January 14, 2013, by Rosamund Aubrey

What an unexciting title for an exciting project

Research and Education Space, ReS, isn’t a must find out what that’s about title, which is a pity because it’s an exciting project with great potential for further and higher education. JISC is match funding the BBC with £2.9m over three years to make digital archives available to students and academics. I am shamelessly going to lift information from other posts and Mo McRoberts on the BBC Digital Public Space project describing The Digital Public Space.

“I and a couple of colleagues work on the Digital Public Space project. This is a partnership between the BBC and other cultural institutions in the UK, including museums, archives, libraries, galleries and educational bodies, all of whom share a vision of not simply using Internet technology as a distribution channel, but instead being part of that digital environment as it evolves: being part of the Web, rather than just on it.”

Making content available is also a technical challenge and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international partnership to set the standards which aims to achieve this. W3C standards define an Open Web Platform for application development that has the potential to enable developers to build rich interactive experiences, powered by vast data stores, available on any device.

In Open Democracy and the tale of two charters, Open Democracy makes a valuable contribution to the debate about digital commons. The opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics with Tim Berners-Lee sitting with a laptop with “This is for everyone” in lights around the stadium, is a dream or vision, but not the reality at the moment, if it ever will be. It is well worth reading the full Open Democracy article, but here is a quote on the role of the BBC.

“The BBC has three pivotal roles to play in developing a digital commons. Firstly, it can build on its pioneering role in presenting programmes not simply as events, to be listened to or viewed, but as points of entry into a range of related materials and opportunities for discussion and debate. In the digital age what is available behind the screen is as important as what appears on it. Secondly, because of its continuing ability to command mass audiences it is best placed to develop collaborative projects that broaden access to the work of other public cultural institutions. Thirdly, because it remains widely trusted and has built one of the best used web sites, it offers the optimum location for a general search engine enabling users to navigate their way around the cultural materials stored across all public institutions, not just in Britain but around the world.”

Crowd sourcing is a rich seam of amateur content, a valuable resource and is democratic, but it is also the challenge. Rethinking the relations between professional and diverse amateur activity, expert and lay knowledge, presents challenges, but they are challenges that need to be met and negotiated if the full potential of digitisation is to be realised.

These are very early days. Organisations digitising their archives and making them available is a huge step forward, and the resources available to the Arts & Humanities and the Social Sciences has such potential. There is also potential for research into the many challenges of the Digital Public Space and perhaps universities should be taking a lead in these challenges rather than just benefiting from the rich seam of resources. Being part of the web, not just on it …..

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