From the archive: the LAIRAH study

I’m currently trawling through my research papers and submitting them to UCL Discovery to make them publicly available. It is taking more time than I had imagined: not to find the original texts, but for them to go through the system and go live. I’ll talk more about this soon as I have a better idea of the issues behind putting research outputs online, but the first paper I want to report on (mainly as its one of the first to make it through the goalposts) is:

Warwick,C. Terras, M., Huntington, P., and Pappa, N. (2008). “If You Build It Will They Come? The LAIRAH Study: Quantifying the Use of Online Resources in the Arts and Humanities through Statistical Analysis of User Log Data”. Literary and Linguistic Computing.23(1), 85-102. Available in PDF.

This is one of the papers that emanated from the LAIRAH project: Log Analysis of Internet Resource in the Arts and Humanities. This was an AHRC funded project that ran from July 2005 to September 2006.

How quaint, I hear you say. Log Analysis! Why would you bother to do that? Wouldn’t you just use Google Analytics? Now, of course, you would, but when we submitted the grant application, Google Analytics was just a idea called Urchin on Demand, and it didnt come on stream until the end of the project. We wanted to provide some robust measurements of how people were using digital resources, and what this meant for those creating resources for the humanities. As far as we knew at the time, we were the first to look at server logs in this way, for this domain. Or at least, the first to plan to look at server logs.

There were several issues in actually getting hold of server logs – turned out people didnt want to hand them over. I would have liked to get more into the nitty gritty of what exactly people were doing, but we had limited access, and access to portal data rather than individual websites.

The resulting paper draws some interesting conclusions, particularly our quantitative findings “that users from academic domains tended to be more persistent and use different search strategies to reach their goals” and the importance of nomenclature, documentation, and provenance in creating useful digital resources in the humanities. I like to think that this project began to address the fact that we have to understand user needs when creating digitised content, at a time when people were merrily digitising and creating websites without much understanding of how or why they would be used.

Nowadays, of course, you’d use Google Analytics to monitor how your digital project was used. But projects are still not keen to share access statistics with the wider community…

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