Archive for the 'Matthew Oliver' Category

2015’s popularity contest

It’s that time of year again when we can look back and ponder what was, so I’ve been taking a quick look at what’s been popular on our websites, especially on our two biggest sites, Te Ara and its sister site, NZHistory. It’s interesting to see where they overlap and where some of the differences are.

On Te Ara, we’ve seen a huge increase in views of our Auckland places entry, helped in large part by a lot of US visitors coming via googleusercontent.com, a Google CDN. It’s slightly mystifying but one message is clear: Google likes our content. Other popular content included our entry on Matariki, perhaps a positive sign that we’re starting to develop more local traditions and customs. And in typical fashion, interest in this list of Rugby World Cup winners peaked in October. Finally, in another sign of the power of Google, Dame Whina Cooper’s biography attracted a lot of visitors after she featured in the Google Doodle on her birthday in December.

Whina Cooper addresses a crowd during the 1975 Maori land march

Whina Cooper addresses a crowd during the 1975 Māori land march

Over on NZHistory, the perennially popular 100 Māori words every New Zealander should know was top of the list. And then the war stepped in with lots of visitors to our Gallipoli campaign and Anzac Day features. Also, as you might guess, there was a lot of interest in Flags of New Zealand (which we’ll need to update soon regardless of which way the referendum goes). I think we have to admit that from popular pages we can hear the bells of cultural identity, maybe even nationhood, ringing.

From a quick look at the search terms people are using (both on the websites and external search engines like Google) we can see some interesting themes emerging:

  • Anzac and Anzac Day
  • Auckland
  • Cave Creek
  • Dame Whina Cooper
  • Dawn raids
  • Disasters
  • First World War
  • Flags
  • Gallipoli and the campaign
  • Māori, Māori history and Māori weapons
  • Matariki
  • New Zealand history
  • New Zealand wars
  • Parihaka
  • Springbok Tour
  • The Treaty of Waitangi
  • Types of erosion, magma and soil erosion
  • Wahine and whanau

And because it’s the end of the year, here’s a word cloud. (These never go out of style, amiright?)

Popular search terms on Te Ara and NZHistory

Popular search terms on Te Ara and NZHistory

The high level of interest in the treaty bodes well for our forthcoming project, Te Taiwhakaea – Treaty settlement stories.

Finally, I mentioned the war earlier and it’s fair to say the First World War centenary programme brought a lot of traffic to all our sites this year, with major spikes on NZHistory, 28 Māori Battalion and WW100. I’ll leave you with a graph to ponder what happened around April this year.

The year's visitors

Monthly visits to all our websites

Exploring Māori content on Te Ara

Te Hono ki Hawaiki, the meeting house at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Te Hono ki Hawaiki, the meeting house at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Over the last few days I’ve been looking at content related to Māori subjects on Te Ara. This was in part inspired by a conversation earlier this year about its visibility with the former Māori editor, Basil Keane. You can find a lot of this content using the Te Reo Māori browse, which takes you through to all the translated stories. There are 127 translated stories (which doesn’t include the translated DNZB biographies) and we have a further 50 or so that we’re translating at the moment.

Looking at Te Ara’s homepage you don’t get a great sense of the richness of this content, or an idea of how much there is. For some people, they’ve found the New Zealand in Brief entry, Māori, and decided that’s all there is. A pretty poor show, is the obvious conclusion, and while we’re trying to pull people into the deeper content with links in the text, it’s possibly not the most obvious thing we can do.

If we look at our web traffic, it’s also possible to see that a lot of people go to pages from the 1966 Encyclopedia. It’s now 50 years out of date, so it’s not a great look, but where it succeeds is by having short articles on big subjects like Māori Art – a short, search-engine friendly title to encompass everything on the subject.

Te Ara, on the other hand, has quite rightly split that huge subject up into several stories and placed them in their wider context as part of the broad sweep of New Zealand subjects. So we have stories in the Visual Arts section (contemporary art, rock art, weaving and tukutuku, and carving), in Music (composers, musical instruments, and contemporary and traditional waiata), and Performing Arts (kapa haka, and theatre), to name a few.

Stories on Māori subjects appear right across Te Ara in all themes, from people to the natural world, economy and society to government, and daily and creative life. In all there are 169 stories on Māori related subjects, or roughly 17% of all 980 entries currently on Te Ara.

How we make it easier to explore and more visible on the site is an exciting challenge and one we’re keen to hear your thoughts about. For now I’ve made a spreadsheet so we can at least get a sense of what we’re trying to present. Feel free to browse it and maybe use as a starting point for exploring Te Ara:

>> Te Ara te reo and Māori content November 2015

Working how to present this content will provide a key to presenting other subjects where related entries appear across different themes. It might follow in the footsteps of what we’ve done using keywords on NZHistory to present related material, like this Te Reo subject page, or we might look at redeveloping the stories in New Zealand in Brief to act as entry points to deeper content.

Looking ahead

Last week we said farewell to a number of staff who have worked on Te Ara since its final theme, Creative and Intellectual Life, was published at the end of last year. In that time they have put in place systems and processes for maintaining Te Ara into the future and we want to acknowledge here all their efforts.

Nancy Swarbrick led the team as Senior Editor, and worked with Kerryn Pollock to write and revise the many words that make up the encyclopedia; Mel Lovell-Smith and Emily Tutaki researched the wonderful images and multi-media items that illustrate those words, and Caren Wilton edited and ran the production system behind the website. All have made a huge contribution, not just in the last year but over many years as part of the team that built Te Ara into what it is today.

While we say farewell to these staff we remain deeply committed to maintaining and developing Te Ara, and cementing its place as a valued taonga for all New Zealanders. Messages of support for the site and its ever-growing number of visitors attest to the esteem with which it’s viewed. Te Ara is a significant national project that has drawn on hundreds of people who wrote and edited entries, supplied images and multi-media content, and added their stories. In the coming months and years we want to ensure these communities are involved in Te Ara’s ongoing maintenance.

With a sizeable team still in our publishing group, including staff with experience working on Te Ara, regular updates to the site will continue to keep it relevant and current. We’ll also be able to work on it alongside other areas of work like Te Taiwhakaea Treaty Settlement Stories and our commemorations work: the WW100 programme, the 125th anniversary of universal suffrage in 2018, and the 250th anniversary of Cook’s landing in 2019. All of this work touches the lives of many New Zealanders and it’s great to be able to place Te Ara at the centre of it.

It is a challenge, but it’s also a chance for us to step back and take stock of how we work across all our websites. It’s an exciting challenge to have and one that we hope Te Ara readers will enjoy and support.

Matthew Oliver and Neill Atkinson

People like people

People, people everywhere (pic: South Canterbury Museum)

People, people everywhere (pic: South Canterbury Museum)

People like people, or at least that’s what our website traffic tells us. Since we added the Dictionary of New Zealand biography (DNZB) to Te Ara in late 2010, our biography pages have been viewed nearly 5 million times. What’s more, we have information about a lot of people.

To start with, there are over 3,000 biographies from the DNZB. As this brief background notes, this was no traditional biographical dictionary. The general editor, W. H. Oliver, ‘wanted to include people prominent in a regional, tribal, ethnic or occupational context, and set challenging targets for entries on women and Māori’.

Behind those 3,000 are many more names. There are over 1,000 people who were significant in New Zealand history but weren’t included in the Dictionary. People like Queen Victoria – important, yes, but not a New Zealander. We call these people ‘non-essay subjects’, and they provide connections between the people who are subjects of biographies. We also have a database of nearly 13,000 names, which was used for selecting the 3,000 biographies that appeared in the original print volumes of the Dictionary. Information in this database may be scant and incomplete, and in some cases it needs checking, but it’s a solid contribution of people who played some small part in our history.

So far I’ve talked only about people in relation to the Dictionary, but there are also many people on NZHistory, either as brief adaptations of Dictionary essays or as wholly new articles. Then there are the people throughout Te Ara, and the lists of suffragists and rolls of honour on NZHistory and on the Vietnam War and 28th Māori Battalion websites.

There are, in short, people everywhere.

We’re not currently making many connections among all these datasets. We provide some links between stories about the same person, and have connected NZHistory stories through keyword pages like this one for Rita Angus, but we’re yet to develop a system that makes it easy for us to connect people, and for readers to find all the information we hold about a person.

We’re hoping to change that very soon, and have started working on a project to create authority records about people. We’re beginning to build a definitive list of the people we know something about, and a system to connect mentions of those people on any of our websites. This will make it easier to see connections across our sites; it will allow our readers to follow the connections and get a richer story about each person and their relevance to our history and culture. What’s more, we’ll be able to share our list in a machine-readable form, so other websites can make connections between people on our sites and theirs, and so contribute to the opening up of government-held content.

We’re starting small, and will begin with people from the Dictionary and NZHistory, initially linking content on Te Ara and NZHistory. They’re our most heavily used and content-rich websites, so it makes most sense to connect them with each other and other websites in the cultural heritage world.

From a technical point of view we’ll be storing the information about people using the Schema.org ontology in an RDF triplestore database and publishing it to a simple stand-alone website with a page for each person. Each person in this sense becomes an entity about which we can make simple statements – their name, birth and death dates, occupation, where they were active, and so on – and record where they’re mentioned in our websites. That information can be re-used anywhere a person is mentioned, and can be harvested by other websites to make connections to their content. In this way, readers will – one day – be able to go from our biography of Rita Angus to a book plate by Rita Cook on the National Library’s website to all the information about Angus on Te Papa’s Collections Online.

From there the logical step for us is to look at other information that can easily translate to the idea of being an entity – for example, places. We’ve started thinking about that …

We’re not alone in looking at this, and we’re probably playing catch-up with other organisations, but in taking a few steps in this direction we hope to contribute something of what we know about New Zealanders back to the wider digital culture and heritage community.

Our own little calabash

Last year at the National Digital Forum conference in Wellington I talked about a pilot we were running to link Te Ara and Te Papa’s Collections Online websites. We called it the Calabash Project, taking its name from the simple idea of linking, for example, Te Ara’s image of a hue to the same object on Te Papa’s website, taha huahua (calabash) – with a reciprocal link from Te Papa back to Te Ara.

Te Papa’s gourd on a Te Ara resource page, with a link from the reference field below the image. The link is very subtle, too subtle in fact and we’ll be looking at ways of unobtrusively highlighting it.

Te Papa’s gourd on a Te Ara resource page, with a link from the reference field below the image. The link is very subtle, too subtle in fact, and we’ll be looking at ways of unobtrusively highlighting it.

This isn’t a very complicated idea. It’s using the web the way it’s supposed to be used, by providing hyperlinks from one place to another to give users more or different information about similar things – in this case, about exactly the same thing. That said, it relies on permanence or persistence of the hyperlink. We need to know that the link will work now and in the years to come if we’re going to set up thousands of links like this. It’s what Michael Lascarides from the National Library talked about at the same conference, the idea of collection websites becoming islands of persistence.

In doing this, Te Ara can become a front door to larger collections of the digital objects it uses. (In fact, with reciprocal links we can all become each other’s front doors!) Te Ara becomes, if you like, a discovery tool that can provide context about a particular object and then pass users and researchers on to the institution that holds the object. It’s good for the institutions as they get more traffic and can further their own engagement with researchers.

It’s also good for us. We get a lot of requests to re-use content that’s on Te Ara, and where it’s not ours, these links will help us direct researchers to the institution that can provide the image.

We’ve now extended the pilot to include the Alexander Turnbull Library collections. Te Papa provided a good small set to experiment with and initially Adrian Kingston and staff at Te Papa matched the objects for us manually. Prompted by a helpful suggestion from Andy Neale at DigitalNZ, we’re now using the DigitalNZ API to match the objects. Given that we have over 6,000 Turnbull images – for instance, this lovely shot of a pātaka at the 1888 Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, or this slightly risqué portrait of cabaret manager Theo Tresize – it’s been great to be able to automate the process. All told we’ve matched 238 Te Papa objects from a total of 578 and 5,360 Turnbull objects out of 6,564.

We’ve had some good feedback about this. As Amy Watling from Turnbull said recently, it’s ‘a real win for researchers who can go from Te Ara’s popular pages directly to our site where they can enquire about the item, get the original metadata, or order a high res copy.’

It’s no longer a pilot and we’re now thinking about how to extend it further. It works and makes sense so we’ll be looking at the collections we use and identifying more islands of persistence that we can link out to. The more we can all link our islands the better for people travelling the rich network of digital information about New Zealand that we’re creating.