Friday, November 27, 2009

Interedition Handout

I've had some positive feedback from the recent meeting of the Interedition initiative in Brussels. One of my colleagues distributed a handout that was favourably received, and to which I have already received one offer of collaboration. Since it expresses the essence of MVD in a non-technical form and has a stunning graphic of the comparison of two versions of Charles Harpur's 1845 versus 1888 editions of the Creek of the Four Graves, which have only around 40% similarity, I thought I'd share it with you:

Multi-Version Documents and the Harpur Archive

The Multi-Version Document or MVD system is designed to automate as far as possible the work of editing our textual cultural heritage. Existing markup-based approaches pose serious problems for the modern digital scholarly editor, including:

  1. Failure to adequately and accurately represent ordinary textual phenomena
  2. Obscuring the text and confusing the editor with excessive density of technical markup
  3. Requiring manual tasks that could be performed much better and automatically by computer
  4. Embedding subjective and potentially obsolescent technical information into texts that are supposed to be archived for the long term

These problems can mostly be overcome by separating the versions from their content. In this way editing a text becomes relatively simple, because all the complexities of versions (insertions, deletions, variants and transpositions) are handled automatically. Instead the editor works on a simplified text marked up only with the textual structure of each version.

An MVD represents 'the work' as an interrelated set of versions that can be searched, compared, edited and archived as a single, compact digital entity. An MVD also has a zero footprint. You can always get out the texts in exactly the same form as you put them in.

What we have now:

The following tools are available for download from the Googlecode site:

  1. The nmerge commandline tool. This can be used to create, edit and manipulate MVDs.
  2. The Alpha wiki prototype. This can be used to visualise and edit MVDs. For copyright reasons it only has one example text: all major versions of Act 1 Scene 1 from Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Future Developments

We are currently developing a plugin for Joomla! that will incorporate all the current technology, with further enhancements, to enable a humanities type web archive to be easily built and deployed on ordinary web hosts, requiring only a low level of technical expertise. This will be used as the basis of the new Digital Variants website and also the Harpur Text Archive. Progress reports will be posted on the MVD blog.


Schmidt, D. (2009a). Merging Multi-Version Texts: a Generic Solution to the Overlap Problem. In: Usdin, B.T. (ed) Proceedings of Balisage: The Markup Conference 2009. doi:10.4242/BalisageVol3.Schmidt01.

Schmidt, D. and Colomb, R. (2009). A data structure for representing multi-version texts online. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 67.6: 497-514.

Schmidt, D., Brocca, N. and Fiormonte, D. (2008). A Multi-Version Wiki. In: L.L. Opas-Hänninen, M. Jokelainen, I. Juuso, T. Seppänen (eds), Proceedings of Digital Humanities 2008, Oulu, Finland, June, 2008, pp. 187-188.

Multi-Version Documents.

Merge and edit N versions in one document.

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