Readings in DH, December 2014 (1)

Warwick, C., Terras, M., Huntington, P., & Pappa, N. (2008). If you build it will they come? The LAIRAH study: quantifying the use of online resources in the arts and humanities through statistical analysis of user log data. Literary and Linguistic Computing, 23(1), 85–102.

This article sets out to look at how digital resources in the arts and humanities are accessed and used online. The purpose of this study is to help understand what happens to these resources once they are launched, their after-life, so to speak.

 “Anecdotal evidence suggests that some projects become well-known but others have been relatively quickly forgotten. This must be regrettable since the non-use of a resource represents a waste not only of the considerable intellectual effort and time expended in its production, but potentially considerable amounts of funding.”

(Warwick et al. 2008, 85–86)

The authors used web metrics to carry out their study, choosing Deep Log Analysis as a method; a method that provides unfiltered log figures that outline how people access online resources, and how they behave once there. The research also used questionnaires that were posted on the websites that participated in the survey and used qualitative methods (a workshop) to watch how people used the resources and to gather their feedback about the experience.

Some of the problems with the study:

  • Gathering log information from different servers was time consuming
  • It was also difficult, and there was limited technical help available in some resources, which made it impossible for them to gather the results.
  •  Some data was personalised, they needed to negotiate to get the data and they needed to figure out ways of anonymizing it.

Some findings:

  • How you name your resource is important (simple and clear – not poetic and obscure)
  • How you describe your resource is important
  • Expectations are high “If an interface compares badly to the kind of professional front end that scholars are accustomed to from commercial products, this immediately creates an adverse impression on potential users.” (Warwick et al. 2008, 99)
  • Users are not very positive about resources where the material/archives is incomplete
  • Things that make it hard for people to use resources do deter use (this includes signing up for a user account)
  • Interfaces that allow you to manipulate the material are welcome

Despite the fact that small groups of scholars and community groups are creating resources that people judge in comparison to slicker, well-funded commercial websites, the participants at the workshops were concerned that smaller resources should not be seen as inferior to those with better funding and a larger community of users (Warwick et al. 2008, 96).