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In Focus: Data-Driven Archives

In Focus: Data-Driven Archives

Jun 10, 2021 Accurat

Archive–building might not initially spring to mind as a data project. But record–keeping and cataloguing methods are often held together by numbers–based logic. Think of the Dewey Decimal System: A numerical series that categorizes books and organizes libraries.

We have helped a number of organizations build digital hubs from analogue archives as well as 21st–century technology. All place emphasis on form and function and encourage rabbit hole–like exploration by design. The Triennale Museum’s archives are a good example.

Triennale Museum

The museum in Milan opened in part to commemorate and promote the legacy of the eponymous world exhibition of art and design. A multitude of photos and videos from every exhibition dating back to 1923 are included in the database, as well as information on each edition’s theme. Every entry is akin to a time capsule of the year, filled with items from around the world that demonstrate ingenuity in its most beautiful forms.

Additionally, a timeline feature showcases the museum’s permanent collection, which houses art, objects, and ephemera produced in Italy. The interface shows the evolution of high design as well as daily life since 1927. Espresso makers and Olivetti typewriters appear alongside Gucci scarves and sculptures by Gio Ponti.

It bears mentioning that the archives are also an indispensable resource for museum staff. Curators and editors can easily find, publish, print, and send materials needed for research and communications. Furthermore, pieces from the archive are integrated throughout the museum’s website via tagging and recirculation. This architecture places artifacts in proximity to new content, events, and exhibits to impress the idea of the organization as both a historical resource and a forward–thinking center for artistic innovation.

Of course, preserving history isn’t just about safekeeping treasures. It can also mean saving for posterity things we’d rather forget, figuratively speaking.

Information Operation Archive

The Information Operations Archive (IOA) is a database of social media posts with content like “This is big! Hillary Clinton covered up child trafficking investigation at the State Department” and “Watch: Barack Obama admits he was born in Kenya #birtherism.” Co–created by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan think tank initiative, and Graphika, a network analysis firm, IOA currently hosts 10 million Twitter and Reddit messages from Russian and Iranian–backed election interference missions.

While Twitter and Reddit “released” datasets for public use in 2018, they imposed significant hurdles to access them. Twitter asked users to enter an email address to download a 5GB file that was virtually impenetrable to anyone without a data science background. For our part, we helped elucidate the data sets by transferring them to a user–friendly environment where social posts—in addition to date range and associated hashtags—are visualized. The IOA fulfills a purpose in not only making the tweets accessible and searchable, but also in foregrounding how they can (and should) be used for critical analysis. And though frequently nauseating, the IOA exposes common, specious strategies that bad actors use to stoke division.

A search for “Kamala Harris,” for example, yields both expected results (“BUSTED! Kamala Harris Caught Using Taxpayer Dollars for Her Lavish Travels”) and ones that on a surface level seem more puzzling, such as a tweet wishing Harris a happy birthday. The message— sent by a fake account that espoused progressive views—features a photo of Harris as a child sporting an afro.

More on the Triennale Museum

Beyond building archives, we redesigned the museum's entire digital ecosystem.
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