I’ve taken over as the Executive Producer of the Hurricane Digital Archive. Like our September 11 Digital Archive, the HDMB is set up to collect the digital record of a disaster–in this case the disaster generated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It would be nice to believe that “if we build them, they will come” — just put the site up and lots of people will go and arrive to drop digital materials into the collection. Alas, it doesn’t work that way.
Instead, with both projects we’ve had to beat the digital bushes to get people to contribute. In the case of the September 11 project, that was harder in one way because so many fewer people were online in 2001 as compared to 2006. On the other hand, once we had generated some momentum in the collecting process, the contributions rolled in and as of today there are many tens of thousands of digital objects in that collection.
The HDMB has proven a tougher nut to crack, even though there are so many more people creating digital content today than there were in 2001. For instance, think about how many people you know have a digital camera today as compared to 2001. The anniversary of Katrina is fast approaching (August 29) and so we’re gearing up for a major publicity blitz along the Gulf Coast, but at the same time, we’re doing a lot of what might be called guerilla marketing–asking everyone we know to contribute something–a recollection, a reflection on what’s happend (or hasn’t) since last August, that sort of thing. We do have over 5,000 objects in the collection already, but we want way more than that.
So we’ve redesigned the front page of the site to make putting in a story much easier and have tweaked other aspects of the design to encourage people to add things to the database. But just as important, we’ve been flogging the site all over the Internet, and have had the official PR macines of the University working for us.
Best of all, Google is giving us free advertising. I’ll report back in a week or so to say what’s happened. In the meantime, ask your friends, your students, your colleagues to all add something to the archive. It’s easy, it’s fun, and it will help historians a lot in the future.