Open Context

opencontext.jpgI once was part of a project where I had to sign a confidentiality agreement not to disclose the raw data of others’ areas-of-interest, since they hadn’t published it yet. This was a problem for me, for my own work depended on that data. Did I have to wait until other people’s work was published before I could publish my own? Eric Kansa, of the ‘Digging Digitally‘ blog of the Alexandria Archive recently pointed me to a project that promises to mitigate those sorts of concerns, and it points to a fundamentally new way for archaeologists to make their work known to each other and the wider world.

Open Context currently has 164063 items

Open Context‘ is an impressive beta-stage project to make archaeological datasets dynamically searchable, and to provide hosting for archaeological datasets. In a sense, it responds to similar needs as the Omeka system. A nice feature is the use of tags – as people search the data, they add their own tags to it, allowing the collective wisdom of the archaeological crowd to impose a kind of order to the data:

Open Context features an innovative folksonomy system that will encourage individual users to add value to the information in Open Context. This powerful social software allows users to add meaningful tags (keywords) to data they discover in their searches.

  • Tagging helps guide users to discover interesting facts, images, maps, and other types of content that other users have tagged.
  • Tagging also acts as a simple, yet powerful, way to make meaningful links and comparisons of research data compiled from different sources.
  • Tagging helps to integrate Open Context’s pooled body of diverse datasets without forcing overly rigid, difficult to apply, predetermined standards on contributors .
  • Tag sets can be saved by users to be searched and cited by others and used in future studies or publications.
  • Tags can help manage the complexity of querying multiple datasets– users can build complex searches in a series of simple stages or increments.

Open Context also provides stable citations to any page in the data which is an extremely important feature – the sort of thing that would allow people to get their data out into the world, while still maintaining the original rights to it. Archaeologists it often seems, do not really want to share their data. Open Context tackles that head on:

“Open Context is a searchable resource that recognizes the importance of authorship in scholarship. Unless explicitly indicated, the content in Open Context is NOT in the public domain. Contributors to Open Context own copyright to the content they contribute. Contributors license their content for certain uses. By using Open Context, you agree to the licensing conditions (if any) that contributors impose on their content. By using Open Context you also agree to adhere to appropriate social norms for your profession. In other words, please treat the content presented here as scholarly. This means you should properly cite and attribute authors for their scholarly contributions. Failure to do so violates professional ethics and may violate the legal terms of some copyright licenses.”

The biggest problem for these sorts of online repositories is usually from the point of view of the user: ‘How do I get my excavation archive online with a minimum of fuss?’ Open Context is developing a tool to do just that:

Open Context is a free resource for the community to contribute, use, and comment on cultural heritage data. In order to simplify its use, the AAI will introduce a desktop authoring tool for Open Context contributors. This data-weaving tool, called “Penelope”, will enable individual researchers to publish their analytic data, notes, images, maps, and other types of content in the Open Context system. Penelope will be available in Fall 2006 as a download on this website and will come with simple instructions on how to prepare and upload content.

Well, Penelope hasn’t arrived yet, but when putting datasets online becomes as easy as writing & having a blog, or slapping together a document in a wordprocessor, then we’ll begin to see some real changes in the practice of archaeology. Half the battle, it seems sometimes, is getting access to the materials of others’ excavations.

Or even worse, figuring out what you did with your own context sheets from that excavation you did three years ago.

For more on Open Context, read the following:

“The Nov-Dec 2007 issue of Educational Technology magazine is an entire special issue dedicated to “Opening Educational Resources”. A series of articles in this issue highlight open educational models, including OpenCourseWare, Connexions and a piece on Open Context called “Open Content in Open Context”, co-authored by Sarah Whitcher Kansa and Eric Kansa. Click here to download the article.”

or view & listen to a lecture by Eric Kansa here .

One thought on “Open Context

  1. Thanks for the note and blogging about Open Context!

    You just alerted be to an embarrassing oversight also. We had an old version of the “contribute” discussion up (here’s the current version), which described an earlier release plan for Penelope, the data import tool. Actually, Penelope is up and available for people who have an Open Context login. It’s still an evaluation / testing release, but it is sufficiently robust that we used it to upload gobs of material from the Brown University excavations at the Great Temple in Petra. Penelope is also strictly web-based, so there’s no need to download an external application.


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