Monday, 27 February 2012

Pelagios Visualization Service: user requirements for the Pelagios apps and widgets

This is the first in a series of posts about users’ requirements for the Pelagios visualization service. The visualization service will be implemented as a set of web apps and widgets that will "enable providers, end-users and developers to find, visualize and build upon geospatial connections between openly available resources" (JISC Pelagios2 project summary). To put this post in context, the project plan adds a bit more detail indicating that the web apps and widgets will provide end users with intuitive and user friendly tools to visualize data available through APIs produced by WP1 (webcrawling and indexing service) and WP2 (place/space-based APIs and contextualisation service). The end users may be subject specialists, but they will not necessarily have the technical expertise to make use of this data directly. Overall, there are three key groups of users that we will target to gather requirements from:
  • "Super users" - e.g. developers, digital humanities specialists typified by the Pelagios2 project partners

  • "End users" - people with an interest in Pelagios data, but without the technical skills necessary to exploit it e.g. ancient history students and
    teachers, folk who visit ancient sites on holiday

  • "Web site admins" - people who own administer sites that could embed Pelagios widgets. These could be museum or history related sites, and it's their technical requirements and restrictions that are the initial concern.
This first post sets out to discriminate between web apps and widgets, with the intention (and hope) that explaining the meaning of these terms will help the interpretation of future posts about the users' requirements. We're also thinking that to gather requirements from non-techie end users it will be useful to give some examples of apps and widgets that they may already be familiar with.

What is a web app? What is a web widget?

‘Web app’ and ‘web widget’ are shorthand terms to summarise some features of web based tools and applications.
We are using the term ‘app’ to refer to a application that would typically be accessed in its own web page, and allows the user to manipulate data and relationships betwImage showing <span class=een items of data. For example, the Flickr web app shown in this screen grab enables the Flickr user to drag pictures from the group at the bottom of the screen into the working area in the middle of the screen, and then edit data about the selected photos (title, location time taken etc.), and to group the photos into sets. (Please click on the image to open a clearer view of it).
In contrast, a ‘widget’ is an interface to a web application that can be embedded within a web page. A widget will typically offer fewer options, and less functionality, than an app to the user, because often it will occupy less screen space. A widget may meet one specific need, whereas an app may meet several, and usually a widget allows data to be displayed, whereas an app enables data to be displayed and edited.. The Flickr slide show shown below is an example of a widget. This allows the end user to embed a copy of a set of photos in their site. In this case the 'end user' is the person embedding the slide show, not the person who created it.

For media objects such as photos, videos and music, web apps typically provide a way to upload, tag and describe individual items, or how items relate to one another, or to edit the items themselves. Widgets typically provide the functionality to embed a media object in another page (or a set of objects), and allow access to a subset of the descriptive information that is available via the full app user interface.
It may be the case in Pelagios, as in other areas, that there will be a grey area between apps and widgets.
Next steps
We have begun by surveying super users (including Pelagios partners) using a questionnaire, and in the next post I will describe initial feedback from this group about their requirements for Pelagios web apps and widgets. By the way, if you have received an invitation to respond to the questionnaire, we do want more responses so please do complete it and return it!
Andrew (the inept photographer responsible for the images embedded in this post)

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