Virtuous and vicious circles

There is an increasing focus within JISC’s Content Programme on social media, mobile technologies and multi-channel communications. We have moved away from being merely concerned with the practices of digitisation, and with core technologies such as metadata or website development. Projects are discovering that the way people use and interact with resources is critical to success and some, such as British Library Sounds, and Connected Histories, are developing multiple communication channels as part of their endeavours to reach out to their users.

Sophisticated marketing approaches have become essential to getting the word out about our offer. But then what? Once the word is out, what else can we do to ensure happy customers? Are we going to be able to manage day-to-day interactions; to respond to new demands for content or just deal with simple enquiries? Getting your resource to actually perform as a forum for scholarly pursuits requires a lot of planning and might need dedicated staff to look after communication channels. If we want to encourage scholarly interaction, it becomes vital to have people dedicated to responding to queries and seeding communications. Brian Kelly suggests we are moving towards a time when social media might impact scholarly research in profound ways and we need to be ready to respond the challenge.

Having said all this, I think high quality content is the vital starting point for effective communication. The act of digitising is still the first action which makes physical objects into items that can be shared and examined in so many new ways. It is easy to forget how much effort goes into making high quality digital images and ensuring that the original object is best represented in digital form. Current work on the Zandra Rhodes Style Bibles provides a fantastic example of the rigorous methods required to get the job done, whilst ensuring technical processes are adhered to, objects are well captured and most essentially digitally preserved. Releasing such valuable material is the first step in a long journey to developing a dialogue about it. When people enter into discussion (either on or off line) about the material, we can really say we have started to make an impact, but the more impact we make, the more we need to plan in order to keep our resource alive and supported long term. For some this is a virtuous circle for others a vicious one.

By Peter Findlay

Subject Matter Expert, Digital Scholarship, Content and Discovery, Jisc

Working with Jisc's Higher Education members to improve access to to their special collections in the age of data-centric arts, humanities and social science research.

I am a site admin for this website.

2 replies on “Virtuous and vicious circles”

Hi Pete
Thanks for the link to my blog post.
I agree with your comment that “high quality content is the vital starting point for effective communication” – apart from one word. I would suggest that “high quality content is the a vital starting point for effective communication“.
As I described in my blog post there are example in scientific research, including Galaxy Zoo and Timothy Gower’s Polymath experiment,in which the value of the work came about as a result of large numbers of users engaging with the activities.

Similarly we can find that valuable open source software is developed as a result of applying the principle that “all bugs are shallow to many eyes“.

It can therefore be important to ensure that there is a large and active community involved not just as passive consumers of content but also engaged during development. That’s why I am so pleased to see JISC Programme Managers being pro-active in Twitter, sharing resources and engaging in discussions. In some sectors social media is regarded as simply a marketing tool. It’s good to see that our sector sees that value of social media in development work as well as marketing and outreach.

Yes, the indefinite article is perhaps more appropriate Brian. I suppose that most digitising institutions are initially involved in pushing content out and only become proactive in two way communications once content has been released and is being consumed by users of a service. I was therefore alluding to the need for the provision of quality content as a catalyst. Obviously if the project is about crowd-sourcing there is a different emphasis from the start. The same goes for OERs where one is looking to have material reused and hopefully embedded in teaching and learning.

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