Q&A with EuropeanaBot developer
Developer Peter Mayr has used the Europeana API to create something called the 'EuropeanaBot'. It's essentially a Twitter account that tweets interesting objects found in Europeana. Follow it at @EuropeanaBot. We chatted to Peter about why and how he created the EuropeanaBot.
What do you do for a day job?
I am an administrator and software developer for the inter-library loan system and two other projects at the North Rhine-Westphalian library consortium in Cologne.
How did you hear about Europeana?
I don't recall exactly, but since I am part of the 'library scene', Europeana is a big topic in our professional circles.
What made you set up the EuropeanaBot?
I was really delighted that Europeana offers an API so that people can access the whole wealth of data and build their own projects on top of it. However, I had no idea what I wanted to to with all these possibilities. And then the DPLA (Digital Public Library of America) Bot came along and I liked that idea. Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I took it as an inspiration.
The presentation of digital resources is difficult for libraries. It is no longer possible to just explore, browse the stacks and make serendipitous findings. With Europeana, you don't even have a physical library to go to. So I was interested in bringing a little bit of serendipity back by using a Twitter bot.
In addition, this was also a nice technical challenge for me to learn something about the Europeana API and the Twitter API.
What does EuropeanaBot do?
Basically, the EuropeanaBot presents interesting random images from the Europeana collections. For this I used several 'seeds' as starting points.
One 'seed' is a list of Austrian place names, because I thought there might be some interesting historical photographs and maps in Europeana. (I am Austrian, so it made sense to start with something familiar.) I also thought that the names of famous people would make a good 'seed' so I used a list of all the Nobel prize recipients.
When I implemented the Nobel prize list, the Bot found some interesting images but Europeana provided little context. So in order to find out more about these people, I integrated Wikipedia. Now, EuropeanaBot also provides a link to the relevant Wikipedia page.
And in the latest version, I used Wikipedia's 'Random Page' feature to get search terms for Europeana, so now the bot also tweets images of obscure stuff like 'fish ladders'.
Unicorn picture tweeted by EuropeanaBot. From Museum Schloss Bernburg, museum-digital and Linked Heritage. CC BY-NC-SA.
If I just wanted to present (semi)random Europeana findings, I wouldn't have needed Twitter - an RSS-Feed or a web page would be enough. However, I wanted to infuse EuropeanaBot with a little bit of 'Twitter culture' and give it a personality. I am a big fan of the Sarcastic Rover account. So besides just tweeting random images, the EuropeanaBot also hates Monday mornings, participates in 'Follow Fridays', likes cat pictures, unicorns and '90s Hip-Hop.
Of course, all of these features are not strictly necessary, but I wanted EuropeanaBot to be more than just a Europeana data delivery service, I wanted it to bring a little bit of fun to resource discovery.
How long did EuropeanaBot take to set up?
I am not sure how many hours it took, but it was a nice weekend project to set up and now I am using about two to three hours a week for bug fixes and new features.
Why is the Europeana API useful to you?
I think it's easy to use, has good documentation, an API console to try things out and uses standard formats and methods. So building an application with it was a good learning project for me.
Do you have any plans to develop the EuropeanaBot further? Or to use the Europeana API for anything else?
At the moment, the EuropeanaBot tweets every hour. I suspect this kind of predictability might become boring so I would like to add a little bit of interactive behaviour. An interesting example is the TroveNewsBot which searches the National Library of Australia's historic newspapers collection. You can message this bot with a query and it returns a link to a search result. So this could be one possible direction for further development for EuropeanaBot.