Web developer Darren Peacock takes CAN Partners behind the scenes to explain what was involved in designing and building the Mallala Now and Then wiki. The innovative community heritage wiki website, launched last week, uses the principles of crowdsourcing to gather material about the small South Australian township of Mallala. This pilot project was developed by the Collections Council of Australia (CCA) and there are plans for it to be rolled out to other towns across the country. Darren tells the CAN community a little bit about how he built the wiki and what he expects to come out of the project.
Mallala is a small township of some 500 people in rural South Australia, with an active group of volunteers running the local museum. The Collection Connections project, funded by the CCA with a grant from the .auda Foundation, worked with the Mallala Museum volunteers to explore new ways of recording, preserving and sharing local history using Web 2.0 approaches and technologies. The objective of the project is to develop a sustainable business model and technology platform to enable small collecting organisations to create and manage participative online heritage projects. The wiki website that has now emerged demonstrates the potential of wiki-based collaboration to create and nurture communities of interest, enliven the presentation of history and develop new information management and knowledge sharing paradigms and practices for small, volunteer-based, collecting organisations. Through this pilot implementation at Mallala, the project aims to investigate the factors which contribute to the success of such online initiatives and to identify those which inhibit or impede its success.
The potential of wikis as knowledge sharing platforms for cultural heritage has been discussed for some time, but we believe this is the first time in Australia such an approach has been used.
Grace Plains Football Team
The Now and Then website was developed on the MediaWiki platform, an open source wiki software which provides the basis for the world’s most famous wiki, Wikipedia. While Wikipedia draws on the efforts of millions of volunteers from around the world, the Now and Then wiki is powered by the efforts and enthusiasm of a small, but growing number of local volunteers. The wiki platform for Now and Then is integrated with content sharing sites Flickr and YouTube, as well as delivering RSS from the museum blog which has been established by the project using the Wordpress tool. Google Maps is used to display content articles in an interactive map that provides a geo-spatial dimension on the area’s history.
Charles Osborne Trounson was promoted from Mounted Counstable to Foot Police in 1885 and worked at Mallala Police Station between until 9 November 1887 and 30 June 1888.
Content in Now and Then is organised into topic based ‘articles’ like Wikipedia. The articles are organised into the categories of places, people, organisations, events and things. Of course, many items provide rich links of association across these categories, which encourages lateral and serendipitous searching across the site.
Registered users of the site can add, edit and comment on the articles within the wiki and discuss them with other users. In this way, the wiki opens up a lively discourse about local history and promotes extensive knowledge sharing and information exchange. Even at this early stage, a much richer picture of the connections amongst local history, heritage and memory is emerging for this community.
The model underpinning Now and Then is highly extensible and can be replicated across any number of other communities. A design decision was made to employ MediaWiki’s semantic extension to ensure that the content created within the Now and Then wiki is available for aggregation and reuse across regions or particular items of interest, such as buildings, collection objects or organisational histories.
The pilot implementation of Now and Then is an action research project, exploring potential applications of Web 2.0 technologies in a volunteer-run collecting organisation. The key design considerations for the project were creating an appropriate business model, effective participation design and long-term sustainability.
Architectural drawings for flour mill, Mallala
So far the Now and Then site has been well received within the local community and is generating high levels of interest and participation. The museum is experiencing significant new levels of engagement and receiving more visits and offers of historical images, objects and information.
The success of the initial implementation of Now and Then in Mallala provides confidence and a practical research basis to proceed with further implementations in diverse communities across Australia once further sources of funding are secured.
Darren Peacock, Sweet Technology Pty Ltd
Project Manager, Now and Then
For Collections Council of Australia
If you would like to know more about wikis or the ‘Now and Then’ wiki project email the Collections Council or Darren.