Reviewing cloud computing for LoCloud

During the first five months of the LoCloud project a review of cloud computing has been conducted by a working group consisting of The Danish Agency for Culture, Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed in the Netherlands, The Spanish Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, Vilniaus Universitas in Lithuania, Universitaet Duisburg-Essen in Germany and Univerzita Komenskeho v Bratislave in Slovakia.

On the basis of the review, an analytical report has been produced as the first deliverable of the project, which will be made available from the project web site, after approval by the European Commission.

The purpose of this report is to monitor the state-of-the art of cloud computing and make an assessment of aspects of the cloud relevant to the needs of the project and to small and medium sized institutions. The report is supposed to inform content providers in their further action planning. The methodology for writing the report is primarily desktop research and analysis of the available literature.

The first section of the report offers a general description of cloud computing, the different kinds of infrastructure and models of service available, and the advantages and potential risks associated with the technology.

The second section offers an introduction to the uptake of cloud computing by small and medium-sized enterprises in the EU and the barriers that exist. It also presents a brief overview of European policy regarding cloud computing, and an analysis of the potential for cloud computing in the heritage sector.

In the third and final section, special attention is paid to the needs of the LoCloud project and to small and medium sized cultural institutions.

The findings of the review are summarised below.

Cloud computing has become ubiquitous, but the concept has no strict definition. Ideally, cloud computing is meant to turn computing into a utility like water or power. Elasticity, availability, improved resource utilisation and support for multiple tenants are key features of the concept. There are three main models of service: Infrastructure as a service (Iaas), Platform as a service (Paas) and Software as a service (Saas).

Cloud computing may aid heritage institutions with its oft-cited benefits such as cost effectiveness, quick deployment and access to resources beyond the abilities of individual small institutions. Developers of cloud-based services in the heritage sector should distinguish between the three user groups: content providers & aggregators, the general public, and scholars.

Though cloud computing is still emerging, a stamp of approval is that The European Commission has adopted a cloud computing strategy based on the reports from expert working groups and open consultations. It was adopted in September 2012 and is part of the ‘Digital Agenda for Europe’.

There is high awareness and willingness to participate in cloud-based development from the heritage institutions and agencies voicing their opinion in this report. The barriers to participating cited are mainly lack of knowledge and skills, trust and legal issues. The main legal obstacle is the fact that many institutions are charged with the governance of their data and there will often be restrictions as to where that data may be placed and whom it may be given to. It lies at the heart of cloud computing that the customer may not know exactly where the data resides.

There are a number of Saas providers providing services for the cultural sector. Some of the commercial vendors of collections management systems offer cloud based versions of their software, and in the library domain the OCLC offers a number of relevant services. However, none of these come with plug-in aggregation tools for Europeana.

There is probably still a need for online tools with a very low barrier to entry which are suited to the needs (and budgets) of smaller local and community museums. This is the window of opportunity for the LoCloud project. The LoCloud project builds on past successful projects such as Europeana Local and CARARE and aims to bring the benefits of cloud computing to especially small- and medium-sized cultural institutions to aid them in aggregating their data to Europeana.

Beyond the space: the LoCloud historical place names service

The Faculty of Communication of Vilnius University in cooperation with the Digital Curation Unit of the Institute for the Management of Information Systems of Athena Research and Innovation Centre in Information Communication & Knowledge Technologies, Angewandte Informationstechnik Forschungsgesellschaft mbH, Universidad del País Vasco and Javni Zavod Republike Slovenije za Varstvo Kulturne Dediscine,  building on the results of the CARARE project, are developing an application to enable local cultural institutions to collaborate in the development of an historical place name microservice.

Why historical place names?

Nowadays, space and time are considered to be the most important dimensions of reality. Much attention is paid to their scientific analysis in Physics and Astronomy. Moreover, these dimensions are very important in the research of cultural heritage,  the understanding of its role in contemporary society and its use  in cultural industries. Historical space and time are important aspects of the life cycle of a cultural heritage object since they help to identify, interpret and communicate that object and [or] attached ideas. Moreover,  the dating of sources and their association with certain geographical spaces allow for further historical interpretations.

Historical place names (HPN) are the point, where past time and space meet. HPN are place names, which exist in history (not contemporary place names) and are fixed in historical sources. An HPN is considered to be a place appellation, which is used to refer to several places, because its application may change over time (similarly to E48 in CIDOC-CRM). On the other hand, the place as an object (similarly to E53 in CIDOC-CRM, excluding movable objects) is determined as GIS defined immovable geographic object: point, polygon or line (such as landscape, inhabited places, buildings, natural objects (mountains, river, etc, administrative areas, etc.)). A place name can be understood as an historical identifier for several places (with the same meaning   of E4 in CIDOC-CRM) and (or) as a kind of immovable heritage (“non-material products of our minds”, e.g. E28 Conceptual Object in CIDOC-CRM).

The transcoding of reality from analogue to digital system performed during the heritage digitisation affects the application of HPN used in the real world to artificial system. This  way HPN becomes a link between reality and virtuality ensuring quality of digitisation, interoperability of reality and virtuality, internal interoperability within the information system and external interoperability of several systems, as well as efficient communication of digital data.

On the other hand, while interpreting and using the space of a certain period, it is important to take into account the invisible “human factor” – the people who lived in  particular historical periods – which we can call “historical or cultural multilingualism”.  Thus can be defined as terminological differences of the common language determined by cultural differences of various nations. According to the communicative model of the pioneer of the American trend of semiotics, C. S. Peirce, a term (in our case HPN) is a conventional sign, which is developed by the interpretant in his mind perceiving the object of reality. So, in terms of communication of meanings, HPN is a piece of work of different human groups intended to name the same object of reality (the place). On the contrary, miscommunication and non-interoperability occurs at the level of signs (words) rather than objects. Scientists and politicians from the 19th,20th century brought additional confusion into the understanding of the historical space through nationalistic historical narratives, thus having a huge impact on history and social geography. Computing technology based on algorithms and binary code, provides possibilities for maximising objectivity in the geographical representation of reality. Paradoxically, the comprehension of space based on historical narratives is much stronger than that based on the ICT discourse. When digitising cultural heritage, we link it less to modern geographical space realities, than to the historical space of the 19th century that was marked with the myths and narratives of nationalism.

What does the HPN thesaurus contain?

Two methodological models can be employed for the digitisation of historical geographical and chronological data: the “text oriented” model and the “object oriented” model. The “text oriented” model was created at the early stage of the computerisation of cultural heritage. It is based on a “hierarchical” paradigm and usually describes the world via hierarchically organised controlled vocabularies of proper names. Despite the evident significance of the “text oriented” model for the development of digitisation of cultural heritage, it is also necessary to note the essential limitations of this model. The actual world (reality) is continuous and is composed of interconnected objects (not  concepts) that are organised according to  a non-hierarchical structure.  The “object oriented” model proposes a different point of view. This model was created during the modern stage of the computerisation of cultural heritage. It is based on a “network” paradigm and usually describes the world via network-organised object’s ontology. The ontological “object oriented” model is more connected with reality: real place-time and place-time appellations are described as separate classes of reality.

The HPN microservice will be developed on the basis of HPN Thesaurus, which is intended for aggregation, storage and long-term preservation of historical geo-information. The principal schema of the HPN microservice is presented in Fig. 1.

The HPN Thesaurus is a controlled vocabulary that can be used to aggregate, preserve and improve the interoperability and semantics  amongst historical geo-information, between historical geo-information and contemporary geo-data and historical geo-information in access to information about cultural heritage. The HPN thesaurus can be used as data standard at the point of documentation or cataloguing (as a controlled vocabulary or authority by the cataloguer or indexer, preferred names/terms and synonyms for places, structure and classification schemes); as browsing assistants in CARARE, LoCloud databases and in Europeana (knowledge base that show semantic links and paths between historical and contemporary places); as research tools (information and contextual knowledge about historical place names and places).

The HPN Thesaurus is a qualification of the CARARE metadata schema at the conceptual level (“Heritage Asset Identification Set”- global type “Spatial” – “Historical name”). The strength of the HPN Thesaurus lies with its ability to collect the full range of historical geo-information about digitised cultural heritage, born-digital objects, related events, their representations and to support the full range of HPN micro-services and user’s cases. The implementation of the HPN Thesaurus and the HPN micro-services is closely connected with the creation and implementation of the LoCloud Geolocation enrichment services (D3.3) and Vocabulary services (D3.4.), due to be released in Autumn

How will it work?

The HPN shall perform the following functions:

1. Reliably transfer historical geo-data from a series of local and international databases, information systems and (or) providers to the HPN Thesaurus, including the possibility of providing historical geo-data manually, via a user’s interface. The system  will connect with the semantic mapping and transfer of historic geo-data from local systems to the LoCloud HPN Thesaurus. The HPN geo-data will be imported in the GeoJSON,  JSON, CSV, SQL, TXT  formats. They will then be matched with other historical geo-data at HPN Thesaurus, using an automatic HPN data Import tool.. After the matching,  a manual quality check will be carried out and new HPN will be added to the HPN Thesaurus. A similar procedure is used for  other enrichment scenarios. . The scenarios for the enrichment of the HPN Thesaurus are presented in Fig. 2. On the one hand,  this process will ensure interoperability between different historical geo-data sets. On the other hand, it will create tools for enabling  crowd-sourcing and wiki paradigm in the HPN field.

2. Analyse and enrich the HPN data in the metadata sets of provided objects.  Created Analysis and enrichment tool will be based on the integrated algorithm that will normalise and reconcile similar place names, estimating similarities between names and geographic coordinates (it could rank accuracy by special algorithm. e.g. if a names and relevant coordinates are exact, it is ranked by 100%; if the name is exact, but the coordinates deviate by 50% , it would be 75%. If the name is not exact and the coordinates do not match the allowed deviation, it would be 0%). A user interface for each  LoCloud partner will enable to see, correct and quality check the results of the reconciliation algorithm. Each partner will be able to log in and visualise a list with different colours (from green to red) with the percentage of accuracy.

Rimvydas Laužikas
Ingrida Vosyliūtė
Faculty of Communication. Vilnius University, Lithuania

Project Launch

The LoCloud project was officially launched at the kick-off meeting held on 19-20 March 2013 at the National Archives, in Oslo.

LoCloud is one of a suite of projects, funded by the European Commission, to develop Europeana and enhance its contents.

It will build on the achievements of CARARE in establishing a repository-based aggregator for Archaeological and Architectural heritage; and of Europeana Local in its work with local institutions and their regional and national aggregators, which resulted in the contribution of nearly 5 million items to Europeana.

The project’s consortium brings together a strong consortium of technical partners, content providers, aggregating services and partners with specific expertise. Gunnar Urtegaard, from National Archives of Norway, project coordinator, underlined during the meetings close: “If we can keep it simple for content providers, keep simple for users and remove all the complexity in-between, then this project has the potential to be a great success.”