In This Section

4C Partners

Deutsche National Bibliothek
Keep Solutions
National Library Estonia
The Royal Library
Statens Arkiver
UK Data Archive
University of Glasgow

The Age of Exploration and the Curation Costs Exchange

Alex ThirifaysThe Age of Exploration lasted for several centuries partly due to unreasonably difficult fundraising; due to unreasonably tough travel conditions; and due to the funders' reluctance to share the discoveries made by their explorers.

In the 14th and most of the 15th century it was hard for the Kings and Queens of Europe to believe that these voyages instigated by curious and fortune-driven happy-go-lucky explorers would pay off.

The first Portuguese voyages were therefore low budget expeditions driven by passionate men. They did not, however, generate any significant riches, and it was not until the capitulation of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 and the subsequent Muslim blocking of the traditional land based trade-routes to the Far East that the necessity of finding alternative routes spurred the heads of the European nations to pour more money into the explorations.

Because the explorations started to prove their worth—especially after the discovery of the American continent and a sea route to India for spice and silk trades—they became more frequent; the incentive to boldly go where no man had gone before was now driven by the acknowledgement of the benefits of exploration.

The next challenge was for the explorers to overcome psychological, technological and physical obstacles. It became paramount to make precise observations and to map the new territories both in order to demystify the world and get rid of the common place superstitions of sea-monsters (“Here there be dragons”) and other abominations of the human mind, but also to be able to travel easily, secure lines of supply and to found outposts in advantageous places. It was quickly discovered, for example, that east and westbound travel in Siberia was seriously compromised by the fact that most of the rivers flow north to south or vice versa, whereas the westward explorations in North America were greatly facilitated by east and westbound rivers.

Later, by the time of the great scientific expeditions (for example in Africa) each country jealously guarded their discoveries for themselves. Many competing expeditions explored the same territories and obtained theoretically complementary knowledge, but which was not shared, because of military, economic and scientific clashes of interests. The exploration of the world progressed (painfully) slowly.

So what’s all this got to do with digital curation? The history of the Age of Exploration is in many ways analogous to what has been going on in this relatively new, relatively underdeveloped field. Funders have been reluctant to allocate resources; the rapid transition between the physical and the digital age established the necessity for funding, but the contracting authorities keep staring fixedly at the expenses, which up until now has meant that we still lack hard information regarding the identification of, exposure and exploitation of the benefits of digital curation—where are the silver mines of Potosi?

The 4C-project is aiming to break down the boundaries between the different cost modelers that have explored the economics of digital curation. Not only have the participants united in a common European project whose objective—much like a cartographer’s—is to draw a map (only this one is supposed to direct us to efficient, qualitative and beneficial digital curation)—but they are also trying to extract knowledge from people who are dealing with digital curation and its financial implications.

The latter—the sharing of knowledge about the economics of digital curation—is one of the last obstacles to shaping reliable cost models—that is to say ones based on empirical knowledge. If we build cost models on speculations, we may end up imaging sea-monsters or pots of gold. We need to seek out all sorts of stakeholders, observe and describe what is going on and start mining the vast amounts of concrete knowledge that exists out there.
The 4C-project intends to obtain this crucial knowledge by creating awareness about the necessity of modeling the costs in order to increase the efficiency and to discover the benefits of digital curation; by identifying and contacting administrators of digital repositories as well as owners, producers and consumers of digital assets that have a demand for these services and a willingness to pay for the value that the services represent to them; and lastly by creating the Curation Costs Exchange…

A what? The Curation Costs Exchange (affectionately known as CCEx by its friends) is conceptually an online tool into which the aforementioned stakeholders can ingest financial information; that manipulates this information following a typology established by the 4C-project; and that generates financial information suitable for comparing digital curation costs across institutions, companies, organizations, and so on.

We recognize that such financial information is commercially sensitive and as such it will be stripped of all affiliations so that its traceability is eradicated. A similar exercise has previously been successfully executed in a project whose end was to collect all the expenses held by the Danish public authorities pertaining to the creation of Submission Information Packages (SIPs) for the Danish National Archives (DNA). It is worth noting that the Danish public authorities often hire private companies to create these SIPs and that the information about the expenses arising from these private services also was collected.

How come public authorities and private companies all alike are ready to share this kind of sensitive financial information?

First of all, the data was (contractually) anonymised. Secondly, the public authorities were interested in providing the information because they recognized that one of the DNA’s intentions was to reduce the costs of creating SIPs. Thirdly, the private companies were willing to help the DNA—even though this was not especially lucrative for them—partially because they wanted to maintain a good relationship, but also because they were interested in reducing the complexity of the SIP specification issued by the DNA (the DNA has legal authority to demand that the public authorities transform their data into SIPs).

We hope that it will be possible for the 4C-project to engender similar goodwill from the international stakeholders—public and/or private—that make up the project’s target audience.

Whether the information is to be pushed through the Curation Costs Exchange or pulled via interviews, the 4C-project has a strong conviction that the altruistic sharing of information—be it the geographical information of 400 years ago or the financial information today—cannot help but make the world a better and more interesting place, where costs are reduced and benefits increased proportionately.

Alex Thirifays, Danish National Archive

Alex Leads the 4C Project work package to assess current methods of estimating and comparing curation costs and to work out the most beneficial paths for future development of solutions and services.