Gephi visualisation

October 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Here is the Facebook network I created with the Netviz App and Gephi

Testpost for Open Science podcasts

May 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Here is the first open science podcast

Categories: Uncategorized

The Digital American Public Library

May 9, 2012 Leave a comment

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is an initiative that has the goal to make the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity available, free of charge, to all. Where Google Books is caught up in an everlasting legal battle, a group of Harvard-led scholars have decided to launch their own project to put all of history online.


When Google launched its Google Books project in 2004 with the goal to scan all the world’s books into its database, it was both praised and critisised heavily. Praised for its bold attempt to make it technically possible to digitise books on a scale never seen before. Critisised over the fact that a private company would control all of the worlds knowledge. In 2008, after being sued for copyright infringement for years, Google agreed to pay large sums to authors and publishers in return for permission to develop a commercial database of books. Under the terms of the deal, Google would be able to sell subscriptions to the database to libraries and other institutions while also using the service as a means for selling e-books and displaying advertisements. This led to even more controversy and several authors and libraries demanded to be excluded from Google’s database.

In a response to this, Robert Darnton, one of the biggest critics of Google Books, proposed to build a true ‘digital public library of America’ which would be ‘truly free and democratic’. Here, libraries and universities would work together to establish a distributed system aggregating collections from many institutions. Harvard’s Berkman Centre of Internet and Society accepted Darton’s ideas and is incubating it now. The project has several similarities with that other project that comes forth out of a response to Google Books: Europeana, and the two giants have already forged partnerships. Google still has to decide what their next steps are.

The vision of the DPLA is to provide one click access to many different resource types, with the initial focus on producing a resource that gives full text access to books in public domain, e.g. from Hathi Trust, the Internet Archive, and U.S and international research libraries. Most of its board members, including Brewster Kahle from the Internet Archive, favor a de-centralised network of different public libraries instead of building a centralised organisation which is responsible for all of its content, but this is still being discussed

In April 2013 the Harvard funded research program ends and the digital library has to be operational. A lot of progress has been made in the last year by organising several meetings and workshops and many volunteers have been recruited. Still, there are a lot of obstacles that have to be overcome.

As Google has also noticed, the technical implementation is not the hardest part, it is the copyright. Today, copyright for a work extends for 70 years after the death of the author and is applied by default to any created work. This means that it is now almost impossible to publish a work from the last century. Even when the copyright holders either are unknown or can’t be found, so called ‘Orphan Works’, the work can not be published online because the copyright law was automatically applied on all works retroactively, so without the copyright holder having to register it.
Many copyright experts argue that without a proper revision of the current copyright act, it will be very hard to include these orphan works in a digital database. Robert Danton however, believes that Congress might grant a non-commercial public library the right to digitise orphan books, which would make thousands of books available and an enormous step forward in the copyright debate.

The Digital Public Library is an ambitious project with great promise. In the next year they will continue to address the challenges that lie before them. A daunting task but with a potentially great outcome, where everybody with an internet connection can enjoy millions of books from America’s history.

Categories: openglam

ePSI Platform Conference 2012

March 21, 2012 Leave a comment

On Friday the 16th of March, the European Public Service Information (ePSI) Platform conference was held in Rotterdam. More than 300 guests from all over the world gathered for what turned out to be a very busy and interesting day. The big turnout of the conference showed the huge current interest in Open Data.

The ePSI platform is an organisation working to stimulate and promote Public Service Information (PSI) re-use and open data initiatives. They work to achieve the goals of the PSI Directive, which was created in 2003, and encourages EU member states to make as much public sector information available for re-use as possible. Now, almost 10 years later, there is still a lot of work to be done. Instead of embracing the idea of open data, many large public organisations are fighting to maintain the right to charge costs for their information. It is in response to this that the European Commission proposed its ‘Open Data Strategy‘ in December 2011. It includes the following proposed changes to the European PSI Directive:

  • All data made available by government institutions must be able to be generally used for commercial and non-commercial purposes;
  • In principle, the costs charged by government institutions may not exceed the costs involved in the individual request for information (marginal costs – in practice usually free of charge);
  • an obligation for government institutions to provide data in common machine-readable formats to ensure that information can actually be re-used;
  • Member States must introduce regulatory supervision to monitor compliance with the aforementioned principles;
  • information from libraries, museums and archives will also be eligible for re-use.

From the Open GLAM perspective, the last change of the directive is of course very interesting. It would mean that all the European cultural memory institutions have to make their publicly funded work freely and openly available. It is important to notice here that this will only include their metadata, that is the data about the actual cultural objects that they hold. This includes author/year/location etcetera. By making this data freely available for re-use, data from cultural institutions can be linked to other collections and also be reused in new and innovative applications. A lot of traditional institutions are still anxious about this idea since they fear that they will lose control over their data, and this is just one of the concerns. The whitepaper “The problem of the Yellow Milkmaid” shows a more thorough study about the potential benefits and perceived risks of open metadata for cultural institutions.

When cultural heritage institutions are included under the purview of the PSI Directive, this will improve citizens access to our shared knowledge and culture and should increase the amount of digitized cultural heritage that is available online. At the end of 2011 however, the Dutch government expressed some concerns about the idea of including libraries, archives and museums. The main reason for this is that they believe that it will become too much of an administrative burden for the institutions to conform to. The Dutch government suggested instead that institutions should make their data available on a more voluntary base through for example the Europeana project.
During the presentation sessions about cultural heritage, Richard Sweetenham (Head of Unit, Access to Information at the European Commission), gave his response to Dutch government’s line on the matter. He said that he could not think of a reason why cultural institutions should not be included in the directive; the data is already there and the institutions are not only are funded with public money, but also have a public mission. The content of an archive, museum or library only has value when it is found and used. It gets even more value when the data is formatted in such a way that it can be linked with data from other cultural institutions from around Europe and all over the world.

After his talk, Harry Verwayen, business development director at Europeana and David Haskiya, product developer at Europeana, showed the value proposition of open cultural heritage metadata. To make the most out of this data, institutions should not be afraid to publish their metadata under a CC0 license. Waiving away all rights of the data sounds scary, but it actually enables them pursue their public mission more successfully, while still controlling the copyright of the actual digitised object. A more thorough study about the impact of the proposed amendments of the PSI directive has been done by the Communia association and can be found here.

The next couple of months will be crucial for the PSI directive. All updates can be found on the ePSI platform website.

German National Library releases more Linked Open Data under a more Open License

February 9, 2012 Leave a comment

This is a direct copy of my blogpost on openGLAM. Soon there will be some original content here…

Good news from Germany: The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (DNB), the German National Library, has launched a Linked Data version of the German National Bibliography under Creative Commons Zero meaning that the information can be re-used without legal restriction.

Julia Hauser, from the DNB, explains in an email to the  World Wide Web Consortion (W3C):

“In 2010 the German National Library (DNB) started publishing authority data as Linked Data. The existing Linked Data service of the DNB is now extended with title data. In this context the licence for linked data is shifted to “Creative Commons Zero.

The bibliographic data of the DNB’s main collection (apart from the printed music and the collection of the Deutsches Exilarchiv) and the serials (magazines, newspapers and series of the German Union Catalogue of serials (ZDB) have been converted. This is an experimental service that will be continually expanded and improved.”

The release of the bibliographic data as Linked Open Data means that the DNB joins a host of other cultural heritage institutions such as the British Library and the Dutch National Archive who have taken a similar course.

Linked Open Data makes sure that information from one cultural dataset can be linked with information from another dataset in a meaningful way. This could be two datasets from different institutions, or, indeed, two datasets from the same organisation. The possibilities are endless as long as everybody uses unique URI’s for their data. More information about how Linked Open Data works can be found here.

Now that more and more cultural institutions see the importance of Linked Open Data, Richard Wallis, from the Data Liberate blog,  predicts that this will be the first of many such announcements this year.

Categories: okfn Tags: , , , ,

Open GLAM in Germany

January 22, 2012 Leave a comment

This post is the original blogpost I wrote for the open GLAM website. The final (edited) version can be found on

Here in Germany, it appears that the open data debate is not quite as far ahead as in the UK or in the Netherlands (although they are working on it). All the more reason for different groups to set up new initiatives in order to fire up the discussion about making digital heritage available under an open license. Especially concerning the major role Germany has played in the history of Europe, amazing achievements can be obtained when the data can be freely (re)used by anybody. With the millions of paintings, photos, videos, maps, sculptures and archives available, the possibilities will be endless. Imagine watching any event during WWII through the eyes of both a German and a British Soldier, or to see the famous Pergamon Altar being enriched with objects from Greek institutions. New stories can be told and new insights in history can be found.

Different projects are being organized in different parts of Germany with GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) institutions. Goal is to bring different groups of people together and help each other to get as much open-access, freely-reusable cultural content available for the public.

A great example is the cooperation between Wikimedia Germany and the German Federal Archives (Deutsches Bundesarchiv). In 2008, the archive donated 100.000 photos out of its huge collection to Wikimedia under an open license. The photos made it possible for the Wikipedia volunteers to enrich the Wikipedia articles with images and this way bring them to life. The archive itself also benefited greatly from their donation. This cooperation led to dramatically increased visibility of their holdings and at the same time and the metadata and descriptions of the photos were constantly improved by volunteers.
The cooperation between Wikimedia and the German Federal Archives has since then been one of the prime examples of how successful releasing digital heritage under an open license can be. The full case study can be found here

The Wikimedia Foundation is currently the driving force behind most of the Open GLAM projects. Not only in Germany, but in many other countries as well, as for example the wikilovesmonuments project.

Organizing more successful GLAM projects is all about bringing people together. Lots of people at institutions are thinking about opening up their data but do not have the expertise. Both technical and legal. Others do not see the use of opening up their data or are skeptical towards it. By showing the rich scale of possibilities and letting programmers create new tools and visualizations with their data, we can show the advantages when cultural data is available under an open license.

In the future, the Open Knowledge Foundation will work together with different organizations to organize even more Open GLAM projects in Germany and help them making it easier for everyone to add, find and reuse cultural works which are under an open license.

Those who are interested in GLAM outreach and helping to join the effort to encourage cultural heritage institutions to open up the data they hold on their collections and digital copies of works, please join the discussion on the Open GLAM/Open Heritage mailing list. Or send me an email: