Platform vs. Toolkit

When our project was funded by the NEH and we began the designing and building process in earnest, Seth Kaufman, Whirl-i-Gig’s founder and lead developer asked, “Are you looking to build a platform or a toolkit?”  

As Seth explained, a platform and toolkit would be quite different. A platform would be a digital resource hosted by a central group (e.g., us), that could expand/scale up to host other collections. A toolkit, on the other hand, would be a template for others to use and adapt. If adopted by multiple collections, either a platform or a toolkit could help standardize content management systems, metadata, and search vocabularies across those collections.  

I began picturing these two options in terms of trees. A “platform” would be one large tree that we planted and tended. As people wanted to add their content to it, it would sprout new branches to accommodate that content. Because all the content would be built on similar branches, it would be easy to search among them. The bigger the tree became, the more advantageous it would be for others to become part of it. Care of the growing tree would fall to us. A “toolkit,” by contrast, would consist of a group of identical seeds that we freely shared. Once planted by different users, the seeds would grow into many trees similar enough that it would still be possible to search within and between them. Using the “toolkit” seed would be advantageous in that it would place collections within the searchable, interconnected network. Care of each separate tree would fall to the planters.  

We thought about the many other dance archive and technology projects that we have seen disappear because of an eventual lack of funds to update, migrate, and host them, and we decided that building a “platform” would be unsustainable. While we have short-term funding from the NEH and many benefits from our university affiliations (as detailed in a previous post), neither would provide the kind of ongoing support needed to maintain a large digital resource underpinning multiple collections. We also did not want to take on the curatorial responsibility of administrating a “platform.” We decided to proceed according to the “toolkit” model. 

Admittedly, our “toolkit” goal is hopeful and aspirational. Gesel and I have not found any existing templates that can accurately present the priorities of her collection. So, why should we be able to create a template that will fit others? Our thinking is that even if our digital framework is not exactly what other dance collection holders need right out of the box, using it would only require a small amount of adaptation and reconfiguration, rather than starting from scratch and reinventing the wheel. On the simplest level, each stage of figuring out how to best make Gesel’s resources accessible online has taken more time, effort, and resources than we could have imagined. We would like our work to make the process easier for others, and we believe that sharing the digital framework as well as our experiences making it are the most effective ways to do so.