The original authors wrote this application in Java. I've never worked on a Java application before, so the last few weeks have been quite an education in the Java ecosystem, in its tools and frameworks and libraries. We're improving the installation and deployment process, so now I'm more familiar with Ant, Gradle, Maven, OpenJDK, JDBC, Hibernate, and WildFly. I've gotten some API documentation in place, so now I know more about Spring and Javadoc.
As I was explaining to a friend this weekend, the overwhelming thing isn't Java as a language. It is a programming language and you can program in it, fine. The overwhelmption is the seemingly endless chain of plugins, platforms, and frameworks, and the mental work to understand what competes with, supersedes, integrates with, or depends on what.
Imagine you come to visit New York City for the first time, and wish to visit a specific address. First you need to work out where it is. But you do not have a map; there is no unified map of the whole place. Surely you can figure this out. Watch out: if someone doesn't tell you what borough an address is in, it's probably in Manhattan, but then again maybe not. There are multiple streets with the same name, and "31st Street and Broadway" in Queens is quite far from "31st Street and Broadway" in Manhattan. The avenue numbers go up westwards in Manhattan, eastwards in Brooklyn, and northwards in Queens. And so on.
You ask around, you see sketches of maps other people have made on their journeys, and eventually you feel pretty confident that you know the rough distance and direction to your destination. Now, how do you get there from your hotel room?
You probably don't want to walk all the way; for one thing, it's illegal and dangerous to walk on the freeways. This is why we have the subway (express and local), and buses (express and local, both privately and publicly run), and government-regulated taxis (street-hailable cabs and private car services), and bike rental, and commuter rail, a funicular/tram, car rental, ferries, and so on. Also there are illegal rideshare/taxi services that lots of people use. You try to learn some nouns and figure out what sort of thing each is, and what's a subset of what.
A MetroCard works on some of these modes and not others, and some transfers from one ride to another cost you nothing, and you can't use an unlimited-ride card twice at the same station or on the same bus within 18 minutes.* You can bring a bike on some MTA-run services but not all, not all the time. There are whole neighborhoods with no subway service, and whole neighborhoods with approximately no street parking. At rush hour the trains get super full. Service changes at night, on the weekend, and on holidays. Cars and buses get stuck behind accidents and parades. People and signs in Manhattan refer to "uptown" and "downtown" as though they are cardinal directions; they often correlate to "north" and "south" but not always. Metro North trains terminate at Grand Central, but Long Island Railroad trains terminate at New York Penn Station, which is named after Pennsylvania because it's where you can catch a train to Pennsylvania,** and there's a Newark Penn Station too but over a crackling loudspeaker those two station names sound very similar so watch out. And so on.
You're lucky; you find a set of cryptic directions, from your hotel to the destination address, based on a five-year-old transit schedule. It suggests you take a bus that does not exist anymore. Sometimes you see descriptions of travel that you think could be feasible as a leg of your journey, and you read what other people have done. They talk about "Penn Station" and "the train" without disambiguating, refer to the subway as "the MTA" even though the MTA also runs other transit, talk about "the 7" without distinguishing local from express, and use "blocks" as a measure of distance even though some blocks are ten times as long as others.
Aaaaagh. And yet: you will make it. You will figure it out. New Yorkers will help you along the way.
The decades-old Java ecosystem feels overwhelming but this application overhaul is like any other task. Things are made of stuff. Human programmers made this thing and human programmers can understand and manipulate it. I'm a human programmer. I made Javadoc do what I wanted it to do, and now the product is better and our users will have more information. And every triumph earns me a skill I can deploy for other customers and groups I care about.
* Just long enough for you to enjoy a little break from the podcast you're making with President Nixon!
** Also see St. Petersburg's Finland Station.
The National Archives is proud to partner with Slate to co-host the #TinyDeclaration contest on Twitter. Slate originated the contest in 2010. This year, we are inviting the public (that means you!) to try to capture the essence of the Declaration of Independence in 140 characters or less, and tweet it out, using the hashtag: #TinyDeclaration.
The contest starts at noon on Monday June 26, and ends at noon on Thursday, June 29th. I will be judging the contest, along with the Editor-in-Chief of Slate, Julia Turner, and author Brad Meltzer. Finalists will be announced Friday on Slate.com.
The winner will receive some fun Founding Fathers swag from the National Archives Foundation: a July 4 t-shirt, a mug, a dapper pair of socks with images of George Washington, and of course, a copy of the Declaration of Independence. You can check out the swag and more at our shop.
Come on down to the National Archives on the 4th, where I will read the winning tweet aloud during our Fourth of July ceremony. Will you be the winner?
Today’s post comes from Kate Mersiovsky, National Archives Technician
Since I’ve become an archives technician in the Innovation Hub Scanning Room at the National Archives, I’ve seen my fair share of interesting records. Researchers have digitized the pension of presidential widow Lucretia Garfield, the pension of Harriet Tubman, and the Supreme Court cases In Re Gault and U.S. v. Edith Windsor. Recently one of my fellow technicians, Jesse Wilinski, found another unique record- the pension file for Mohammed Kahn, a Muslim soldier who served in the Civil War.
It is rare to find records of Muslim Civil War soldiers in our holdings. So far, Jesse has only encountered two pensions, and historians know of only about 250 Muslim Civil War soldiers in all. This record, therefore, sheds light on a unique perspective that is often overlooked. As a Muslim immigrant serving in a white unit, Kahn experienced challenges even more extreme than the hardships normally associated with a 19th century infantryman’s life.
Jesse is always on the lookout for unusual records and has fostered relationships with many of the researchers who come in to study our Civil War pension files. One of these researchers tipped Jesse off to the existence of Kahn’s pension, which he scanned in the Hub during his lunch breaks.
Private Mohammed Kahn, also known as John Ammahail, was born in Persia, circa 1830. Raised in Afghanistan, he immigrated to the United States in 1861. About two months after his arrival he enlisted in the 43rd New York Infantry Regiment, following a night out with friends who convinced him to join.
In his pension application, Kahn recorded the many battles he either took part in or knew to have occurred nearby, the injuries he sustained, and the duties he performed while serving as both a cook and an infantryman. A few days after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, Kahn was separated from his unit and arrested in Hagerstown, Maryland, by a Union guard who brought him to the Provost Marshall’s headquarters. Though Kahn tried to explain that he was a member of the 43rd New York, the guard did not believe him, insisting that he could not be part of a white unit, as he was not a white man. Kahn was eventually sent to Philadelphia with recently escaped slaves to work, where he spent months trying to find his company or anyone else who would help him reunite with the 43rd New York.
When the Battle of the Wilderness started in May 1864, Kahn found a New York regiment – the 14th New York Infantry – that was taking a train down to the battle. In his desperation, he managed to jump on the train as it was pulling out of Philadelphia, and traveled with the 14th to Washington, DC. From the capital, he struck out on foot, following other squadrons down to the front in Spotsylvania, Virginia. He arrived on the last day of the battle and was finally able to rejoin his company in battle. Just fifteen minutes after his return, he was shot in the left hand. Despite this injury, Kahn, once healed, spent the rest of the war as a sharpshooter and ultimately served throughout almost the entire Civil War.
Want to learn more about Private Mohammed Kahn? His digitized pension application is now available in the National Archives Catalog, where you can help transcribe his story. Visit our Citizen Archivist dashboard to get started.
If you are interested in digitizing Civil War or other pre-World War I military records, come by the Innovation Hub at the National Archives in Washington, DC. We help researchers scan military service records, pensions, bounty land warrant applications, and carded medical records, and add these scans to the Catalog. We’re open Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. If you have any questions about our citizen scanning project, email us at email@example.com.
The new Publishing@W3C activity was formed in February 2017 when W3C finalized our combination with IDPF (the International Digital Publishing Forum). Over the last four months there’s been a ton of progress. The new Publishing Business Group, the focal point for discussing overall requirements and issues, is up and running, with a kick-off meeting in March in London and bi-weekly calls. The new EPUB 3 Community Group is also up and running, with a full plate of work items to extend the success of the EPUB standard under the auspices of W3C. Over 50 former IDPF member organizations are now participating in Publishing@W3C activities which makes this the fastest and largest expansion of W3C ever in an industry area.
The mission of the new Publishing Working Group is to “enable all publications — with all their specificities and traditions — to become first-class entities on the Web. The WG will provide the necessary technologies on the Open Web Platform to make the combination of traditional publishing and the Web complete in terms of accessibility, usability, portability, distribution, archiving, offline access, and reliable cross referencing”. That’s an exciting and ambitious goal, and overwhelming support across the W3C membership for the creation of this Working Group is a key proof point for the convergence vision that was the key strategic motivator for the combination of IDPF with W3C.
And in some ways the Publishing Summit is an even more welcome development. As a standards development organization (SDO), W3C’s work product is Web Standards, which are a means to an end: interoperability. These days, the ecosystem around any enabling technology, including especially the Open Web Platform, isn’t just specifications. It’s also open source, testbeds, education and training, and much more; i.e., the holistic ecosystem and the community around it. IDPF was a trade organization for the digital publishing community as well as an SDO, and IDPF’s events including its annual conference were a key part of building the community around the EPUB standard and broader issues in the digital transformation of publishing. I joined W3C as the Publishing Champion not only to help develop standards but also to foster a broader community that will successfully lead the Web to its full potential for the particular needs of publishing and documents. The Publishing Summit will help us build that community, so I hope you’ll join the conversation on November 9-10 in San Francisco.
Overall I’m excited by the progress to date on Publishing@W3C. The opportunities to help enable the future of publishing and the Web are tremendous. And there’s just one thing that we need to make it happen: participation. Thanks are due the many folks who have already pitched in to get the ball rolling, and I hope you’ll join in supporting the Publishing@W3C initiative.
Keeping the customer’s needs front and center is important when developing new digital tools. We recently developed a set of user personas as part of our work to establish a more robust—and data informed—understanding of the individuals that engage digitally with the National Archives (NARA).
User personas are fictional, but realistic representations of key audience segments that are grounded in research and data. We recently applied customer data from a variety of sources including website analytics and online surveys to inform the creation of eight personas that represent our digital customers: Researchers, Veterans, Genealogists, Educators, History Enthusiasts, Curious Nerds, Museum Visitors, and Government Stakeholders. These personas not only help us capture knowledge about our customers and their needs and preferences, but also help NARA staff empathize with the individuals who use our services. User personas are often used by designers and developers to place the customer’s perspectives and needs at the center of the digital design and development process.
When conducting research to develop the individual personas, we took an analytical approach using data from our web and social media analytics, our online customer satisfaction survey, and incoming emails from customers. Additionally, we interviewed NARA staff that often interact with the user types we were trying to understand, in order to get their insight and feedback.
While fictional, these personas represent our major user groups and help us keep their needs and expectations at the forefront of our decision making. Each persona consists of two pages: the first page provides a snapshot of the user’s demographics and a quote to help bring the persona to life, while the second page provides user stories that help us to better understand how this audience interacts with NARA and why.
For example, as shown on the first page of our Genealogist persona, Mildred Mapleton, we can understand what digital platforms she uses and features she likes, how tech savvy she is, and what websites and search words she uses to find what she’s looking for:
Mildred, like all of our user personas, is not an actual person, but a realistic representation of one of NARA’s key audience segments. Her character is based on research and backed by evidence. Although the data gives us a good outline of who she is, the specifics you see here that make Mildred feel like a real, well-rounded person are semi-fictional and shaped by educated assumptions.
The second page of each persona provides user stories that describe who the user is, what they want, and why. They are written in the format: “As a <type of person>, I want <some goal> so that <some reason>.”
As shown on the second page of our Veteran persona, Victor Williams, we know that as a veteran who has submitted a request for records, Victor wants to easily determine the status so he knows how long he will have to wait to receive the paperwork. Each persona has multiple user stories associated with it to help NARA think about the various ways in which key audience segments interact with us digitally:
These representations of our customers are based on quantitative data (e.g., metrics about web pages viewed, social media use) and qualitative user research (e.g., online surveys). It is very important to remember that a persona is a composite representation of the prevalent qualities of an audience segment and will not exactly match a specific person or comprehensively describe the full diversity of a group.
These personas will be used to improve NARA’s customers’ digital experience. The ultimate goal is that every time a project with a digital component is discussed at NARA, these personas will be used to inform decision making. By identifying the personas that we work with most often and referring to them when thinking about new and better ways to serve them, we can work to better inform and prioritize our work and better understand customer interactions across all of our digital properties.
Learn more and meet the complete list of digital personas on archives.gov.