I provided a list of new resources added to the ShipIndex.org database, back in November. We’re always adding new content, so I’ll include a list of the new stuff
at the bottom of this post in an upcoming post. But I also need to address the fact that we have to remove some stuff, as well.
Monographs, or books, are great as resources, because once they’re added, we know they’re not going anywhere. Those books are in libraries and collections around the world. You may not be able to access them right away, but eventually, you’ll be able to do so. Online resources are great because you can link to them RIGHT NOW. Boom, click, done. Except, when that doesn’t work.
Online resources are great for convenience, but not for reliability. They change and disappear all the time. For some reason, website publishers still don’t realize that if they’re going to change their URLs, they’re going to break access for repeat users. They can include redirects, but rarely do. Too often, website publishers switch from a straightforward linking and searching structure to some fancy search tool that removes prior direct links, and makes new direct links impossible. Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, defined five stars for Open Data. One of those is making sure that people can point to your stuff. That is, make sure they can link to it easily. If you are required to do a search to get data, rather than also having a direct link that would get a person to your content, then you’re doing it wrong.
As one example, there’s a brand new “Royal Navy Loss List searchable database” at https://thisismast.org/research/royal-navy-loss-list-search.html. It’s nice that this data is here, and you can do a search for, say, “Indefatigable”, and find a record. But you cannot provide a direct link to the “Indefatigable” results, without going through that search page, which is really annoying, at least for those who care about open data.
Unfortunately, in this case, the MAST Loss List database only meets one of Sir Tim’s five stars toward Open Data. They could — and should — do much better.
But even worse is the total disappearance of online resources. Our data team recently reviewed all online resources in the database, and found quite a few which have disappeared, or are currently offline. We discovered a lot of problems that we’ll need to address. In some cases, the fix is pretty easy because there’s an obvious change to the URLs in the database. This was the case for the Bremen Passenger Lists; we fixed them, and they’re accessible again.
For others, though, we see bigger problems. Take the UK’s “National Small Boat Register”, for instance, which was hosted by the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall. At https://nmmc.co.uk/explore/databases/, you can see that the museum reports in an undated note, “The NSBR is currently offline whilst we create a new and improved website. We will have it up and running again as soon as possible. Please check back for further updates.” WHAT???
I’m all for thoughtful and improved websites, but why take down the old one when you’re building the new one??? Why not just keep it up until the new one is live and working?? The old one worked, didn’t it?? (It obviously did, at one point, when we added it to the database.)
There’s nothing to do but delete the National Small Boat Register contents from the ShipIndex database, and hope we’ll discover the replacement database when — if — it is ever put back online.
The Blue World Web Museum recently disappeared, as did other smaller resources. If you manage a vessel database that you can no longer keep online, please, please, please, contact me at comments (at) shipindex (dot) org, and give me a chance to see if we can save that resource for you.
I think I’ll start a separate blog post that lists the online databases that have disappeared; if you know of new sites for any of these, or contacts for folks who might be willing to offload that work to ShipIndex.org, please do let me know.
This got quite long, so I’ll create a separate post that lists the recently-added new content, in a day or three. (After making the post about lost databases, I suppose.)