Hard News by Russell Brown


Uncapturing Content

The Draft Digital Content Strategy Discussion Document is online now. Having been involved in a part of the process of creating it (the Imagineers' Group, under the auspices of the National Library), I've been very interested to see what emerged. On a quick read, there's both good and not-so-good.

The definition of three kinds of content - Formal, Informal and Commercial - came out of our group, and it's there front-and-centre in the paper, which is good. The definition seems sound enough too:

Informal content: digital content that lives and grows on the web, including blogs, emails, wikis, podcasts, home movies, digital stories. Individuals and communities, anyone with access to an internet-connected computer and some tools and the skills to do so, can immediately publish to the web and create their own tags or “folksonomies” to their and others’ content. Informal content generally does not convey the “official truth” and may contradict or contest other content or views. Increasingly this is the space that is creating our social history on the fly – it is a space where the stories of ordinary and extraordinary New Zealanders are being created, yet it is by its nature ephemeral and often not preserved for future use.

Public Address is among the examples of informal content listed in the end-notes, which is gratifying.

What's missing is a real sense of connection between the informal and formal worlds; between the community and the establishment. The paper acknowledges the issue of heritage digitisation:

Research is showing that if content is not online, it is invisible to searchers, and the thoughts and knowledge contained are lost for many practical purposes. Internationally, governments are responding by funding mass digitisation programmes for their nation’s heritage, thus making film, sound, texts, photographs, manuscripts, video and other media available on the Web. Cooperative undertakings include the Memory.of.the.Netherlands.project, which is making a major foray into digitising important sources of Dutch cultural heritage, and the European Union Digital Libraries Initiative, which aims at making Europe’s diverse cultural and scientific heritage (books, films, maps, photographs, music, etc.) easier and more interesting to use online for work, commerce, study and leisure.

New Zealand’s efforts to date in putting such public content online have been sporadic and tend to take a less strategic approach than overseas digitisation programmes. If digitisation of public content in New Zealand were to continue at the current rate, it would be many years before we caught up with where many of our OECD and trading partners are in 2006.

I guess some people will be sick of hearing this from me, but you can spend years strategising and still be stuck with a basically top-down model that institutionalises all decisions and fails to capture the dynamism that drives the Internet community. The emphasis here remains on the institutional capture of both content and decisions about content. This, for example, doesn't do it for me as an action point:

Review the institutional form of organisations involved in the preservation of, and public access to, film, video and sound content.

Here's my proposed action point(s):

Establish and develop links and synergies between the formal and informal spheres.

Develop a simple, contestable fund to allow individuals and groups to have public archive content digitised on request, thus extending decision-making power to the people who will actually use the content. Make all such content available under a Creative Commons licence, thus developing an on-demand archive in parallel with any archive developed as part of an official strategy.

Make public digital content as easy to share and re-use as any clip on YouTube is. Assume that not all such content will be consumed within institutional boundaries, and neither should it be.

Require archive organisations to actively engage with the community, to deepen their own knowledge about the content they hold.

I'm thinking here of people like Jonathan Ah Kit, and the many New Zealanders who edit Wikipedia (which gets a mention in the glossary, but that's it). It would be nice if there was a smoother process for the likes of our Great New Zealand Argument project too.

Jonathan, you may recall, likes to obtain, scan and publish the kind of documents - like the Mazengarb Report - that are of interest and value to the rest of us, but are unlikely to emerge any time soon in official histories. I acknowledge the need for authority, but Te Ara's separation from its users still bugs me. We need a better balance here, and to be fair, this paragraph hints at it:

Government funding for creation and digitisation of content is dispersed across agencies and largely for one off initiatives Government is not extracting maximum value by connecting creation with sharing and preservation.

I'm also on the advisory board of Sound Archives Nga Taonga Korero, which met last Friday in Wellington. Like all archive organisations - and more so than most - Sound Archives has imperfect knowledge about the content it holds. My advice - paid for in muffins - is that the planned new Sound Archives website should develop that knowledge by encouraging its users to contribute information about specific recordings. Researchers often search the archives for recordings they know something about, and there's a nice quid pro quo in having them leave a little knowledge for the next person through. The contestable fund for digitisation would also work very well for Sound Archives - I'd see it operating on a cost-recovery basis.

Anyway, Creative Commons, which first got a mention in the Digital Strategy, is namechecked again here:

New Zealand has strong intellectual and cultural property law. It gives New Zealanders the confidence to continue creating and sharing digital content, knowing their intellectual and cultural property rights are protected. But we need tools to make the benefits of intellectual and cultural property law more accessible to New Zealanders.

One such tool, which is already available in many developed countries, is the Creative Commons licence. The creative commons licence allows cultural, educational, and scientific works to be freely shared and re-use while protecting intellectual and cultural property rights in content. This is a means of ensuring that the rights associated with individual pieces of content can be identified easily by creators and users. We have the opportunity to promote the Creative Commons and increase understanding of New Zealand’s intellectual and cultural property law for digital content creators.

Still a bit vague. I'd like to know how a New Zealand Creative Commons licence will interact with the generally obstructive practice of Crown Copyright, for one thing.

Anyway, I'm out the door soon, so I'll have to save a close reading for later, but I'm very interested in what our readers think. Please discuss …

(I'm still interested in what people think of TVNZ's Freeview announcements too.)


In other news, the Techsploder looks at what was always going to be the achilles heel of Microsoft's Zune player: the goddamn software. A dozen or more installation screens, unwarranted demands for personal information, and - in Endgadget's case - really bad crashes. The tryhard hipness of it all is unappealing too. I know iTunes has been pretty poor lately too, but it sometimes seems that Apple is the only company that can write this sort of software competently. One thing I do quite like: the brown Zune. It's quite funky.

The Kiwi animation I posted in the OurTube section of Public Address System has become a global hit, and is closing in on two million views (and 9000 comments!) on YouTube. There's an interview with its New York creator, Dony Permedi, and you can download a QuickTime version from his website.

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