The following is a guest post from Trevor Owens, a Digital Archivist in the Library of Congress Office of Strategic Initiatives.
Last week we quietly launched several significant improvements to Viewshare, our free and open platform for cultural heritage organizations to create interfaces to digital collections. There are a ton of major and small additions to the software, but I wanted to take a moment to talk through four of them which we think make the platform significantly more useful. To illustrate these I will describe them in the context of this small collection of digitized postcards from Fairfax County, VA.
If you haven’t already, here is how you can request a Viewshare account here: http://viewshare.org/account/request/.
Dynamic Image Galleries
This is easily the most frequently requested feature. Instead of displaying a list of records, many of our users want to be able to display a gallery of images. This display requires that your collection has a unique URLs for each image; assuming that you do, all you need to specify are the titles and other information you’d like to display with the image. Users of the interface can click to display a larger copy of the image in a light box.
A gallery of images is not necessarily that exciting in and of itself. What is exciting about these galleries is that they function with exactly the same faceting tools that help manipulate all the other displays. You can also pivot between the displays and see how a given set of selected items are displayed over time, on a map, or in any of the other displays which Viewshare supports.
Visualizing Time in Context
We have been finding that there is a significant amount of numerical information in the cultural heritage collections that users have been bringing to Viewshare — specifically year dates associated with objects. Given this, we were excited to add a few features that let users create more engaging ways of working with numeric information.
In the new version of Viewshare you can specify that any of your date information is numeric. In the case of the postcards example I set the year field to be interpreted as numeric. With that, you can then use the new histogram and numeric range widgets. I realize that “Histogram” and “Numeric range” might not sound particularly exciting, but I assure you that they are.
For example, in the Fairfax Postcards collection I have included both a histogram and a numeric range facet. The histogram displays the frequency of the items in the collection over time. So right off the bat, you now have a visual representation of trends in this set of cards over time. Beyond this, any user can use the little sliders on the histogram to hone in on any time period they specify so that they can only see the items associated with that particular time period. The particularly interesting part of this comes about when you start using the other facets in conjunction with the histogram facet. For example, if you click on one of the themes in this collection you will then see a histogram of only the items associated with that theme. Using the histogram, you and any of your users, can quickly get a sense of how different subjects, themes, or works appear in a given collection across a specified period of time.
The numeric range facet works just like the list facet does. Ultimately, the facet displays the number of items associated with any chosen set of numeric ranges, in the case of the postcards collections this means 50-year selections of images. The part that is particularly interesting about this facet is how you can customize the range settings. When you are building your view, you have the ability to use a small slider to chose what size ranges you want to use. Even better, as you move the slider you see a preview of exactly what those ranges will look like. This has the benefit of letting you quickly figure out what ranges would be best for displaying your collection while simultaneously giving you a very quick sense of how your items clump together in terms of numeric information, in this case years.
New Levels of Display Customization
Users have frequently requested ways to further customize their individual displays. If you have used Viewshare you may have found that you could get a given display to look almost good enough to embed in your own website but just needed a little more fine tuning. To that end, we have added a few new ways that you can tweak the individual displays in your views.
You can now override the default zoom level in the map displays. When you are building a map display you can specify, from 1-10, the default level of zoom-in for the display. For example, below I have two images showing what setting the zoom for the postcard collection to levels X and Y look like.
For the displays that show item information in an ordered format we have also added the ability for users to set a default sort. Thus, you can now chose any of the fields of your collection data to sort by.
Easier to Use Interface for Building Views
If you have already been using Viewshare you will also notice that we have significantly improved the interface for building views. See an example of the new interface below. This interface formerly used a very large set of mildly confusing radio buttons. Now, the display building component of Viewshare has the most essential settings of each display on top of the screen. In the image below these are visible in the Map View Settings box. We also added some very basic logic to the system to pre-fill in some of those fields with data that fits those uses. For example, my map display defaulted to choosing the “lat lng” field in my data because I had marked it as location information.
We have also refined the interface for adding facets. As you can see in the image above, each of the facets is displayed exactly how it will look on your public view. This serves the benefit of letting you pick the facets that will work best with your particular collection while also providing some knowledge about general patterns in your collection data.
What Else Do You Want Viewshare to do?
We are excited about these new features and we hope you are too. I would like to stress that each and every one of these features is the result of working with and watching how people are using Viewshare. We learn a lot from seeing what kinds of data users are importing and using to build views. Beyond this, many of these enhancements are the result of repeated and explicit requests from users. If you have had a chance to use Viewshare I would be thrilled to hear from you about any additional feature requests you have. Feel free to add your thoughts and questions as comments to this post.