DH Box Takes Off

This is it: DH Box is officially launching. The Digital GC is presenting an evening of short talks from various CUNY Graduate Center digital initiatives today, May 12 — starting off with DH Box.

I wanted to take a moment to reflect on where DH Box started and how far we’ve come. We introduced our project in early February:

What is DH Box?

Not much, so far. But we intend it to be a portable, customized linux environment for Digital Humanities learners that can rely on incredibly inexpensive technology. All you really need is a computer that runs Linux (and a monitor and keyboard, of course!) — but the platform that excites us most is the Raspberry Pi, a tiny computer that sells for just $35. Imagine a collection of DH tools, pre-installed and configured, and a set of texts for users to interrogate — all on a portable and inexpensive device.

That’s a quote from our first blog post — and it illustrates the most drastic change to our project. DH Box’s founder, Stephen Zweibel, had originally envisioned DH Box as being scripts that, when run, installed common DH applications (think Omeka, MALLET, NLTK) onto the user’s system; additionally, DH Box could be shipped as its suite of tools pre-installed on the light and portable Raspberry Pi computer.

As DH Box developed, it took a shift in platform, moving away from the issue of dealing with the idiosyncrasies of each individual’s system, to hosting instances of a virtual computer that any user could launch.

This was a vast and visible shift. But, despite not being as drastic, many other project elements developed in the journey from DH Box’s inception to its official launch.


Team Communication

Our first step was figuring out how to communicate with each other.

We needed a space to organize our materials and our tasks. We chose Google Drive as a central document repository, given each of us uses Gmail. To manage tasks, we initially chose Asana – but eventually went with GitHub’s Issues utility, given we were already using GitHub to host our code.

Project Documentation

Documentation became an increasingly important aspect of our project as the platform became solidified.

One aspect of DH Box that we all consider important is its potential for lowering barriers to engagement with DH tools – part of lowering that barrier involves making a tool like DH Box, with a fairly technical back-end, comprehensible to all users through clear documentation.

Project Publicity

DH Box started making its work visible with this very blog – then developed a Twitter account (a popular gathering place for those interested in DH) and a website.

Our Outreach coordinator, Cailean, thought carefully about what information would be presented on all of these mediums throughout the project. Additionally, a number of presentations were done on DH Box to introduce it to potential user communities.

User Testing

Once DH Box had enough of an interface – online documentation, a website for users, etc. – it was time to see how uninitiated users would react to it and where they might get stuck.

This aspect of the project was critical — not only did it lead to important iterations and additions to our website and documentation, but solidified us narrowing our focus for our launch to academic communities.

And More

These were large topics that DH Box had to approach during its development up to the time it launched. It was a large undertaking for a team of graduate students, requiring devoted developers, an outreach coordinator, and a project manager — as well as advisers.

We leave this summary of our process for DH-ers working on projects such as ours as an idea of what might be required to undertake it. But, DH Box’s story isn’t over. Keep following along for insight into how a project such as DH Box is sustained after launch!