Category: Omeka

Omeka Wins $50,000 MATC Award

FAIRFAX, Va., December 8, 2008 — The Center for History and New Media at George Mason University received a $50,000 Mellon Award for Technology Collaboration (MATC) for Omeka, a software project that greatly simplifies and beautifies the online publication of collections and exhibits. The award was given at the Coalition for Networked Information meeting Dec. 8 in Washington, D.C.

MATC awards recognize not-for-profit organizations that are making substantial contributions of their own resources toward the development of open source software and the fostering of collaborative communities to sustain open source development.

Omeka is a free and open source web publishing platform for scholars, librarians, archivists, museum professionals, educators and cultural enthusiasts. Its “five-minute setup” makes launching an online exhibition as easy as launching a blog. Omeka is designed with non-IT specialists in mind, allowing users to focus on content and interpretation rather than programming. It brings Web 2.0 technologies and approaches to academic and cultural web sites to foster user interaction and participation. It makes top-shelf design easy with a simple and flexible templating system. Its robust open-source developer and user communities underwrite Omeka’s stability and sustainability.

“Until now, scholars and cultural heritage professionals looking to publish collections-based research and online exhibitions required either extensive technical skills or considerable funding for outside vendors,” said Tom Scheinfeldt, project co-lead and managing director of CHNM. “By making standards-based, serious online publishing easy, Omeka puts the power and reach of the web in the hands of academics and cultural professionals themselves.”

Scheinfeldt accepted the award from Vinton Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google, who chaired the blue-ribbon prize committee. The committee also included Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web; John Gage, chief researcher and director of the Science Office at Sun Microsystems, Inc.; Mitchell Baker, CEO of the Mozilla Corporation; Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media; John Seely Brown, former chief scientist at Xerox Corp.; Ira Fuchs, vice president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and Donald J. Waters, program officer in the Program in Scholarly Communication at the Mellon Foundation.

Design Matters

One of the more uncomfortable truths about digital humanities—indeed, likely one of the reasons for resistance to digital humanities among traditional scholars—is that design matters. Those of us who have chosen the life of the mind like to think that ideas and insights will find an audience and make an impact regardless of such superficial things as the vehicle those ideas and insights are communicated through. Design also smacks of marketing, which most professors consider unseemly.

But good design for a website, service, or tool means, as Roy Rosenzweig and I put it in Digital History, that your resource will be useful and used. Useful because your resource will be structured in such a way that a user will be able to fully explore and learn from it; used because the user will be drawn into the resource and highlight its existence to others.

Case in point: Here is the website of the Ringwood (New Jersey) Public Library:

A not atypical website for a local public library. And here is the Ringwood Public Library’s site about the history of Upper Ringwood:

The latter is powered by Omeka. Which of these would you rather spend time with?

Omeka Gets Even Better

Tom Scheinfeldt, co-director of the Omeka project along with Sharon Leon, shares the good news of a major upgrade to both the code and the website for the Center for History and New Media‘s online collection and exhibit software on Omeka’s blog.

The new version of Omeka has an even easier way to build an exhibit, wrap it in a design theme, and extend your site with plugins. Improved documentation and user support will help you along the way. For developers and geeks, the revamped theme API and plugin API make it simple to extend Omeka, or you can get involved with the project in other ways. And the Omeka team is about to make it a snap to import digital objects from a variety of repositories and other software.

You can find all of this goodness on the beautiful new Omeka site (below). Congrats to the hard-working Omeka team: Tom, Sharon, Jeremy Boggs, Jim Safley, Kris Kelly, Sheila Brennan, Dave Lester, and Ken Albers.

Omeka’s Quick Start

Tom has the news that Omeka reached over 1000 downloads in only 10 weeks—a remarkable number for a collections management and web exhibit system primarily adopted by institutions rather than individuals.

Creating a successful tool for universities, libraries, and museums is incredibly difficult; kudos to the entire Omeka team. They’ve done a lot of things right. They understand that design matters. Omeka looks great to the curators who administer it as well as to the users who visit an Omeka-powered site. Little details matter. Omeka’s metadata entry page, for instance, automatically morphs (using AJAX) so that curators aren’t confronted by fields that aren’t applicable to the object at hand. Documentation matters. The Omeka team is doing a weekly video/screencast to explain its features and operation. Creating a community around the tool matters. Omeka already has an active user forum and developers’ list, and the team meets regularly with institutional stakeholders.

Coming in 2009: a hosted version of Omeka, to make it even easier for those who want to use the software but who might not have the technical skill or staff to install and maintain the open source package.

Items of Interest for June 12, 2008

Give Omeka a Try

If you’ve been interested in CHNM‘s Omeka software but would like to try it before you buy it (for $0 since it’s open source), there’s now a demo version for you to check out. While you can already find many examples of Omeka in action on the web, the sandbox allows everyone to play with the administrative interface behind Omeka, including collections management and exhibit construction. That back end is, of course, as well designed as the front end due to our great design and development team.

Video Intro to Omeka

One lesson from the Zotero project has been the wild popularity and usefulness of video introductions or screencasts to help people understand and get started with a new piece of software. Text explanations and manuals just do don’t as good a job as showing software in action.

This month’s THAT Podcast from Jeremy Boggs and Dave Lester walks the viewer through the installation and customization of Omeka, which Jeremy and Dave work on, and which just launched recently. (And it’s off to a fantastic start, with active forums and nearly 300 downloads in under a week, a very large number for an institutional web app.) It also includes interviews with Tom Scheinfeldt and Sharon Leon, the directors of the project.

THAT Podcast on Omeka 1

THAT Podcast on Omeka 2

The podcast is filmed in part in the Center for History and New Media‘s “Owl Lounge,” a favorite brainstorming site at the Center. And yes, Dave and Jeremy are already showing off some of the Omeka swag, including t-shirts and laptop stickers.

The Omeka and Zotero teams are currently out in force at the packed Code4Lib 2008 conference in Portland, Oregon, where they will each be presenting and hacking.

Introducing Omeka

Omeka logoToday the Center for History and New Media launches another major software platform that we hope will be of great help to universities, libraries, museums, historians, researchers, and anyone else who would like to put a collection or exhibit online. It’s called Omeka, from the Swahili word meaning “to display or layout goods or wares; to speak out; to spread out; to unpack.” The public beta released today was underwritten by the generosity of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

I’ll get to the details momentarily, but I’ve found that it’s often helpful to brashly distill years of careful thought, design, and programming into a handy catchphrase that anyone can understand and pass around. For Zotero, it’s “like iTunes for your references and research”; for Omeka, think “WordPress for your exhibits and collections.”

As with Zotero, Omeka grew organically out of a strong need that we identified at CHNM over the last decade, as we built a series of projects that presented, and in some cases collected, historical artifacts. Projects such as the September 11 Digital Archive and associated work with institutions such as the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress made us realize how much work—and how much money—it takes for institutions (and individuals) to mount high-quality and flexible exhibits online, and to manage the underlying collections.

Omeka aims to simplify this entire process, save valuable resources, and create a free and open platform that the museum and library community, and anyone else, can enrich to by developing themes and plugins. The 150 institutions already using Omeka as part of our pre-beta, ranging from the small (North Carolina’s The Light Factory and Cultural & Heritage MuseumsRiver Docs exhibit) to the large (the New York Public Library) have already responded to the ease-of-use and power of the platform.

River Docs Home Page
[River Docs exhibit, powered by Omeka]

Not only can Omeka provide a high-gloss front end for an exhibit, but it also provides an equally nice-looking and flexible back end that hews to critical standards (such as Dublin Core). Here’s a sneak peek:

Omeka Start Page
The Omeka start page.

Omeka Add Item Page
Adding items is a simple process, but collections conform to library and museum metadata standards, and you can also use tags.

The theme-switching process and plugin architecture at the heart of Omeka will be familiar to users who are accustomed to working with popular blogging software, but Omeka includes a number of features that are directed specifically at academic, museum, and library use. First, the system functions using an archive built on a rigorous metadata scheme, allowing it to be interoperable with existing content management systems and all other Omeka installations. Second, Omeka includes a process for building narrative exhibits with flexible layouts.

Omeka Layouts Page
The layout of your site can be changed with a single click.

These two features alone provide cultural institutions with the power to increase their web presence and to showcase the interpretive expertise of curators, archivists, and historians. But Omeka’s plugin architecture also allows users to do much more to extend their exhibits to include maps, timelines, and folksonomies, and it provides the APIs (application programming interfaces) that open-source developers and designers need to add additional functionality to suit their own institutions’ particular needs. In turn, a public plugins and themes directory will allow these community developers to donate their new tools back to the rest of Omeka users. The Omeka team is eager to build a large and robust community of open-source developers around this suite of technologies.

You can learn much more about Omeka on its website. Credit goes to the fantastic Omeka team: directors Tom Scheinfeldt and Sharon Leon; developer and manager Jeremy Boggs; manager Sheila Brennan; and developers Kris Kelly, Dave Lester, Jim Safley, and Jon Lesser.