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Steven J. Dale

Submitted Entry for 2013 Competition

Parallels is an open source web-based tool that allows members of the public to visually sculpt and remix selected images of the British Library collections, and share their transformative creations with others.


This project is intended to introduce selected images of the unique, rich, and deep image collections of the British Library to members of the general public in ways they may not have before. To do this, the project aims to provide a tool that allows them to interact with the content in a fun, engaging, interactive and exploratory way, and through this process, learn more about the history and context of the original images.

Cultural works are a reflection of society at particular periods in time. When we look at the changes of culture, we often find a strong connection and cross pollination between ideas. In other words, works are not static, but are instead a dynamic and ongoing conversation between producer and recipient.
Historian James Burke dedicates an entire TV series to the connection of ideas over time, and writer Steven Johnson uses the term exaptation in his book Where Good Ideas Come From to describe discovery as taking an idea from one discipline or context and applying it to another.

Today, we recognize this idea, of taking something out of context and using it in a new and unintended way, as a much simpler word: the remix. In essence, a conversation connected through fragments or bits of media. This agency, or the ability to share a perspective of an artifact that goes beyond its original meaning, brings with it a powerful opportunity for the public to discover and learn history and culture in a way they may not have before.
Further, as the content created results is in an interactive and dynamic form consisting of bits of many source images, people can learn more not just about the story of one image, but rather of many images, including the potential for unexpected discovery through juxtaposition.


Assessment Criteria

The research question / problem you are trying to answer*

Please focus on the clarity and quality of the research question / problem posed:

One of the problems that archivists, librarians and curators often face is reach. Members of the public for which institutions aim to connect and share their collections with are hard to reach en masse.
A good metaphor for this is the comparison of the accessibility and reach of a public work of art at a gallery or exhibit, versus at a town square, transportation hub, or other highly trafficked location which involves low commitment of time and money, but offers an equal experience of wonder.

What is a similar line of thinking when considering methods of reaching wider audiences?
How can members of the public that may never experience or interact with the target collections be hooked into engagement in a fun and interesting way?

Please explain the ways your idea will showcase British Library digital collections*

Please ensure you include details of British Library digital collections you are showcasing (you may use several collections if you wish), a sample can be found at http://labs.bl.uk/Digital+Collections

I would like to work with the library to help identify images that have the most liberal use of copyright and include diverse subject matter, color, form, and texture.

Some collections of interest after preliminary research are:
- Early Photographically Illustrated Books
- King's Topographical
- Evanion collection of ephemera
- Asia, Pacific & Africa

These images will then be accessible as part of the interactive tool, and will allow others to combine, juxtapose and remix them with their own.

Please detail the approach(es) / method(s) you are going to use to implement your idea, detailing clearly the research methods / techniques / processes involved*

Indicate and describe any research methods / processes / techniques and approaches you are going to use, e.g. text mining, visualisations, statistical analysis etc.

The project is centered around visualization and connection. Key functionality will allow people to manipulate images with

- variable granularity: any image can be shattered or broken down into smaller bits, which can be recombined and reconfigured, a la digital Lego
- the ability to play and rewind the development or evolution of the process. Final image maps are not only playable, but are fully dynamic which can then be reconstructed and reinterpreted by others.
- sharing or publishing of the transformative works are integrated with popular social networks that facilitate the spread and interest of digital, visual content.

Potential platforms include Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook.

Examples of potential outcomes are represented by artist Christian Marclay's collages with album covers


I've created an example using a sampling of print postcards at the museum shop at the Palais De Tokyo in Paris: http://cl.ly/image/2j1B1v1z000F

Note that these examples demonstrate source images used in their entirety, while the proposed project will further manipulation in size, shape and color.

Please provide evidence of how you / your team have the skills, knowledge and expertise to successfully carry out the project by working with the Labs team*

E.g. work you may have done, publications, a list with dates and links (if you have them)

- This proposal is one element of a larger project I've presented at ACM WebScience '13 in Paris, HASTAC conference


- Detailed blog post of the long term project here : http://www.cstreams.com/posts/061813_what_is_parallels

- Video demo of the core functionality at makeparallels.org, with a working prototype already underway.

- I have the necessary experience in web design, user experience and web development to bring this idea to life. In addition, because the project is open source, others have recently committed to joining the project which will speed design and development.

I've conducted research at public libraries for my MFA thesis project and am familiar with many of the challenges facing libraries today http://www.cstreams.com/projects/hear_here

Please provide evidence of how you think your idea is achievable on a technical, curatorial and legal basis

Indicate the technical, curatorial and legal aspects of the idea (you may want to check with Labs team before submitting your idea first).


I believe the key for engagement and adoption is to go where people *already* are. In other words, as opposed to building systems that ask the public to come to visit them, throw bait out in the popular social services, networks and platforms in which they are already frequenting to capture their interest. For this reason, I intend of developing integration with social networking services people use most for the sharing of visual media, and connecting with people they know and follow : Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter

As mentioned earlier, a video demo of the core functionality is at makeparallels.org. Development is already underway, with a working prototype scheduled for summer 2013.

I am looking forward to working with the BL Labs team to learn more about the legal and curatorial guidelines, restrictions and goals of the collections I proposed.

Please provide a brief plan of how you will implement your project idea by working with the Labs team

You will be given the opportunity to work on your winning project idea between July 6th - October 31st 2013

July - Meet with team to discuss potential collections, data formats, and to organize content based on intellectual property guidelines

End of July - Conduct a public workshop for rapid paper prototyping of concept
August - Design and develop working web-based prototype
September - Develop and test integrations with social media networks
Early October - Final testing
Mid October - Launch
End of October - Preliminary evaluations, curate highlighted works created by the public, publish findings