Unsustainable Museum Data

Unsustainable Museum Data by Matthew Lincoln.

From the post:

In which I ask museums to give less API, more KISS and LOCKSS, please.

“How can we ensure our [insert big digital project title here] is sustainable?” So goes the cry from many a nascent digital humanities project, and rightly so! We should be glad that many new ventures are starting out by asking this question, rather than waiting until the last minute to come up with a sustainability plan. But Adam Crymble asks whether an emphasis on web-based digital projects instead of producing and sharing static data files is needlessly worsening our sustainability problem. Rather than allowing users to download the underlying data files (a passel of data tables, or marked-up text files, or even serialized linked data), these web projects mediate those data with user interfaces and guided searching, essentially making the data accessible to the casual user. But serving data piecemeal to users has its drawbacks, notes Crymble. If and when the web server goes down, access to the data disappears:

When something does go wrong we quickly realise it wasn’t the website we needed. It was the data, or it was the functionality. The online element, which we so often see as an asset, has become a liability.

I would broaden the scope of this call to include library and other data as well. Yes, APIs can be very useful but so can a copy of the original data.

Matthew mentions “creative re-use” near the end of his post but I would highlight that as a major reason for providing the original data. No doubt museums and others work very hard at offering good APIs of data but any API is only one way to obtain and view data.

For data, any data, to reach its potential, it needs to be available for multiple views of the same data. Some you may think are better, some you may think are worse than the original. But it is the potential for a multiplicity of views that opens up those possibilities. Keeping data behind an API is an act of preventing data from reaching its potential.

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