Day 5 of OWOT: We Did It! (Can We Do It Again? Please??)


As you might have gathered from the Twitter storm that barreled out of Fairfax, Virginia, this afternoon, we released and launched the fabulous, amazing Serendip-o-matic. One of the great things about living in the 21st century is that we have a ton of materials open and available to us in digital formats that have been collected in sources like the Digital Public Library of America, Europeana, and Flickr Commons. But since things are digital we don’t find them like we used to. Search makes it possible to pinpoint the exact thing that we’re after, as Shawn Graham nicely points out. Such precision is a bit problematic, however, as it leads us to miss the surprise of finding that unexpected book in the stacks or that item in the archives. Serendip-o-matic is designed to recreate that discovery process. After all, there’s so much stuff out there, if you only get exactly what you’re looking for then you’re missing out on some of the best stuff! Search is great, but this isn’t search: it’s Serendip-o-matic.

The Serendip-o-matic Hippo logo

That’s the pitch, at least, and at this point in the day I think I’m finally starting to get it where I want it to be. Hopefully people are excited to learn more about it in the coming days. We did write the Today Show, so I think we can plan to be coming to your living room by Tuesday.

So what was it like on the ground? Crazy, more or less. I think everyone was on the move by 8am, with some of the design / dev team logging commits by that point. I started my day meeting with the Outreach team, working on their schedule for the day and talking about the press release. This may have involved arguing about parentheses and angle brackets.

Jack Dougherty showing pointy brackets

Once we got over to CHNM, I spent most of the day dodging back and forth between rooms. I helped Outreach workshop some of the final language for the press release, once again focusing on the story we wanted to tell. I dodged over to help file issues on the design / dev team for the dev server of Serendip-o-matic. I bug checked responsive design on mobile, tablet, and web versions, as well as catching other pieces of human-readable content. I put my head down for 20 minutes once I got a request from the Chronicle of Higher Education for an interview request. (Thank goodness for my MLA media training which taught me this technique.) After the interview, it was on to drafting the press release email and identifying a few names from our media contact list to get an early warning email. Then it was dashing around again.

As we got closer and closer to what Mia had determined would be the “code chill” leading up to the “code freeze” at 2pm in expectation of the 3pm launch, we planned for the live launch broadcast while contending with continued difficulties in the Zotero integration and mass, multiple edits of text, CSS and design, and code at every level of the process. At one point, I found myself standing in the room where all the dev/design team was working and all I could think of was to run to get people food or make sure they were plugged into power. In the end, I think I took a picture.

The dev/design team

In the end, we only got to a code freeze and final deploy around 2:55pm. Everyone erupted into cheers and applause, and we tweeted our teaser image. Our fearless leader Tom poured drinks.

Tom and Sharon pour champagne

But then it was a quick dash to the computers for the live launch. Jack had done a great job not only of setting up the technology for the 4-way Google Hangout, but also scripted everything. We had written questions and practiced a bit of what we were going to say, but what I was most nervous about was my live demo of the site. If I had been thinking more clearly when I was doing it, I might not have showed off the Zotero integration. Halfway through to clicking the “Go” button, I suddenly wondered if it would crash. That would have been terrible during a live demo. But fortunately Eli’s fixes held, and everything went perfect. We were genuinely surprised when Dan Cohen was able to join us and very much appreciated both his involvement and that of Brett Bobley and Jen Serventi from the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities. Even better, we were able to highlight the many different types of work that the members of the team did. If for some reason you missed the video broadcast, and want to relive the heady excitement of it all, well, we pressed the “record” button ahead of time.

After we clicked “end” on the video, there was even more cheering and shouts of acclaim. Someone might have done some streaking. Everyone more or less collapsed into a cluster and started watching comments roll in via social media.

The team on their computers

I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to have made something and immediately be able to present it to them to look at and play with. We heard from bloggers who were using it find images and users who were finding new sources for their work. Most of all, the general enthusiasm of the digital humanities community and the rings of Internet that surround them were appreciated. Thanks, all of you, so much for being willing to play a part by paying attention to what we’ve been doing this week.

Amazingly enough, the design / dev team almost immediately got back to work resolving some of the issues we still had outstanding for the code base. (The repo is open and public now. Go ahead and fork away!) We probably hung out in this pattern for an hour or 90 minutes, just soaking in the accomplishment. I think we were all reluctant to break out of the magic circle of the moment because we knew that it would mean that the experience was beginning to end. We had done what we set out to do, but it also means that we’re saying goodbye to each other in less than 18 hours. Some people will even be gone before I wake up.

It’s strange to think that I won’t be seeing these people next week. That we won’t be building Serendip-o-matic any more. Sure, we’ve got a long way to go on improving it, and we have plans for how to expand on the One Week | One Tool experience, but…  Well, let’s just say I’m already looking forward to seeing everyone again at THATCamp next year for the #owot reunion.

The One Week | One Tool team

Picture by Sharon Leon

What lessons do I have to extract from today? First, when you’re going to be doing something in front of other people, you really do need to practice. I didn’t give as good an interview on the phone as I would have liked simply because I didn’t get a chance to talk it through with someone. But I was so much further ahead by having written down my talking points. The second point is related and spins off the work of the fabulous outreach team: when you want people to pay attention, it helps to keep telling a story. It was the week’s worth of tweets and blog posts that gave enough information about what was happening that led to people being willing to spend some time with us on a Friday afternoon. Third and last of all, design matters. There is no way around it.

I’ve got at least two more OWOT posts coming, I think. So at least for you and me, dear reader, it’s not over yet.

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