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Web Design & Development, Multimedia Production, Strategy, App Development, Consultancy, Mobile Design & Development, User Experience

Arabian Gulf Digital Archive

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The Challenge

The Arabian Gulf Digital Archive (AGDA) is the result of a collaboration between two national archives, the UK and the UAE. It brings to life two centuries of the history of the Gulf region and delivers unprecedented access to primary source material for historical research.

Videos, photographs, and documents for study and research provide unique insights as the UAE prepares to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in 2021. Most of the material has never been published before. It is now accessible to anyone in the world with a web browser and an internet connection.

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The Results

This innovative online archive uses machine learning to deliver high-quality OCR (Optical Character Recognition), enabling researchers to search the text within the documents as well as via archival catalogue information. Optical character recognition and full text search now extends to handwritten and Arabic documents.

The OCR extends to downloadable, searchable PDFs enabling offline research and study.

AGDA uses modern web technology to deliver an app-like experience in the browser. The mobile presentation of the site uses a bespoke layout to provide desktop functionality on a small screen, in English and Arabic.

We designed an innovative viewer to support what archivists told us would be most helpful. Users can quickly and intuitively drill down from a full record, through topics, people and places, to page level.

User testing of early prototypes helped us refine the final viewer. Evidence since launch shows that users are engaging with the site for significantly longer than comparable sites elsewhere. This is particularly pleasing given that it is being accessed primarily on small screens and mobile devices which would normally make extended engagement harder.

Applying machine learning to an archival corpus at scale is not a common practice. Our work on AGDA proves that it is both possible and effective. We plan to speak about what we have learned at upcoming conferences.

AGDA’s viewer extends ideas from Universal Viewer, Mirador, and other leading IIIF systems. It should serve as a model for the next generation of online viewers.

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