With this public community beta release, we’ve reached a resting point in the development of the mbira platform.  As the platform is used (both for existing projects and new projects), we will continue to fix bugs as they are found.  If you are community user, all bugs and issues can be submitted through the project’s Github issue tracker (the issue tracker for the authoring plugin can be found here, while the tracker for the Halifax template can be found here and the issue tracker for the Cusco template can be found here).

So, where are we in the overall development roadmap?  Which features have been fully implemented and which await implementation in a future version?

Currently Implemented:

  1. KORA Backbone – mbira is a constellation of tools (some pre-existing and some purpose built).  The heart of the platform is the authoring plugin – which is where you create projects, exhibits, locations, etc.  The authoring plugin sits on top of a digital repository/content management system.  The idea behind this is that the the underlying content management system/digital repository platform will handle issues of data preservation, metadata, data portability, etc.  The current beta version of the authoring plugin is build specifically for KORA (kora.matrix.msu.edu).
  2. Project Creation & Management – In the authoring plugin, project admins can create any number of projects (one mbira installation ≠ just one project) .  Each project is then connected to a front end template using the Device Management options in the authoring plugin. While this process isn’t automated, it is relatively easy.  The Device Settings section in the authoring plugin provides the project admin with some things that they need to plug into the front-end’s template config file using a text editor. This creates the connection between the project and the template, after which all of the project’s content (exhibits, locations, areas, etc) will be displayed in the template.
  3. Exhibit Creation & Management – In the authoring plugin, project admins can create any number of exhibits. All of those exhibits can have any number of locations and areas.  Each area or location has introductory text, dig deeper text, and media (in this phase of the project, only images).  When existing exhibits or exhibit content is modified (or new exhibit content or exhibits are created)
  4. User Creation & Management – In the two front-end web templates, users can sign up for accounts (which allows them to create and participate in conversations).  Project administrators can view, modify, and delete users from the authoring plugin.  Project admins can also set and change user role (Project Expert, Citizen Expert, Project Member)
  5. Conversations – Once users have created an account (and have signed in), they can create and participate in conversations in the front-end web templates.  In the authoring plugin, these conversations live in the detail page of the location or area to which they are attached (each area and location can have any number of separate conversations).

We are currently awaiting word on a bid for funding that would allow us to push the development of the mbira platform forward significantly.  If we are successful, new features will include the following:

(1) Expanded Platform Support

While the current version of the mbira authoring plugin is only available for KORA (kora.matrix.msu.edu), the next phase of the project will include developing an authoring plugin for Omeka (www.omeka.org) and WordPress (wordpress.org). In doing this, members of the community who wish to use mbira won’t be forced to use a single, specific content management system. They will be free to choose the best solution for their local conditions or institutional constraints. In addition to expanding the number of platforms for the mbira authoring plugin, we will develop an additional number of front-end templates (beyond the two existing prototype front-end web templates).  These will include (1) a native iOS template, (2) a native Android template, (3) an Android Wear template, (4) an Apple Watch template, and (5) an HTML 5 offline web template (for viewing web content without any internet connectivity). The goal in developing additional front-end templates is to give individuals, projects, and institutions as wide a choice as possible for deploying their mobile heritage experiences.  All software (new authoring plugins, new front-end templates) will be released under an open source GNU General Public License.

(2) Expanding and Improving Media Support

Currently mbira only supports the display of images in the two prototype front-end web templates.  In the next phase of the project, we will include support for audio and video at the level of exhibit, location, area, and exploration.  We will also add the ability for authors to include top-level audio narration to an application so that it can be experienced and enjoyed by the vision impaired. Beyond, video and audio support, we will include support for interactive 3D objects. In order to accomplish this we will develop two options: (1) users will be able to upload 3D files (.stl, .obj, and .ply) directly into the authoring plugin (as they would with images).  These 3D objects will be displayed in the front-end templates using three.js (https://threejs.org/) a popular open source Javascript library for displaying 3D content without additional plugins; (2) users will be able to add and display externally hosted 3D content on platforms such as Sketchfab (sketchfab.com).  In addition we will develop support for the inclusion of 3D stereoscopic imagery (both 3D video or static 3D scenes). This will allow users to engage with media content in an mbira-authored application in a more immersive way using popular augmented and virtual reality platforms such as Google Cardboard (https://vr.google.com/cardboard/) and Google Daydream (https://vr.google.com/daydream/).

(3) Location Awareness

In order to increase user engagement with mbira authored mobile heritage experiences, we will develop increased support for ambient notification and location awareness for all of the front-end templates.  The goal is to create automated device-based notifications for the user when they are close to a location or area featured in an mbira authored application.  In order to increase the granularity of location awareness in mbira authored heritage applications, we will also include support for bluetooth low energy beacons (such as the Estimate Beacon http://estimote.com/).  This will allow authors to create mobile heritage applications that include indoor spaces (which often block cell signals and make it nearly impossible to locate devices via GPS), remote exterior spaces that have poor cellular or GPS connectivity, or small spaces that don’t allow for precise GPS coordinates.   

(4) Linked Open Data Support

In this phase of the project, we will develop robust support for linked open data (both incoming and outgoing).  First, authors will be able to choose (from within the authoring plugin) to expose exhibit, location, and area content to the linked open data web using GeoJSON-LD.  Second, the authoring plugin and front-end templates will support the inclusion and display of digital objects and associated metadata drawn from other platforms (such as Europeana, Canadiana, Open Context, The Digital Public Library of America, or the British Museum) that have been exposed to the linked open data web.  All inbound linked media and metadata (which is managed through the authoring plugin) will be displayed in the media section of the application alongside content uploaded directly by the author.  The intention in adding linked open data support is to frame mbira-authored applications as more than just closed silos of content and information. 

(5) Community Generated Content, Expertise Recognition, & Community Support

At its core, mbira is a platform to build public and community engaged mobile heritage experiences.  As such, a significant amount of the work proposed for the next phase of the project is in support of this.  Using techniques drawn from computational rhetoric, we will develop an automated technique to identify potential domain expertise based on conversation participation. All individuals who have been identified by the system as potential domain experts will be flagged in the authoring plugin. Project administrators will then be able to inspect that user’s conversations and choose to promote them to the status of citizen expert. In addition to automated expertise recognition, we will develop a series of tools to support robust community generated content.  These will include (1) user contributed media (images, audio, and video) and (2) community suggested locations and areas.  All user contributed content will be generated in the front-end templates and placed in a queue for admin approval in the authoring plugin.  Once approved, the content will appear in the front-end template and be tagged visually as user contributed.  In addition, the content will be clearly attributed to the user who created it.  Beyond the proposed software development, we will create a robust community help site.  The site will include user documentation covering all aspects of mbira installation (for each specific CMS/digital repository platform), project creation, project management, and template customization.  The user documentation will also include clear, step-by-step tutorials on how submit native iOS and Android files to the Android Play Store and the iTunes Store.  This documentation will also include clear information on how to acquire and maintain the needed iTunes or Android developer credentials.  This documentation will be supplemented with a community forum which will allow users to discuss issues with each other and developers. 

If we are unsuccessful in our current bid for funding (a possibility, give the nature of grant funded work), we will continue to move the current version of mbira forward incrementally – fixing bugs, and making small moves to integrate some of the above-mentioned features.  We will also continue to seek external grant funding to implement the next significant phase of development.  Throughout this process, we will continue to seek and work with external partners (individual scholars, projects, or institutions) who are interested in implementing mbira. If you are an individual, project, or institution interested in collaborating as we move forward, please drop us a line.