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Question from the Archives of American Art and EAD talk (session 305)

At the end of the Extended Archival Description panel, someone in the audience asked if ColdFusion and ASP were used for the Archives of American Art project. The response was interesting. The answer was yes to ColdFusion and no to ASP. That wasn’t the interesting part. The part I was intrigued by was the reasons WHY they had used ColdFusion.

The developer on the project was there and stood to add his 2 cents. He said these were the reasons for the choice of ColdFusion:

  • The Smithsonian is not enthusiastic about open source software
  • The Smithsonian is not unfriendly towards ColdFusion
  • He knew ColdFusion very well

This immediately made me think of a recent post at Creating Passionate Users: When the “best tool for the job”… isn’t. In her post, Kathy Sierra talks about other factors to weigh when choosing a software tool to solve a problem OTHER than what is the best tool for the job based on the features of all the options. She proposes (in what she admits is a sweeping generalization) that enthusiasm for a tool be weighed more heavily than it’s pure appropriateness for the task when selecting which tool to use.

I am not saying that ColdFusion was necessarily the AAA developer’s first choice – but that it is interesting to remember that there are LOTS of different elements that go into choosing software to address the challenges at the intersection of archives and the internet. One of those things is simply the skills of the people you have to work on a project – and their enthusiasm for the tools at hand.

Posted in SAA2006, software


  1. Barbara Aikens

    Toby, the computer programmer for this project, was strictly prohibited from using open source programming by the Smithsonian, who does not support it (right or wrong). Reality in the work world dictates that one must work within the parameters of their institution. I thought that his explanation was stated very clearly and in non-technical terms and deserves more insight and reflection than “2 cents worth”!

  2. Jeanne


    I had no intention of devaluing Toby or his answer to the question. My point in this post was that picking a tool for programming should depend on the skills of those who are doing the work, but are also often driven by external forces (such as the Smithsonian’s policies). Often open source is offered up as some holy grail – but if your developers are Cold Fusion experts then using Cold Fusion will increase the likelihood of a successful project.


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