Neatline

[John Anderson][] sent me a link to [Neatline][], a [Scholar’s Lab][] suite of plugins for [Omeka][]. (And, if you want one more layer/link: Omeka can run on top of DSpace.) Taken altogether, you have a fairly robust stack for capturing, and preserving archival, a wide variety of information that can then be visualized — I kinda prefer the architectural term *projected* — in a lot of ways.

Here’s the official description:

> What do you get when you cross archives and artifacts with timelines, modern and historical maps, and an appreciation for the interpretive aims of humanities scholarship? Neatline is a geotemporal exhibit-builder that allows you to create beautiful, complex maps and narrative sequences from collections of archives and artifacts, and to connect your maps and narratives with timelines that are more-than-usually sensitive to ambiguity and nuance. In other words, Neatline lets you make hand-crafted, interactive stories as interpretive expressions of an archival or cultural heritage collection. Every Neatline exhibit is your contribution to humanities scholarship, in the visual vernacular.

There’s an interesting collection of images on the site. A number of them are either rich or confusing: it’s hard to tell from an image. That dichotomy does bring up a point: without good design, a rich environment can simply be a confusing one.

I actually wrote about this back in 1989 when thinking about interactive user experiences — yeah, I have been at this for a long, long, *long* time. A couple of quick points to make about all this here:

1. *Design matters.* It matters a lot because the conventions, the generic expectations that help users orient themselves, especially to understand the relationship between content and its representation, are still emergent. *Oh*, but you say, *we don’t want conventions*. We want things to be always new, always surprising. To which I reply: stop. You want conventions. Sometimes you want the form of the content to be as plain as possible so that people only focus on the content — think _Scientific American_ layout in the 90s versus _Wired_ magazine layout. By having conventions, you then have a place to negotiate ranges of surprises with your audience. Without a bare framework of conventions, you have confusion.

2. *Design takes time.* And time means people and that means people are using their time to create projections of data when they might otherwise be creating new data or representing the data in more traditional forms. What it comes down to is that the system of rewards will need to be revised to give people incentive to experiment, pioneer, this landscape. Some universities and academics get this. A lot don’t. (Both administrators and faculty bear responsibility for the lack of conversation on this topic.)

An interesting new study on how academics don’t recognize some activities has been announced by Indiana University: [link to press release](http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/24336.html). The direct link is there because I really haven’t had a chance to read through the release yet, let alone the study. Thoughts and comments are welcome. I’m happy to link to others’ considerations.

[John Anderson]: http://plus.google.com/103113688090803889207
[Neatline]: http://neatline.org/about/
[Scholar’s Lab]: http://scholarslab.org/
[Omeka]: http://omeka.org/

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