EEBO Interactions Ends

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EEBO Interactions, the web site that fused social networking and digital bibliography, is shutting down at the end of March 2013.

ProQuest’s decision to decommission EEBO Interactions should come as no surprise.  If traffic indicates success, the site received too little to certify its academic or commercial value.   The small core of contributors who worked brilliantly and doggedly to improve bibliographic entries was not enough to prove that value.  Why should it be?  In a world where crowd-sourcing promises instant and free correction, EEBO Interactions‘ small stream of corrections proved too little and too slow.

Nevertheless, the decision to shut down EEBO Interactions is a disappointment because it ends a promising and visionary venture on ProQuest’s part.  Proquest accomplished at least two great things.  First, it offered a rare joint venture uniting academic and commercial worlds.  Second, it conjured up the first bibliography to offer relational cataloging.  If this  iteration of that vision  did not quite take off, it is to be hoped that later iterations will.  Traffic may be one indication of success, but vision is another.

As an editor for EEBO Interactions, I would like to thank EI‘s contributors.  They are a special group of readers, experts willing to put time into a promising experiment.  I have told Stephen Brooks that I would ask emob readers what EEBO Interactions could have done to encourage traffic or otherwise improve.  What might a second iteration include or not include?  Is an unedited, crowd-sourced version of EEBO that runs parallel to EEBO the way to go for such interactions?  Or is an ESTC-led editorial board the way?  An option in between these two poles?

One note of caution.  Anyone interested in preserving information recorded on EEBO Interactions should download material before the end of the month.   ProQuest will save material contributed to EI in some form, but it will be difficult  to access.

Those interested in correcting EEBO entries in the future will want to use http://eebo.chadwyck.com/about/webmaster.htm, or click here.

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13 Responses to “EEBO Interactions Ends”

  1. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thank you, Anna, for this eloquent eulogy for EEBO Interactions. The note to download recorded information prior to March 31st is good to know.

    I did not have much need to use EEBO because my own research is currently focused on the 1770s on, and my courses have of late not dealt with pre-1700 texts. That said, I do wonder if the access that EEBO affords to text hindered scholars from seeing it as more than just a delivery system. The crowd-sourcing that takes place for specific projects often arises from a core group of users who see the need and desire for a specific project and welcome crowd-sourcing as a way to accomplish their goals and are also able to pay extended, consistent attention to it. I suspect the typical use of EEBO often involves fairly quick spurts of activities and not use that extends over months.

  2. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    I would be interested in hearing what others have to say as well. Was EEBO Interactions simply too ahead of its time? Or are there other explanations.

  3. Kniffler Says:

    Crowd sourcing requires a crowd – a community actually. I imagine the set of regular EEBO users is far too small, and far too diffuse (in terms of user-hours (small * small) per document (large) ) to support a sustained contributory effort. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1%25_rule_%28Internet_culture%29 Unless people are looking at the same things at similar times, there can’t be a “conversation”.

    I don’t know that it’s a problem that can be fixed while EEBO remains a difficult-to-access mostly-read-only document repository.

    (However, I should admit I never got a chance to use EI; it has been a while since I’ve had access to EEBO )

    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Kniffler,

      Your remarks are more direct than mine, but I was expressing similar sentiments about EI lacking a large enough core set of regular users working on a shared project.

      I should note that one did not need access to EEBO to use EI, , and that availability should have made it more attractive.

  4. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I liked the way EI served as a place for corrections and comments that everyone could see. I also liked the ease with which links to pertinent sources such as the ODNB could be provided.

    Some commenters privately have pointed to the merits of a list serve. Others point to the ESTC as a model. A list serve might work for a smaller group with a specific purpose.

    Working with ESTC seems necessary. I also like the idea of working groups focused on specific tasks.

  5. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    That corrections or notes were accessible even if one did not have access to EEBO was a significant feature of EI. The links to a database such as the ODNB are decided convenience for some, but even here not all have access to ODNB.

    In past EMOB posts about EI, we discussed how EI seemed ideal for working groups on specific tasks. That EI did not attract more use in this area is probably the result of several factors. Despite all the publicity about EI, I am not sure how well known this forum was. The strong association with EEBO as a source for texts, a delivery system, perhaps hindered potential EI users from recognizing that it could also serve as the basis for an exchange network in the form of EI. I have encountered more than a few EEBO users who were unaware of EI, and I do think that EI’s presence just had not registered with them. Small working groups may have founded it more useful either to work strictly among themselves rather than on EI platforms.

    Ties to the ESTC are important. I wonder whether encountering EI through the ESTC would have resulted in more attention to EI.

  6. Andras Kisery Says:

    “Ties to the ESTC are important. I wonder whether encountering EI through the ESTC would have resulted in more attention to EI.” — I think so, although I think the question itself is somewhat misguided.

    I have very serious reservations about the idea of volunteering to develop content for a commercial enterprise, and this instance was no exception. That the valuable content developed by these wonderful people will now disappear simply because the company decided that their work did not generate enough traffic and enough attention means that my reservations were perfectly justified. The very fact that this was meant to happen fast, OR ELSE, shows the fundamental problem with it being hosted by a commercial provider. Was there any logical reason for the hurry other than the commercial logic? Were the contributors using EI to “generate attention”? Could this project not have grown vaster than empires and more slow?

    In other words, the question is not whether being integrated with ESTC would have brought “more attention to EI.” What we ought to think about is not why it wasn’t going faster, but rather — what’s speed and traffic and attention got to do with it? Traffic is good, immediate attention is good — but the point of a collaborative project like this is precisely that it will eventually come of age and achieve a purpose, and there may just be a fundamental incompatibility between that purpose and commercial logic. A long as there are public, non-profit options, such long-term collaborative projects might be better off in the context of those.

    And then I have not even started commenting on the problem of access.

    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Thanks, Andras, for your very thoughtful comments and concerns. Some of these are ones we definitely share.

      Access is a huge problem–and something we have drawn attention to more than a few times. See for instance this post from several years ago. We had hoped that perhaps professional societies might be able to work to negotiate a form of universal access in the US akin to the ways in which JISC has assisted in this matter in the UK. That’s not happened. We keep trying.

      Nor is the problem with access an abstract one for us. Anna lacks institutional access at SUNY, and most universities in my state system do not have access to EEBO, ECCO, or Burney.

      My comments about ESTC and bringing “more attention to EI” stem, in part, from my surprise that so few seemed to know about the establishment of this space–especially those using EEBO regularly. My work over the past half of a decade has focused on the latter half of the 18th century, so I have had little occasion to use EEBO, but I have known about EI since its introduction. I also tend to collaborate with scholars off-line and in bursts when it comes to my scholarship.

      Also, I certainly was not speaking about why the project was not catching on faster. That sense of not producing results quick enough did not even occur to me. The project has been around for at least three years, so ProQuest seems, in my mind at least, to have given it a decent try. Plus, unlike staff I’ve encountered at some other commercial databases, those at Proquest who were working on EI, I believe, are active Early Modern scholars–or at least seem to have far more academic grounding than elsewhere. (That said, I do know scholars and/or academic librarians who have taken jobs at other digitally-oriented commercial outfits).

      And I invoked ESTC because of ongoing discussions we’ve had here, such as these comments from Ben Pauley in response to an earlier post, English Short Title Catalogue, 21st century (ESTC21): Call for Feedback

      One final case (which might apply to a resource like ECCO or EEBO Interactions) would involve making it possible for a site’s users to “write” data to the ESTC without ever visiting the ESTC’s own site. If you’re doing work at ECCO or EEBO and run across something that needs correcting, you’re probably more likely to make the correction if you can do it without disrupting your work too much. If you have to stop what you’re doing, open another browser tab, go to another site, log in, find the right record, and then contribute your correction, that would be pretty disruptive. What I think we’d like to work towards, instead, would be a system where users’ corrections or comments could be sent to the ESTC without their ever having to leave the site where they’re working—without their even having to know, necessarily, that there is more than one site involved in the experience. I said EEBO and ECCO because they’re big resources with lots of users, but this model could certainly work with smaller, more focused sites, too: a small group of knowledgeable and committed users could well make very valuable contributions in a particular domain.

      • Andras Kisery Says:

        I was obviously writing my comment without knowing enough about the issues at hand — thanks for the informative and forgiving response.

        I certainly did not intend to criticize the work of the people in charge of the IE project — nor do I think that a commercial project is necessarily evil: in this case, however, it seems to me that having EEBO as the platform was structurally problematic.

        I guess my vague idea was precisely what you are also raising in comments to the ESTC21 post — imagining ESTC as a hub, which includes it also having an equivalent of EI — not just the corrections to entries, but all the EI fields about the work, the copy, about other copies / entries, etc, could just as easily be linked to the ESTC entry using a similar interface, making ESTC the primary point of access, pointing to copies in various databases (including EEBO but also others — there is a relatively small but growing number of digitized texts available at various university, library and other sites that could, indeed should be systematically cataloged). (Imagining the ESTC also serving as the pre-1800 equivalent of the Hathi Trust website that not only includes the IE style information but also links to data whose accessibility depends on where you are?)

        Doing the same but starting from one database (EEBO), however well conceived, might have been putting the cart before the horse, really — one repository, even the biggest, is not the best perspective on material preserved and displayed in a growing number of repositories.

        I think the long-term outlook is that the entire EEBO database, with its digitized images of old microfilms, will become obsolete except as a repository that has copies of almost everything, a fall-back option when no other digital copy is available. (In fact, EI could easily be understood as a project designed to turn EEBO into a parallel or rather substitute ESTC, and thus to prevent its foreseeable obsolescence as a delivery system…)

        But I should stop, realizing that I am making the same mistake the second time: talking about issues without having done my homework… Sorry if this is too obviously uninformed or off-topic

      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

        No need to apologize at all, Andras. Your comments are welcomed and are quite thoughtful (and one needs to enter the conversation at some point!). We hope you will continue to contribute. I especially appreciate your thoughts here on the ESTC.

  7. Anna Battigelli Says:

    One of the questions I’ll raise at the digital roundtable at ASECS is whether we can afford to be as skeptical about commercial databases as Andras suggests.

    I admire ProQuest’s investment of time into creating a platform for dialogue among users. I think it was a visionary experiment. That it did not flourish raises some tough questions about the nature of our work and the assumptions behind that work.

    In the sciences, commercial/academic partnerships are now a given. Do we need to change our attitude toward engaging with the commercial world? There are certainly dangers in such partnerships, as Andras suggests. But there may also be dangers in ignoring such opportunities, especially when so many of our research tools are now held by commercial entities.

  8. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Over the years, I have not been as shy about entertaining commercial/academic partnerships, but in doing so, I am highly alert to what type of control the academic side has over matters as well as what types of rights it retains. I agree wholeheartedly with Anna’s description of ProQuest efforts with EI. It is a model of the potential for such partnerships.

    I’m less sure if the sciences should be a model. In terms of commercial databases, more and more academics in the sciences are working to resist the cultural and economic hold that large entities such as Elsevier and the like hold on publishing in their fields.

  9. Philip Wainwright Says:

    I would question the statement that EI ‘did not flourish’. It depends on your definition of ‘flourish’, of course, but it has always seemed pretty clear to me that it would take decades before a resource like EI could fulfill its potential. Most individual titles are of interest to a very limited number of people, and the times at which the interested people are working on any particular document are bound to be separated by long periods. The average length of time between PhD theses on the same subject seems likely to be the average length of time between additions to the ‘interactions’. I imagine it will be ten or fifteen years before anyone else becomes interested in any of the texts I worked on over the last five or six years, but when they do, they would have found some of the comments I made useful. They weren’t comments for which there was a place in my thesis, just something that would have saved some future researcher a few hours’ work. But the potential value of EI to the increase of knowledge was not just saving someone some work; as the snippets of information were accumulated, so the day would have drawn nearer when an anonymous document could be attributed to someone, when a mis-attributed document could have the question of its authorship re-opened, and so on.

    The use of the term ‘interaction’ is telling: something like a thread on a list-serv seems to have been was what was expected, but that doesn’t seem to be a realistic expectation. The scholars who use this sort of resource are not likely to be chatty, at least not while they are wrestling with the eye-strain of online reading. But the slow accumulation of cross-references etc is something the value of which is clear to even the most busy—perhaps most of all to the most busy.

    Eventually there will have to be something like EI.Perhaps the BL or someone with a more distant horizon than any commercial enterprise can have will take it on. ESTC would be ideal. It’s not really a difficult project, especially if it’s organised solely around individual documents rather than authors as well as titles. It could actually be organised as a blog, except that no individual blogger would live long enough to keep it going as long as is necessary. But an academic department somewhere… an intern or two… a decade or two… and who knows what the result might be

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