The BUDDIE Goes Multimedia
The winner of this year's Best Unknown Database Award is finally revealed
by Mick O'Leary
In recent years, we've had to deal with monetary inflation and grade inflation, but these are minor annoyances compared to the pernicious wave of awards inflation. When once we had a few awards for the major media, we're now deluged by a seemingly endless spate of awards ceremonies. Not that this new wave isn't entertaining, with this season's shows featuring food fights, riots, pornographic-level nudity, and a few things that can't be mentioned in a family publication like Information Today. (You do make your children read IT, don't you?)
Nevertheless, our affections and loyalty cling to the traditional awards, such as Database Review's BUDDIE. The BUDDIE is given to the Best Unknown Database, and was first awarded in 1989. The BUDDIE, as you'll surely recall, has the following three criteria:
1. Significant Content-The database's content is of interest or importance to a large portion of the information-using public.
2. Excellent Design-The database is superbly designed and meticulously maintained.
3. Anonymity-The database is unknown, or at least is far less prominent and recognized than its quality merits.
The Envelope, Please
This year's winner is ... (Do not skip ahead! The BUDDIE is creating a "virtual" tension-filled awards ceremony in the magazine, which requires that you cooperate by not reading ahead.) This year's winner is particularly appropriate for this media-drenched age. It has recently expanded its content to make it a remarkable multimedia research experience. The envelope, please. The winner of the 2001 BUDDIE is the AccuNet/AP Multimedia Archive!
The AccuNet/AP Multimedia Archive is a carefully selected collection of photographs from the vast holdings of the Associated Press (AP). It's as wide-ranging as AP news itself, and is literally up-to-the-minute. It has a powerful interface that includes several options specifically designed for searching photos. The archive recently embarked on a major database-building project for audio content, transforming itself into a genuine multimedia resource.
The World in Pictures
The largest database in the archive contains photographs from the enormous AP collection, chosen to represent the entire range of AP's reporting: worldwide news, current events, politics, business, sports, entertainment, and human interest. There are over 700,000 photos. The majority are from 1995 to the present; the earliest is from 1840, at the inception of photography itself. Older photos are being scanned and added to backfill earlier periods.
The database is continuously updated with several hundred new photos submitted daily by AP's worldwide network of photographers. They are available within minutes after being taken. All photos are kept in the database for 1 year, after which the current set is weeded to eliminate multiple shots of the same scene and items of transient interest. About 40 percent are included in the permanent archive. This is a helpful procedure that provides complete coverage of recent newsworthy events while keeping the archive free of obsolete clutter.
New Archive Media
The database was originally called the AP Photo Archive, but "Photo" has been replaced by "Multimedia" to represent the archive's expansion into other media. The newest is audio, which holds the promise of becoming as comprehensive and useful as the photo collection. The audio database was introduced last month with several thousand short sound clips from newsworthy speeches, press conferences, interviews, etc. Clips are now only available from the present year, but the database will ultimately reach 500,000 items, dating back to the famous radio broadcast of the Hindenburg disaster in 1937.
The archive also contains a small set of graphic images created by AP to enrich and illustrate news stories. These include maps, charts, tables, and figures to represent economic, business, demographic, and geographic news. The image collection is much smaller than the photo archive, with approximately 15,000 items from the past 5 years.
Searching for Pictures
Searching a database of pictures presents distinct challenges separate from those of searching text. In addition to retrieving pictures that represent a particular subject, it's useful to identify characteristics inherent in the photograph itself. The archive has capably addressed both search needs with thorough indexing and a picture-oriented search interface.
Each picture is accompanied by a 50-to-75-word caption that fully describes the person or event in its surrounding context. Each is also indexed by location, photographer, date taken, date submitted, and subject keywords. A small subset of photos receives additional picture-oriented indexing to represent the "look and feel" of the photograph itself, including picture type (aerial, portrait, etc.); hue (pictures dominated by a single color); and context, which refers to emotional sensations like excitement, fear, pride, etc.
The archive's search interface uses a formatted screen with pull-down menus to create searches, and also supports Boolean and proximity operators, truncation, and nesting. This allows both simple look-ups and more sophisticated command queries. The interface's biggest shortcoming is that it provides no intuitive way to search on the photo-only aspects (like hue and context); there are no pull-down menus, checkboxes, or referrals to an advanced-level search screen. Unless you read all the way to the bottom of the help page, you would never discover these valuable search capabilities.
Search results can be ranked by date or relevance (based on caption words), and can be displayed with thumbnails or in a faster-loading, text-only title list. Individual photos can be downloaded or set aside for review in a clipboard-type application known as "lightbox" (after the photo-viewing tool). Photos placed in the lightbox are kept indefinitely, pending the decision to download. Lightboxes are personalized through a connection to an individual account that each new user creates at first login. Photos can be downloaded as a complete unit; in JPEG format with the text caption imbedded; or in two parts, with a JPEG file for the photo and a text file for the caption.
Educating with Pictures
Unfortunately for you corporate folks, the archive is available only to school (K-12), academic, and public libraries. The archive is produced by the educational division of AP, and it defines its mission accordingly. The site has educational-support resources, including a Teachers Guide. Individuals can use the archive through their public library, if, of course, it happens to be a subscriber. People who want to use archive content for commercial purposes can negotiate for permissions directly with AP.
Pricing is a flat-rate subscription, based on the type and size of the institution, and the number of concurrent users. The table below shows the lowest pricing tier (upper tiers have relatively modest increments).
If you're in any of the above groups, sign on to the archive for a free demo. If you haven't done so-and even if you've tested the archive before-make sure you sample the new audio database. If you're not a librarian, call your affiliated library and ask it to sign on, so that you both can test-drive the service. You'll find a useful and fascinating database that fully deserves BUDDIE recognition.