Portable Antiquities Data and Swivel

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I’m fall­ing behind on my read­ing of RSS feeds, so the news that the Portable Antiquities Scheme has put some of its data on Swivel is new to me, even though the post is a week old. Swivel seems to be a graph­ing web­site. People upload data and then you can draw your own graphs from it.

At the moment some of the graphs are a bit lim­it­ing. There’s not a lot you can do with the num­ber of coins by period for example. I think it does show poten­tial for the longer term. For instance with the PAS data­base being open it should be pos­sible to mash it with other data and pro­duce some really use­ful or bizarre res­ults. For instance is archae­ology a middle class pur­suit? The PAS has some find­spot data, so you could plot num­ber of finds in a county against num­ber of trendy wine bars in a county and see if there’s a cor­rel­a­tion. You can’t do that with Swivel yet, but it looks like it might be pos­sible in a few years time. Perhaps a more use­ful study would plot PAS find num­bers in with a series of socio-economic indic­at­ors like crime reports, schools per­form­ance etc which might help her­it­age work­ers see where they are suc­ceed­ing and where they are not.

Despite that, even though I think it’s excit­ing I still don’t know what I’m get­ting excited about. I remem­ber the first mobile phones com­ing out in the eighties. Who would have pre­dicted then that the big selling point about them would have been cam­eras or text? Who then pre­dicted what per­sonal com­mu­nic­a­tion would mean for the decline in pub­lic phones? The way we think about elec­tronic com­mu­nic­a­tion today is qual­it­at­ively dif­fer­ent to the way we thought about it in the past. I think this kind of open­ness with data could pro­duce some­thing sim­ilar. At the moment I’m still think­ing about data in a con­ven­tional way. I sus­pect that will its avail­ab­il­ity people only a little more vis­ion­ary than me will come up with new ways in think­ing about inform­a­tion, and take that view for gran­ted like we take cam­er­a­phones for gran­ted today.

In the longer term I could be wor­ried about these young upstarts who’ll be think­ing in a dif­fer­ent way and make me some­thing of a dino­saur. In the shorter term I’ll ser­i­ously con­sider put­ting my data online at Swivel after I’ve fin­ished my thesis and con­trib­ute to the process.

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