We’ve made big strides developing the front end interface to launch a new DH Box, and the Welcome page/menu that acts as the DH Box ‘home base’. We received extremely helpful feedback from some generous volunteer user experience testers at City Tech, and valuable advice from Chris Stein, Director of User Experience for the CUNY Academic Commons.
The results of our first round of user experience testing gave our team some great insights, and a fresh perspective on the project. We learned that perhaps one of our biggest challenges is effectively conveying the concept of the project in a readily digestible way.
We discovered that users can easily get the impression that DH Box is essentially a website, when in fact it’s much more than that (it’s a computer!). It’s understandable that this virtual computer could be confused for a website since DH Box’s primary navigation happens through your web browser. A distinct IP address is assigned to each DH Box instance at the time of launch. DH Box users navigate to applications (Mallet, Omeka, etc.) through specific ports designated for each tool. The “port” is just a unique numeric identifier appended to the end of your DH Box IP address. This same protocol for assigning unique identifiers is the basis of the internet; there’s an IP address behind every website.
We as a team are now reexamining how to explain the system of navigation, along with all of the fantastic stuff a virtual computer can offer so that users will be ready to push DH Box to the limit.
The DH Box team has made exciting strides over the past week!
As some may know, DH Box will be available on a pre-installed, pre-configured Debian cloud server. To achieve this, we are using Amazon Web Services. For those who aren’t initiated, AWS is a vast cloud computing infrastructure (with internet servers throughout the world) that offers services very similar to what a physical computer would. But AWS brings unrivaled scale, flexibility, and economy (pay as you go pricing).
DH Box’s Intro to Cloud Computing
Dennis Tenen led the DH Box team through its first group workshop on setting up a virtual web server image, a.k.a. an “EC2 Instance.” The virtual web server contains an Amazon Machine Image (think of it as an identical copy) of an operating system. DH Box will be freely available for users to launch their own instance of ours. This solution saves users the trouble of downloading and installing tools to their own computers.
What do users need to access DH Box in the Cloud?
It will be pretty simple- users must sign up for a free AWS account. And we’re making use of AWS’ CloudFormation (templates that deploy services rapidly) utility to automate many of the steps required to launch a new AMI instance. We also have custom scripts to automate the launch of DH Box files and software once users copy our server image. We’re really excited about being introduced to this powerful service, and even more encouraged that our configuration templates will allow DH Box users to dive swiftly into DH inquiry.
This is just the beginning- we’re focusing heavily on providing thorough documentation so that DH Box users will have everything they need to get up and running. Stay tuned!
Special thanks to Prof. Dennis Tenen for his amazing Intro to Cloud Computing Workshop.
We have this great Digital Humanities project idea, but what happens between now and launch time?
With an idea like DH Box (a customized linux OS with preinstalled DH Tools and the flexibility to operate on a computer as cheap and portable as the Raspberry Pi) there are a number of directions we could take, and will certainly consider for further iterations of DH Box beyond the Spring term (this blog currently documents the experiences of a project team enrolled in a graduate course in Digital Humanities Praxis at the Graduate Center, CUNY).
In order to refine the scope of our tool, we asked ourselves some questions.
- What approach will we take around educating users about coding, the infrastructure around the DH Box software, hardware, and operating system?
- Which DH Tools should we include? See Alan Liu’s curated list for more info on the scope of DH tools out there
- What user(s) are we building this for?
The success of our project hinges on our ability to carefully model the scope of the tool by shaping the answers to these questions . . . all by May 12th (public launch date)!
Beyond providing a collection of accessible DH Tools, we want DH Box to help bridge knowledge gaps by delivering a strong educational component. We’d like for instance, undergraduate English students to gain exposure and develop proficiency in Digital Humanities inquiry through the kind of guidance and practical experience DH Box will offer. To that end, we will begin an interactive textbook to provide instruction about the specific tools included in this first iteration of DH Box. We are most inspired by the Learn Code the Hard Way textbook series by Zed Shaw.
We are gearing this version of DH Box to bring Topic Modeling and Text Analysis to Humanities students!
We began by considering the most popular DH Tools out there and quickly realized it made a lot of sense to whittle the list down for this current project phase. We’ve made choices based on optimal software performance with the Raspberry Pi. We also want to provide DH Tools that haven’t yet had the level of proliferation (as some of the more popular content management systems like WordPress).
Undergraduate Humanities students currently have little familiarity with terms like tokenization, sentiment analysis, etc., and how these components of text analysis can open expansive modes of textual inquiry. As part of its mission, DH Box will work to make these methods accessible to a broad audience!
Stay tuned for exciting updates on implementing the install scripts, using IPython Notebook, and more!
Questions? Comments? Tweet us!