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Boston Marathon Bombing Project

Image of Boston Marathon Bombing, billowing smoke, from final block of the race

Boston Marathon bombing refers to three explosions set happened in Boston on 15th of April 2013, at 2:50 AM, local time. These bombings occurred when and in the Boyleston Street, near to Kapoli Square. After bombing, North Eastern University lunched a subdomain link for the event. The website explores a lot documents and comments from people around the world that are related to the bombing. In this essay I am going to evaluate the website by looking at the content, and analyze designing and technical features, and will discuss about the goals of making the website.

“marathon.neu.edu” is a hosted and maintains by North Eastern University, and supports by NULab, North Eastern Library and also the other organizations and medias like WCVBTV, City of Boston and etc.…  There are also four group majors that working on the website directly. There are “Archive staff”, “Boston City Archives Collection Project Team”, “Oral history team” and “Archive Staff Alumni” that consists professors, PhD and scholars all from North Eastern University, and the other institutions. There are over 30 specialists they are working on this project. Elizabeth Maddock Dillon - Professor of English at Northeastern University, she holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley - is Primary Investigator of the project. Ryan Cordell, is Primary Investigator, and Alicia Peaker is Project Co-Director.

Boston Marathon bombing become an international news in all the world and people from all over America and more than twenty countries, from children to elderly, submitted comments, letters and media to the website. Website is open to everybody and a lot of people from different ages, races, nationalities, and level of education felt sympathy by submitting their emotions different ways. That’s one of the outstanding features of this website that people feel free to communicate here.

One of the best thing about the website is, it lets people to contribute different ways and access all the public documents and information without any restrictions. There are seven different items for contribution. You can submit your story, your image or send an email, post a video or texting a message, or record your voice or share a website related to the event. What’s greatly appreciated that there is no obligation to enter your name for submission or verifying personal information. It doesn’t require any kind of membership for contribution. You can type and text anything, submit any photo and say anything whatever you want. To me it’s not just a website but also it’s kind of open democracy. There are very few websites that let people submit anything openly. The archive contains thousands of electronic files and their numbers are increasing every day. Those electronic files are some kind of texts, images, audios, and videos. It looks like a very big digital library that you can find anything related to the Boston Marathon bombing.

In blog section addition to the posts that have been typed a large number of electronic files scanned, and a big number of handwritten exist. Most of these comments and handwritten letters are condolence messages, sympathy with the victims and condemning the act of terrorism. Although some handwritten are not legible, but kind of handwritten, emoji designed by the users and the fact that a large number of handwritten included in a single video file, makes the audience to feel very genuinely about reading this handwritten. In Boston City Archives Collection section, the first page includes a picture of big paper attached to the wall on which many affection hand written signed messages, heart images in different colors and sizes has been drawn. I think any computers cannot show all of these messages in these sizes and shapes on a page, so that they are not boring for audiences. On the same page there is a picture of a butterfly that flags of America and Canada has been designed in beautifully with the blue, red and white on its wings. On both wings there are two phrases: on the right wing "strong" and on the left wing written "Boston". Clicking on the butterfly permits us to jump to the "Letters to the City" section in where there are large number of e-mails and handwritten. Many of these letters were written by children and usually have a painting with words including "Be Strong" and "Peace is". This childish handwriting published on the website is not comparable to those typed. Because what typed by computer can transfer mostly content rather than the author's inner feelings, comparing with handwritten or drawing. Drawn pictures, provide to the audience with this possibility to understand the content according to their visions. Much more interesting, in the share section, one can send audio and video files and even own recorded voice. These capabilities reduce official side of the web site and people feel more sincerity. It is very important that the victims' families feel less mourning the loss of a loved one by seeing paintings, manuscripts and hearing audio recorded from all over the world because of lower vacuum, the loss of their loved ones.

Against all those good things that were said, major problems observed that I am going to discuss them here. First of all, the website is not able to recognize fake digital photos and videos. For example, I renamed a dll file to the jpg and I submitted it to the website. I got an internal error by submitting an illegal format. There are few problems. Firstly, it’s not able to recognize wrong format and then it lets to wrong submitting to be happened and finally, the server doesn’t show an appropriate message and it will be stopped by an internal error like “The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request”.  This scenario goes by audio and video submission. You can fool the website easily and submit illegal file formats.

 

In this regard, if you attach a valid media format (i.e. a photo) it doesn’t appear anywhere. For example, if you choose a photo among hundreds of photo in your computer by the mistake, you will submit a wrong photo and you don’t have the chance to see which photo did you choose.

Another observed problem is this website doesn’t have a unified style. You can see different font, size and colors and seems to be kind of confusion. At the top of the page there are a lot of unsorted links without any priority. For example, some links should move to the bottom of the website (like contact or Boston City Archives Collection). In the first page (home), there are links to some social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. But, in the other pages, you can’t see these links. Usually, websites have links to social websites, in all of the pages (in the bottom).

The website has been provided with an advance search. If you click on the search icon on the top of the webpage, it will be navigated to the advanced search webpage. So, can’t do a basic search and also you can’t do it in the same page. This advanced search webpage, is not able to lookup keywords entire all of the website’s archive. You must select all of those options. Even, choosing all of those options (collection, type, date, featured, …) it doesn’t give you anything. Also, there is no guideline to how to use this search engine. There is “Tags” link in Advanced Search webpage. It contains hundreds of unsorted tags and it’s not easy to recognize them that confuse people how to choose and how to use them. I think Search option in the website is quite useless since it doesn’t work properly, and there is no guideline there how to use it.

The website has a link for map. It shows some placed in the US and in the world to represent geographic data from all of our collections. But you are not able to zoom the map and it’s not possible to focus on pins related to geographic data.

Generally, websites have a big archive of digital format (i.e. images, videos, sounds) are equipped with tools like OCR that can extract texts or concepts from digital somehow. Since, the advanced search doesn’t work properly, it doesn’t seem that the website to be equipped with OCR or same tools.

I found some websites related to Boston Marathon bombing, thebostonmarathonbombings.weebly.com is one of them. I would say that the major difference between those websites is about the search option. You can do both basic and advanced search. It works properly, and is not complicated like another one. One of the amazing feature I found in thebostonmarathonbombings.weebly.com is, you can find transcripts of recording audio and video files there. Also, you can access to lot of links using dropdown format. So, you don’t have to explore the other web pages to find your desire link.

My analysis of the “marathon.neu.edu” says that this website focuses on conceptual aspect and that’s greatly appreciated. However, the website needs to be improved in technical aspect. First of all, the search option must be fixed simplified as much as possible. Also, the design of the website needs to improved significantly. All pages need to need to maintain their unity.

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