Friday, 11 September 2009

The third space

In his book "The Architecture of Happiness", Alain de Botton goes to some lengths to outline how we are different people in different spaces. He cites the example of a miserable experience in a crowded McDonalds in Victoria "The restaurant's true talent lay in the generation of anxiety".

Leaving the bedlam noise, he found himself outside Westminster Cathedral, and entered to avoid the rain. "Concepts that would have sounded demented 40 metres away, in the company of a party of Finnish teenagers and vats of frying oil, had succeeded - through a work of architecture - in acquiring supreme significance and majesty".

I'm working at the moment on developing interactives for a "third space" for a museum. Not a public gallery, and not a reading room, we are trying to develop a space where people can be themselves and still explore the collections digitally.

I hope this will mean conversation and coffee, parents and children, sofas and cellphones. So many spaces we engineer in cultural spaces are, by need or tradition, constraining. We become an unfamiliar person. The hushed whisper in a gallery, the frustrating peering at undersized labels.

In this third space good things can happen. I was in Cambridge again yesterday at the library. Mostly I go to the tea room, as it was pointed out to me a while ago "Oh, that's where all the real work gets done."

Monday, 7 September 2009

One day...

If you're archiving material in a digital repository or just making a backup of an archive, there's one thing you don't want to do if you're thinking long term. Use proprietory standards. Use formats like JPEG2000 for delivery and as proxy files for sure, and use pdf files for ease of portability, but don't rely on them for posterity. Because Adobe will go out of business. Maybe not soon, maybe not for 50 years, but it will disappear. That's what happens to commercial companies.

So that's why I'm delighted that we're finally seeing some mainstream pushback against the Google Books settlement. It's been all over the BBC website like a rash the last week or so.

I'm not going into the mechanics here, but my view is simple. Businesses have one driver - profit, and they change and disappear, and we cannot allow our cultural heritage, the drivers of scholarship, learning, research and innovation to be in the hands of any commercial entity.

For more on this see what the Open Books Alliance have to say.