Guest Post by @GeerOskam: How has the digital revolution affected the distribution of culture?

Below is a guest blog post from Geer Oskam of Europeana! Thanks, Geer! 

How has the digital revolution affected the distribution of culture?

The rapidly expanding worldwide web is the starting point for many conferences and discussions about the possibilities for distribution of digital heritage and (digital) audience involvement. Lots of these meetings try to grasp the idea of the “digital revolution” and how we are affected by it. Maybe its time to talk less and do more, or let others do the work for you.

A few months ago I became involved with Europeana. Europeana.eu is Europe’s portal for digitized cultural heritage, giving access to over 20 million digital objects from Europe’s museums, libraries and archives. Last month Europeana has opened up her metadata of more then 20 million records under the CC0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. This release is a big turning point in free digitised cultural heritage; it shows the power of cultural institutions working together in a similar format. Releasing data from across the memory organisations of every EU country is a move away from the world of closed and controlled data. See more open data and the opportunities that it brings in this Europeana video.

The speed at which the web is developing causes difficulties for many heritage institutions: what is useful today might be outdated next year. Therefore it’s important to think beyond individual projects and to find out where possible partners are. The CC0 release has shown that big things can be possible if heritage institutions join arms.

What should you, as an institution, do if you have cleared the topic of opening up your data, and you want as many people to interact with your collection as possible? The magic word right now seems to be: create an API (Application Programming Interface).

Every major data repository or database has an API nowadays. Think of Flickr, YouTube, but also cultural organizations like Het Rijksmuseum or The Brooklyn Museum. With an API you create the opportunity for anyone to open an access point to your original database. In the case of a cultural institution, this means that you can let others implement your API on their website. This will function as a door into your online collection. Or you can implement the API of an umbrella organization on you website to enrich your users search results. Europeana has a list of examples of her API implementations here.  Furthermore an API is also the starting point for developers to start creating specific mobile applications. Prototypes of Europeana’s Hackathons show you cool ideas what can be made with a open cultural database.

Good to know: Europeana’s API is available for free for anyone. So if you are a developer you can request one, but also if you are a cultural institution and you would like to offer your users valuable attributions to search results you can get started right away.

I am convinced that it is not only “key” to talk about these web trends and share knowledge but also to just start doing. Yes, entering new territory might be ‘scary’ but the only thing you are certain of when you don’t participate is that you won’t be seen. So, apart from talking, let’s open up, and start sharing!