I got an interesting email from the folks over at Squirl.info. They wanted me to take a look and see what I thought of their site. I explored it a bit and exchanged emails back and forth with one of the founders (John McGrath).
Okay – remember those big dreams of mine? Specifically relating to A Hosting Service for Digitized Collections and Archival Transcriptions? Well Squirl.info looks like an interesting option to explore with these ideas in mind. I will admit that the current collections are predominately individual collectors showing off what they have accumulated over the years – but you can start to get an idea of how this might work for digitized collections from looking at the Lewis Carroll Postcards and London Hospitals Postcards.
I had lots of questions for John. What about more than one image per item (I want to see the backs of those postcards!) – he says it is on the way. What about the clause in the terms of service about deleting inactive accounts – he says only empty ones.
I wanted to know how customized each set of meta data was based on the type of object you entered – had he considered any of the standards when setting them up. His answer (from an email to me):
In a previous life I wrote content management systems for publishing companies, so I’m aware of classification and taxonomic issues, and I made a conscious effort to play nice with the ones I was aware of when I built our system. Metadata can also be added to all items in the form of tags. We also have a feature that lets you export all your data in comma-separated files, letting you manipulate it however you’d like. Our general approach has been to give users as much flexibility with their data as possible, while trying to keep the site easy to use. And we’re wide open to suggestions.
So far so good. Then we get to the fun parts that are already part of what the folks at Squirl have already implemented:
- RSS: Imagine providing an RSS feed to fans of your institution as an easy way to provide a steady flow of the latest additions to your online collections.
- Blog Integration: Check out the Blog Widgets that will let you add a block of up to 10 of your most recently added items from any of your collection to your blog or other web page.
- Easy Interface: They have done a nice job with making it easy and obvious how to get your content online.
- Inexpensive: Three collections for free – unlimited collections for $10 a year. There is some mention of no ads with the Squirl+plus plan, but that seems to have more to do with your experience when adding content rather than your users’ experiences when viewing your collections.
- Search: You get the free support of their built in search features.
My wish list is shorter:
- an ad free mode for those viewing your collection
- a direct URL for collections with a pretty name (maybe just a direct URL for an institution as the homepage for their collections – with a pretty name)
- support for transcriptions (ie, to support the ideas I described in my Archival Transcriptions post)
- support for groups adding content – and control of the privileges for those users (John says this one is in the pipeline, but no promises on when).
- a way to export your ENTIRE collection (tags, images, meta data – the whole nine yards) – of course to a certain degree any web archiving software could do this for you to some degree
Go take a look at Squirl. See what you think. Create an account and experiment with your three free collections (you can keep them private if you like while you are experimenting). Ask the nice people for things you need – and see what they say. In a world where archivists are wishing for an easy way to get their collections online – this might be an answer for some of them. I suspect that some critical mass of archives using a single tool would help drive further support for features that archivists want and need.
- Digitization Program Site Visit: University of Maryland
- Archival Transcriptions: for the public, by the public
- ArchivesZ: Visualizing Archival Collections
- THATCamp 2008: Crowdsourced Transcription and Collaborative Annotation