The Virtual Services Team in the Law Library has been looking for new ways to present our digital collections and information, so last week I decided to give ViewShare a spin. ViewShare is a free web application for generating dynamic views of data sets. It is based on the open source Recollection software developed by the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) at the Library of Congress and Zepheira. Recollection incorporates RDF, Simile Exhibit, Akara, and Django behind the scenes to integrate, transform, and use data to build a variety of interfaces including timelines, map views, image galleries, and scatterplots.
I wanted to test a small data set, and Alex LoBianco mentioned to me in passing he wished it was easier to directly access state information in the Guide to Law Online. Right now, it takes a user several mouse clicks to get to state data in the Guide from the Law Library homepage. Plotting the state links from the Guide on a map by state seemed like a good test to me.
The map turned out quite nicely, but there is a known bug with Internet Explorer 8 that prevents data from displaying properly.
ViewShare has a simple and easy-to-use interface for building views, so the process to create the map view wasn’t difficult. In fact, the hardest and most time consuming part was scraping the data off the Guide website and transforming it into a format ViewShare could easily use (primarily simple Excel files, XML MODS records, or Dublin Core Data from an OAI Open Archives Initiative end point (OAI-PMH)). I used a simple Excel spreadsheet for my test, which combined the collected URLs for each U.S. state and territory from the Guide with the addition of state capitals for mapping purposes. ViewShare can augment data by extrapolating latitude and longitude data for easy map plotting if the data set includes location information (city, state; zip code; or city, country). In my example, ViewShare was able to augment a combination of the capital and the state/territory fields in my data set to plot pins on a world map for each of the U.S. states and territories.
Overall, the views in ViewShare are fairly flexible and easy to customize. Users can rearrange most items in the visualization (including the order of links) simply by clicking and dragging. In the future, I’d like to upload more complex or different types of data to try out the other views and facet options. It would also be interesting to download and set up an instance of Recollection outside of ViewShare to see how it can be further tweaked to fit a more unique collection’s needs.
My biggest frustration using ViewShare was related to manipulation and maintenance of my data within the tool. Initially, the platform did not appear to allow a user to add or change data within a data set once it was uploaded. For example, there isn’t a method to directly input a new state into my data set on ViewShare after it has been uploaded. However, the ViewShare Help files mention an option to “Refresh” the entire data set (i.e. upload a revised version of your data set, but preserve the augmentations and views you already created from the original data set). But it was difficult for me to locate that option on the platform. It turns out the Refresh option lives on a detail page for the selected data set and can only be seen after the user selects the Inspect option for the data set. It is worth finding this link! Otherwise you will need to delete the entire data set from ViewShare, upload a corrected file, and recreate your associated views to correct or change your data. Just be careful not to modify the original structure of your data too much when performing a refresh, or ViewShare may not be able to reconnect the dots.
ViewShare is a great free tool for creating new ways of exploring and sharing data. It is easy to use and does a nice job of displaying information beautifully. The learning curve is not steep for the platform, but users will probably need to invest some time in data clean up and normalization before uploading data and creating visualizations. If you’d like to try out ViewShare for yourself, you can request a free account here.
Update: Viewshare was retired on March 20, 2018 by the Library of Congress. More here: //labs.loc.gov/experiments/viewshare/.