A lot of New Media Lab friends and colleagues ask me about Omeka due to my experience developing for the platform. I wrote a full length post about it on the commons but I wanted to share a bit here about some important takeaways I’ve learned about Omeka. And of course for the full post, click the above link. Consider this the TL;DR version of that post.
First a little on my experience with Omeka. One of ASHP’s long standing visions was to create a comprehensive online database of all of the worksheets, teaching activities, and annotated primary document resources that they used in their professional development for American History teachers. The outcome of this work was “HERB: Social History for Every Classroom” which launched in 2011. Herb has been wildly successful, and it is built on the Omeka platform with a front end theme designed from scratch, several customized plugins, and a couple that were built from scratch just for this project (such as one seen here which allows the creation of reusable question sets).
The Key Takeaway: Experienced developers and development teams should have no problem working with Omeka. Developers who are not familiar with troubleshooting code on their own may find Omeka challenging to customize.
The Key Takeaway: Out of the Box, Omeka looks like Omeka. Because customizing Omeka’s appearance is done only via the code, experience developing and comfort with code can be obstacles to creating a new look for Omeka
The Key Takeaway: if you don’t have at least a passing knowledge of Dublin Core and archival practices, some of Omeka’s powerful archival features may instead be hindrances.
The Key Takeaway: Updates can be a fair amount of work to install, but there aren’t any security issues so for the time being updates can be considered optional.
On the Takeaways
For all the things that Omeka does well, its important to know where it may be more challenging than the alternatives. I find that development of an Omeka site takes probably 30-50% longer than the equivalent site would take on WordPress. I have also found that for novices or people new to programming, altering Omeka’s functionality or layout is several times more difficult than making those same changes on WordPress.
So is WordPress the answer to all of life’s problems? Hardly. But one a current project with a rapid deadline that I had originally slated for Omeka, I’ve changed platform early in the process to WordPress in order to expedite development.
I definitely think Omeka warrants a close look. With each new version, the product improves; therefore, I think Omeka should continue to remain on our collective radar. But as it is still early in its product lifecycle, we should temper our expectations and approach Omeka with an open-mind but realistic expectations.
Omeka is a great product for people interested in curating digital collections, but customization requires at least an intermediate knowledge of PHP, CSS and HTML, as well as a comfort for forging ahead boldly where no one has gone before.