When WordHoard Met Pliny: Breaking Down of Interaction Silos Between Applications
Bradley, John, Center for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London, United Kingdom, email@example.com
Hill, Timothy, Center for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London, United Kingdom, firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the current issues within the Digital Humanities community is the wish to break down “silos” between different applications, usually based on the observation that it is difficult to bring two separately developed applications together even on kinds of data that they might ideally actually share. Scholarly annotation and notetaking has not been often been thought of as a kind of “anti-siloing” activity, however, they do involve the juxtaposition of materials and ideas from a broad range of different sources. In this context normal web pages and digital applications act a bit like silos – working against the ability, similar to what conventional notetaking provides, to juxtapose materials from different places, and making it difficult for a computer user to preserve those juxtapositions that are interesting.
In an attempt to recognise the central role of annotation and notetaking in scholarship, there has been recent activity in the Digital Humanities (DH) community to incorporate Web 2.0-like annotation services within a number of web resources. We think this is, in fact, the wrong way to go, and it is our contention that annotation, in fact, requires a significantly different approach.
We can see the problem with this “adding an annotation service” approach if we consider annotation on paper (see figure 1). When the book reader writes on the page he combines on that piece of paper two rather different applications that then must co-exist: the print media represented by the printed word and his/her annotation shown by the handwritten note. The owner, the technology and purpose of these two co-existing texts – the annotation and the print material – are quite different. Furthermore, whereas the printed text represents an endpoint in the “publishing application” that put it there, the hand-written annotation represents the beginning of an act of interpretation that is likely to continue into the future. In some senses, then, a printed page with an annotation on it represents a nexus between these two quite different applications: the presentation of the print, and the support for the annotation made by the individual reader. The oddness, then, of the annotation-as-a-resource service in a web resource is brought into clearer focus when we realise that if handwritten annotation on a printed page worked in the way that an annotation service on a website would operate , it would need to be a service of the book’s publisher – something that would seem very peculiar, and, indeed perhaps strikingly inappropriate.
a printed page as the nexus between applications
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Pliny (Pliny 2009), as initially installed supports annotation for web pages, images and PDF documents. In each of these cases separate mini-applications (one for each data type) supports, simultaneously, mechanisms to display the object (web page, image or PDF) and to support annotation of these objects. Annotation items, although appearing on the web or PDF page display are also objects that work in the larger Pliny context as objects in their own right. Thus, like the printed book, the Pliny screen becomes the nexus between the “display application” of the web or PDF page and the separate-but-linked “annotation/notetaking application”. Furthermore, the Eclipse platform (Eclipse 2010) on which Pliny operates already supports the dynamic addition of new applications into an existing installation. Pliny could thus be relatively straightforwardly extended to add support for annotation on other media such as video or audio, and here again the integration between these media and Pliny notes would be similar to that provided in base Pliny.
The purpose of this poster, however, moves on to a next step in the process beyond the support of other digital media. Pliny is already equipped to support annotation of relatively fixed objects such as PDF documents or digital movies. The digital world, however, is not in fact restricted to the presentation of relatively fixed media objects but extends to supporting user interaction with dynamic applications which are less comfortably considered documents and more likely to be thought of as tools. Thus, even in the confines of the WWW with its strong document focus, DH work often explores how to stretch this document-focus in the browser to deliver a tool to the user instead. Indeed, work as diverse as TaPOR (2008) and PASE Domesday (2010) illustrate this straining at the constraints that are imposed by the document orientation.
As a part of Pliny’s so-called “second agenda” (see Bradley 2007 and 2008), we have also been interested in exploring the boundary between document and application/tool in the context of annotation, and we are doing this work from within the Eclipse plugin framework where application/tool building is, in fact, an entirely natural thing. Furthermore, unlike other application building frameworks, such as Java Swing, the plugin framework supports the kind of intimate interaction and co-existence that annotation requires. In this way, Pliny’s use of Eclipse’s plugin framework allows us to think of how to support note-taking not only against fixed digital media, but also against the dynamic results generated by digital tools.
Figure 2 shows the idea in a stylised form. Here we see the Pliny application (shown here in green) co-existing with other applications. Two of them (Pliny’s integrated Web browser, and Pliny’s PDF annotator) are shown here as orange boxes presenting their particular digital media objects: a page in a web browser (at the top), and two PDF documents. The annotations to these objects are represented here as the little yellow boxes which, simultaneously, would actually be visually integrated with their web or PDF pages, but are also owned by Pliny. The Pliny user can also use these annotations in the Pliny application as sources for ideas that inspire him/her to construct new concepts in his/her interpretation of these materials. Pliny can represent these new concepts too, and they are represented in the green Pliny application box as dark green boxes. Thus, a Pliny item can appear both as an annotation on its media and also simultaneously as a note participating in concepts that belong to an interpretation that Pliny’s user is developing.
Annotation as a kind of "glue" between applications
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The “2nd agenda” part of Pliny’s environment is shown by the bottom two boxes placed on both sides of the green Pliny box. Here, the objects being annotated don’t come from Pliny’s initial built-in applications supporting Web pages and PDF files, but from two applications that have been added: a Google maps annotation tool, and an implementation of WordHoard (WordHoard 2010) which represents a more dynamic application than the other ones do. The user has attached annotations to displays created by both these applications, and these annotations, which represent observations the user has made while s/he uses these tools, are Pliny objects (like those attached to the PDF pages) and can therefore also participate in the work done by the user within Pliny. Just like notes attached to PDF pages or web pages, notes attached to displays by Google maps or Wordhoard can also contribute materials to the user’s growing interpretation.
We chose to use the funds provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s MATC 2008 award to Pliny (which hereby we acknowledge with thanks!) as a way to fund a serious exploring of this idea. With the cooperation of Martin Mueller and others at Northwestern University we have been exploring what their WordHoard tool (WordHoard 2010) would be like if it was presented in an intimately linkable environment where Pliny operates rather than as a conventional Java application in which it was originally conceived. You can see a result of this kind of interaction through our WordHoard prototype in figure 3. Not only is a note about the word “shamest” displayed attached to its occurrence in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, but there is also a reference to a WWW site that has nothing to do with WordHoard, but that also contains the play’s text (with the word spelled differently).
WordHoard and Pliny operating as integrated applications
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In conjunction with the work on WordHoard, we are also extending Pliny's code to exploit Eclipse’s ability to allow the user to install a new plugin dynamically from remote online repositories. When dynamic installation has been added in Pliny. a user will be able to start with only basic Pliny, but at some point when they need it be able to add into their environment, say, our WordHoard application. We expect it will in the end be no more complex to do this in Pliny than it is to, say, add Zotero to Firefox. At our poster session the visitor will be able to see the Wordhoard integration with Pliny and with other independently built tools that can interoperate in the Pliny environment. We will illustrate what the experience is for the user to experience this kind of integrated environment. For the development community we hope to speak about the coding work that this represents and what lessons can be learned from our experience.
Bradley, John 2007 “"Pliny: Making a contribution; Modularity, Integration and Collaboration between Tools in Pliny." Peer reviewed poster., ” Digital Humanities Conference 2007, Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois., 2007 (link)
Bradley, John 2008 “"Playing together: modular tools and Pliny." Draft of paper., ” Digital Humanities 2008, (University of Oulu, Finland, June 2008 (link)
Eclipse homepage, 2010 (link)
PASE Domesday, 2010 (link)
Pliny: A Note Manager, 2009 (link)
Text Analysis Portal for Research: TAPoR, 2008 (link)
WordHoard: An application for the close reading and scholarly analysis of deeply tagged texts, 2010 (link)
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