Some observations from planning, running, and developing an emerging languages archive (Part I)
The notion of an archive user is too unspecific when we are talking about the user experience of language archives. By now, I have spent some time planning and developing an language archive and talking to other archivists and linguists as well as anthropologists and dh guys and more. The level of acceptance und usage of language archives in the wider scientific community is a recurring issue. Most linguists locate the problem in the usability of the tools and in particular in the interfaces, while archivists are pointing to the protective attitude of the depositing field linguists towards their data. I’m more and more convinced that the main issue is the user experience of the archives and especially in the conceptualisation of the role of user of an archive.
The ultimate goal of language archives is to facilitate knowledge generation by enabling people to archive and publish annotated audio and video recordings of communication events and by providing people with the means to discover, obtain access, view, and download these data. It is often tacitly assumed that there is a single role of archive user that might be contrasted with the archive managers or administrators. However from a user experience point of view, this way of conceptualising the interaction with language archives means disregarding a crucial distinction between different types of users.
This is my main point: There is no general user role in relation to language archives and it is crucial to recognise a fundamental difference between the interests and expectations of depositors and the interests and expectations of consumers. A depositor is a producers of an archive deposit. In the context of language archives, a prototypical depositor is a researcher with a background in linguistics or anthropology, philology, or related areas of study. A consumer is a user who utilises data from the archive to generate new knowledge on the basis of the archived data. The language archive acts as an intermediary is the platform that enables this (mediated) interaction between producers and consumers.
Different User Types There is no general user role in relation to language archives and it is crucial to recognise a fundamental difference between the interests and expectations of depositors and the interests and expectations of consumers. A depositor is a producers of an archive deposit. In the context of language archives, a prototypical depositor is a researcher with a background in linguistics or anthropology, philology, or related areas of study. A consumer is a user who utilises data from the archive to generate new knowledge on the basis of the archived data. The language archive acts as an intermediary is the platform that enables this interaction between producers and consumers.
Both, depositors as well as consumers, exhibit a wide range of backgrounds, levels of expertise, and motivations. Both user types comprise linguist, as well as researchers from other disciplines, students, members of a particular speech community, and even the general public. While this diversity influences the expectations and intentions of a particular user, this diversity is secondary. The fundamental relationship to an archive is defined by the role depositor or consumer. These two types of users differ significantly in knowledge and intentions in relation to the archived data.
Knowledge and Intentions The depositor has created the data and the descriptive metadata of the deposit and knows what the deposit contains and what aspects of the content are described in the metadata or in the annotations of the data and are thus searchable and which aspects are present in the data, but hidden to metadata search or content search.
In contrast, the consumer, does not know what data sets are accessible through they archive, what any given data set contains or what of the information is exposed to metadata search or content search. Their interaction with the data is guided by expectations and needs that are formed before the interaction with the archive and by expectations about a particular data set and assumptions about annotation and metadata description.
The knowledge of the particular set of data differs considerably between depositors and consumers. This difference in knowledge determines their relation to the archive and shapes the interaction with the data. The intention of the depositor is directed toward the set of data they have collected and curated, while a consumer‘s intention is to identify a data set that will answer the research question they have. These two sets are unlikely to be identical.
Different Needs Depositors want to present the result of their work, control access to the data, and get credit for the work they have put into the creation and curation of their data set. Consumers want to have access to a particular set of data that has the potential to provide the information they need to answer a particular question. This requires a reliable discovery mechanism that allows allows to identify a suitable set. From the consumer point of view, access restrictions are obstacles and every additional step to gain access increases the effort and makes it less attractive.
The differences in knowledge, expectations, and requirements of the two user types result in substantially different patterns of interaction with a language archives.
(I wrote this post on 6/23/2015 for an older blog of mine, just putting it here for reference.)