Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Archives going digital

Archives going digital

Thailand will soon have a huge set of digital archives which will include all Thai-based data in every field and allow people at all levels to get access to an enormous amount of knowledge any time.

Published on December 18, 2007

That's a mission for the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec), which plans to transform all physical data scattered around the nation into digital form.

The centre has initiated a new project called Digitised Thailand to develop the national digital content, which can be used to improve knowledge, preserve culture or even make new business developments.

Nectec's director Pansak Siriruchatapong said Digitised Thailand would be the centre's flagship project to integrate a variety of technology-development projects at Nectec to build the country's largest digital archive collection for practical use.

The project is part of the centre's plan to utilise information and communications technology to lay down the country's intellectual infrastructure to improve literacy and develop Thailand towards a knowledge-based society.

A team at Nectec is working to develop the Digitised Thailand framework as a guideline for the country and all parts of society when they collect data in digital format.

Virach Sornlertlamvanich, information and mobile application programme manager at Nectec, who is also the project leader, said the project, which would run for three years, would start by collecting all Thai data available on the Internet into an archive. Meanwhile, the team would begin to select useful content and convert the physical data into digital form.

"Now we have started the data-collection process and we chose to digitise content about Thai herbs first," he said.

As there is a large amount of information scattered around the country, in the first stage the team has to convert selective data into practical information.

To digitise Thailand, Virach added that it was necessary to encourage all parts of society to collect content in digital form.

Nectec also plans to develop a framework for digital data collection so it can all be stored using the same standard and this would facilitate information exchange across the network.

"After we begin to digitise data about Thai herbs, we will encourage people and organisations, especially libraries, to turn their physical data into digital form. Once everyone can make their own digital content and put it on the Internet, we will have an enormous database which can be developed into sustainable knowledge," he said.

For Virach, digitised information can be anything from academic knowledge, history, cultural information, travel, technology through to entertainment, so as the large digital archive offers useful knowledge and real information, technologies to help its management are required.

He said that since the project was related to collecting a large amount of data and managing a huge database, the team had to integrate various kinds of technology to build the national digital archive.

Human language technology including a Web crawler to collect data, and a smart search engine, will bring information scattered in many places to users as required. Knowledge-engineering technology also plays an important part in building and maintaining knowledge-based systems.

Large database management systems are another important part of managing the overall database.

Virach said that other technologies used in the project included networking, security and information and mobile applications. All would facilitate access, search and delivery of useful information to users.

To make the information access support any kind of device, Nectec also plans to develop a standard application program interface (API) to allow users to access all digital content from all kinds of terminals.

"We foresee that the implementation of the national digital archive will be a showcase to turn research and development work done at Nectec into practical use. This will be our flagship to make Thai-developed technologies come out commercially," he said.

Virach hopes that the project will benefit the business sector. Since a huge amount of digital data is provided for free, he said businesses could use this digital content to make further development for future information services.

As part of Digitised Thailand's plan, Nectec is now working with the Science and Technology Knowledge Centre at the Science Ministry to develop an electronic forum as a centre to publicise local research work.

The forum will be a centre where researchers can publicise their work and propose their development projects while research-funding organisations could see projects with potential to provide support.

Since the electronic forum will gather research and development and profiles from local researchers, it can be used as the country's research database for further development.

Virach said the government could use this research database to develop policy and set a direction for the country's R&D.

Pongpen Sutharoj

The Nation

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