We all know the old saying that when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. I’ve been “nailing” pretty much everything around here with my social network tool, including in one case even a social network visualization. It is all part of experimenting with different tools that can leverage digital content. I’m sure soon we will find another tool that we can leverage for our content and start hammering everything with that. While it is a lot of fun, and we are going to make some more permanent visualizations with this particular tool, this exposes an important idea behind digital repositories. In order to use, reuse, and otherwise “re-present” content, it has to have certain characteristics which I call: Reusability, Interoperability, and Openness. These characteristics insure that any new lightweight tool that comes out will be able to leverage content in the repository in more or less automated ways.
Open content and metadata that exists in an environment where it can be manipulated, remade, and shared is important. Equally important for scholarship and the historical record is the persistence of that source data in predictable locations no matter where or how it is ultimately used. This “cite-ability” is a foundational principle of history and scholarship, and is the only way we can determine the validity of the content we see.
All the lightweight visualization, presentation, discovery, etc. tools are less useful if we don’t have reliable source material. Or, if we are to follow the opening metaphor, “A hammer is useless if there are no nails.”