This is my first post as a member of the CURVE project–and I’d love to introduce a little about myself and my goals while working at such an awesome space. For anyone who doesn’t know me–my name is Robert Bryant. I’m currently an M.A. student in the Anthropology department, studying archaeology with a focus on software/hardware methodology within a praxis framework. That sounds really official sounding, so to make it sound more exciting–I’m heavily interested in freely sharing archaeological and historical information over through the democratic access of the internet.  I think everyone should have equal access to our shared cultural heritage and getting all data online, accessible, and more importantly engaging fosters an extremely community forward interpretation of the past. How can this be accomplished?

The term ‘public’ has positive connotations but can easily fall short on civic engagement–or “Working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.”

So, how can open public access to these collections be extended directly to its communities and stakeholders without endangering artifacts and carefully organized datasets?

The answer lies in current technological innovation. With the advent of high-speed internet data transfer rates,  data digitalization technologies(such as the recently acquired NextEngine scanner at CURVE), and the widespread availability of computing devices capable of processing these large datasets—like smartphones, tablets and traditional computers—previous sets of analog data can be converted into digital formats that synergize with the open-access of the internet, integrating new concepts of gamification with existing social media formats to create a diverse, sustainable, digital community that will benefit both GSU and the community it serves.

Some quick statistics on why this innovation is both relevant and possible:

  • As of 2012, 80 percent of all US households own some form of a computing device and 75 percent of US households have home internet access (US Census Data 2014).

  • As of 2013, 890 million active Facebook Accounts

  • As of 2014, Imgur has 1.5 million image uploads a day — Imgur serves more images in 10 minutes than there are in the entire Library of Congress

Bearing these numbers in mind, it seems highly relevant to digitize an entire database of archaeological and historical information for open, public access in context with community archaeology in a framework of praxis-based civic engagement.

So–who is this chimerical community? Whose needs are being addressed?

Everyones. Although this project has enthusiast groups in mind, like GAAS (who regularly volunteer with the collection) and other local stakeholders–it also addresses the need for academics and professionals to not only interact with the communities they are a part of–but openly collaborate with them–A challenge the Phoenix project may be able to help address in terms of how public engagement can be rewarded through a quantifiable merit system that can easily transfer to a curricular vitae.

How do we actually implement this?

One very important step is the 3D scanner currently held by the CURVE lab: it ensures a degree of digital transfer not previously possible for collections—the ability to freely distribute 3D data, which enables freely available 3D visualization software, such as Blender, web browser plug-ins, and current and future 3D printing technologies access to potentially the entire collection’s materials for independent or institutional research. There’s no need to worry about controlled access to public collections once they’re digitized and distributed freely through an online user interface–the Smithsonian is already doing this.

But—simply making the data open-access and arbitrarily available is not good enough. It is the difference between Public Involvement and Civic Engagement. Making this data accessible is not actively engaging with the Phoenix Project’s relevant stakeholders—it is allowing them to be involved. The more relevant question is: How can the database actively engage the communities it represents self-sustainably? I believe the Heurist system, in development by Ian Johnson, Jeffrey Glover, and myself, has the capability to achieve this.

It‘s a PHP-based online data management system that allows for both the customization of the data import interface and the front-end user interface for interacting and querying that data. The latter is incredibly important because different communities and individuals interact with technology differently.

So, how can this user-interface be designed to accommodate these differences?

Does an individual interact with data visually(photographs and images), geospatially(google maps), statistically(query searches), or through qualitative questions(What did people drink in Decatur in the 1930s)?

In order for the database to truly be open-access—it must take into account how various stakeholders access information and those engagements must also be publicly accessible and easily linked to social media. For instance—if I find interesting data in the MARTA collection—my results would be stored publicly and anyone can discuss or comment on that data with a linked social-media account. As a non-administrator, I’m even invited to question the data itself and offer alternative opinions to the typologies of artifacts and documents.

So to conclude–This might work well for the public and enthusiasts—but how do we get academic and professional researchers involved?

An incentive-based system of interaction—or gamification—can further the engagement between academia and the public by offering quantifiable markers to academics through system generated interaction ratings or statistics that can easily be attached to a CV or Resume to show public outreach.

These ratings are achieved by overseeing discussions and quantifying the frequency at which public questions are answered and the publicly voted ratings of their interaction. This forces a degree of accountability and responsible interaction with the public that includes them within discussions, rather than excludes them and benefits both parties involved equally. In essence—the academic or professional is paying for quantifiable scholarly capital by interacting with interested communities on the communities’ own terms.

That’s it in a nutshell–I can’t wait to keep everyone up-to-date with the various technologies and ideas I tinker with/develop that bolster this access–like a 3D interactive environment. If anyone has ideas or wants to help–you can find me at CURVE!

-Robert Bryant