Posted on September 21st, 2010 2 comments
Past and present
Up until the present, a number of application profiles have been developed by various metadata experts, with the support of the JISC, with the intention of addressing the needs of practitioners and service providers (and thus ultimately their users) across the higher education sector in the UK. The most significant of these have been aimed at particular resource types that have an impact across the sector.
- SWAP – Scholarly Works Application Profile
- IAP – Images Application Profile
- GAP – Geospatial Application Profile
- LMAP – Learning Materials Application Profile (scoping study only: also the DC Education AP)
- SDAPSS – Scientific Data Application Profile Scoping Study
- TBMAP – Time-Based Media Application Profile
Problems with this approach
However, it cannot be said that a particular type of resource type, set of resource types, or even general subject domain actually constitutes a real, identified problem space that faces large sections of the information community in the UK higher education sector today. Geospatial resources can be any type of resources that have location metadata attached (e.g. place of creation, location as the subject of the resource). Learning materials can be any type of resource that has been created or re-purposed for educational uses, which can include presentations, academic papers, purpose-made educational resources of many types, images, or indeed almost anything else that could be used in an educational context, to which metadata describing that particular use or re-use has been attached. Images might have all sorts of different types of metadata: for instance, metadata about images of herbs might need very different metadata to images of architecture. The same applies to time-based media: what is the purpose of these recordings and what are they used for? why and how will people search for them? Likewise, the type of science in question, of which there are almost innumerable categories and sub-categories, will to a large extent determine the specific metadata that will be useful for describing scientific data.
Of all of the above, only scholarly works, which might more usefully be called scholarly publications, are an entirely focussed, specific set of resource types with a common purpose. The others are loose and sometimes ill-defined collections of resources or resource types that fit into a particular conceptual category. Only in the case of scholarly publications is there an unspoken problem space: discovery and re-use in repositories and similar systems, usually but not exclusively as Open Access resources. There are other related problem spaces such as keeping accurate information about funders and projects for the purposes of auditing that is required by funding bodies and university authorities. The ability to access these resources with new technologies could be a further area of study, and is one that UKOLN is taking an active interest in. Again, the question must be “what do users want to do with these resources?”
It must not be said that the work in creating the application profiles mentioned above has been wasted. At the same time, the above application profiles constitute general purpose solutions that do not target specific problems affecting identifiable communities of practice across the sector. There is considerable work continuing in Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) circles on how metadata modelling should best be carried out, for instance on the Dublin Core Abstract Model (DCAM) and on the overlap between application profiles and linked data, where those application profiles contain relationships that can better enable resource discovery in a linked data world.
These approaches remain useful. However, more immediate, specific problem spaces face particular university services (not all of which are necessarily repositories) in trying to describe resources so that they can be discovered, providing copyright and other licensing information so that they can be re-used, providing funding information so that work can be audited and cases can be constructed for funding new projects, and so on. Some of these resources may be textual, but others are increasingly including images (of many types and for many purposes), music, film, audio recordings, learning objects of many types, and large scale corpora of data. Any metadata solution that is tailored to a particular purpose (and, thus, which is usually de facto an application profile) needs to address specific aspects of the Web services that practitioners and other service providers are seeking to develop for their users, not simply provide general catch-all metadata of relatively generic use.
Key to all this is consultation with those communities: first, to scope the most significant two or three problem spaces that face the largest number of resource providers in serving their users; second, to get those practitioners together with developers to draw up practical, workable recommendations and perhaps demonstrations; third, to provide tangible evidence to the developers of existing software platforms, and to engage with them to help solve such problems in practice. To do this, it is necessary to engage practitioners and deverlopers in practical, hands-on activities that can bring the discussion forward and provide tangible solutions.
Posted on March 23rd, 2010 2 comments
EPrints 3.2.0 was released on 10th March 2010. It has some remarkable new features relating to linked data and, consequently, to Dublin Core Application Profiles based on multiple entity domain models such as SWAP, IAP and TBMAP (the GAP does not have a domain model). Here are the key points:
Linked Data Support
- Ability to establish arbitrary relations between objects or provide additional metadata in triple form.
Semantic Web / Linked Data (RDF)
We have made a (difficult) decision to move these features to 3.2.1 (due out soon after 3.2.0) because testing showed it caused a significant slow down.
We’re rewriting it to do the same thing but with much less overhead!
However, as may be seen on the EPrints wiki, the latter section read as follows until 11th March 2010:
Semantic Web Support
- RDF+XML Format
- N3 Format
- URIs for all objects, including non dataobjs. [sic] eg. Authors, Events, Locations.
- BIBO Ontology
- URIs now use content negotiation to decide which export plugin to redirect to, based on mime-types supplied by plugins and the “accept” header.
- Relations between eprints and documents
If this is understood on face value, it appears that there has been significant progress in enabling features that would allow the full implementation of the JISC’s DCAPs based on the simplified FRBR model, although we must wait for some important details until the promised version 3.2.1, which is to be released “soon after 3.2.0″ according to the statement above. Although objects may be described with “arbitrary relations” and “additional metadata” (additional to what?) can be described in triple form, there are not yet URIs for all entities, such as Authors and so on. Presumably, the support for BIBO would be more demanding that the support required for the cut-down version of FRBR as seen, for example, in SWAP.
This is all very promising, especially in the light of the same functionality being promised in DSpace 2.0, which were not yet implemented in the recent release of DSpace 1.6.0. However, all of this must come with the caveat that, until this is tried out in practice, it is not certain which levels of implementation are possible: clearly, the actual metadata fields can easily be adopted by any repository, but what about the relationships between entities, and the relationships with other complex objects? How exactly will these be implemented in practice? For the purposes of linked data, we also have to wait until EPrints 3.2.1 for metadata in the RDF+XML format.
To this end, although UKOLN cannot offer a publicly accessible test repository with user access, we hope wherever possible to implement and test these pieces of repository software for their usability with SWAP, IAP, TBMAP, GAP and DC-Ed in the first instance, since the majority of repositories in the UK HE sector use these platforms. Of course, we would also like to do the same with Fedora at some point in the future. However, if you have evidence of any such implementations, even for test purposes, and if you are happy for us to evaluate these, we would be very happy to hear from you.
Posted on August 6th, 2009 No comments
We’ve recently started trying out various methodologies for testing whether the different bits of application profiles work for the people trying to use those resources. The main thing to remember is that the approach must not be too technical: anybody ought to be able to understand what the metadata terms and the relationships between digital objects on the web are trying to achieve. This is hands-on metadata for real people!
So we’ve been to various meetings lately. The first one is perhaps the least relevant from most people’s point of view, the Metadata Registries Meeting at the Novotel Centre, York, 23-24 July 2009. We were seeking feedback and discussion of our methodology, as well as talking about a few technical possibilities, which was a useful thing to do. You may ask, what are registries? Well they aren’t the subject of this blog, but in brief they are places that allow people to share their metadata schemas, application profiles and so on, as well as to find tools to help them develop, build and maintain them over time. Remember that application profiles are living structures that should change as the metadata needs of your users in dealing with the resources that you provide change over time. We (UKOLN) operate a registry called IEMSR.
So what did we do for the people?! Well, first of all we went to the Institutional Web Managers Workshop 2009 (IWMW), 28-30 July 2009 because we felt that they are people who are focussed on making services work for users. It may have been an advantage in some ways that they weren’t by and large repository-related people and could look on things from a fresh perspective. It’s always good to get a range of different approaches: after all, won’t the users come to a repository, VRE, VLE or other service with a whole range of points of view and things they want to do? You can see a slightly ad hoc and only mildly embarrassing interview with me, Talat Chaudhri of UKOLN, explaining in about 20 seconds of profound unreadiness over coffee what it is that application profiles (should) do. (Why on earth did the kind editor choose that particular first frame to stop the video?!) Not a bad attempt, given the lack of coffee, I hope you may agree.
What we did was to get people to think about resources, and reasons why users would want to be looking at them. We played with post-it notes (also called stick-it notes elsewhere?) that had metadata terms written on them, and arranged them in logical groups that would help a person who was trying to perform focussed searches for resources. Any resource type will do: for instance, we tested it out before the session on “beach life: what you might find on a beach and what you might want to know about it”. It doesn’t even have to be sensible! In real life application profiles, however, you obviously need to think of the whole range of things that people will want to do with your resource. The best way: ask them! Don’t engineer things that people won’t want to use. The extra complexity creates the very real danger of making your structures difficult to search, which will put off the very users that are supposed to be using the service.
This method is called card sorting, and is quite well known. It does have some limitations, but we have already shown its usefulness in focussing attention on what users need to do. One limitation, for instance, is that it’s rather hard not to prejudice the process from the beginning. If you ask the participants to think of the scenarios that users might search for resources first, then participants will come with pre-ordained ideas that will tend to undermine the fresh analysis of user requirements that we are looking for. On the other hand, if you don’t let them know until they have already thought of the terms that they need to describe the resource, on the first try they will tend to organise them in ways that don’t work with the scenarios. Let us remember, though, that this is just the first iteration of a development cycle for metadata solutions. You need to take every new version back to the users and check that it does what they need it to.
A second limitation is that paper prototyping can’t produce the complex cross-links that you’d find in a real database. A third one is that it doesn’t begin to touch the importance of interface design to usability testing of metadata terms and structures. You may (or may not) need a complex data structure. However, your user should only see what they need to see in order to accomplish what they want. Anything else will actually hinder their use of the service, be it a web page or a repository deposit interface. That complexity can be generated behind the scenes by software, so that users are asked understandable, intuitive and above all useful questions that facilitate their end user experience. We’re also working on these areas.
We then went to the Repositories Fringe 2009 in Edinburgh, 30-31 July 2009. (You will see from the above dates that this was a bit of a marathon!) The session was broadcast live on the Web, and I hope that the recording will be made available before long. I will add a link here if/when that happens. Having learnt a little from the above session, we did more of the same. We learnt a lot about how to get user requirements, and even more about how not to do it!
We were asked if we were running a focus group. If people want application profiles like SWAP, IAP, GAP, TBMAP and so on to be implemented, we will certainly have to consult focus groups, but we will tell people when that is what we’re doing. First, however, we are trying to raise discussion about how we can analyse user requirements on an ongoing basis and transmit that hard evidence to developers, so that will have a reason to go to the trouble of incorporating it into their software releases. At present, we can’t show them sufficient evidence that these APs do what they are intended for, which is why repository software developers in particular have been understandably agnostic about APs. But the other thing that is crucial is to engage service providers and users. Why do they want to come? If they don’t get something out of the event that will improve their service or their knowledge, preferably both, they won’t come. This was as much an outreach and training event as a focus group.
We’re hoping that this is a good start towards an iterative, user-driven method for analysing existing APs for various purposes, as well as for designing new APs from scratch. We’re confident that it’s going well at the moment and that we are beginning to get answers. But the task of making your metadata fit the service that you provide is ongoing, because services also change over time. It’s best not to be too prescriptive, as different institutional or web services take different approaches to achieving the same things. We are aiming at a flexible, iterative, toolkit approach that works for as many people as possible, and offers a range of tools to implement relevant parts of an overall solution that work for the services and users concerned.
Lastly, the fact that we are reviewing APs should not be taken as a criticism of the ones that we have, even if deficiencies are found that need to be rectified, or new approaches taken. The work that was done in creating them has laid the groundwork for this new activity, which is aimed precisely at making the results of that work more useful in the community of web services that they were intended for. Change should be welcomed because needs and requirements change, along with our understanding of how best to analyse them.application profiles, user testing application profiles, APs, card sorting, DCAPs, GAP, IAP, IEMSR, interface design, iterative development, IWMW, jiscob, metadata, Metadata Registries Meeting, metadata terms, paper prototyping, repositories, Repositories Fringe, SWAP, TBMAP, usability testing, user requirements, user testing, VLEs, VREs
Posted on March 12th, 2009 No comments
At present we are working on practical evaluation and user testing of SWAP, the first and most fully developed of the DCAPs funded by JISC. The aim of this work is to enable us to report on how well SWAP fits the real needs of repository managers in their day-to-day work. On this basis, we intend to organise further practical events, both for repository managers and for repository platform developers. The hope is to provide an impetus for SWAP to be supported by the major repository platforms in an appropriate form. This feedback should provide a sound basis to continue the development cycle of SWAP and improve it over time.
We are not forgetting, however, the needs of the other resource types for which DCAPs have been developed, and the process is intended to be an iterative one, learning from the experience of SWAP in the first instance and inviting domain specialists for each resource type to help adapt the process for the needs of the section of the repository community involved with that particular resource. We invite those user communities and specialists to engage with us in the same process as outlined for SWAP above.
Web resources have living, changing needs and user communities, so we believe that their application profiles should reflect this. Obviously, there is a balance to be struck between developing and maintaining useful standards that can be relied upon, and meeting these changing requirements. The only way to do this properly is to use inclusive methods, consulting domain specialists and real users as much as possible.