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Fedora - not that one - provides platform for interoperability

By Mayank Sharma on October 18, 2007 (7:00:00 PM)

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There's a wealth of information stored in online collaborative services like YouTube, Flickr, and Wikipedia, but are these Web 2.0 services built to facilitate sharing their content across their individual boundaries? A group of academicians at Cornell University argue that this new wave of applications should be constructed with interoperability in mind. The result of their research, funded by DARPA and NSF, is Fedora, the Flexible Extensible Digital Object Repository Architecture. The project was recently awarded a $4.9M grant by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to expand the functionality of its software platform.

As per the proposal document, "the overall outcome for the Fedora Commons proposal is to enable the organizational and technical frameworks necessary for sustainable open source software to support revolutionary change in how scientists, scholars, and educators produce and share their intellectual outputs, and ensure the integrity and longevity of information."

If this is the first time you're hearing of this Fedora software, it's probably because of its specialized nature. Fedora is used by various educational and cultural institutions around the world, including the Topaz/PLoS ONE open access journal system, the National Science Digital Library (NSDL), Max Planck Society's e-scholarship system, the Chicago Historical Society's multimedia encyclopedia, the Australian national institutional repository initiative (ARROW), Oxford University's digital archive, and the Perseus humanities computing project. The project has also conducted six Fedora User Conferences over the past two years in the US, Europe, and Australia.

So what exactly is a digital repository?

According to the project's proposal to the foundation, the goal of the project was to devise new information architectures to facilitate interoperable access and management of increasingly complex and heterogeneous digital collections. Without referring to specific projects, the same document says that with each new project devising its own idiosyncratic solution for dealing with digital material, the possible future was an unmanageable set of stovepipe systems that would inhibit interconnection of information and endanger the long-term welfare of digital resources. Thus, a primary goal of the initial Fedora architecture was to design a uniform "digital object" model that could represent the full variety of digital content, and a generalized repository model for consistent access to and management of content.

"I would hesitate to call Fedora a 'digital library solution' per se," says Carl Lagoze, senior research associate at Cornell's Computing and Information Science department and a member of the Fedora-Commons board that develops Fedora. "More appropriately, I would call it a service-oriented architecture that combines content management, semantic knowledge management, and Web services integration. It is used as a foundation for digital library applications, but also for other Web 2.0 applications."

As per Peter Murray, assistant director of new service development at OhioLINK, library management systems like Koha and Evergreen focus on physical objects -- the purchase, cataloging, discovery, and loaning of books, DVDs, and magazines. To understand where Fedora comes into the picture, Murray says that one has to understand that the front end interface of specialized systems like YouTube and Flickr is closely bundled with the back end content repository. One cannot store pictures in YouTube and videos in Flickr. "In the academic world, this is similar to the DSpace Institutional Repository software," Murray says.

"Fedora is a pure content repository service, with the key notion here that it is a service to other applications, not necessarily end users. Fedora will store and retrieve just about any kind of digital object. It relieves application developers from the hassles of managing digital objects. Fedora, in fact, could be an underlying component of systems as diverse as a image digital repository, a video digital repository, a wiki, a blog, or a journal delivery system."

No real alternatives

If you believe Murray, Fedora is unique in its approach to being a content repository. He argues that other content repository systems don't take the same approach to the long-term storage and preservation of digital data for a wide variety of use cases. "Fedora's flexibility means that it can handle just about any kind of digital data. Its extensibility comes from its ability to bring new behaviors to that digital data -- make an image object return a thumbnail of itself, for instance. And its architecture is such that it can be used in standalone situations or as a component of a service-oriented architecture."

Murray says that while DSpace, another open source content repository project, is as flexible as Fedora in dealing with different forms of digital content, it lacks built-in extensibility. "Apache Jackrabbit is similar to Fedora," Murray says, "but as a Java library it is limited somewhat to that programming language."

Finally, Lagoze points to some of Fedora's unique features, starting with the REST and SOAP APIs that allows developers to control Fedora repositories using any programming language. Fedora can also associate Web service applications with data objects for dynamic dissemination of content. It has full version control management over all aspects of the data model, and does base-level storage in a simple XML format called FOXML.

Using the grant

Lagoze thinks the foundation's grant gives the project the legs it needs to take Fedora beyond the current open source distribution in a number of ways. It'll help the project develop its nascent community. Lagoze also mentions expanding Fedora's functionality in two key areas. "One is tighter integration and scaling of semantic technologies, which is essential to build Web 2.0 applications that mash up lots of varied distributed content. The other is enterprise-level scaling and reliability and standardization."

"Our goal," Lagoze says, "is really to combine these two areas so we can all move beyond applications-level ad hoc social network collaborative environments to ones that follow a more open standards approach to promote sustainability of the information contained and its cross-application portability. Our belief is that more domains, such as scholarship, will follow the blog/wiki social application paradigm, and we want systems that are not one-offs, but ones that pay intention to the integrity demands of these domains."

Murray believes that the grant will assist Fedora in finding new developers and users. Despite getting its start in academics, he thinks the project has many uses beyond universities, libraries, and research centers.

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on Fedora - not that one - provides platform for interoperability

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standard document

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.122.165.195] on October 18, 2007 10:28 PM
I would like to see an xml document somthing like this chat box that allows one to drag and drop any content. Besides the title bar there would be a blank tool bar that was and indirect refrence list that points to a library of functional utilities that in practice are draged and droped from the library to the tool bar. This is now a generic interface separating mechenism from policy. Regardless of content, it remains the job of a specific library program to ,(if stove pipe), interperate, transform, distribute, extract, process, compile demonstably apply some functional interpretation of the object. This has the following advantages. Data may be usfull in a variety of disimalar programs yet, can be used in one while other glue is being developed. A primary feature would be links and filters that can attach directly to the page. These linked filters would come from a lincense catagory in a library of functions. Once a licence filter was attached to a document, it would act like an enzyme allowing it to be linked only to compatable forms. Thus, students or practitioners of the art can apply a filter that may identify a remuneration protocall either direct ( fixed fee for access- like paying for a reasearch document that may cost any were from fractional cents per copy to thousands of dollars ) as well a link to a function that generates and distributes money from advertisments or listed free or is accessable on some other linked condition.

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education

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.122.165.195] on October 18, 2007 10:53 PM
I know a teacher that has proprietary software made available to aid their teaching efforts. Yet, like many job realated activities, unless reqired, is enough like work to become deprioritized and hopfully posponed indefinately. I see this as an opportunity comprable to making linux distrobutions more graphicaly appealing. There should be a "no brainer" catagory. Inuitive functionality that allmost anyone can use. I'm also an advocate of letting people figure stuff out for them selves so by the time they know what there doing maybe they have also developed a sense of responsibility for what they are doing. However, a novice that runs into to many obstacals initially may be suseptable to developing a degree of learned helplessness not to mention frustration or intimidation. Turning on a computer and brousing the web should be a "no brainer" as well running a live cd or dvd. I would like to see microphone use, picture from camera, email, and send picture or vidio clip or sound clip fall into this catagory as well, saving to media wether burning a dvd/cd or any other storage device. These are timely concidering the Eee PC that is suposed to be anybodies, (old and young alike), first computer. It therefor needs basic features and functionality that are the essence of simplicity as with any feature that is expected to draw by appeal or to be applied by a novice. The opportunity that I mentioned at the begining of this article would be a chat box like this one that I will call sets. Set a is a file. It could be a lesson or a students name appended with ancelary info like test scores in different subjects. One then creats a set for student groups by creating or opening yet another set and draging names or linking a filter that selects students based upon test scores to the new group set. Now this group set can use a link to a filter that has assigments for that group. ( creat set "G" drag assignments to that set "G" and now for ever after group "G" students get those assignments. Students have a chat page or down load assignments as web interactive web pages that are auto graded if highly formated and that post the grade as well. They can also be linked to reasorses such as study material and practice tests and hw assignments.(no time to proof read thanks)

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Re: education

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 161.40.14.144] on October 19, 2007 04:03 PM
Spellcheck?

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Fedora - not that one - provides platform for interoperability

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Fedora - not that one - provides platform for interoperability

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.93.115.10] on January 07, 2008 08:51 PM
Good article! Thanks!
[Modified by: author on January 07, 2008 08:52 PM]

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