We’re very pleased to announce that @openplaques will be attending the Culture Code Hack in Newcastle on 24th/25th March 2012 as a ‘cultural organisation with data to provide’.
We will be represented by Lead Developer Jez Nicholson @jnicho02. By day, Jez is Head of Technology at Argyll Environmental, but by night he builds the code behind the Open Plaques platform. He is not alone in this endeavour, as we have a small multi-disciplinary team of developers.
What is Open Plaques?
For the uninitiated, Open Plaques is a co-curation platform used to create and refine a central record of commemorative plaques throughout the world.
A key aim of the project is to use and create open data. Right from the beginning we wanted to explore being ‘open’ and took the brave decision to release the data under a Public Domain Dedication and License 1.0. Historical plaques by their very nature are objects in the public domain, so creating a platform to collect them with the public – and for the collected data to be available for the broadest possible public use – seemed an obvious premise to start from.
Joining The Dots
All of the photos on Open Plaques come from other sites (mostly Flickr and Wikimedia Commons). We do this by tagging photos with the corresponding plaque id and then linking to them. In this way we ‘join the dots’ in the internet rather than try to corner the information market. It also means we link and collaborate with big communities that already exist, instead of trying to replicate or compete with them. This also helps our contributors, as many of them are already using or familiar with and trust in these larger platforms.
The Museum In The Street
Those little historical markers we see every day dotted around our landscape are physical and symbolic portholes through time, anchoring past events to a physical place in the present. But our experience of them is largely fleeting, easily forgotten. They’re a very public representation of what and whom our culture chooses to value (NB: anyone can put up a plaque if they get the building owner’s permission and can pay for the plaque’s manufacture). What if each encapsulated story was instantly accessible – on your smartphone for example – with its backstory and context linked? How would our experience of places and history change if we could knit these objects in the material world together with the fabric of the web?
Hack The Plaque
The data is easy to get to. We have designed the system to be RESTful and most pages have XML and JSON views. In plain English that means that the URLS of the site are simple, sensible and should make sense to humans and that if you add .xml or .json to the address you will see the same thing but as data.
Hacking isn’t all about programming and data though. Think of it as taking raw materials and playing with them to create something new, be it a concept, a design, a software application, an artwork. This isn’t ‘work’… you’re not trying to build a new business… the only limit is our imaginations. Here are a few things that people have already done with plaques and with our data:
The team came together at Yahoo! OpenHack 2009. We’ve since held an Open Plaques Open Day where interested parties came along and helped redesign the user experience of the site.
Ian Ozsvald’s AI Challenge
A programming challenge to build Optical Character Reading (OCR) software that can read the words off of a plaque. Ian is writing a book about artificial intelligence and also runs a group for AI programmers. OCR is mostly used to read documents. Reading words in the street is more difficult as there are reflections, angles, curved surfaces, etc.
Blue Plaque Cycle Tours
The Street of Blue Plaques – part of the E17 Arts Trail festival
In September 2011 Danny Coope took information from 19th century censuses and created a series of blue plaques celebrating some ordinary former residents of Grosvenor Park Road, Walthamstow.
Southampton ECS Web Team Blue Plaque Generator
Christopher Gutteridge went to the Open Data Hack Day in Oxford and wrote a blue plaque generator that finds a piece of historical information from dbpedia about your location and creates a blue plaque for it.
History Hack Day, The Guardian offices, 2011
At http://historyhackday.org/ a number of the hacks used our data. Tom Morris wrote a guest blog post for us about it.
Data exchange with Aimer Media for an upcoming e-book
Aimer Media came to us to discuss the work they are doing for a Plaques of London e-book. They decided to do a data exchange with us where they donated their list of 1800 London plaques and we would add Open Plaques ids to their list and add any missing ones to our database. In response, we built a matcher that works with spreadsheet lists loaded into Google Docs.
- A heatmap of plaques in London connected to property prices. Do famous people live in expensive houses?
- A tweetbot that responds to questions about plaques by finding them in the database.
- UX designs for sifting through 20,000 blue plaque photos from Wikimedia Commons.
- Generating printable maps that Councils could publish on their own web sites.
- A web site where people can nominate subjects and donate money to have a plaque erected.
- An analysis of whom/what is chosen to be commemorated and how it has changed over time. In the 50′s it was all classical composers, now it is authors, actors and footballers?
- Plaque spotting games