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‘The Case of the Curious Machine’ by Sarah Norris

The Curation Cost Exchange (CCEx) or the ‘Curious Machine’ as it has been nicknamed by the project team is causing us to scratch our heads a little now. In the early stages of the project, we were quite content that there were few details in the specification, because we wanted our stakeholders to shape and mould it to their needs.

‘What’s a curation costs exchange anyway?’ I hear you ask. Good question! In the 4C Glossary (, we define it as ‘an online, virtual community platform for the exchange of curation cost information. The CCEx will be used to gather cost information from partner organisations and stakeholders, submitted to the exchange using a Submission Form/Template. The form will aim to capture calculation processes, metrics, effort statistics, value calculations, from stakeholders in order to underpin future activity with empirical knowledge.’

However, the time has come to remove the safety blanket of this wonderfully ambiguous description, and make it happen.

Starting this month, the 4C project team will begin to collect the aforementioned needs of our stakeholders and deliver a specification and trial version of the Curious Machine by early next year. We know that the Curious Machine will not tell us exactly how much digital curation projects are going to cost. That is not its intention. The idea is that it will point us in the direction of the best tools, even providing the best tools, for us to work it out ourselves. But even so, what should it look like?

At our 4C Workshop at iPRES earlier this month, we presented our attendees with a few options. Should it be, we mused…

$11)      Recommender service, like Trip Advisor for Cost Models?

As users we would tell ‘Cost model Advisor’ what we are doing, the sort of data we have, use cases for the data etc., and the machine would feed back its recommendation ... ‘You need to think about headings XYZ, you should look at cost model ABC, you might want to read the following analysis of that tool, and once you’ve been there you can tell us about your experience and whether it was any good...’

$12)       ‘The Oracle,’ like a mortgage calculator for Cost Models?

The system would ask specific financial questions about processes and would allow users to upload basic costs data. It would then process these questions and give an answer in financial terms: e.g. the amount of money we will need to preserve a given amount of data for a given amount of time.

$13)      Business case generator, a bit like a KRDS Toolkit online?

The system would ask us about the sort of benefits that might accrue from preserving a given data set, then provide links to case studies of similar examples, generating a report on financial and non-financial benefits.

$14)      Cost model generator, like an online tutorial in cost modelling?

The system would present us with a reference model and interrogate us about our own cost centres and structures, enabling us to generate our own cost models.

$15)      Other?

These options are not self-contained and they also have to be based on the effort available and the practical expertise of the consortium.  We shared these ideas at iPres with a group of around 30 experts. Their reactions were thought-provoking, even if there was no clear winner amongst the options we presented.

Of ‘The Oracle’ one participant noted that ‘no cost model is supported enough to support the global oracle option in the first place!’ Another participant concurred that ‘for The Oracle to work, you would have to create a new cost model and that is the last thing you should be doing!’ Could the 4C cost concept model create an abstract of all the cost models that are already there, and just build on it though, rather than starting all over again?

Of the ‘Recommender Service’ the consensus was that ‘no cost model is good enough that the recommender service should truly recommend it.’ One slightly tongue-in-cheek suggestion was that we provide ‘a recommendation of the least worst model?’ Catchy! In defence of the Recommender Service, one participant pointed out that we would want to direct people to existing work on which they can build their work: ‘This is where and how you can start your own cost modelling exercise.’

In the midst of the discussion, a participant from the US reminded us of the important questions: ‘What to preserve? How to preserve it? How much to be preserved (scale)? Who does it, with what percentage of his/her time? Wouldn’t it be great if the tool guides you through these questions and helps you to build your own algorithm based on these questions and answers?!’

In contrast to the oracle option, this idea allows for the factoring-in of outsourcing. ‘This represents the supply side. The oracle focuses too much on the demand side.’ The discussion was concluded by one system architect who reminded us that the CCEx should also be an exchange, and ‘the cost model generator is technically *not* an exchange. It is different from the other three options.’

But what do you think the Curious Curation Costs Exchange Machine should be? Answers on a postcard please… (an email or comment on the blog would do).

Sarah Norris, Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC)

Sarah and the DPC are contributors to the 4C Project work package “Engagement,” developing The Project Communications Plan and other communications deliverables which will enable two way interaction between the project and its wide range of stakeholders.