Ocularium is a project to create a public database of "cultural context" around existing digital media objects, especially if access or use of those objects is currently restricted by legal or technical means. With Ocularium, anyone should be able to create tags, commentary, and structural metadata (e.g. versioning and provenance information) in the public commons for all media objects, public or private. In the future, if a cultural object is lost, then we all will still have a digital "handle" so we can remember what it was, and if the object is kept hidden by a controlling party, then the door to recovery is left open.
In the short term, the current state of affairs does seems to be working well enough. However, the long term picture is not certain. For example, the Zeitgeist of the early Web represented byGeocities, which was controlled by a single company, would have been lost if not for a heroic volunteer effort. If we are really in the middle of a Digital Dark Age, then it may take decades before we realize, and thus far too late to do anything to save our lost digital artifacts. While there are (obviously) many factors that affect the future, we believe that to save our digital culture, that the three pillars of digital archiving (preservation, accessibility, and comprehensibility) are strengthened by our digital culture living in a public commons rather than on a proprietary (usually commercial) platform.
In the first phase of Ocularium, we have decided to focus on tools to semantically tag Internet-hosted video and search for video based on those tags. This site is our first release of these tools, which currently allow anyone to create semantic tags (based on topics in Freebase) for videos hosted at YouTube and the Internet Archive.
There are already several effective projects and institutions archiving digital media for which they are allowed to make copies. However, if for example, Flickr or YouTube decides to permanently take down content, then there is a good chance that content may be permanently lost. Ocularium is an effort to try to reduce the impact of such a loss by making sure that all of the metadata (commentary, tags, annotation, links) attached to the lost media objects are already in the public commons.
Kurt Bollacker is a computer scientist and digital archivist. He helped build a number of digital archives, including the Internet Archive, Freebase, The Rosetta Project, CiteSeer, and Long Bets. See his recent ramblings on digital data preservation at American Scientist. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Rich Martin is a large scale steel sculptor and software engineer. He created the steel infrastructure of Opulent Temple and helped build the Gaia Online and G-online.com social networks. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.