Week 8: Digitization and Presentation

In efforts to digitize historical records, there is much discussion on the costs and benefits of making digital replications of historical documents. A major point is “what is worth digitizing?” There really is not a clear guide on the importance of what needs to be digitized so those involved need to use their judgement. Clearly first-hand accounts of major events would rank much higher than the opinion section of a local newspaper, but not all information can be clearly delineated as that. While we would love for absolutely everything to be digitized and easily accessible, there are obviously major time and resource limitations preventing that work. Historians and those working to preserve documents digitally are limited by their agency’s funding and purpose.

Much like the discussion that pertains to music, quality loss is another challenge that digitizing history faces. While computer programs allow compression of files, there is guaranteed to be losses in resolution and detail, but perhaps this is a sacrifice that must be made due to the limitations of server space. Fortunately, we are living in a time where larger storage space is being made much more accessible (having moved from megabytes to terabytes and eventually to petabytes) so maybe we will be able to digitize huge stores of information in lossless formats, but what cannot be replicated is the tangible aspect that comes with many documents. It is one thing to see a photo of a Roman urn but by implementing the senses like touch and smell can help create a better understanding of that time period.

Much like with the collection of data, the presentation can also be a struggle. Priorities must be set, audience must established, and information be carefully laid out. Is this merely a launching point for readers or is this a more detailed resource? Is the focus on text or video resources? Like a billboard, people move quickly through a webpage, which makes text-heavy pages less popular and more difficult to navigate. To avoid text-heavy pages, a reference page allows the ability to find the text-heavy resources without the clutter. The addition of multiple types of media: videos, gifs, and audio links can also attract attention, but can also overwhelm (in the style of mid 2000’s Myspace pages). The homepage should be clean and easy to navigate, with a background that does not distract but draws attentions to the images and functionality of the page, and makes priority of what the user is visiting the website for.

Examples:  Airbnb, JSTOR, New Yorker, Spotify, Discord

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