Tools and Methodologies

The research digital artefact is an interactive video that tells the history of women in Ireland in the last hundred years through poems written by women. In the last years technologies have become more accessible not only for users, but also for creators of content. So it is important that they are used to give people a way to express themselves, especially people that are usually excluded from the media and the technologies; having the possibility to express themselves is also a cathartic process as relating and sharing the issues make them more bearable. There are many issues and event in the last years of history of Ireland related to women that still need to be processed by the women that have experienced them directly or indirectly; and it is also important that these issue and events are remembered, so that they would not be repeated. Furthermore the use of technologies give a way of expressions different from the traditional ones; history and poetry has up to now been mostly relegated to books, but books can reach only some people; technologies like video and audio can reach a different audience, possible a wider audience, but more importantly an audience that usually has been excluded from these “cultural” exposure.

The project involves several phases and each requires different tools; at first it is necessary to collect all poems; then the poems need to be selected and a video is to be made for each of them; lastly the interactive video, where the poem video can be viewed, needs to be created. This is a continuous process as poets can keep submitting their poems that would be added to the interactive video; therefore the interactive video is not a static entity, but is constantly evolving as more poems are added for the same event/issues or for events/issue that are happening in the future.

The following sections will look in detail at each of these phases and at the tools that are needed for each of them.

The Project Map

Collecting the poems

The first phase involves the collection of poems; while this could be done by email or even by post, this approach would be time consuming; so it would be better to have the poets uploading their poems to a website; the website will store the poems in a database. The website would collect the poems, some information about the event/issue to whom the poem relates, possibly an audio file of the poem or a link to a video, and maybe photographs and images related to the event. It will also collect some information about the writer (name, email, phone number, town and country – not the full address), short biography. Therefore the website needs to have accounts for the poets, so that they can login and update their information and add other poems without having to enter their details again.

The most common used Content Management System (CMS) on the web is WordPress; it started as a blogging platform, but has acquired a lot more functionalities, it is well maintained, and there are a lot of free themes and plugins for changing the interface and adding functionalities; it has also a good documentation on how to customize it, so it is to adapt it to meet specific requirement. So WordPress could be used as a platform to collect the poems; the poets could register as Authors or Contributors (‘Roles and Capabilities « WordPress Codex’) that can write posts, but not edit other users posts; and a custom registration and login pages would be needed where the user enters the required data. The poems could be entered as posts; with some customization needed to be able to collect all the needed information about the poem.

Another CMS that has grown in popularity lately especially in academic environments is Omeka; it is used for collecting and curating a wide variety of digital items; as for WordPress the interface can be customized with themes, but there are not has many free themes available as WordPress. It facilitates the creation of exhibits of the collected materials and has Dublin core metadata attached to the item. I considered and evaluated it for using in the project, but I found the user interface for entering the items seems too much catalogue like and I believe it would be too intimidating for the type of users that would need to use it, that are not so schematic minded; while the WordPress user interface seems to be more suitable for writers, probably because, as it started as a blog, it was developed with the writers in mind. Also I would not need to do exhibits of the material as the collected poems would be exposed in an interactive video that would be a completely customized experience. Dublin Core metadata is something that I am considering to add to the collected poems as it is useful for cataloguing and referencing, anyway this can be easily added to a WordPress post with a plugin, so it would not make it a compelling case for using Omeka.

Creating poem videos

The next step in the project is selecting the poems and creating video for the single poems. The collected poems are saved in a MySQL database (all WordPress site is saved in a MySQL database) and they can be accessed through the admin user interface or better a curator interface could be created that would allow to look at the poems and select the ones that can be included in the project. The selection would be based only on adherence to the theme, so only poems that are not considered to be in some way related to events and issues about women in Ireland will be excluded; this because the project is inclusive, wants to give voice to women and be place where the women can express themselves; so the literary value of the poems will not be considered.

Poets are encouraged to submit a video of their poem or at least an audio file where the poem is read by the poet; the video files can be used they are; the audio files would be used to make a video adding to it some visual elements. If audio files are not provided, a reading of the poem by an actor will be recorded, so that it will included in the video. It is important to have the words in audio so that the poem can be listened; that would make them accessible to the visual impaired and to people that have difficulty to read. At the same time the poem words should be displayed on the screen, so that the poem can be accessible to people that have hearing problems or difficulty in listening.

For the creation of the video I will use Adobe Creative Suite (that includes Premiere Pro, After Effects, Illustrator, Photoshop). This software is widely used in the graphic industry and in the low budget film industry; Photoshop is used for the editing of photographs and can also be used to add more creative and artistic effects to them. Illustrator can create vector graphic and clipart, so it can be used to create images that illustrate the poems words. After Effects has very good effects for displaying words on the screen, so it is useful for displaying the words of the poem; it can also create animation and other effects, so it can be used to create very artistic and expressive clip. Premiere Pro is good for editing video clips and creating the final video. I did not evaluate other tools for the purpose as I am familiar with the Adobe suite and it is very versatile.

The created videos would need to be hosted on a video hosting site in order to reduce the hosting costs as videos are quite big in size, and would require a large amount storage space. The two most used video hosting websites are Vimeo and YouTube. Vimeo is ad free and is preferred by the artistic community; on the other hand with the free membership there a limited amount of video data that can be uploaded in a week (500MB) and a limited number of videos that can be uploaded in a day. YouTube does not have all these limits, but it puts ads on the videos, and that can be annoying especially if the video has to be used to create a whole interactive video. Both have API that let to access the video in a web app, so that can be used to create the interactive video. I will evaluate which one to use at a later stage, after having more information on how big the videos are going to be. I created a video of one of my poems and is 16MB for 38secs of video; so that is not too much, but it is a short poem, usually poems are longer; also the size of the video depends on the type of visual content; so a better evaluation can be made when I have more videos created. In any case, if I can be into the limits of Vimeo, I would prefer to use Vimeo as it is ad free.

Creating the interactive video

All the videos are going to be accessed through an interactive video; for this I take inspiration from the Quipu Project documentary (‘The Quipu Project’). There would be a user interface video with clickable links to the embedded videos of the poems that reside on Vimeo or YouTube. The interactive video will actually be a standalone web page that is independent from the WordPress website; that in order to make it more portable and faster; this page can be embedded in a WordPress post (or in any other web page) with an iframe tag and there should be an option to make it full screen. There are different tools that make interactive videos, however they all work by adding an interactive layer in top of a video, so I would prefer to create a completely customized version as this would give more control on how to implement it and on how it looks.  The interactive video will be created using HTML, CSS, and Javascript. HTML5 has built in features to display video inside a browser; so it is possible to play it directly within the browser, but it is also possible to style it with CSS and to access and control it within the DOM (‘HTML5 Video | Guida HTML5 | JavaScript HTML.it’). For creating the interactive features I will use JQuery, that is a JavaScript framework; JQuery let you access and modify any element on the page in a user-friendly way (it is like accessing a CSS element); also more importantly it is browser independent, as it deals with the browser dependencies that JavaScript faces and resolves them so that the developer has not to worry about them; it is open source and constantly maintained. Other JavaScript frameworks may be needed, but that would be evident only during the actual development of the interface. One of the advantages of having a completely custom build interactive video is that it is portable and can run be run on any browser; while using a tool for building the interactive video could make it dependent on specific plugin to run. Also an interactive build with standard tools make it more future proof, as it less likely to stop working as the technologies evolve; and even if some features become obsolete, it would be more easy to update as the way it was implemented would be completely known; for this purpose I would make sure that the code is well written and formatted (so that it is self-explanatory) and I will also add supporting documentation to explain the implementation, so that it can be maintained but other people not just myself. JQuery and JavaScript will also be used to access the video on the Vimeo or YouTube website; as I already said they both have developer API that can be used for this purpose; in the past I have used the Vimeo API to show and control all the video in a channel; I never used the YouTube API, but I am sure they would work as well for the project.

It may also be necessary to access the data stored on the WordPress site; while it would be possible to access it directly from the database using server-side PHP code, that would not be very safe and could create security issue. However WordPress has REST API (‘WP REST API v2 Documentation’) that let you access the data stored on the WordPress website with GET and POST request, so they can be accessed and used with JQuery.

The future

As I already said the project is not static, but it would allow for poets to keep submitting relevant poems in the future; so new videos for poems would be created and the global interactive video would continually evolve. Therefore it is important that the project is future proof in order to be always up to date with the state of the technologies; for this purpose, as explained in the previous sections, a great attention will be given to the use of standard technologies and technologies that are constantly maintained; also every effort will be made to make sure that the implementation is well documented so that it can be easily updated. A good documentation is important also in order to allow for other people to work on the project; this will make the project not dependent on a single person, so that hopefully more people would get involved with the project and keep it alive.

In order to make the project also more visible to an international audience a collection of the poems and the created videos could be submitted to Europeana (‘Europeana Collections’); this would make also the project less isolated and more part of a community.

References

‘Roles and Capabilities « WordPress Codex’. https://codex.wordpress.org/Roles_and_Capabilities

‘The Quipu Project’. Quipu Project. http://interactive.quipu-project.com

‘HTML5 Video | Guida HTML5 | JavaScript HTML.it’. http://www.html.it/pag/19305/video/

‘WP REST API v2 Documentation’. http://v2.wp-api.org/

‘Europeana Collections’. http://www.europeana.eu/portal/?locale=en

 

 

 

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