The Old Scholar's Historical Thoughts

November 14, 2009

Another Project Idea

Filed under: Project — theoldscholar @ 6:29 pm

Professor Cohen pointed me to some sites which are doing some of the same things I am trying to do with my project of data standarization. He suggested that I try to cover the reasons data standardization has failed in the past and why people do not use standards that are available.

That has got me thinking of including in my proposal a workshop with the commander of the Joint Interoperability Test Command and the people in charge of conformance testing for imagery and intelligence projects with people from the Humanities. This workshop would discuss the problems that the Department of Defense has tackled in setting, enforcing and encouraging the development of standards.  And instead of just the government and academia it would be nice to get the people who set the standards for Business to Business communication (B2B) to participate. America’s entire business model depends upon these systems exchanging unambiguous data. I doubt if we can put bar codes on historical artifacts but I can see some areas where the problem space is the same. Interoperability of data standards is a problem that has NOT been solved in many places. Getting different viewpoints may benefit everyone. The output of the workshop could be a definition of the top 10 stumbling blocks and plans of action to tackle these stumbling blocks within the Humanities.

Does anybody else think this is a good idea? The Humanties have many different standards for specific problem spaces, i.e TEI, Museum Artifact Standards etc. What I am proposing is that these different areas step back, and get different ideas from outside their problem space. I am immersed in this stuff all day and think I see the relevance. Do you think all these people from the different organizations would even want to work together? I think the DoD would be willing to work on this; after all the Internet began out of a defense project. Lessons learned by organizations dedicated to interoperabilty may be useful as the Humanites tackle the same problem space.



  1. I think your question is best answered by the epilogue to Moretti’s book, which is written by a scientist. In his case, like in yours there are many common problems, which people usually oversee by focusing on their narrow disciplinary boundaries.

    Comment by alex_lesanu — November 20, 2009 @ 12:32 am | Reply

  2. Your question is a great one, but kind of too big for me to imagine dealing with, which is why I think of breaking down into modules.

    I can’t imagine there being one standard that serves all, but I can imagine a core standard which can then have modular standards attached to it, which I think is similar to using APIs to make modifications on a core piece of coding. I’m wondering if studying the history of creation of standards in other industries would open up other ways of thinking also. For example, how did standards get developed for railroad, telephone, roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure? There has to be a standard, but with enough room to allow for local variation. And look at how well those standards have held up, for the most part, until a bridge breaks and then you hear that nothing is up to standards. I guess what I’m getting at is that even if you were to have perfect standards, how do you maintain/modify them over time?

    Comment by rpooley — November 24, 2009 @ 12:54 am | Reply

    • Excellent point. The history of standards is fascinating, and standardization is never done. The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) is grateful for that.

      If you look at things as simple as screws and nuts we still have 2 Standards that drive us all nuts. “Is this nut, metric or English?” And they have been trying to standardize that since the early 1800’s. Along the lines of your core standard and modular standards, what I would like is an effort to standardize those things that it makes sense to standardize and provide tools for users to access information. This whole effort was driven by my frustration in finding what standards are out there. Say you want to be conscientious in your effort to publish digital data. Where would you go to find out how to mark up a document? What if you were working for a museum, how do you categorize your collection? Now lets say you have document that was found by an archeologist in your museum. There are archeologist standards, document standards, and museum standards – do you provide metadata for all of the standards an artifact falls under. Shouldn’t there be some commonality.

      My proposal is to provide a forum or avenue where people can go to find out what standards are available and how to use them. Maybe to develop some core standards for common data elements. Now every collection on the Web uses their own metadata so if you want to search the Jefferson papers you use one way of specifying dates, if you want to search war records you use a different way of specifying dates, etc.

      I think people would use a standard date format – if they just knew what it was. We all use the same format to specify where things are at on the web, the Universal Record Locator (URL) If we didn’t the web would not work.

      Great comment – thanks.

      Comment by theoldscholar — November 24, 2009 @ 5:25 am | Reply

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