… or, Why Prospect is the best choice for creating a DH project
I’ve just released a whole new suite of exciting features and affordances in Prospect 1.2 (especially Volumes), and am working on new extensions to enhance its capabilities even further (a help system, Filters for Pointer Attributes, …).
As digital platforms are new to most scholars, it may be of use to those interested in creating digital projects to see the capabilities and limitations of the options available to them. I’ll start with a brief description of the features and strengths of Prospect and compare these to two other similar platforms (there simply aren’t many our there). And for the purposes of this comparison, I’m assuming that the DH project is a collection of digital objects that have properties that can be interpreted meaningful by visual representations (e.g., Lat-Lon coordinates, numeric values, etc.). If your project is a digital edition of a text, or an extended textual analysis of a large set documents, you should find other tools.
Now, it should be emphasized that all computer-based tools require some amount of training as well as a reasonable level of digital literacy. They also expect you to be familiar with data models and basics of databases (concepts of attributes/fields and records, for example). There is no magic bullet – but available tools exhibit a variety of approaches and designs, and address particular kinds of representations.
Ease Of Use: Prospect is a plugin for WordPress. WordPress is very popular across academic environments and is easy to use. You can install and activate Prospect with just a couple of button clicks.
Prospect requires you to define and configure a minimum of three types of data entities (Attributes, Templates and Exhibits); however, this is all accomplished through the standard WordPress Dashboard with a GUI interface. Prospect has a minimal learning-curve and learning resources to help you through it.
Ownership and Online Access: Prospect enables you to create Exhibits that are available to anyone, anywhere with an internet browser. All of the data can be stored on your own WordPress server (although you can also point to resources stored elsewhere on the internet). You have ownership and control of all of your own resources, and you can also keep some of the data private so that only those who have accounts on your WordPress site with the appropriate privileges can access them.
Curation and Work-Flow: Prospect recognizes that many projects require the coordination of teams and the contributions of multiple people (i.e., “crowd-sourcing”). It therefore leverages the mechanisms in WordPress that provide different capabilities to accounts with differing privilege levels: Contributors can create and edit their own data but can’t make them publicly visible, Editors can edit and publish anyone’s data, etc. This system supports the work flow inherent in the building of many projects. You can import data from spreadsheets or create/edit it on forms that Prospect generates dynamically for you on a GUI interface.
Versatile Data Types: Prospect supports a wide variety of data types and flexible means of handling them visually, not least via the Legend mechanism (which allows the project administrator to define how values translate into colors). This versatility enables a wide variety of types of information to be encoded and effectively rendered into graphic representations.
Playback Widgets: Prospect recognizes that the research materials of many scholars include ethnographic materials and multimedia resources in the form of audio and video recordings and textual transcripts. Prospect supports the use of “playback widgets” to make those resources available to end-users.
Language Independence: Prospect uses standard PHP and WordPress mechanisms to enable all of the text in the system to be translated to any language needed on a website-by-website basis.
Licensing: Developed in an academic environment with an ethos of making digital tools accessible to all, Prospect can be downloaded and used for free. As an open-source project, anyone can change any aspect of the system to meet their own needs if they wish to.
Tableau is a very powerful, commercial data visualization platform – or really, a variety of platforms with different emphases – used for a variety of analytical purposes. You can find details here.
Ease of Use: Tableau is very powerful, but it has a very steep learning curve. Users are expected to know technical concepts and terms relating to databases. There are many learning resources available but they do require a strong technical background.
Ownership and Online Access: Tableau has a range of products for data storage, from webservers that run as applications on your own computer to webservices that enable you to store your data on Tableau’s own infrastructure. However, all of these options have associated costs. Data stored via Tableau’s “free” webservices cannot be well protected or privatized.
Curation and Work-Flow: Forms of support exist on enterprise applications.
Data Types: A full range.
Playback Widgets: Limited supported; requires technical expertise.
Language Independence: Preselected list of language options (English, French, German, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, and Simplified Chinese), not extendable by customer.
Licensing: Tableau is proprietary, commercial software; a free version with limited capabilities is available, but with limitations including those noted above.
Palladio is a digital tool that runs in your private web browser, produced by Stanford’s Humanities + Design lab as a spin-off of some of their other Digital Humanities work. It is slick but has a much more limited range of visualizations and features than Prospect. You can find details here.
Ease of Use: Palladio is reasonably powerful and reasonably easy to use. Still, its approach to data and visualization configuration is fairly technical and can’t be avoided by end-users. Training resources are very limited.
Ownership and Online Access: Data and visualizations only exist on your personal web-browser; they cannot be made visible to the “outside world.”
Curation and Work-Flow: No support.
Data Types: A good, though minimal, selection of types: text strings, numbers, lat-long coordinates, relationships, URLs and images.
Playback Widgets: Not supported.
Language Independence: Not supported.
Licensing: Palladio can be loaded and used for free, but the software is proprietary and cannot be examined or modified.