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A mobile application for listening to music, a mobile application for navigation, a mobile application for measuring your heart rate, a mobile application that monitors your health, and even a mobile application to help you sleep! The 21st century is truly witnessing a new revolution: the Mobile Revolution. In fact, in just a short number of years, mobile technology managed to get integrated in our lives in a way no other technology did. We use our mobile phones to communicate with family, find our favorite recipe, check our appointments, organize travels, play games, and even study. Right now, there are more mobile devices than people in the world [1], and “going mobile” has really become a trend that many industries are adapting. Digital Humanities (DH) is an emerging field of research at the crossing of the disciplines of humanities and computing. It deals with topics ranging from the digitization of text and images to mining large cultural data sets. In this blog post, we will see how the field of Digital Humanities have been affected by the mobile revolution through the discussion of three abstracts selected from the DH2015 conference that was held in Sydney in June-July 2015.

Extending ARTFL with Android PhiloReader Apps [2]

ARTFL, short for the project for American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language, is a cooperative project between the Lab ATILF (Analyse et Traitement Informatique de la Langue Française) of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and the Electronic Text Services (ETS) of the University of Chicago [3]. This project, which was established in 1981, came consequent to the creation of a 150 million words corpus by transcribing a collection of French texts written between the 17th and 20th century. The ARTFL project aims at making this corpus accessible for digital humanists around the world.

One of the recent works the ARTFL project have been involved in is the development of PhiloLogic4, which is a platform whose main objective is enabling digital humanists to retrieve and view information from the ARTFL project in a user-friendly way. The paper [2] has two objectives: present the development of an API* for PhiloLogic4 and demonstrate this API by showcasing their own under-development Android apps (which they call PhiloReader apps). These PhiloReader apps are intended to enable text search and retrieval on mobile devices, with a focus on the reading function and while keeping the same feel and design of the browser-based service. The search results are returned in frequency or concordance reports, and bookmarking of texts for later access is possible. These apps, however, are meant to serve not as a replacement for the web browser app, but as a lighter-weight alternative.

Screenshot of an ARTFL PhiloReader app

Screenshot of an ARTFL PhiloReader app

This paper is a witness of the ARTFL Project going mobile. As a first impression, it seems that the PhiloReader apps do not offer much in terms of added value. But we need to remember that the ultimate objective of the construction of the API is to permit other developers to work with it and build their own apps and interfaces, including the development of more advanced mobile phone apps. To emphasize this purpose, the folks at ARTFL made a skeleton version of the Android apps available for other groups at the conference. Furthermore, they are planning to have parallel apps developed for iPads. Therefore, we should not form an opinion based on the function of the PhiloReader apps, as the true purpose behind the development of the PhiloLogic4 API suggests a need in the Digital Humanities Community for more portable and lightweight tools for research.

KinDigi Social, a Mobile First DH Platform [4]

KDL, short for the Kindai Digital Library, is an online collection administrated by the National Diet Library (NDL) of Japan and consisting of around 360,000 books published in Japan between the 19th and 20th century. The digitized books are stored as scanned images in the database and have been extensively used for studying the history of modern Japan.

The paper [4] aims at presenting the objectives, methods, and implementation of KinDigi Social, which is an online platform for the annotation of the books contained in the KDL. In fact, professional as well as amateur historians have been making numerous references and comments to the books in the KDL in their blog and social media posts. This data is very useful as it can provide some insights into the historical context of the books. The KinDigi Social project was born as a consequence of the lack of organization of these posts which entailed loss of valuable information. Actually, the project aims at providing a means of organizing and accumulating such comments while supporting cooperation and discussions between the different scholars.

KinDigi Social was developed with three major axes in mind: mobile first development, support for real-time collaboration, and data modeling following the Open Annotation specification. Mobile first development meant that the development team gave priority to the construction of a mobile optimized app rather than a desktop client for their platform. Real-time collaboration took the form of the integration of “social network like” features to the app, such as the ability to follow other users, post comments, get notifications for replies on a comment or when an annotation is made on a certain book, and the implementation of a social feed which gives the user an overview of the recent activities of his network. Following the Open Annotation Data Model means that the annotations are modeled and stored using an RDF-based framework that follows guidelines specified by a W3C community group, which promotes long-term preservation and re-usability.

Screenshot of KinDigi Social, showing the home live feed

Screenshot of KinDigi Social, showing the home live feed

This is another example of the integration of mobile phones and technologies in a Digital Humanities project. Only this time, rather than merely being an extension of an already existing platform like the PhiloReader apps, the KinDigi Social platform was developed as a “mobile first” project. The PhiloReader apps support only text retrieval and display. However, with KinDigi Social, users can explore, read, annotate, comment, and share texts. But we need to remember that using the PhiloLogic API, other developers probably can build apps that support these features (and maybe even more). Therefore, the development of these two apps have the same significance in terms of that they both point to the trend of Digital Humanities adopting mobile technologies all over the world.

Textal, an Unusual Text Analysis App [5]

Textal, an iOS textual analysis app, is the fruit of a collaboration between the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis. It allows users to analyze documents, web pages and tweet streams by exploring relationships between words in the text using word clouds. For a certain text, a word cloud (which consists of a graphical representation of text data that highlights the frequency of a given word in relation to other words in a certain document) is generated and shown on the mobile phone screen. Users can then click on a specific word and look at related statistics such as collocates and frequency. Other visualization formats include graphs, charts and word lists that can all be shared via social media.

This raises the following question: What does Textal have to do with Digital Humanities? Actually, the developers of Textal had two objectives in mind. First, to understand how people are using a text analysis app in order to determine the potential audience and identify the genre of texts people would like to analyze. In this manner, Textal is used as a research tool. And in fact, the paper aims at presenting the initial findings from the first 18 months of the project: In 640 days after the launch of Textal on the iOS App Store, it has been downloaded 5749 times and translated to six languages. More than 3000 word clouds have been created and more than 100 million words have been processed by users. The second objective Textal wants to achieve is the promotion of text analysis. In this manner, it is used as a public engagement tool, that hopes to make people interested in Digital Humanities and computational analysis.

A word cloud visualisation of a biomedical paper

A word cloud visualisation of a biomedical paper

Rather than being a platform for retrieving or annotating data, Textal represents a totally different approach in using mobile phones for Digital Humanities. The previous two apps were developed for digital humanists to allow them to research and explore. However, Textal was developed with the public as the initial target, to engage them in a fun way in textual analysis and to understand through them how mobile technologies can be used for digital humanities research. Again, this represents the trend of Digital Humanities going mobile. And by going mobile, we mean adopting mobile technologies to serve its purposes, and in this case, to conduct a certain investigation and to motivate the public.

After reviewing these three abstracts, it is very plausible to say that the mobile revolution has finally touched the Digital Humanities world. Labs and Projects around the world are building mobile apps either to extend the functionalities of already existing platforms, either to build new self-contained mobile-centered services, either to engage the public and gather research data. The fact that each of these three apps serve a different purpose reflect a certain need and investment in the versatile nature of mobile phones. Although we still are at the early stages, it is not far-fetched to see more and more mobile apps being developed for Digital Humanities.

*API, an abbreviation of Application Program Interface, is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications.


References:

[1] Boren, Zachary. ‘There Are Officially More Mobile Devices Than People In The World’. The Independent. N.p., 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. [Online]

[2] Cooney, Charles et al. ‘Philologic4 And The Android Philoreader Apps: Toward Building A Full-Featured Philologic API’. DH2015. Sydney: N.p., 2015. Web. 18 Oct. 2015. [View Abstract]

[3] Artfl-project.uchicago.edu,. ‘General Overview | The ARTFL Project’. N.p., 2015. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. [Online]

[4] Hashimoto, Yuta et al. ‘KinDigi Social: A Mobile-centered Social Annotation Platform for the Kindai Digital Library’. DH2015. Sydney: N.p., 2015. Web. 18 Oct. 2015. [View Abstract]

[5] Gray, Steven et al. ‘Textal: Unstructured Text Analysis Workflows Through Interactive Smartphone Visualisations’. DH2015. Sydney: N.p., 2015. Web. 18 Oct. 2015. [View Abstract]


Appendix: for the technical-savvy readers

The PhiloReader apps use the under-development API to build a URI query to the PhiloLogic4 databases. JSON formatted search results are sent back to the app, which are converted into a string array and displayed in a ListView. The user can then choose a list item to get the corresponding full text. So a second query is submitted for that particular text, which is returned as a JSON object. The text is then displayed inside a WebView, and that is to allow the application of the same CSS formatting rules that are used for the web version.

KinDigi Social is essentially a server-client system. The server is hosted physically in the NDL Lab and is written in Ruby-on-Rails. The client is a mobile application (iOS or Android) built with HTML5 using the Apache Cordova framework. The server and client exchange JSON formatted messages using an API. The annotations are stored first in PostgreSQL relational database then dumped into an RDF database. To guard against vandalism, users are required to use their Facebook or Twitter account to login via OAuth 2.0 protocol.

 

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