In a document dated 25th August 2009 the Andrew Mellon Foundation circulated a proposal for a shared technology infrastructure. The proposal describes an environment in which the existing scope of Mellon funded prototype projects, focused on highlighting both conservation documentation and collection data (and related projects that might be proposed in the future), would be developed. Such an environment would remove the need for individual projects to build independent and separate technology architectures and thereby provides the potential for projects to benefit from each other by reusing open source software components and to focus on their content and research agendas. The document cited the following aspirations in developing current and future projects:
These projects represent a coordinated effort to create new digital resources that are able to interface with those of other institutions and involve the gathering, storage and dissemination of cultural and heritage content.
The proposal (attached at Annex 4) was discussed with representatives involved in current Mellon projects, as well as other stakeholders, in a meeting at the National Gallery, London on 14th September. The present document takes those discussions further and sets out the framework for taking the proposal forward to produce a design for the shared infrastructure. The design must result in a development environment that can be used effectively by the wide range of art and culture organisations that wish to produce applications that present collection and conservation information on the web (in some cases using new methods for scholarly research) for the benefit of all.
Purpose of this document
The purpose of this document is to describe the project and its objectives clearly and to ensure that the correct level of project controls and structure are in place to deliver the desired shared infrastructure design. As such this document aims to provide the reader with a clear understanding of what the project is about, what it would deliver and the benefits that it would bring. Any questions regarding the document should be directed to the author.
Shared Technology Infrastructure
The shared technology infrastructure refers to both the operating and software environment under which Mellon projects are developed (which must be open source), and the shared hosting environment which supports this technology. However, the software infrastructure could, in the future, equally be used by organisations within their own hosting environments whether in-house or outsourced. Indeed, the software would be free for general public download according to open source principles.
From a practical perspective, Mellon prototype projects would be provided with a common set of software supporting non-technical staff in the basic creation and operation of their core web applications. Additional software development support would also be provided to create new components (and provide additional programming support) which may then form part of the web application toolkit available to all other projects. To increase the potential for reuse, the shared environment would employ an open database technology, the Resource Description Framework (RDF), a standard that supports the semantic web. The semantic web extends the current World Wide Web to support computer readable data alongside the current human readable, presentation based, web.
“...is an approach to the design, development, and distribution of software, offering practical accessibility to software’s source code.” (Wikipedia). It is not limited to any particular technology or development tool as long the principles are complied with. In general this means that the software license allows access to the source code with little or no copyright restrictions. A fuller definition is available from the Open Source Initiative (http://opensource.org/docs/osd). It is not confined to any particular development technology.
The semantic web is an extension of the current World Wide Web and will work alongside it. Unlike the current web which concentrates on presenting information in a human readable format, the semantic web provides an open standard for publishing data in a form that can be consumed and manipulated by computers. Data published by different organisations can be searched across the internet as if one single database. This is achieved not just by using a common open data standard, but by allowing organisations to create relationships according to the meaning of their data even if it is described differently. (For an introduction please view the following video at http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_berners_lee_on_the_next_web.html )
Summary Business Case
A shared infrastructure is seen by the Mellon Foundation as essential to the sustainability of the prototype projects by controlling escalating software development as well as (especially) maintenance and operational costs. Currently each project develops their required technology independently from the others. However, the technical requirements of these projects are similar and using the same technology platform (rather than using project funds to procure a wide range of different technology solutions) would allow sharing and continued development of components. This approach reduces both time and costs and reduces the development risks for any particular project. The gradual building up of these ‘community’ tools and services would allow organisations to concentrate on the collection, organisation and presentation of their data, rather than dealing with technology decisions and issues that many organisations are not equipped to manage.
Overall Project Goal
To provide, by the end of March 2010, a practical and costed design for a shared technology infrastructure, ready for procurement and implementation. The shared infrastructure would fulfil the needs of all Mellon projects in presenting collection information to the internet, and would provide facilities for the storage and exposure of art and culture data and multimedia using semantic technologies.
The objectives of the project are as follows;
- To agree on a shared hosting model (and costs) and determine a shortlist of appropriate hosting providers who would be willing and able to support the shared technology model.
- To agree a short list for the triple store management system.
- To provide an initial specification for the shared technology environment. It should include project and software development, communication, collaboration and workflow.
- To provide an initial list of existing components for immediate use by Mellon projects.
- To allow cultural and heritage organisations to publish their collection information in RDF format for general internet use.
- To provide a process and clear model under which collection information would be stored in RDF format.
- To ensure that projects can be sustained over their natural lifetime.
- Provide a comprehensive environment for the support of collaborative scholarship requiring no programming expertise on the part of users or site administrators.
- Further specification of these objectives would be defined with representation from the current Mellon funded prototype projects listed above.
These objectives in turn would;
- Reduce technology costs (in the long term) across the portfolio of Mellon funded software development projects, as well as for all other projects adopting the technologies.
- Increase collaboration and reuse between different Mellon projects, as well as all other museum-related projects that might benefit from the technologies.
- The shared hosting environment would be available, upon request (subject to qualification), to the cultural sector for storage of RDF data regardless of whether an organisation has a current Mellon funded project. (The software developed by the shared technology infrastructure is open source and therefore available to all).
- Software developed for the Shared Infrastructure must be open source and therefore available to anyone for download and use.
- In order to publish RDF data to the shared infrastructure it must adhere to the agreed base ontology. However, organisations can apply further layers of ontology as they see fit. A gateway would be provided for this purpose.
Project Approach & Organisation
The project involves a number of different strands. These include the following:
- Research tool development
- Data Production and Migration
- Project Development
- Ongoing Development, support and sustainability
The following should be outputs from the project.
- A web site for project documents and communication (except those documents regarded as confidential under Mellon Foundation intellectual property policy)
- A simple survey of stakeholder’s in-house technology to understand internal technical resources and expertise.
- A detailed brief for all working groups.
- A recommended RDF management system.
- Sub-Group reports and recommendations.
- A specification document providing details of the shared infrastructure and recommendations for implementation (incorporating the work of the sub groups).
- A cost analysis of the shared infrastructure (setup and ongoing).
- A migration plan for current projects to move onto the shared infrastructure.
- A governance document describing how the shared environment would be managed and used.
- The criteria and qualification for use of the hosting environment.
Individuals assuming leadership responsibilities in the project, including participation in the management group and sub-groups, will be representatives who must also fulfil internal roles in their home institutions.
Mellon-funded partner software projects have their own schedules, timetables, and resource constraints, which must be respected and reconciled in mutually satisfactory ways.
All participants in the management group and sub-groups have full endorsement from their home institutions to devote adequate time to the development of this project.
Measurement of Success
The following are considered measures for the success of the project:
The project should demonstrate the future expected cost savings resulting from the finished shared infrastructure design. On implementation of the shared infrastructure it is recommended that project costs are monitored to confirm the original expectations.
The endorsement of the majority, if not all, of the stakeholders. The project should, if possible, try to consult as widely as possible (beyond the current list of stakeholder organisations) to determine the future reception of the environment by other organisations.
First Stage Planning, Specifications and Feasibility - December 2010
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is currently developing two systems for the management of conservation and collection information. The systems are called CollectionSpace and ConservationSpace. The relationship between this project and these two systems would be considered by the management group in consultation with the stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle. CollectionSpace is due for delivery in the first quarter 2010 as a first version. The development timetable for ConservationSpace is yet unknown and may possibly be incorporated into a CollectionSpace version.
In addition the Sakai, Fluid and Bamboo software projects will be reviewed with a view to adoption as part of the shared technology infrastructure.