Tom Elliot, Executive Director at the Pleiades Project, recently asked me about my thoughts about where the field of digital humanities (especially with regard to archaeology) was going in the next few years. I basically wrote back saying I had no idea, but that there are some hints about greater access, interoperability, and linkages with the commercial sector. So, here are some random and poorly organized ideas I shared with him:

  • I think we’re seeing pretty explosive growth of a whole suite of online services for humanities. I’m struck by the growing awareness of the importance of standards (OAI-PMH, GeoRSS, COinS, etc.) and I think we’ll see increasing concern with interoperability, scalability, and extensibility in architectures. Initiatives that “play nicely” with each other will win out over stand-alone silos. Tom linked to this important page illustrating some essential features cross-service interoperability should support.
  • I’m not sure that some of the Web 2.0 developments (folksonomies, wikis, etc.) will catch on for scholars, but blogging will probably grow. I think online services will probably do more monitoring and data collection of user behavior and those data will be used to deliver better services.
  • I think we’re also going to see much more available in the way of open access and Creative Commons licensed materials, even by institutions that have resisted these moves in the past (scholarly societies and museums). I’m seeing some individual researchers open up their entire field projects to more or less comprehensive transparency. That will put a premium on methodological quality and project management. It may also lead to some embarrassment of some senior scholars who look good on paper, but keep a very sloppy and incomplete record of their primary research activities.

Last, but not least, I think many of these efforts will capture a lot more commercial attention, since effective strategies in dealing with complex, semi-structured, and often spatially located content will have applications outside scholarship. Similarly, we’ll see more adaptation of commercial tools and services to meet scholarly needs. I think this interaction with the commercial sector will yield the biggest surprises with the most impact. It’s already happening with Google, but will continue in exciting ways.

Update:

Well that was fast. It took me all of 30 seconds to find discussion that contradicted my impression that Web 2.0 social / collaborative tools were not catching on in scholarship. Look at the impressions of Library 2.0 for a completely different take on the issue (link from the Stoa Consortium). It’s a very interesting read.