Issues in the development of digital projects based on user requirements. The case of Beta maṣāḥǝft

Dorothea Reule & Pietro Liuzzo (University of Hamburg)

Digital Classicist London seminar 2017

Friday July 21st at 16:30, in room 234, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Livecast at Digital Classicist London YouTube channel.

The project "Beta maṣāḥǝft: Manuscripts of Ethiopia and Eritrea" (BM) aims at creating a portal to data related to the living manuscript tradition of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Highlands. This means encoding and semantically relating descriptions of manuscripts, editions of literary works, records about ancient and modern places as well as ancient and modern persons.

The presentation will give an overview of the main challenges encountered until now to meet user needs and especially focus on:

1. Data entry users' needs

  • The tailoring of the TEI schema to meet data entry needs. BM started from legacy data from the Encyclopedia Aethiopica and from a mycore database of the project EthioSPaRe. The need for continuity led to choices in the data structure, drove decisions on improvement of it and of the schema to facilitate and speed up data entry, guarantee attribution of contents and support consistency. The challenge here is to keep the schema as canonical as possible whilst not giving up on the freedom to encode what is needed and the presentation will provide examples of this.
  • GIT is used to work on exported and newly created data and is fully integrated in the workflow that connects editors directly with the web app and lets them test the application requirements as they enter data. Choices of visualization are developed on a one by one basis and the app helps by reporting errors which are not spotted by the rules in the schema. The users find this easy to use, but the separation of concerns is not clear and leads to arbitrary twisting of the guidelines provided to "get the result" even though issues are used as well for requirements and bugs.
  • Some editing tasks are carried out with a configurable git based editor which uses the Groeningen Editor based on Leiden+ syntax to allow some tasks to be carried out without XML knowledge. This is also very useful but can detach the user from the work she/he is doing.

2. End users needs

  • Codicologists will look for all information about a manuscript, but these are often synthetic and selective in normal catalogues. We try to exploit as much as possible of the potential in TEI (e.g. nesting and structuring of msParts) and of available software to offer scholars a fully navigable resource catalogue: with sometimes disorienting results.
  • Every entry is always referenced with a stable id and the user can navigate from one entity to the other.
  • A timeline and a relation graph are extracted for each entity from all available relations and all explicitly related entities are displayed accordingly.

The paper shall present these aspects of the project and open them for discussion to gather feedback and input on the best way to further develop the project, arguing that there is no good use or offer of a digital project without minimal knowledge of web technologies and standards.