The Digital Public Space and a Temple of Information

Jake Berger recently compared the developing Digital Public Space project to an ancient temple called the Metroon. He writes, “Around 500 BC in the Ancient Greek city-state of Athens the state archive was housed in a building called the Metroon, or ‘mother building’. This temple, dedicated to the goddess Demeter, was filled with papers relating to the day-to-day civic, legal, commercial and cultural life of its citizens. The Metroon was open to every citizen, and all were entitled both to read and to make copies of anything held there, giving them a level of access to the building blocks of their society that is unrivalled in the modern age despite our Freedom of Information laws and open data initiatives.”

Berger continues, “Today, there are simply too many Metroons, even if we had permission to enter all of them. The vast majority of current archives remain undigitised and available only by visiting a physical building. But the bigger challenge is that public archives are run by organisations and institutions that have collected, crafted and labelled their archives to meet their operational needs rather than general access. Gathering a comprehensive or authoritative set of materials from different archives becomes an Olympian task: there is simply so much stuff in so many places described and recorded in different ways using different systems.”

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