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2 minutes to read Posted on Wednesday April 7, 2021

Updated on Wednesday April 7, 2021

portrait of Jolan Wuyts

Jolan Wuyts

Collections Editor / V4 Design Project Coordinator , Europeana Foundation

Viziel: 'learning more than you see' with Europeana content

Europeana’s APIs allow people to build applications that use the wealth of our collections and Europe’s cultural heritage. Viziel, a platform which has used these APIs to encourage the discovery of digitised cultural heritage objects, shows the breadth of what they can achieve. Jolan Wuyts interviews the platform creator, Avigail Soloveychik to find out more about the platform and process of building it. 

A screenshot of the Viziel platform

Title: Screenshot of the Viziel platform

Creator: Viziel

Date: 2021

Public Domain

In a few sentences, can you describe what Viziel is?

Viziel is a visual information platform, where an image is a unique data point. Every image is accompanied by a few metadata fields and a reference to the source website of the data provider for further details. 

Where did the idea for Viziel come from, and how did you start working towards making it a reality?

I have always been drawn to visual arts, not just from the aesthetic perspective but also because it is a rich and informative medium, with numerous visual details, artistic styles and attached stories and narratives. As a person from the tech industry, it was quite frustrating to realise that now that so much content is within easy reach, the visual arts are often still not considered to be an important enough source of information. Books, music, and film all have a myriad of platforms for discovery and consumption, but the visual arts are still often excluded. This creates a huge gap in knowledge and in the current paradigm of information accessibility.

This is how the idea of Viziel was born. With the research I’ve done, I’ve realised that the solution should not be limited to visual arts but to comprise all visual content with informational value. For instance, you could explore a visual story of calligraphy through time periods, countries, styles, techniques, with every image leading to detailed knowledge from reliable resources. I wanted to include as many relevant options for users to engage with this heritage as well: buying a book, visiting an exhibition, joining an online course. 

At the beginning of 2021 I bootstrapped this idea into a prototype, showcasing how the subject of European cultural heritage can be explored via image thanks to Europeana’s API.

Why did you choose Europeana as a source of data? Are you looking to integrate more cultural heritage data sources in the future?

Having no background in this area, as part of my research, I attended a few events on the topic of cultural heritage digitisation in the past years, where I first heard about Europeana. Naturally, dealing with a single source that aggregates data from numerous institutions was an optimal choice. Another reason was that Europeana employs cross-disciplinary teams of professionals who were very supportive from the beginning to the launch of the project.

Regarding other cultural heritage resources, as I’ve mentioned, the idea is to present all types of content, so definitely yes. Having more data on a platform enables reaching wider audiences and obtaining comprehensive knowledge on specific topics.

A screenshot of the Viziel platform

Title: Screenshot from the Viziel platform

Creator: Viziel

Date: 2021

Public Domain
A screenshot of the Viziel platform

Colleagues at Europeana tried to help you along with using the Europeana APIs, how was that experience for you? 

Indeed, without the help of technical experts, it would be hard to understand the data structure. Data digitisation is a sophisticated process, not just as data science but also as data quality. During the development of Viziel, API-imported data was normalised in several ways, including removing duplicates and using English as one language for grouping and descriptions, names and dates formats optimisation. And even that was not sufficient to produce desirable results, as often Viziel-important data fields were missing. 

Are there any improvements you think would greatly improve the experience of using Europeana's APIs?

From my technical background, I can say that Europeana's APIs are very well structured and documented. In the framework of building Viziel, I found certain terms quite tricky to understand. This exactly comes to the point of data quality which is a subject of joined efforts, Europeana, providing institutions and those who use API to build digital products with high user traction.

What is the future of Viziel? What will you be working on in the coming months/years? 

Viziel aims to be a source of all information that can be best represented by images. Whether it is artwork, documentary photography, scientific artefacts, caricatures or illustrations, these should all be wired into a centralised AI-powered network of information. After featuring openly licensed cultural heritage the plan is to host copyrighted content. My intention is to convince institutions to open up their copyright-protected images within a safe digital framework in order to enable their global visibility, understand their users via analytics, tell their professional story in the most intuitive simple way and offer direct engagement with sought or just discovered information.

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