Reflections of an Omeka User

I just want to start by saying that Omeka is a great installation. It is useful, relatively user-friendly, and allows humanities student to create and style robust digital collections and exhibits with relatively little coding experience necessary. However, in my experience on the Our Marathon project, I have come to understand a few limitations(or perhaps cautions) of Omeka:

  1. Customization: Omeka is a great installation because it does a finite range of tasks very well. You can build exhibits, catalog items, add metadata, feature items, and even play around with some geographic referencing and timelining (via Neatline). But like the often-used idiom, Omeka is easy to use but very difficult to master. Omeka is organized so that it can fit the largest variety of projects. But as each digital project is unique, the needs of those projects will be different from others. This is where customization comes in. It requires a higher level of coding experience to make any major overhauls to the Omeka site. I see this as both a strength and a weakness. It is a strength because (depending on your coding experience or budget to hire someone with coding experience) you can usually find change your site so that it serves your exact purpose. But it also represents a weakness because one of the best features about Omeka is its active and productive forums and support staff. The more you customize your Omeka site, the less helpful these online forums and support staff will be.  The customization is great, but I just want to caution going overboard on the customizations.
  2. Is Omeka really for you?: I’ve run into this problem a few times already talking to people who were considering using Omeka only because they felt a lot of others were using it successfully. Before jumping into a platform, make sure you understand the scope, content, and purpose of your projects. I’ve seen many projects stall or need to start over because Omeka was not the proper platform for their project. When considering a digital project, you need to find the platform that exactly fits your project’s needs. Before jumping right into Omeka, consider other online platforms such as Scalar, WordPress, Drupal, or maybe even a combination of a few platforms. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses, but it is important to research them thoroughly before committing to a specific platform.
  3. Plugins are great, 100 plugins might not be!: One of the great aspects to Omeka is the number of incredible “plugins” that allow further customization and functionality for your Omeka site. But as I was saying in the first section, be careful. These plugins are great, but these plugins often need some tweaking to get it to function properly, or more efficiently, with your Omeka installation and your collection. Each time you tweak the code to get one plugin to fit, you might be changing something that is a vital part of the functionality of a different plugin. So, in my experience, the more plugins you have, the more likely subsequent plugins might not work. To avoid this, be smart about what plugins you install and which ones you use. Prioritize tasks or functions you absolutely want your Omeka installation to perform and try to stick to doing those tasks or functions really well.

 (this post is a repost from http://benschmidt.org/dighist13/)

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