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GrenPen

Lives of the First World War after the freeze

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GrenPen

I am a bit late in commenting - as ever - but I see there's a bit of a push to encourage more items to be added to Lives of the First World War prior to it being "frozen" in March 2019. 

I came across this on a different thread, and I have found the same text reproduced recently.

https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/259471-lives-of-the-first-world-war-subscription-site-closing/

 

On 23/03/2018 at 12:27, charlie962 said:

I have just received this notification.

     5ab4f238c2a8a_livesoftheFirstWorldWarnoticeofclosure.JPG.dae5294dc57b0ee2babf55ef26c604a8.JPG

 

Looks like what was basically a very good idea but spoilt by lack of resorces and 'ownership' is coming to an end. Does anyone know more ?

 

Charlie

 

Two recent postings in July 2018

The final (financial) year for LOTFWW:

http://www.1914.org/news/lives-of-the-first-world-war-the-final-year/

 

Family tree site
https://www.family-tree.co.uk/news-and-views/news/do-you-have-a-missing-piece-of-history-from-imperial-war-museums-8

IWM Annual report published online on 18 July 2018

https://www.iwm.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/2018-07/Annual Report and Accounts 2017-2018.pdf

Quote

We are now in the final year of the project. Lives of the First World War will remain live and active until 18 March 2019, when IWM will become the custodian of the millions of incredible public contributions that have been made over the past 5 years. Contributions to the project will not be accepted after this date, to allow us to create a permanent digital memorial which will always remain free and accessible online - this will continue to help to shape our understanding of the First World War now and in the future.

 

 

Here's a post on the subject of Lives of the First World War from last year, which makes for an interesting read
https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/251687-iwm-lives-of-the-first-world-war/


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GrenPen

I did sign up for this project as a beta tester. The site was clunky, and an early sign of the lack of care or support from FMP revealed itself when the WO 363 records appeared as the 1790 US Census. The premise that the data would be free to access for research was an incentive to key data in, notwithstanding the unwieldy process for entering facts.

From a commercial perspective: I got the impression that anyone hell-bent on documenting family members would be able to do it within the initial trial period, so subscribing would not be a desired course of action for many users. The poor quality of the loaded "seeding" data has been a curse on this project. I do get the impression that IWM wanted to go to bed with FMP on this. Wanting the project to go ahead at any cost would indicate that there was no project management going on, and if an SLA exists, not a great deal of "service" would be provided. ("Have you turned your computer off and on" and "Have you cleared your cookies" has been the bog standard answer to any failure.) The consequential ropy coverage has been something to deter a potential user, if their family member wasn't appearing on the database. 

In terms of this being a commercially viable, and profitable, project I think the wheels fell off a long time ago.

Having a professional background in data management, the "living" LOTFWW has not been my motivator, but the "frozen" LOTFWW when some of this buried treasure can be unearthed through more extensive database searches. There will be some excellent data on RAF Silver War Badges and POWs that will be unprecedented - admittedly the big precondition is that enough entries have been added to make this a reality. 

Now, how to access that data from March 2019 onwards?

In a previous job, when the main platform and its historic data was sunset, the application itself was decommissioned. The data tables remained in place, and an "emulator" was in place which brought back a given transaction. In a similar manner, I can imagine something similar being put in place.

The sexier concept, is to have the means to perform some complex searches which the current setup does not allow. "How many POWs captured in 1914 of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers are in the database?" "How many men of the 10th Battalion West Yorkshires who died at the Somme are in the database?" "Just how many men from Barnsley died in the First World War, and are in the database?".

Up to now, data searches tend to involve going into FMP or Ancestry, and the user is effectively interrogating one flat file data table. Lives of the First World War is made up of several data tables. Hopefully, they can do what The National Archives has done, publish their API, and allow people to interrogate data in that manner.

Otherwise, I foresee a requirement for something equivalent to Geoff Sullivan's Search Engine to come into existence.

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ForeignGong

I started to enter some foreign awards and have had a lot of trouble with the uncommon awards. Croix de Guerre and Medaille Militaire are accepted but others I've had to ask the moderators to fix the names. Still no joy.

I've also had problems with MBE, their list of British awards include MOBE for "Medal of the Order of British Empire" and OBE for :Order of British Empire" but NO MBE.

I have emailed several times explaining the difference and how it has to go to work, had replies that they will look into it, but with no result. I think the problem is that the people running the site have no idea about military history and what goes with that.

Pity, as it could be a great benefit for the future.

 

Just my take on it.

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voltaire60
1 hour ago, GrenPen said:

I did sign up for this project as a beta tester. The site was clunky, and an early sign of the lack of care or support from FMP revealed itself when the WO 363 records appeared as the 1790 US Census. The premise that the data would be free to access for research was an incentive to key data in, notwithstanding the unwieldy process for entering facts.

From a commercial perspective: I got the impression that anyone hell-bent on documenting family members would be able to do it within the initial trial period, so subscribing would not be a desired course of action for many users. The poor quality of the loaded "seeding" data has been a curse on this project. I do get the impression that IWM wanted to go to bed with FMP on this. Wanting the project to go ahead at any cost would indicate that there was no project management going on, and if an SLA exists, not a great deal of "service" would be provided. ("Have you turned your computer off and on" and "Have you cleared your cookies" has been the bog standard answer to any failure.) The consequential ropy coverage has been something to deter a potential user, if their family member wasn't appearing on the database. 

In terms of this being a commercially viable, and profitable, project I think the wheels fell off a long time ago.

Having a professional background in data management, the "living" LOTFWW has not been my motivator, but the "frozen" LOTFWW when some of this buried treasure can be unearthed through more extensive database searches. There will be some excellent data on RAF Silver War Badges and POWs that will be unprecedented - admittedly the big precondition is that enough entries have been added to make this a reality. 

Now, how to access that data from March 2019 onwards?

In a previous job, when the main platform and its historic data was sunset, the application itself was decommissioned. The data tables remained in place, and an "emulator" was in place which brought back a given transaction. In a similar manner, I can imagine something similar being put in place.

The sexier concept, is to have the means to perform some complex searches which the current setup does not allow. "How many POWs captured in 1914 of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers are in the database?" "How many men of the 10th Battalion West Yorkshires who died at the Somme are in the database?" "Just how many men from Barnsley died in the First World War, and are in the database?".

Up to now, data searches tend to involve going into FMP or Ancestry, and the user is effectively interrogating one flat file data table. Lives of the First World War is made up of several data tables. Hopefully, they can do what The National Archives has done, publish their API, and allow people to interrogate data in that manner.

Otherwise, I foresee a requirement for something equivalent to Geoff Sullivan's Search Engine to come into existence.

 

      A very informative post even for a techno-moron like myself (I can't understand "Star Trek").   I think it may be worth keeping a watching eye on CWGC  as well.   The base file for Lives is the CWGC listing and I suspect there may be some tie-in with CWGC on this- perhaps as an "add-on" or  link.

It seems a pity-Lives bit off more than it could chew but despite it's clunkiness and - I find- very poor layout, it would be a natural home for the slow accretion of all the good work (Much of which has popped up on this Forum) which could have been transferred or consolidated on Lives across the next few years as all sorts of other little and local databases give up the ghost. 

      As the centennial years end, I hope more attention will be given to how to preserve, maintain and make accessible all the good work done on the literally thousands of small projects that have been going.  It seems a shame but in our "Bread and Circuses" system of public culture, I suspect more public monies will be spent (as they have in recent years) on media-friendly  inanities than on long-term sense.  

 

    And just to add a note:  At present time, the only home for vanishing small databases appears to be FMP which has all sorts of odds-and-sods. It seems a shame that voluntary and -perhaps- grant aided projects may have their only continuation behind a pay-wall. But if that is the only choice between the information remaining "live" and the disappearance of good work, then so be it.

Edited by voltaire60

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chaz
1 hour ago, ForeignGong said:

I started to enter some foreign awards and have had a lot of trouble with the uncommon awards. Croix de Guerre and Medaille Militaire are accepted but others I've had to ask the moderators to fix the names. Still no joy.

I've also had problems with MBE, their list of British awards include MOBE for "Medal of the Order of British Empire" and OBE for :Order of British Empire" but NO MBE.

I have emailed several times explaining the difference and how it has to go to work, had replies that they will look into it, but with no result. I think the problem is that the people running the site have no idea about military history and what goes with that.

Pity, as it could be a great benefit for the future.

 

Just my take on it.

this was my comment on another topic, the boffins that design web sites have cost as their main governing priority. if a monkey could write a web page it would be employed for peanuts over any one of our knowledgeable members just covering their costs. As mentioned before, Ancestry throws up many errors even suggesting details miles away from your needs. others have said 'less is more' gets results. you put more information you know in and Ancestry then tells you to put in less!! so instead of getting the one person, you end up with 7,000+ to wade through.

the other thing is people putting the wrong information in, on ORBATS on FWR, I was chasing one of my great uncles and it ended up taking my information as an addition. the problem was As we often find, you go down one track and end up straying off down another.

as for LOTFWW why do you have to look for F(7), Fred(2) or Frederick(5)? all have their own results and none cross reference the others so in total 14 possibilities.

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GrenPen

There's a few interesting points that got raised here, in particular to data quality

 

I've also had problems with MBE, their list of British awards include MOBE for "Medal of the Order of British Empire" and OBE for :Order of British Empire" but NO MBE.

I have emailed several times explaining the difference and how it has to go to work, had replies that they will look into it, but with no result. I think the problem is that the people running the site have no idea about military history and what goes with that.

 

I found it peculiar they have a dozen variations on DCM, yet the Long Service and Conduct Medal is nowhere to be seen on their awards list. I agree that the people who set up the site have no idea, and did not do their homework.

 

I concur with Chaz's comment about putting the wrong info in, and as above, no checking being done before info gets put in. There are in excess of 48,000 RNVR men who were seeded from the RN Depot (Reserves) Crystal Palace card index in ADM 339. All of these have been recorded as being in the Royal Naval Division which is a posting, and not a branch of the RN. On that premise, the 1500 or so RNVR at Jutland must have been transported via Dr Who and the Tardis (or the Star Ship Enterprise's transporter beam) from the trenches near Poelkapelle to the Danish coast.(At least 10,000 RNVR men never served in the Royal Naval Division but were employed on Sea Service.)

The "British Army soldiers" were seeded from TNA's medal index cards, and not every card relates to a British soldier. There are at least 50,000 cards with number errors. With the benefit of hindsight, these MICs should have been cross-referenced to the Naval & Military Press medal rolls, to allow for the elimination of men not on the campaign medal/SWB rolls. ("Don't worry about data quality, we will build, and an army of the general public and the tooth fairy will resolve all of this through crowdsourcing." Guess what, it hasn't happened.)

With regard to the cards themselves, 4,000,000 are for campaign medals and/or SWBs. They are in the file range WO 372/1 to WO 372/22. There are some cards exclusively for the Indian Army, in the file range WO 372/26 to WO 372/29, and are in excess of 20,000. There are an additional 500,000 or so cards which cover gallantry awards.

 

It was recently stated on the side of a bus, and I believe it, that 1.4 million men served in the Indian Army. From day 1 of the launch of LOTFWW, the message was that the Great War was "the white man's burden", as no Indian or South Africans were labelled as such in the database. This gets controversial, as this anomaly is "endorsed" by the IWM, and flies in the face of the IWM charter: - chiefly the vision for the IWM was that it would be so complete that every individual, man or woman, soldier, sailor, airman and civilian from across Britain and the Commonwealth would find a record of their contribution.

The 20,000 or so should have been marked as Indian Army, but this was overlooked. This could have been a quick and easy win. (I do get the impression that an important GWF member who was involved at the start has been able to make a slight difference to the format of the Indians, but management did nothing to pick up on this, and nothing can be done until the site is frozen, should a person wish to trawl for Indian Army.) Similarly, in order to fudge the numbers, a lot of those gallantry cards have resulted in half a million duplicates, and it just adds to the impression that the project was neglected and unloved.  

 

(Somewhat ironically, the 700 or so men who do appear in the database as RNVR are from the MIC feed and classed as British Army, so this "tells" me that IWM think the RNVR was a regiment in the British Army.)

 

One potentially positive element was a merger in 2014 between some CWGC data and LOTFWW. If you knew that 12345 Private John Smith of the 3rd Foot and Mouth was in the BEF, died at Langemarck and was recorded as such on both the MIC and CWGC, a link was affected. If you have a man named 56789 Thomas Atkins on his MIC, but is T Atkins on the CWGC, the link would have failed, and no remedial action was done by FMP to resolve breakages. After this date the "other" datasets were seeded. Yet again, the tooth fairy and the general public is expected to give up time to make these linkages to dead Australians, Canadians, Sailors, Airmen etc.

I have to say that I am somewhat perplexed by the "Lives lite" sites which have popped up in the past few years from CWGC, RBL and AWM to name but a few. It beggars the question as to what will happen to those sites when the centenary is over. 

Fortunately, a lot of commemorative websites, containing research on a local war memorial or similar, have signed up to be on the British Library's preservation list, so that if/when the plug is pulled, there are snapshots of the data. I have asked for my website to be added to the list. I have also set up the website in a primitive manner, so that the data can be accessed via Excel or similar, and is not behind a paywall.

 

https://beta.webarchive.org.uk/en/ukwa/collection/114?page=1

 

 

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Keith_history_buff

Lives of the First World War is no more. It cannot be updated. The domain has temporarily disappeared.

It will be coming back in June 2019, albeit known as the Permanent Digital Memorial (PDM). If you search "PDM", prior posts on this subject will appear.

The digital media consultancy Surface Impression are building the new platform

https://surfaceimpression.digital/

 

The data is being migrated from the old platform to a new one, so a certain amount of data cleaning needs to be done, in addition to the creation of the new data archictecture.
The Sheffield-based firm Knowledge Integration is undertaking this activity. 

https://www.k-int.com/

 

 

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Keith_history_buff
On 11/02/2019 at 09:45, Keith_history_buff said:

the long and the short of it is this:
 

  1. IWM is migrating the data from the LOTFWW site to a new PDM website, which will go live in June 2018. It appears that the new website will have a similar look and feel. Whilst the tender document seems to suggest that any user can download it (all 20 gigabytes??), it is hoped that the non-graphical element of search results and communities can be downloaded, but this will need to be confirmed by IWM nearer the time. It does appear that the abysmal search facilities will be improved, but again, no formal communication of how this is to be improved is forthcoming.
  2. The data table structure is being enhanced. I had hoped for there to be an API in place, so that "Geoff's Search Engine" type searches can be performed. (You can get search results based upon regiment, service number and name - the other fields cannot be interrogated). My interpretation is that this could be done in future if more funding were made available, but I do not think this will be in place in June 2019.

The concern that I have is this - FMP & IWM got it into their heads in 2014 that all they had to do was to create a website, do nothing further and millions of people would subscribe. This would be done without consulting the prospective user base. I do not see evidence of IWM having actively engaged stakeholders to seek their opinions. In terms of user requirements, use cases to describe the desired functionality (like what I wrote in blue font in the fifth post in this thread) and the like, the question I find myself asking is "What are the developers using as a base line to build the new system if there are no user requirements?" It's too reminiscent of LOTFWW in 2014 which also followed a "build and they will come" approach. 

Whilst the spectre of funding - that is to say a lack of adequate resourcing - has, in my personal opinion, always hindered the potential of this project, there should still be some user engagement, so that a wide range of requirements can be identified, and based upon the budget, it could be determined as to which can be done, and which fall out of scope owing to budgetary constraints.

The biggest surprise with the response that I got was the radio silence with regard to IWM entering an affiliate marketing arrangement with FMP, in the same manner as long long trail. If you were to look at someone interesting, and would want to see more about said person from their service record, it would make sense to know that their record is available via FMP. If the interested party were to purchase credits or a subscription, that person learns more, FMP gets a new customer, and IWM gets a finder's fee, which can be used to offset the costs of the database. This seems to me to be a win-win scenario, unless there is some sort of confidential side letter, as part of the IWM-FMP agreement whereby IWM waives any finders fees.

 

This was taken from a different thread, and summarises some information that was prised out of the IWM by using a FoI request. I don't anticipate hearing anything else about this until the new platform goes live at the end of June. That other thread goes into way more detail than what is stated here.

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Keith_history_buff

One expression that rings true with me is that “you have to sometimes lose a battle in order to win a war.” I think that ring true with this current development leading on from LOTFWW, for reasons that I will explain.
 

Let's take the metaphor of putting a man/woman on the moon, and launching a space programme. One of the things that would be needed would be food for the astronauts. It would be a good idea to speak to the likes of Unilever, and to draw on their decades of experience in the food business. At a stretch, you could ask them to build the rocket, too. Baked beans in a metal cylinder, people in a metal cylinder, surely it's not that much of a difference, is it? Likewise, if you can keep tinned tomatoes in an airtight environment, then it can't be that much of a stretch to maintain an airtight environment for astronauts? Is it realistic for the likes of Unilever to cover all three bases?
 

To my mind, this is where LOTFWW went wrong. FMP has experience of providing access to genealogical data in static data tables. It had no experience in running websites, providing multiple functions, and the ability to handy rapidly changing dimensions in a dynamic database. It is not a systems integrator, and has no experience of on-boarding datasets, with a view to aggregating data, and making record merges where needed.
 

For those of us in the UK, we've all seen the advert “Carlsberg doesn't do holidays, but if we did...” 
 

It is a funny way of getting across the message that Carlberg is a very good product. 
 

The reality is this though – their area of competence and expertise is in brewing. It has taken thousands of man-hours of the past experience of their employees to keep and to maintain this level of proficiency. If Carlsberg had built the LOTFWW website in 2014, I do not think it would be very good.
 

There is widespread criticism of the LOTFWW being clunky. I think that the website was a best endeavour, but given that this is not an area where FMP has its core competencies, then you cannot expect it to be a success. Could FMP have turned this into a new business, or is it the case that it had this one contract only, and that whilst it was happy to have agreed to provide historic data, the one catch with the contract was the associated need to build a website and an associated dynamic database?
 

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Keith_history_buff

To go back to the space programme allegory above, it seems fair to say
“Houston, we have a problem”. The problem is that the activities have not been properly compartmentalised, and FMP – like Unilever in the fictional example – is trying to do everything, even the areas where they do not have the requisite expertise.
 

I would like to think that lessons have been learned, or to go back to my opening lines, in losing the initial battle, the overall outcome of the war can be won.

In terms of a replacement website, IWM have tendered for a contractor with experience of building websites for museums, and reproducing user-generated content.
 

Similarly, in terms of the data integrator, IWM has a contractor with experience in structuring data, content management, and industry-specific experience on similar projects that it has successfully executed.
 

Looking at their websites (the links are 3 posts prior to this), I am impressed with what they do. If only we could turn the clock back, to have made more resources available and could have given them the responsibility to do this from day one! I also think that the contract is prestigious, so in this regard, they will ensure they go about their duties in a manner to paint themselves and IWM in a positive a manner. If they were to mess up, it could destroy their reputation, and this would pose a threat to their ongoing existence as a small business.
 

It is in everybody's interests for this to be a success, and I have a sense of optimism that is higher than before in relation to this project. 
 

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