Presentation at ESTS 2015

I recently attended the European Society for Textual Scholarship’s 2015 conference held at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK. At this conference, I gave a presentation entitled Beyond Google Search: Editions as Dynamic Sites of Interaction. The focus of the presentation was a discussion around some of the common UI tropes and metaphors we rely upon in Digital Scholarly Editions and an examination of how these elements are applied.  The presentation consisted of a discussion around the subject of interaction design, a break down of the common tropes & metaphors along with a comparison of 14 different scholarly editions and which of the metaphors were utilised, and a brief case study involving the Letters of 1916, a project at Maynooth University with which I have had the pleasure to be involved.

While my plan is turn this presentation into a paper for the ESTS 2015 Variant, I have had some requests for presentation slides, as a few people were interested in the content I have presented. As such, I’ve included a link to a google slides version of the presentation which can be found here.

This presentation just begins to scratch the surface of my research, and I am more than happy to discuss any questions or comments you may have.  Please feel free to utilise the contact form on this blog to get in touch with me.

Happy reading!

Designing the Diary

We are now almost two months into the second half of Digital Scholarly Editing. The bulk of the work this semester is focused on the creation of a digital scholarly edition. We have chosen the war diary of Albert Woodman, a signaller with the Royal Engineers during the Great War. The diary itself is an interesting object; it spans two physical books and, unlike traditional diaries in which the author tends to only write a single entry per page, Mr. Woodman will often have multiple entries on a single page (presumably to conserve paper). Additionally, he often inserts newspaper clippings and other miscellany into the diary, which is not easy to represent digitally.

Representing Related Media

One of the biggest questions we had to address was, “How do we represent these miscellaneous objects digitally in a way that holds true to the spirit of their analogue representation?” Most of these objects are directly tied to a diary entry (often, Mr. Woodman makes mention of the object in question in his entry, or the object itself refers to a battle or news item he discussed in a particular entry). Showing them separately or as secondary entries in the diary breaks the metaphor of the diary itself. After all, you can’t really have two entries for the same day—that isn’t in keeping with the way a user envisions a diary to work.

Ultimately we decided to tie these items to an entry as “related media”. From an implementation standpoint, this is relatively simplistic. Within the TEI of the diary, we simply insert another <div> tag at the bottom of the <div> day which wraps that day’s entry. This <div> tag is then given a type attribute with a value of “insert”. When we run the TEI through an XSLT transformation mechanism, these “related media” divs are then extracted and added to the entry in a section on the page titled accordingly.

As to the represented model—the model that bridges the gap between the user’s mental, or expected model[1]—and the implementation, it was decided the best implementation would be to group these additional inserts (which may also include other interesting bits of media we find relevant to an entry) and provide a lightbox implementation in order to view them. The lightbox, a modal popup which presents an image in an overlay[2], has numerous advantages:

  1. It provides additional screen real estate. By loading larger versions of the image into an overlay, a thumbnail of the image can be displayed on the main screen, which has a much smaller visual footprint.
  2. It can provide increased performance. Many lightbox implementations utilise javascript and AJAX (Asyncronous Javascript And XML) to load images only when they are requested by the user. This means the image is not loaded into the DOM (Document Object Model) until the image is actually requested, thus cutting down on the amount of data that is transmitted to the user’s browser. The less data that is transmitted, the faster the page will load.
  3. It maintains the visual narrative. Every interface tells a story and the goal of every interaction should be to supplement that story. If a user clicks on an image and the page is then reloaded to display a larger view of the image on another page, the narrative is broken because the user is moved away from the page. In order to re-enter the narrative, the user must use the back button in the browser. Anything that breaks the visual narrative runs the risk of breaking the entire experience for the user and thereby decreasing the overall “stickiness” of the website.

When used properly, the lightbox can provide a strong user experience and present the designer with additional screen real estate that would otherwise be unavailable. By using a lightbox approach here, we have managed to solve the issue of the ephemeral material as well as the problems presented with its presentation.

Multiple Entries on a Single Page

The second major interaction issue we had to address was the appearance of multiple entries on a single page. In many digital scholarly editions, the transcription is presented with the original image side by side[3] [4] [5]. This allows for a direct comparison between the transcription and the original text. However, such an implementation in the Woodman Diary is confusing. Often times, an entry may begin in the middle of the page, but as we are trained to read from top to bottom, the user would immediately begin scanning the image from the top and may be confused as to why the transcription doesn’t match the image—not immediately realising the transcription begins with text half way down the “page” in the image. Multiple methods were considered for handling this unique situation:

  1. The image would not be viewable side by side with the transcription. The user would read the transcription and could click on a thumbnail of the image that would then display only the image with no transcription. This method was discarded due mainly to the expected user interaction of comparing transcription and image side by side.
  2. We would attempt to position the transcription text on the page to match its position in the image. This, however, would require quite a bit of extra encoding as we would need to encode locations of text at given pixel points within the original image. While a novel approach, it was ultimately decided this would require too much effort, given we are working with limited time and resources. Additionally, we felt it was a less aesthetically pleasing interaction.
  3. We would present multiple entries on a single day to match whatever was displayed in the related images. This idea was also discarded due to potential confusion by the user. Because the user has certain expectations in their mental model as a result of the diary metaphor, a user clicking on 25 January would expect to see one entry for 25 January. Under this model, however, they would instead receive an entry for 24 January and 25 January, which might be confusing. The break in the mental model is potentially jarring enough as to disrupt the visual narrative.

After considerable deliberation, it was decided to modify the third approach and create a hybrid. On the intial view of the diary entry, the user would see only the transcription of the entry he or she had selected. Thumbnails of the original diary page(s) would be presented, which could then be clicked and viewed in a lightbox. This lightbox would present a larger view of the image along with the transcription of that entire page. If text exists in the transcription that is not part of the entry being viewed, it would be rendered in a grey font indicating it is unrelated to the entry as a whole. As an example, if the user views an entry on 25 January, that entry begins in the middle of the page in the actual diary. When viewing that page in the lightbox, the latter half of the entry from 24 January is transcribed along with the entry for 25 January that appears on that image of the diary page. However the text for 24 January is rendered in a light grey so as to visually indicate to the user that it is unrelated to the entry being viewed, while still providing the user with the visual cue that the text he or she may be looking for in the image is not directly at the top of the image.

Conclusion

The Albert Woodman Diary has been an interesting project to handle. It has challenged the class as a whole to consider different ways of presenting an analogue object in a digital environment. By drawing on our own digital experiences as well as research conducted within the field of User Experience design, we have been able to overcome these challenges and present a true digital edition that adheres to the underlying metaphoric premise of the diary but without limiting the interactions by adhering to the metaphor too strictly.

References

[1] Cooper, Alan, Robert Reimann, and Dave Cronin. About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, 2007. Print.
[2] Adam. “Are Lightboxes Good Web Design?”. PugetWorks.com. 29 January 2011. Web. 20 March 2015.
[3]Sutherland, Kathryn., et al. Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts. 2015. Web. 20 March 2015.
[4] Baillot, Anne.Letters and Texts: Intellectual Berlin around 1800. 2013. Web. 20 March 2015.
[5] Schreibman, Susan, et al. The Thomas MacGreevy Archive. 2001-2004. Web. 20 March 2015.