Amicitia PWA


team: Angela Verschelling, Brigit Lichtenegger, Conny Herben, Enric Gili, Johan Oomen, Lenno Verhoog and Remco Visser

Screenshot of the Amicitia object space
The Amicitia Object Space

Amicitia was a European cultural heritage project. It involved digitizing the video and an intranet application that would enable European broadcasters to peak in eachothers archives. But I had nothing to do with that. I worked on work package 8, a.k.a. the Amicitia Public Web Access site.

In Amicitia PWA the users can do a multilingual search in the news archives of the broadcasters. The search results are displayed visually in the object space, and users can play the video and read the metadata. Next to this users can create collections of the videos (or portions of a video) and store them to the webserver. Furthermore users could edit new movies by cutting and ordering clips in a storyline.

This time I got initiated in the miracles of XML, XSLT, XPath and the XML database eXist. I also got to play with streaming video and SMIL. Because of a lack of time and human resources I decided to do make the web client with Macromedia Director, so I learned some lingo as well!

The ideas of the User Collection and Story Lines come from the DataCloud project. For the Amicitia project it might have been enough to have the multilingual search, metadata lookup and, ofcourse, playing a video. We wanted to give the user some more tools though. Tools that would enable users to participate and collaborate. The broadcaster were worried about copyrights, so we proposed a solution that would use streaming video. (at the time there wasn't any 'save stream to disk' button). ANne came up with the idea of an online video editor, which I think added a whole extra dimension to the application.

The Object Space idea comes also from DataCloud, but was implemented in a very different way. (Strangely enough it looks more like a cloud than the DataCloud...) First of all it is a 2D space. Since this project was less experimental than DataCloud we wanted to play it slightly more safe. Also 2D seemed to make more sense for visualizing the 2D media that video really is. The organization of the video items is approached in a different way as well.

After thinking a lot about how to visualize something that can grow forever (a database) I ended up with spirals. By looking into spirals I came across plant growth and the phyllotaxis pattern. This pattern can be seen for example in the way the seeds of a sunflower are arranged. A perfect way to equally spatialize 'seeds', no matter if there are 4 seeds or 2000. Nothing beats nature, and it looks beautiful as well! In DataCloud 2.0 the mapping of the objects was correct, but visually not very pleasing, and hard to navigate too. There is a lot of discussion about esthetics getting in the way of functionality, but in my opinion beauty is also functional, because it encourages the user to use the application. So with help from Artm for the math we developed the phyllotaxis algorithm. Later this algorithm was used again for a screensaver and a credits movie.

Though I take special pride in the Story Lines and the Object Space I think the best thing about Amicitia PWA is the way all the different features are integrated. Users can drag and drop the clips from the object space to the player, the story line, the user collection etc. Besides Lenno (design), a lot of credits for this should go to Enric (interaction design/client programming) and Remco (intern).

The Amicitia Public Web Access Site got a "special remark" from the European Commision.

Entering the site Search results are visualized in a phyllotaxis pattern User actions are stored in the history bar On mouseover a summary of the metadata is displayed Right clicking displays a context menu The full metadata of a video item can be requested Users can collect clips in a personal collection The player enables editing of the streaming media Storylines and collections can be saved to the server Users can browse through storylines and collections User created storylines can be played as a new movie Storylines can be reused by loading them in the panel