¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Yesterday I attended Lisa Rhody’s ITP Skills Lab on Project Planning. I came to the workshop because I had a few vague ideas of digital projects and wanted to hear Lisa’s advice on project development. The workshop was based on the Digital Project Lab suggested reading from this week. It was helpful to go through each component and really reflect on the success and feasibility of digital projects. It was also great that there was interactivity built into the workshop, and we were able to share our ideas and questions about digital projects with our fellow attendees. The document is wonderfully comprehensive, and I wanted to add a few more details that were brought up during the workshop, which will hopefully help in creating final project proposals.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 It was made very clear to us that the key to a successful digital project was one that had a clearly defined conception of its end. This point was stressed many times during the workshop. Lisa was speaking from experience, having managed many digital projects. Very few projects last forever, and most of them you want to “die,” for the sake of your psychological health. You also wouldn’t want a project that would hang over your entire career. Ultimately, to envision death of project, to know when you’re done and can walk away, will enable you to see when you’ve achieved success.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 A really important point was made that “the public” is simply too amorphous of an audience for a digital project. Your audiences must be refined and targeted. I appreciated hearing the different considerations for each audience, including ourselves. I took for granted that project developers are their own audience: Lisa reminded us to not forget our own biases and limitations. For example, if you don’t like to use Macs, but you built your project on a Mac because it was easier, then you probably won’t enjoy working on your project.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 A common audience for participants, given that it was an ITP lab, was instructors or students. Here, too, was Lisa’s operationalization of difference audiences helpful. Instructors are way more complicated than just mere teachers. Are they luddites or techies? Do they have a platform preference? Do they prefer desktop or mobile platforms? Similarly for students: what institutional resources do they have at their disposal? What technological and subject-matter knowledge do they already have? If the funder is the audience: do they value open source technology or the use of open data? We were also reminded to remember the limitations of audiences: accessibility such as the use of screen readers, and the experience of non-subject matter experts interacting with the content of the project.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 In our class we’ve had a lot of exposure to digital projects, and the Github has an even more extensive listing of resources where folks can access to perform their environmental scan of the digital project landscape. But what I was particularly interested in was the Social Science Research Council (SSRC)’s repository of digital resources. Lisa also mentioned SSRC’s Parameters, which isn’t listed on the Github but is “an online forum from the Council’s Digital Culture program meant to address a complex, persistent question at the heart of social science research: how does (and, ultimately, should) the production and distribution of knowledge change under digital conditions?” Thanks to the guidance from the document and the workshop, I felt more empowered to conduct my own tiny, initial my environmental scan of social science digital projects, for example: Civil War Washington, Digital Activism Research Project (which sadly hasn’t been updated since May), Global Terrorism Research Project at Haverford College, and the Black Youth Project.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 During the workshop, an important point was brought up: the GC doesn’t provide server space to students beyond WordPress/creating your own Commons site, but even that seems more suited for outreach and publicity only. I do find that interesting given the emphasis on digital projects here. It was pointed out that Amazon Web Services is free for students for 6 months. Students might also find Github useful for hosting services. Lisa did mention this resource from the GC Digital Fellows on low-cost cloud hosting. Also, for relatively low-cost and high-quality hosting, Reclaim Hosting was recommended (which I also recommend from my experience managing a digital project using their services). Still, I think that as digital projects and dissertations grow at the Graduate Center, it would be really useful for more institutional support for issues such as server space. (Lisa did note that next semester’s Praxis class will cover hosting fees for projects.)
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Lisa gave some very interesting examples of successful outreach by digital projects. For example, Matthew Kirschenbaum, when promoting his book on the literary history of word processing, didn’t create a website but a Tumblr, where he could give periodic updates rather than maintain a static website (and even post some photos of him and Clippy).
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Another example of not having to build a static website is Natalie M. Houston’s #prodchat on Twitter. Houston is a digital humanist but also promotes her work through weekly, well-advertised and well-attended Twitter chats.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 We were also advised to think about where audiences are coming from. Lisa gave an example from her own work, creating a project on the Histories of National Mall. The project’s outreach could not really take place on academic Twitter. Many visitors come to site via Facebook. Despite some opposition to Facebook by the developers, they adopted their outreach strategy to Facebook because they wanted to reach the audience where they were. A surprising aspect of this project’s outreach was that they also had to do print outreach: distributing bookmarks with QR codes on the National Mall. It turned out to be a proven way to reach out to people who were at the Mall and had smartphones.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 The last point I wanted to make was that Lisa made a convincing argument for how to ensure effective partnerships in digital projects: by writing everything down and making a formal agreement. I’ve noticed that perhaps some academic partnerships can be relatively informal compared to other sectors, so this makes complete sense to me. Lisa mentioned that potential pitfalls for partnerships include that you take your partners for granted, or they take you for granted. You have unclear expectations of your partners, or they have unstated expectations of you. There is no such thing as overly formal; this would be miles better than not being clear enough and having your project taken in a different direction than you envisioned.
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 I left the workshop with more questions than answers, but good questions–guiding questions that helped me brainstorm in the right direction rather than endlessly focus on aspects of a potential project that aren’t crucial for successful planning and development. It was very refreshing to bring what started as abstract concepts from the Github into concrete advice and examples. I hope to learn more about actual project management in future workshops.