Historical Reminiscents EP 20: Open Source Public History

Black computer screen with command line code on left. Right reads "Episode 20: Open Source Public History"

This week’s podcast episode is all about the intersection of open source digital tools and public history.  I talk about ways that digital history and open source communities can enhance public history practice.  I also chat about my favorite open source public history tools.

What open source tools or platforms do you use as part of your public history practice? I would love to hear about your successes or challenges using open source software in the public history field, leave a comment or send me a message on Twitter.

Mentioned in this episode:
Daniel Ross’ Active History post on using History Pin in the classroom.

Download or listen now.

Collaborative Photo Encyclopedia

Fotopedia is a collaborative open source photo encyclopedia. The site is an interesting blend of the knowledge of Wikipedia combined with the expansive array of image of flickr. The emphasis is more on the side of the photos, however each collection of photos is accompanied by a brief encyclopedia article. The number of photos and quality of photos for each entry is all dependent on what has been uploaded.

One the more valuable features of Fotopedia is that the site is easily searchable by categories. These categories allow users who are interested in a particular type of photo to easily find the images they desire. The category feature can be particular useful for anyone researching a specific topic. The site is also keyword searchable. However, the keyword search results are not always as neatly organized as the rest of the site.

Fotopedia also hosts a “Fotopedia Community” designed to allow interaction between users. This social media feature allows photos to be commented on, voted on, highlights best contributors, and a variety of other interactive features. This site has great potential for sharing photos, geocaching, and providing context to photos that may otherwise be merely a picture.

itunes for books?

Recently Scribd opened an online store which is attempting to become the itunes of books. Up until recently Scribd has been completely open source, this past Monday the service began charging for it’s services. Scribd will now keep 20% of each sale, while the remaining 80% will be sent to the owners of the written material. This written material is anything from books, reports, travel guides, and previously unavailable obscure manuscripts (long tail anyone?).

One of the biggest advantages of Scribd is that any document bought can be used on a variety of digital applications, including computers, electronic readers like Kindle, and mobile phones. Scribd will also allow authors to sell individual chapters from their books, similar to itunes selling of individual songs. Additionally, uploading material onto Scribd is relatively simple. Scribd’s “iPaper” converts all uploaded PDFs, Word documents, and Powerpoint files, to web documents that can be accessed by users in whatever format they desire.

Despite the fact that this service is not open source, it does provide a refreshing alternative to amazon and chapters, and is something worth looking into.

Government Endorsement of Open Source Alternatives

Open source is finally gaining some governmental approval. From January 20th to February 19th 2009, Public Works and Government Services Canada is accepting submissions of “no-charge licensed software”, also known as open source software. Some open source advocates are hoping this new found acceptance of open source software, is a sign of a movement towards a more universal acceptance of open source resources.

Despite some resistance to open source software, apparently the Canadian government already makes use of some open source software. One of the obvious reasons for using open source software is the financial benefits. If the Canadian government, which is one of the best financed institutions in Canada is using open source software, smaller underfunded institutions (such as many museums) should be readily accepting open source alternatives. However, despite the growing use of open source popularity in some fields, many businesses are still wary of using something free, as they fear the quality will be inferior quality. In fact sometimes an open source version is just as good or better than a costly one. Maybe the more publicized use of open source products will encourage more organizations to try some open source software…it is free to try after all.

Photoshop on a budget.

Photoshop has long been used my museum and public history professionals. It is often used to touch up digitized photos, to adjust for glare, colour changes, etc. It is also used to alter images which are to be used online, to make them more visually appealing. However, one of the major problems with photoshop is the price. The newest version of Adobe Photoshop can run upwards of $700, making it a huge investment for museums will small operating budgets.

Recently I stumbled upon some open source, web-based alternatives to the Adobe Photoshop. Pixlr is an online photo editor. Not all of photoshop’s features have been recreated, however Pixlr is simple to use, allows for photo manipulation, colour adjustment, layering, and most importantly it is free. Additionally, the Pixlr site actually encourages users to incorporate Pixlr into their own site or service. Picnik is an online photo editing service similar to Pixlar. One of the advantages of Picnik is that it is compatible with flickr, photobucket, picasa, websots, facebook and myspace. This compatibility means if photos are already stored online users do not have to upload everything again. One of the downsides of Picnick is that though the free version does have a number of editing features some of the more advanced features are only available through subscription. FotoFlexer is also compatible with a variety of online photo storage sites. I found the FotoFlexer site a easier to navigate than the Picknick site, as nothing is restricted to non paying users. FotoFlexer houses pretty much all the essential photo manipulation tools and some neat advanced options such as animation and curve manipulation.

These are just a few of the options available for those looking for an open source alternative to photoshop. The majority of online photo editors don’t require you to download anything, are user friendly, and work in a variety of browsers, making them ideal for those who need a photo editor but may not be able to afford one.