Effectively writing for the web involves having useful content, written in an easy to understand style and formatted to be quickly scanned by readers. Studies have shown that users typically scan text on websites, rather than reading word-for-word. Users read in quick, short bursts and tend to be action-oriented, in search of a goal. It takes users longer to read the same passage on a screen than it does on paper.
It’s important to catch the attention of your reader in the first few words. Use an inverted pyramid style for your web writing. Present the most important information first, followed by supporting detail. This style is a courtesy to your readers, allowing them to determine early on whether the content will meet their needs, or if they should keep searching.
A few simple tips:
Usability of web content increased by 124% when content creators concentrated on:
- Keeping text concise
- Word count should be 50% less than print
- Keep sentences (1-20 words) and paragraphs (1-5 sentences) short
- User simpler language and shorter words
- Include a single idea per paragraph
- Using neutral/objective language
- Promotional, or marketing language turns users off off users [split infinitive?]
- Avoid jargon
- Use sensible (not clever) headings and sub-headings
- Using an easily scannable layout
- Bulleted lists
- Start with the conclusion
- Highlight key words
- Centered text is harder to read than left aligned text
- Most important info should be at the top of the page
More information on writing content for the web can be found in Chapter 15 of the US Government Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines.
(by Peter Hirtle)
One of the more interesting experiments in citizen democracy is the White House petition. Anyone can propose a petition; if it gets enough signatures (currently 100,000), the White House has to respond. My favorite so far has been the petition proposing that the government build a Death Star. The official White House response is entitled “This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For.”
A library class at Dominican University posted a more serious petition this weekend. The class, which is taught by my LibraryLaw colleague Mary Minow, has proposed that we recast copyright for the digital age. The petition notes that the public has lost respect for copyright law. To fix it, it proposes that we secure digital first sale rights, more transparency in the marketplace (I assume no more fraudulent copyright notices), and a right to remix.
The likelihood that the petition will get to 100,000 seems small, but you have to admire the faith of these students in American democracy. You can find the petition at http://tinyurl.com/recastcopyright. It is relatively easy to register with the site and then sign the petition.
At long last, DCAPS is pleased to be able to offer preservation-quality digitization of your A/V assets. We now have the capacity to do in-house digitization of VHS, audio cassette tape, and vinyl, and have plans to expand our services to include U-matic and mini-dv in the coming months. All other formats we can outsource for you to a reputable vendor. Our new A/V specialist, Tre Berney, is happy to advise you on your collections and develop a preservation strategy for your most valuable and high-risk assets. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a little insight into the complexity of developing this program, please continue reading!
Since taking over management of the Digital Media Group at CUL in 2005, A/V has felt like my own personal white elephant in the room. I knew that at some point (always “very soon”) I was going to have to deal with it, but didn’t have the staffing, resources, or know-how to really begin to tackle it. I sensed the overwhelming complexity of formats; the problems of nascent delivery platforms; and the lack of a viable preservation system (not to mention standards) to handle the files in perpetuity. So instead I punted, outsourcing when necessary, but also developing very small “boutique” collections of A/V content with which to cut my teeth. (One particularly fun and successful project involved partnering with the University of Bremen to digitize, describe, translate, and caption 22 films by the German filmmaker Alexander Kluge: http://muller-kluge.library.cornell.edu/en/index.php.) While I learned a huge amount in the process of developing this type of collection, it in no way approached the range of activities needed to deal with A/V in a systematic way across the Library’s vast holdings.
In pondering A/V more expansively, I’ve always broken it into three primary components: digitization, delivery, and preservation (of course, metadata is integral to all three). I felt like, until we had a viable option for at least 2 out of 3 of these, it would be folly to pursue it seriously. Then in 2010 Cornell University contracted with Kaltura to support delivery of A/V assets campus-wide, and Cornell Library completed Phase 1 of its Fedora based archival repository. When, in 2011, the Goldsen Archive became the official repository for the Experimental Television Center’s 40-year history of artist produced tapes (a phenomenal and historically significant collection), I knew it was time to begin digitizing A/V content inhouse. We applied for internal funding from the College of Arts & Sciences, and were awarded a small grant to digitize a portion of the Center’s VHS tapes.
By design I knew I wanted to begin simply. Starting with a single collection and a seemingly more accessible format like VHS seemed doable. Despite these good intentions, it’s been significantly more complicated than I anticipated. The classic trope, “the more I learn the more I realize how little I know,” definitely rings true in this case. That said, we now have a fully functional workspace for A/V digitization and a skilled technician to do the work. To get there, we contracted with Chris Laciank at AVPS (avpreserve.com) in New York to help us establish our lab-space and workflow, and hired an internal person with subject expertise in video art to begin digitization. We knew we wanted preservation and access quality versions, so we decided to benchmark at an uncompressed 10 bit format, which upped our storage requirements significantly (and also negated the possibility of using our current archival repository, which isn’t set up to ingest such large files). All in all, it’s been a rewarding endeavor, but if I had to do it all over again, here are a few things I wish I’d known in the beginning.
- Initially I thought I could get away without hiring an official A/V technician. This was very naïve of me. While we made progress in digitization, it was a very steep learning curve, much of which could have been mitigated by having a dedicated person on staff. It was equally important to have the subject-expert involved, but trying to cut corners by merging the positions was unadvisable.
- Starting with an albeit very compelling collection of experimental video art dating from the 1970’s has been very challenging, to put it mildly. I can see it as either incredibly demanding or remarkably forgiving, depending on the day and my mood. In short, it’s really hard to determine whether that tracking error or color shift was by design (think Nam June Paik) or a problem in the tape, further complicating the capture and qc process.
- Setting up a viable lab-space for A/V is much more demanding than for still images. One huge factor I didn’t consider: the potential electrical frequency interference from the small mechanical room adjacent to our lab. We had to find another location within the Library to set this up (never an easy prospect with the shortage of space typical of academic institutions).
- Overall, the A/V workflow is simply way more complex, from capture to qc to preservation- every step of the way is fraught with significant technical demands and challenges.
While I’m glad to have started this process, it’s still very daunting to contemplate what lies ahead. We have vast holdings of A/V content at very high risk, and no real way of dealing with it. For this reason, a colleague at the Lab of Ornithology and I have initiated a campus wide group to try to develop a comprehensive plan to deal with the University’s A/V assets, modeling our approach on the successful work done by Indiana University (http://www.indiana.edu/~medpres/). While there is no guarantee of success, I’m looking forward to learning more about what I don’t know (and probably won’t ever know), but hopefully getting the funding to hire many who do. Stay tuned.
PS-On the delivery front, this is a whole different story. Let’s just say nothing is ever “out of the box.” We are in the final stages of implementing Kaltura for the Library, after making a number of regrettable compromises in the process. Write me if you want to gory details.
-Danielle Mericle, April 2013
The DSPS-cosponsored “Conversations in Digital Humanities” discussion series is successfully underway, with two events this month and two planned for April.
We began the Conversations in Digital Humanities series this year, in partnership with Olin and Uris Libraries, The Society for the Humanities, and the Central New York Humanities Corridor, with additional support from the Cornell Department of Architecture and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The series invites speakers whose research and practice break new ground in understanding how media and digital methodologies change the landscape of research, teaching, learning, creative expression, and cultural experience.
Our goal is to provide a discussion forum for scholars and practitioners whose projects explore the intersections of advanced digital technology and cultural understanding. We’re excited to be engaging a broad community of interest that reaches across disciplinary and institutional lines.
Please see the full series program here for more information about past and upcoming events.
We’re currently planning the 2013-2014 series and welcome suggestions for speakers.
(by Peter Hirtle)
Many of you will have seen the article in the Cornell Daily Sun last November on the Wiley v. Kirtsaeng case. While a Cornell student, Supap Kirtsaeng bought legal copies of textbooks in Thailand and then sold them in the United States. The appeals court in New York found him guilty of copyright infringement after concluding that the “first sale” doctrine, which allows us to sell used books and allows libraries to lend materials, did not apply to materials manufactured abroad.
Today in an overwhelming victory for consumers and libraries, the Supreme Court decided that first sale does apply to foreign manufactured goods. In its decision, it cited the horrible impact that any other finding would have on the ability of libraries to acquire, lend, and even publicly display books. You can read more in the press release from the Library Copyright Alliance.
While this decision represents a win for all who believe that if “you bought it, you own it,” the war may not yet be over. The two decisions supporting Kirtsaeng also noted that Congress has the power to give copyright owners the ability to segment markets along geographic lines. We will have to remain alert to possible legislative initiatives that could impact how we do our work.
This is relatively old news now, but still worth sharing. On February 22, the Office of Science and Technology Policy announced that federal agencies with more than $100 million in research expenditures will be required to develop policies that ensure free, public access to publications and data resulting from the research they fund.
If you’d like to read the full memorandum from OSTP, you’ll find it here (PDF):
During the Fall 2012 semester, I joined some colleagues from Academic Technology Services (ATS) to participate in a Beta pilot program for Blackboard’s new product called xpLor. xpLor is a cloud-based Learning Object Repository (LOR). “Learning objects” can be files (documents, PDFs, media clips), quizzes, assignments, discussions, rubrics, and learning modules. The goal of a LOR is to provide an environment where content can shared across classes and even institutions, and can easily be imported into Blackboard Learn and other learning management systems such as Angel, Joule, and Moodle.
Participants in the Beta pilot created and shared content, and provided feedback on their experiences to Blackboard through interactive webinars and user forums. The Cornell team identified benefits and challenges throughout the pilot. Our report on the Beta experience has been posted at http://www.it.cornell.edu/cms/teaching/upload/xpLorReportFinal.pdf
This is probably the single most important general meeting for those working in the area of data curation, and this year’s event drew more participants than ever before. The themes for the meeting were infrastructure, intelligence, and innovation. Here are some of the highlights for me:
Herbert Van de Sompel’s talk, “The Web as infrastructure for scholarly research and communication,” was easily the most interesting of the talks. In a retrospective of about 10 years of research activity that includes the development of OAI-PMH, OAI-ORE, ResourceSync and Memento, he traced a fundamental change in thinking about the web, our understanding of what constitutes core infrastructure on the web, and how to make the best possible use of it. This is a fascinating talk and I recommend giving it a view/listen (video, slides only).
Ewan Birney of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory explained why molecular biology archives have a tradition of openness (it’s the way the science gets done), and how improvements in sequencing technologies have resulted in a shift from sequencing being the bottleneck to analysis being the bottleneck. That’s not news for anyone familiar with the area, but the best part came when he gave us a sneak preview of the use of DNA as a potential storage medium for digital information. We were asked not to tweet or blog that news at the time, but since then, the findings have been published in Nature.
Throughout the conference there was a lot of discussion of the relationship between data and publications, and emerging forms of publication such as the data paper (a brief paper that serves primarily to describe a data set, not so much to share analyses and conclusions based upon the data). I heard several people characterize papers as “the best metadata there is” for a data set. While I don’t disagree that papers are great for conveying deep contextual information about the data – detailed methods, the purpose behind its collection and what it all means – I didn’t hear anyone raise the point that papers make lousy reading for computers. This was why hearing colleague Karen Baker mention a development at ZooKeys, an open access journal in systematics, was so interesting. The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and the publishers of ZooKeys developed a workflow to automatically create a data paper from a standards-based metadata document. This seems like a great approach, as using machine-readable metadata to automatically generate a human-readable “data paper” gives you both products for the same effort.
There were also some moments of tension and frustration throughout the conference. I suspect these arose because of disciplinary differences that become apparent at general meetings such as this one. A discussion of what makes a data scientist was a good example, and many individuals felt that this was not particularly controversial within their disciplines. Across disciplines, about the best you can do is to say that data scientists typically have a combination of domain, analytical, and IT expertise that enable them to participate fully in the research process. This is quite different from the roles most libraries and librarians are embracing, fancy job titles notwithstanding. Cliff Lynch made a good point on workforce issues in this area: most data scientists, however you define them, have been through a succession of careers by the time they reach that position, and this is not particularly sustainable or scalable.
And finally, a few odds and ends from talks, posters, and demos:
- A demo from Open Exeter on using SWORD and Globus to move large data sets into DSpace.
- Trisha Cruse presented on the suite of curation services offered by the California Digital Library. Of particular interest is the work they’ve done on modeling the costs of curation.
- Digital Science’s Kaitlin Thaney described some of the very popular tools they’ve launched (FigShare, AltMetric, LabGuru, SureChem, and others). Again, not news, but learning that Macmillan Publishers is behind Digital Science (coupled with the recent news that Nature is pulling the plug on Connotea) has me wondering about the long term fate of free services supported by commercial entities.
The full program, with links to presentations, is available here: http://www.dcc.ac.uk/events/idcc13
The Cornell University Library Archival Service (CULAR) continues to make steady progress towards its initial opening. CULAR is a “dark archive” focused on the preservation of digital objects. The service is built on a Fedora repository, integrating multiple check summing, redundant copies and continuous monitoring into a preservation solution for digital assets. We envision developing the service in stages, the initial one being modest in its features and offered for ingest of only Library-owned assets. This discreet scope will help us assess the service and the validity of the processes we have envisioned. What we learn will allow us to make appropriate course corrections and inform future development. It is our hope to eventually open the service to a wider range of depositors, and to ingest and preserve many types of Cornell digital assets.
Currently we are testing and adjusting our pre-ingest discovery processes with a small collection of electronic reports that is serving as our test case. The tests are going well: our process seems to appropriately elicit desires and needs (and a few surprises), yet is flexible enough to accommodate the entailments of that these require. The process also seems rigorous enough to guide us in learning all of the stakeholders involved and assist us in bringing them into pre-deposit activities. Participants are giving us continuous feedback, affirming and adjusting the process as necessary. After the pre-ingest discovery process is complete, we will ingest the same test-case collection as an actual deposit, proofing our processes for ingest and deposit closure.
The service will open for business in its initial Library-only phase as soon as the testing described above is complete, anticipated to be within the next two months. In the meantime, Library staff can peruse the CULAR Service wiki to learn more about the service, its scope and timeline. This wiki is presently open only to Library staff to reflect the limited nature of this first phase, and is regulated by the Library permit maintained by administrative staff in Olin Library 201. As the service develops to encompass CU assets that are not Library owned, we will open the wiki to a wider audience. In the meantime, if non-Cornell University Library staff are interested in the service, they could contact Michelle Paolillo for more information.
US Federal funders of research have been developing policies to ensure public access to the products of tax-payer funded research, and two of the major funding agencies have recently announced some changes to their policies with implications for scholarly communication. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has had in place since 2008 a policy requiring scientists to submit publications based on NIH-funded research to PubMed Central at the time they are accepted for publication. Since the policy went into effect, approximately 75% of eligible papers have been posted to PubMed Central. To increase compliance, the NIH announced last month that as early as next spring, it will delay processing of continuing grant awards (translation: withhold grant funds) if the researchers have failed to comply with the open access policy.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has also been working to improve access to the results of the research it funds by requiring (since January 2011) grant applicants to include a data management plan with grant proposals. These plans are to address issues such as access, reuse, preservation and other aspects of managing and sharing the data they produce. To demonstrate compliance, researchers are expected to report on the availability of research outputs in their interim and final reports. To give greater weight to research outputs besides traditional publication, the NSF announced a change to their grant proposal guidelines allowing biographical sketches for senior personnel to list up to five relevant and five additional research products, rather than just publications. These products may include items such as data sets, software, and patents. This might seem like a small change, but it has the potential effect of giving greater weight and visibility in the review process to less traditional products of research, perhaps incentivizing the sharing of these research outputs.
What do these policy developments mean for the library? In the case of the NIH policy, it probably means a growing awareness of open access policies and options among authors in the disciplines that NIH funds. While CUL librarians did some outreach to inform researchers and administrators of the NIH policy when it was first announced, NIH has chosen to support its requirement by maintaining PubMed Central. The library’s role at this stage is probably simply to advise researchers as to how to retain the necessary copy rights in order to comply with the policy. NSF’s approach is different, requiring researchers to find ways to archive and share data and other products of research, but without necessarily providing the infrastructure to make that possible. In addition to the data management plan consulting and outreach performed by the Research Data Management Service Group, we know some researchers are using eCommons for distributing research data. As the first grants that were subject to the data management plan requirement reach completion, we can expect greater use of eCommons for that purpose, as well as interest in other options, including domain-based repositories
- Gail Steinhartkeep looking »