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Delivering content to the user...

December 3, 2004

...rather than making them come to you!

One of the changes for which the Igeneric and its partners continue to advocate is around diminishing the need for those interested in 'your' content to have to find you, visit your site, and then locate the items of interest to them.

This is clearly a complex area, and one beset by concepts of brand, maintenance of control and a perception that it runs counter to current metrics from funders, obsessed as so many of them are with measuring hits on websites as a demonstration of success.

Despite these obstacles, though, it would appear to be a vital part of any strategy to broaden access to resources, or to assist a member of the public in building a coherent picture of their topic of interest, based upon the holdings of various organisations.

A Common Information Environment member, the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), is currently funding one project in this area. Contextual Resource Evaluation Environment (CREE) is a collaboration between the University of Hull, the Archaeology Data Service, EDINA, the University of Oxford, and Newark & Sherwood College. One of the areas it is addressing is around the production and dissemination of 'portlets'; small Web Services suitable for deploying in portals to deliver aspects of a service (such as the ADS Catalogue) to the user of the portal, in the portal. One of these portlets might conceivably respect a user's personalisation details from the host portal, feed results from one portlet to another, etc.

As a by-product of this richer work on CREE, the ADS has also produced a simple HTML code fragment, suitable for inserting onto any web site. The code permits a user to select the type of search they wish to perform, enter a query, and launch a search upon the ADS Catalogue itself. The user is directed to a page of the ADS' standard terms and conditions and, upon accepting them, receives the result of their query.

This is extremely simple, but also potentially powerful in allowing access to the catalogue from a huge number of new locations. The University of Glasgow's Archaeology Department, for example, includes this function on their own pages, and there's no reason for others not to do likewise.

Providing the capability to access all of a resource from other places has value. The real potential of an application such as this, however, is in tailoring access in order to more directly cater to the needs of the site upon which this interface is offered.

Most simply, the interface can be modified in order to provide access to a subset of the ADS Catalogue's holdings. This catalogue contains a large number of collections contributed by organisations across the UK, and beyond. Some of these organisations deposit their content with the ADS for archival purposes, whilst others provide material expressly so that it can be seen and used. For these organisations, especially, the ability to provide access to their own material from their own website has many advantages. Here, for example, the interface carries different branding, and the scope of the search has been redefined to only search records from the Defence of Britain project, held by the ADS.

Here, the same interface can be seen as it appears on their website. It might equally appear on the site of the organisation responsible for funding the project, or on the site of other relevant organisations such as the Imperial War Museum.

A similar model offers great potential in delivering content to organisations less directly linked with the topic matter. VisitScotland, for example, probably has little interest in offering access to the ADS catalogue. They might, though, see the value of allowing prospective visitors to Scotland to search for information on historic sites and monuments to be seen in the Scottish landscape. The English Regional Agencies, funded by another Igeneric member (MLA), also probably have little interest in providing access to the totality of the ADS catalogue. An easily installed search function on their home page, allowing visitors to their site to search for content from across all of the local authorities within each of their boundaries, though, becomes quite compelling. Both of these become easy to achieve using technology such as this. It simply requires a change in order to restrict the subset of the catalogue that is searched by geography (all of Scotland in the first example, or all of the local government units within a single MLA Regional Agency in the second) rather than by collection.

The same could be done by period (a search of Roman material held in the ADS catalogue, appearing on the web site of a BBC programme about the Romans for schoolchildren) and, presumably, along any other lines in which a set of criteria can be pre-defined which meaningfully restrict searches to some coherent subset of the whole.

The ADS is one of only a few organisations who have taken the step to actually provide this functionality (see this earlier post for another). I understand that doing so was relatively straightforward for them, and look forward to seeing other organisations step forward to similarly unlock 'their' content from the heavy chains of their own web site! The ADS tools are available for download and re-use here.

Posted by Oliver Smith-Toynes at 12:35

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