paradigm of Wikipedia articles, as we will all be in the same room and talking.

(Susan Ford)

Bring your ideas!

The unconference part of THATCamp Canberra kicks off tomorrow morning. Hopefully the workshops today will have inspired some ideas, or raised some new problems you’d like to discuss. If so, propose a session! Either login to the site and add a post, or bring your idea along to the scheduling session.

Remember, you don’t have to be an expert in the topic you propose. Some of the best discussions start with a problem or a question.

And if you’ve got something you’d like to share but don’t think it’s enough for a whole session — remember we’ll also have a series of lightning talks or Speedos after lunch. Show off your latest projects or a favourite website — it’s up to you (as long as it only takes 3 minutes)!

Creating a dynamic community history project

I am responsible for the Australian Paralympic history project. This is a wide-ranging project which seeks to capture, manage and preserve the history of the Paralympic movement in Australia. The attached document gives you an overview of what we are trying to do.

With very limited resources, we rely on partnerships with experts (such as the NLA) and volunteers (such as a group of Wikipedia editors). We are also lucky to be working with the Uni of Qld, which has received an ARC Linkage grant for the project.

However, the big challenge is to create a vehicle which will draw together all the elements of the project and make them available to anyone who wants to access them or who wants to contribute. We have a general concept of an online platform, or “e-history”, but at present these seem to be more limited in scope and don’t necessarily offer the capacity to access the detail we are assembling through our project.

I am sure that we would not be the only community organisation in such a position and looking to tell its story and preserve its history effectively, at a reasonable (haha – minimal) cost.

At the same time as our history is important the Australian Paralympic Committee, it intersects with the “bigger pictures” of Australian society and its history that are being painted by organisations such as the NLA.

The Paralympic History Project short version

Session proposal – spatially explore via mapping an Australian historical problem

***NOTE: I don’t want to facilitate this as I don’t have the mapping experience, I am just interested in this area***
I would like to see a session please on how you could use maps (with layers of information) to explore an Australian historical debate/event that is spatial/locational in nature (on Saturday not Sunday as I can’t attend on Sun). Perhaps Paul Hagon could lead this and Tim Sherratt, being a historian, could identify a suitable example?
Check out this link as an example – examining what happened on the Battle of Gettysburg spatially (via a 3D model of the landscape using contour plans) actually proved finally, after years of debate amongst historians, that General Lee lost the battle because he lacked crucial visibility of key areas of the battlefield.

More conceptual searching

I am interested in building a search capability on a large text corpus (such as Australian Newspapers)
to answer queries such as:

  • which prime ministers have visited the Tumut district of NSW?
  • who were the most prominent antagonists in the margarine quota discussions during the 1940’s and 50’s?
  • what poems by members of the Jindyworobak movement were published in newspapers?

Such an approach requires:

  1. fairly clean OCR
  2. entities (such as people, organisations, places) can be identified and useful attributes assigned (such as “Gough Whitlam is a Prime Minister”)
  3. there is an easy way for normal people to express such queries, or iterate towards them
  4. ways to deal with ambiguity (For example, what are the boundaries of the “Tumut district” and have they changed? Is Harold Wilson a “Prime Minister” in this context? Does a poem written by a Jindyworobak member before they joined the movement count?)

I’m fairly confident about how the first two requirements can be met, but I am most interested in ways that campers think the third and fourth requirement could be addressed.

Playtesting Sembl, the game of analogy


Since 2012 I have been working on Sembl, a game of resemblance, where players make analogical connections between images of (openly-licensed) cultural heritage material and then rate other players’ connections on a sliding scale of interestingness. When you draw together things that are not normally associated, you can create beautiful insights into how the world works. It’s like conceptual parkour.

Sembl is being built by Icelab and the alpha version will be released as soon as I can test all the basics – and for some things I need a group to test… that’s where I hope you THATCampers will help.

The games are playable on a board for three, four, five, six or twelve players. I’ve played a lot with the smaller boards, but the bigger ones are tricky to test – especially the 12-player board, not for the fainthearted.

12-semblersTo be honest I’m *not at all* sure we can play a whole game in an hour, or whether this board will even function (it’s crowded; there might or might not be catastrophic visual and functional overlaps). For sure, we will have to be swift and happy to stumble.

If it feels too much for a short session, or if it fails, we can revert to a 6-player board and play in teams. (Of course anyone, once registered, can play around as they like.)

I will have up a Google doc for issue and bug reporting. It will be very, very good to have your feedback. And you will have early access to this fabulous new way to access and interpret cultural heritage material 🙂 🙂 🙂

And hopefully, Michael will join us.

Please comment to express interest!

PS I ticked the category called ‘Linked data’ because even though it’s not about logical links, Sembl is an engine of handcrafted, analogical and dialogic i.e. two-way mutual simultaneous links. They are very *human* links, and foreign to computers, which I believe is what makes them important – as I said a while ago.



Sign up now for workshops!

As you know, THATCamp Canberra will run over three days — from Friday 31 October to Sunday 2 November. On the Friday there’ll be a series of introductory workshops to get you primed for the unconference that’ll run across Saturday and Sunday.

The schedule for the workshops is now online and you’ll see it’s an exciting and varied mix – everything from a crash course in regular expressions to a discussion of the poetics of online collections:

The morning sessions are shorter and will provide an overview of particular technologies, concepts or issues. In the afternoon we’ll get our hands dirty, trying out some tools and examples.

During the lunch break there’ll also be a collection visualisation showcase from the Digital Treasures Program at the University of Canberra.

Bring a laptop if you can, particularly for the afternoon sessions – although the ‘Wikipedia and Trove’ workshop will be held in a computer lab. Wifi will be available.

Places are limited and we’ll need to juggle the available rooms based on interest, so please sign up now! At the bottom of each session description you’ll see a ‘Sign up’ link – just click on this and submit your details to register your interest in that session. No need to sign up for the lunchtime showcase.