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Boston Marathon Bombing Project

Boston Marathon Bombing Project

The Boston Marathon bombing refers to three explosions that happened in Boston on 15th of April 2013, at 2:50 PM. These bombings occurred on Boylston Street. After the bombing, North Eastern University lunched a subdomain link for the event. The website explores a lot of documents and comments about the bombing from people around the world. In this essay I will evaluate the website by looking at the content, and analyze design and technical features, and will also discuss the purpose of making the website.

“marathon.neu.edu” is hosted and maintained by North Eastern University, and supports by NULab, North Eastern Library and also other organizations and media like WCVBTV, City of Boston and etc.…  There are also four major groups that are 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 who are working on this project. Elizabeth Maddock Dillon - Professor of English at Northeastern University, holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley – she is Primary Investigator of the project. Ryan Cordell, is Primary Investigator, and Alicia Peaker is Project Co-Director.

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

One of the best aspects about the website is, that it lets people contribute in different ways and have access to 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 is 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 an 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 in the form of texts, images, audios, and videos. It looks like a very big digital library that you can find anything related to the Boston Marathon bombings.

In a blog section addition to the posts have been typed, a large number of electronic files scanned, and a big number of handwritten posts exist. Most of these comments and handwritten letters are condolence messages, sympathy with the victims and condemning the act of terrorism. Although some handwritings 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 feel very genuine about reading these handwritten notes. In Boston City Archives Collection section, the first page includes a picture of a 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 with the flags of America and Canada designed 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 notes. Many of these letters were written by children and usually have a painting with words including "Be Strong" and "Peace is". This children’s hand writing published on the website is not comparable to those typed. Because what is typed by computer can transfer mostly content rather than the author's inner feelings, compared to handwritten or drawing. Drawn pictures, provide to the audience the 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 the official side of the web site and people feel more sincerity. It is very important that the victims' families feel less mourning of 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.

     

Despite all those good things that were said, some problems observed and 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 wrong submitting to happen 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 problem was observed in audio and video submission sections. You can fool the website easily and submit illegal file formats. Furthermore, the lack of a preview of chosen photos is another observed problem. If you attach a valid media format (i.e. a photo) it doesn’t give a preview. For example, if you choose a photo among hundreds of photos in your computer by mistake, you will submit an unwanted photo and you don’t have the chance to see which photo you chose.

 

Another observed problem is this website doesn’t have a unified style. You can see different fonts, sizes and colors and it seems to be a 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 doses not have a basic search. If you click on the search icon on the top of the webpage, it will navigate to the advanced search. With all of those feathers in the advanced search webpage, it is not able to lookup keywords entire all of the website’s archive. For example, if you choose all of those options (collection, type, date, featured, …) it doesn’t give you anything. Also, there is no guideline about how to use this search engine. Also, there is a “Tags” link in the Advanced Search webpage. It contains hundreds of the unsorted tags and it’s not easy to recognize those which confuse people on how to choose and how to use them. I think the search option in the website is quite useless since it doesn’t work properly, and there is no guideline there about how to use it. The website has a link for a map. It shows some places in the US and in the world to represent geographic data from all of the 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 formats (i.e. images, videos, sounds) which 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 is equipped with an OCR or same tools.

I found that some websites are related to the Boston Marathon bombing, thebostonmarathonbombings.weebly.com is one of them. I would say that the most significant difference between those websites is about the search option. You can do both basic and advanced searches. It works properly, and is not complicated like another one. One of the amazing features I found in thebostonmarathonbombings.weebly.com is, you can find transcripts of recording audio and video files there. Also, you can access to a lot of links using a dropdown format. So, you don’t have to explore the other web pages to find your desired link. My analysis of the “marathon.neu.edu” says that this website has been very successful to hire many people around the world to submit many documents 

The website was very successful to encourage people to communicate and send anything and therefore there are a lot of documents, video, image, in the website, however website technically is not very good, because of those problems and also they have thousands of files and it’s not easy to manage all of them. However, the website needs to be improved in technical aspect. First of all, the search option must be fixed and simplified as much as possible. Also, the design of the website needs to be improved significantly. All pages need to maintain their unity.

 

Citations:

http://marathon.neu.edu

http://thebostonmarathonbombings.weebly.com

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