About a year ago the ADS was approached by the British Library (BL) about joining up to develop an mobile app together. A good relationship had evolved out of the ADS involvement with DataCite at the BL, so this seemed like a good opportunity to work together on something other than DOIs. Another reason the BL approached the ADS was because we hold a large amount of open data which would have a widespread appeal.
A year and many lessons later, the app has been available to download for 6 weeks and has notched up a respectable 650+ downloads. This blog post is an attempt to document and explain many of the decisions that were made during the development of the app. Some things in this blog may make more sense if you’ve already seen the app, which can be downloaded from the App Store. If you don’t have an iPad (or don’t want to download it), you can see screenshots on the ADS website to get an idea of what the app looks like.
ADS staff have bounced around the idea of developing a mobile app in the past, but until ADS was approached by the BL we didn’t have the time or resources to undertake the building of one. If the BL hadn’t approached the ADS to collaborate (and lead on the development), it is unlikely the ADS would have undertaken the developing of an app at this time. Given the widespread appeal of archaeology and the rich archaeological content held by the BL, an archaeologically themed app in collaboration with the ADS made sense. What kind of archaeological app to develop proved to be a more difficult question to answer than expected. Aware that a low curatorial overhead was desirable, initial thoughts focused on existing ADS collections or projects such as a mobile version of Archsearch, The Defence of Britain (DoB) archive or England’s Rock Art (ERA) project. An Archsearch mobile app was dismissed due to the scale (1.2 million records) and the broad nature of the Archsearch data. The more compact data sets of ERA or DoB were more appealing because they were focused on a distinct theme and had already been effectively curated by the depositors. DoB is also one of our most popular resources, but like ERA, its audience is rather specialist. While it may have been easier to create an ERA or DoB app, we wanted to develop an app with the widest appeal possible. We also wanted an app whose code and structure could easily be reused by us and others, so instead we decided to develop an app that focused on the archaeology of a select group of key British heritage sites. It was also obvious that general archaeology would be better suited to the BL and their collections, which has some of the rarest and most unique content in the world. After some initial indecisions, a general British archaeology app straightforwardly called “Archaeology Britain” was settled upon.